Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
ART, YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
The Essence of Art
Many think that art is something different from nature, but it would be better to say that art is the completion of nature. One may ask how man can improve upon nature, which is made by God, but the fact is that God Himself, through man, finishes His creation in art. As all the different elements are God's vehicles, and as all the trees and plants are His instruments through which He creates, so art is the medium of God through which God Himself completes His creation.
No doubt not all so-called art is necessarily art. By looking at true art, man is able to see the realization of the prayer, 'Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.' Throughout the whole of creation, from one thing to another, the Creator has worked through evolution. In man the Creator has, so to speak, completed nature; yet the creative faculty is still working through man, and thus art is the ultimate step in creation. Although in fact all that man creates, scientifically or artistically, is art, those objects which are produced with a sense of beauty and which appeal to the sense of beauty in man, are the main expression of this creative faculty.
Besides being the creative power of God, art is the expression of the soul of the artist. An artist cannot give out what he has not collected, although man ignores the way this is done. The artist's soul conceives, and the artist produces only that which his soul recognizes as having been conceived. Once it is understood that the artist not only produces but also conceives, then it is not difficult for a man whose heart is awakened to see into the soul of an artist. Art in color, in line, is nothing but the echo of his soul. If the soul of the artist is going through torture, his picture gives us the feeling of awe; if the soul of the artist is enjoying harmony, we will see harmony in his colors, in the lines. What does this show? It shows that the soul works automatically through the brush of the artist. The more deeply the artist is touched by the beauty that his soul conceives from the outside, the greater is the appeal of that beauty to those who see his work.
What is it in line and color that has such an influence on man's faculties? The vibrations that the color produces thrill the centers, the centers of the intuitive faculties that are hidden in the body. A person looks at a color and immediately feels thrilled by it. Each degree of vibration that the various colors produce is different, and therefore their influence too is different. Yet, while one person may be open to that effect and influence, another is so blocked that colors make little impression upon him. For the same reason, women are more responsive to color and line than men are. A woman is responsive by nature, and a man is expressive; therefore a woman receives the impression of color more readily than a man, who is apt to repel it. But at the same time, a man with fine feeling, with the intuitive faculty awakened, will respond to color, while a man whose faculties are not yet opened does not.
Strong colors produce more distinct vibrations. Their effect is more noticeable than that of soft colors, and therefore it is natural that strong colors can make an impression upon every soul. In order to distinguish the impression made by soft colors, delicacy of sense is required. For instance, the simple words of everyday language are understood by anyone, but the finer shades which follow the words are not understood by everybody. Therefore color, which is only a color and nothing else to ordinary people, has its special value, its degrees of influence, for a person with a fine sense.
The harmony of color is based on the same principles as the harmony of music. The reason is that music is audible vibrations, while color is the visible form of vibrations. From the metaphysical point of view, color has a great significance in man's life. The first thing to be understood in connection with color is that the different colors come from the essence of light. All the different colors are different degrees of light, but as there are three aspects of light, this sometimes produces confusion in the mind of those who have not given thought to the subject. One aspect of light manifests through color; it is the radiance of the color itself. The next aspect is when the sun or something else throws its light upon the color, and the color responds to that light. And the third light is the light of the eyes that see. Any given color is not the same to everybody. Not only because the degree of light of every person is different, or that the light which falls on the subject is different, or the degree of the color is different, but also because the element which that particular color represents produces a certain degree of response in an individual.
According to the mystical idea, there are four principal elements that can be distinguished and one that is indistinct. The distinct elements are earth, water, fire, and air. They are not elements in the sense in which a scientist would use this word, but rather according to the meaning that the mystic attaches to it. The indistinct element is the ether. All these elements are in the body of man, in his mind, and in his deeper self. The whole edifice of an individual existence is built by means of these five distinct elements. It is not necessary for a certain element which is predominant in one plane of existence, to continue to be so on all other planes. It is possible for harmony to exist between the elements that are predominant on the inner plane and those which are predominant on the outer plane. In short, it is according to the working of the different elements in one's being that one is responsive to the different colors which represent the different elements.
From the point of view of a mystic, yellow is the color of the earth, green or white the color of the water element, red that of the fire element, and blue that of the air element. If asked what color the ether element is, the mystic would answer gray, because by gray one may think of anything one likes. It is most interesting for a student of color to see that all colors are, so to speak, different shades of light. It shows that light itself has manifested in variety, in the form of many colors.
Another important question is that of line. Many lovers or students of art feel the great influence of a line, the effect that a line can have. A vertical line, a horizontal line, a curve, a circle, all make such a difference in the form. And the more one studies to what extent line makes a difference, the more one will find that the secret of all beauty is in the line. But it is difficult to say what form or what line is the right form or line, and man has to accept that what one cannot learn by study, intuition can teach.
The only explanation that one can give, from the mystical point of view, about the secret of line is that the effect of a certain line brings the inner and the outer planes of the human being into such a condition that, while he looks at the line, he is, so to speak, under the spell of that line. This can be understood through the secret of concentration: that every object man thinks about, even if only for a moment, has an effect upon his whole being.
There is a harmony of lines, and this is even more difficult and complex to understand than harmony of color, for the harmony of lines reaches deeper than the harmony of color. If a room is beautifully furnished with costly furniture, but these things are not kept in harmony according to the science of lines, we feel a kind of confusion in the room. It is the same with clothes. A dress may be very costly or beautiful in color, but if it lacks line, it lacks real beauty. Therefore, in art, line is the principal thing. It is the secret of art and of its charm, and only the artist who has conceived the beauty of line can express it in his art.
One aspect of art is shown when the artist tries to copy exactly what he sees. An artist is contemplative, and it is not a small thing to be able to copy the object exactly. Then the success of this artist is assured, because with all man's cravings for something new, what he really wants is something he has already seen. Is it not wonderful, is it not a great thing to be able to copy nature as it is, to produce in the soul of man that, which exists in nature?
A further aspect of art is the improvement on nature that the artist makes by exaggeration. The benefit of this art is more through attraction than impression. No doubt in this form of art the artist can fulfill his soul's purpose, but at the same time he may get far away from nature; and the further he goes the more he destroys the beauty of art, for nature and art must go hand in hand.
Art has still another aspect, and that is symbolism. Symbolism has not come from the human intellect, for it is born of intuition. The finer the soul, the better it is equipped in some way or other to understand symbolical ideas. A fine soul always dreams symbolical dreams and, when the soul becomes finer still, it can interpret the dream, understanding the meaning of symbolism. The artist who produces in his art a symbolical idea has learned it from what he has seen in nature and has interpreted it in his art. This is real inspiration. The finer the artist is, the finer the symbols he produces.
In every work of art one can observe three factors: its surface, its length and width, and its depth. However, I do not mean this in the literal sense of these words. The surface is what the picture itself is, the length and the width are the story that it tells, and the depth is the meaning that it reveals. Therefore, the best way of studying and appreciating the works of an artist is to take these three elements into consideration. Art is a very vast subject.