In works of art that have been made – independently of the
skill that has been put into them and the ideas they convey
to us – there is a feeling that is in them and behind them.
When I was visiting Berlin, I saw statuary set around the Kaiser's
palace. Everywhere around it was some work of art suggestive
of horror, terror or destruction. As soon as I saw it I thought,
'No wonder things happened as they did, for this statuary was
A work of art may be beautiful to look at, it may have great
skill in it, but with it the mind of the artist is working.
The effect that the picture will have is not what it suggests
outwardly, but what it speaks aloud of as the voice of its heart.
In every picture, in every statue, in every artistic construction,
one can see this. There is a voice hidden in it, continually
telling for what purpose the work of art was created.
Sometimes an artist is unaware of what he is creating; he
is following his imagination. He may be working against his
own work of art, or he may be bringing about an effect that
he had not desired for himself nor for the person to whom the
work of art was to be given.
Once I went to see a temple. I could not call that temple
beautiful, but it was wonderful, unique in its kind. No sooner
did my eyes fall on the color scheme and the pictures that stood
there as its prominent features than I was surprised, thinking,
'How could such a temple have existed for so long!' Not long
afterwards, I heard that the temple had been destroyed. The
idea is that the constructor of the temple was so absorbed in
his scheme that he forgot the harmony of the spirit which had
to make its plan, and so it resulted in failure.
A friend once took me to see the pictures made by her husband.
I no sooner saw them than they brought to me the whole history
of that person, how his soul had repeated throughout his life
the agonies he had undergone. The whole thing was expressed
in those pictures. What was the condition of the possessor of
those pictures? Nothing but sorrow and depression.
It is the same with poetry. Among the Hindus there is a psychology
of poetry that is taught before one is allowed to write poetry.
For it is not only the rhythm and the swing of mind and thought
that should be expressed, but to write poetry means to construct
something, to make something or to mar something. Poetry has
sometimes the effect of bringing prosperity or decline to great
ones in whose praise it has been written. There is a science
attached to it. A poet may speak highly of a personality in
his poetry, yet the construction of his words or the idea behind
it may be harmful. It does not only harm the person for whom
it was made, but sometimes – if that personality is strong –
the effect falls back upon the poet, thus destroying him forever.
So it is with music. It seems a very good idea for a musician
to imagine in a kind of magical music that a flood came and
a city was destroyed and everybody who lived in that city was
drowned. For the moment, it might seem amusing to him, a queer
imagination – but it has its influence!
The most interesting thing is that through art, poetry or
music, or through the movements one makes in dance, a thought
or feeling is created, the effect of which is the outcome of
the whole action. The art is, so to speak, a cover. How wonderful
it is to notice that art, in its every aspect, is something
living, something speaking. It is either good or evil, but it
is not without meaning.
One sees in frescoes in old houses in Italy and in the art
produced in statuary in ancient times that these works of art
almost speak to us of the history of the past. They tell us
of the person who made them, of his stage of evolution, his
motive, his soul, and of the spirit of that time.
This teaches us that unconsciously, our thoughts and feelings
are produced upon all things we use – a place, a rock, a tree,
a seat, upon the things we prepare. However, in art, an artist
completes the music of his soul, of his mind. It is not produced
automatically, it is very often a conscious effort, an effort
that results in a certain effect. This shows that it is not
enough to learn art or to practice art. In order to complete
art, one must understand the psychology of it, through which
one accomplishes the purpose of one's life.
Question: Would not an artist be afraid of making a work
that might produce something undesirable?
Answer: It is better that he should be afraid, for then he
will be careful.
Question: But if he does not know the effect it may have?
Answer: If he will try to know the effect, then he will know
One day a person brought me a record and took the trouble
of explaining it to me. In the absence of his master, the pupil
of a magician called the forces of water and then found he could
not stop the flood. Afterwards, the teacher came and stopped
it. On that idea, the music was made. I said, 'It is an interesting
idea, but please, don't play it!' It is very easy to enjoy a
picturesque idea, but one never stops to think that it is not
the idea that is important, but that it is the outcome of it
that will be destructive or constructive.
Another example one sees in steamers, especially in the Channel.
As soon as one goes into one's cabin, the first thing one sees
is a picture of a person about to sink and putting on a life
belt. It is the first thing one is impressed with as the first
omen. Certainly it is instructive, but it is not a psychological
instruction. Even if the person in the picture is not drowned,
the impression is not a good one. If such an instruction is
needed, then it would be better to distribute picture cards
after the ship has started, after people have become accustomed
Question: Is it not unwise to fill a schoolroom or chapel
with scenes of death, even of saints and masters?
Answer: It is more than unwise. I could use some other word
for it – especially when it is in connection with saints and
masters who never died.
Question: Does the idea of beauty and ugliness account for
the constructive or destructive nature of art?
Answer: Certainly. Harmony is beauty, and lack of harmony
is ugliness. Harmony is constructive, and disharmony is destructive.
Question: Is it not a mistake of modern art to take its subjects
from the earth instead of making a reproduction of the higher
Answer: Artists would do it today also if they could reach
the higher worlds; the condition is to be able to reach them.
The same old wine that was before is here now. The one who drinks
it will obtain the same intoxication that people in the past
used to experience. If a man becomes more earthly, it is not
the fault of heaven. The past did not hold any bliss that is
not to be found in the present. The bliss that is the most valuable
is eternal, it is always there. It is for us to prepare ourselves
to obtain it.
Question: Do not drama and tragedy do harm?
Answer: There are many things that harm us, but there are
many things which, at the same time, are interesting. Besides
this, there are minds that are more attracted to tragedy than
to anything else. It is natural, for when there is a sore, that
sore feels alive for the moment, a sensation which is perhaps
agreeable. It may be called pain, but it is an agreeable pain
when the sore is scratched. Tragedy has that effect. No doubt
too much tragedy is not desirable for anybody, but an artistic
nature, a person who loves poetry, finds something in tragedy.
It would be depriving oneself of a great joy not to read Shakespeare.
But when people write poetry in connection with some personality,
a king or a sovereign, or anyone, then there is a direct effect.
Whereas the poetry of Shakespeare is general. However, a play
has an effect, and a serious effect too!
The above is according to the psychological point of view,
it is not meant to say that it is the point of view of the Sufi.
For Sufis are very fond of poetry, and their passion for poetry
goes sometimes very far in expressing the sentiment of longing,
yearning, heartbreak, disappointment. However, that is not psychological;
according to psychology, it is not right!
Question: How does one learn the inner meaning of a certain
piece of music?
Answer: Once you have read 'The Soul Whence and Whither'
you begin to feel that in every plane the cover of that particular
plane is required in order to experience the life in that plane.
So, music being a world, poetry being a world, and art being
a world, a person who lives in the world of art, in the world
of poetry, in the world of music, knows music, poetry or art
and he appreciates it. In order to have an insight into music,
one must live in it and observe that world most keenly. It is
not sufficient that a person should be musical and that he should
occupy his heart and soul with music. He should also develop
intuition that he may see music keenly.