Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
ART, YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
The Divinity of Art
Art may be defined as having four aspects. One aspect of art may be called imitative art, the tendency and ability to produce as exactly as possible, on the canvas or in the clay, something that one sees. This is the first stage, and one that leads the artist further on the path of art. In order to develop this faculty, the mind must be fully concentrated. When the artist lacks concentration, he cannot observe objects and their beauty keenly, and therefore he is not able to reproduce them exactly as he sees them. Concentration has such great power that a concentrated person can penetrate into an object, and can see not only the outside of it but also the inside. In other words, a concentrated person not only sees the form but its spirit. This is the fullness of observation, and it comes by concentration. Whenever the artist cannot imitate nature, cannot copy an object exactly, it shows that he lacks concentration.
The next aspect of art is suggestive art. This can be divided into two kinds: first, an art which directly suggests a certain idea, so that as soon as we see the picture we can see what it says, what it explains, and what it represents; and the other kind, which is expressed in symbols, an art which through a certain symbolism expresses a great wisdom. This wisdom is covered; and the more one looks at the picture and the more one studies it, the more it reveals the idea, the wisdom, the thought that is hidden in it. Such art is a revelation. The art of ancient Egypt, of Greece, and especially of the Mongolians and of India, was chiefly symbolical art. In such periods, when other types of pictures were not produced and books were not printed, this was the only means of keeping wisdom alive and handing it on to the coming generations. This was done by the master artists, who were inspired by spiritual wisdom and who tried to guide humanity. With hammer and chisel, they carved in wood and engraved on the rocks, and left their work in the caves of the mountains and in the old temples and palaces. It is an art that expresses wisdom. When one visits one of these caves where wisdom is expressed in the realm of art, one will find that one symbol can reveal more than a volume of written manuscript. In this way, the sculptures of a temple or of a mountain cave were like a library with thousands of books. The one who can read, can find divine wisdom there, expressed distinctly and with great intelligence and wit.
The ideas of the Hindus about gods and goddesses, the different postures in which they stand or sit, and the way Buddha holds his hands, all these express to him who knows a teaching that is connected with the culture of the spirit.
The third aspect of art is the creative aspect. In this aspect, an artist creates a theme and improvises upon that theme as he goes on working. In this way the artist creates wisdom and power. No doubt the higher the art, the less it is appreciated and the less it is studied, and the majority will always seem to be ignorant of its meaning. Nevertheless, the artist who reaches that plane where he can create, can from that moment call himself an artist. Creating is different from imitating or suggesting. In the development of art, imitating is the first step; suggesting is the second step; and creating is the third step.
In India, fifty years ago, there was an artist, the brother of the maharaja of Travancore. After having read the sacred traditions of the Hindus, he wondered if it would not be a wise thing to reproduce these legends and stories in the realm of art. So he devoted all his life to this idea, and made perhaps twenty or thirty pictures of the ancient traditions. Since that time, India has understood and appreciated its ancient spiritual traditions far better than ever before. By expressing the sacred traditions in the form of art, he brought a new outlook and a new spiritual message to the people of India. This shows how much more effect art can have upon people if a spiritual idea is embodied in it.
The fourth aspect of art can only be developed through meditation, because it comes like a miracle. It is no longer only art, but is a direct expression of the soul. This fourth aspect may be called giving life to the work of art. In the first three aspects, the work of art is still only art, but in the fourth aspect it becomes something living. And the artist who reaches this stage, where he can give life to what he creates, has reached the highest grade, the mastery of art. No artist can reach this stage only by the practice of his art; it is essential for him to know that in order to accomplish great things in the realm of art, he needs spiritual development.
In order to develop art in the real sense of the word, one need not be an artist, one need not have that particular vocation in life. Whatever one's vocation, art is necessary just the same. It is wrong to think that art is not needed in one's social or domestic life, in business, in industry, or in one's profession. It is because of the division that people have made between art and other walks of life, that life has become devoid of beauty. In this way art, has been very much neglected, except by those who only pretend to appreciated it or who have perhaps some leisure in which to give thought and time to it. But even they are very often ignorant of the real beauty and value of art; they take an interest in it only because they want to be able to say that they are fond of art. It is because of this that artists sometimes lack the opportunity of expressing their soul through their art, being hampered by this lack of appreciation. Others want to commercialize their art; but art is always above material values. When art has to be limited by material values, or is seeking the approbation of those who do not understand it, it has to suffer. Instead of evolving, it declines.
But even in practical life, art has great scope. Think for instance how much a woman can do in her everyday life in her home with her artistic gifts. She can make it beautiful and comfortable; she can train her children to have better taste; and whatever her means may be, even her manner can produce beauty, harmony, and happiness in her home. It is the same thing in one's office, in industry, in business, in whatever one does. If there is a regard for beauty and harmony, one can make one's own business or profession, one's life and one's work, more beautiful, thereby producing greater happiness for oneself and for others.
When the spirit of art develops, this development does not produce anything outwardly, but rather it does so inwardly. And what is this? It is the art of personality. In a real artist, a distinct personality is developed which expresses itself in everything he does. In other words, an artist need not paint a picture in order to prove himself an artist. When he has reached a certain stage of art, his thought, his speech, his word, his voice, his movements, his action, and everything he does becomes art. The value of the art of personality is so great that no one in this world, whatever be his occupation, can say that he does not need to develop or to learn it. If he is a businessman, if he is a lawyer, if he is in industry, if he is a shopkeeper, or if he is working in an office or factory, whatever his position, this art of personality will help him. If he is a soldier, he has a chance to become a general; if he is a worker in a factory, he may one day become the head of it. Besides success, he has the magnetism to win over everyone he meets, because of the art of personality. The art of personality shows in one's movements, in one's manner, in words, in speech, in thought, and in feeling. On the other hand, an awkward person does everything wrong. His movements are awkward, and every action he takes is unattractive. The one who has not yet acquired the art of speaking will offend even without intending to; and in everyday life, do we not see people insulting others unintentionally because they do not know the art of saying without saying?
Other arts cannot be compared with the art of personality. Character is not born with a man; his character is built up after he comes here. Even if a person can call himself a human being, he has still to know that greater art which may be rightly called a true religion. For there is another grade to strive for, and that grade is the personality of God. As soon as one seeks for the personality of God, one sees that it is different from a human personality. With the personality of man, man can only take a human point of view, whereas with the personality of God, man has to take God's point of view. And it is those individuals with God's point of view who, whenever they have come on earth, have not only taught humanity, but have given an example to humanity by their lives. They came and went – some known, some unknown – but each of them was accepted by some and rejected by others. None of them was accepted or rejected by the whole of humanity. Yet in spite of that, truth will prove by itself victorious, for victory belongs to nothing else. Victory which comes from falsehood is a false victory. Only a true victory belongs to truth, and as man probes more and more into the depths of life and its secrets, he will realize this more fully. Falsehood, whatever its apparent success, has its limitations and its end. For at every step the false person will feel falseness; and with every step a person takes towards falsehood, he will feel his feet growing heavier and heavier when he encounters the truth, while those who walk towards the truth will feel their feet becoming lighter with every step they take. And it is by learning the art of life, and by practicing it, that one is led on the path of truth to that goal which is the longing of every soul.
Finally there is the art of thought. The more one activates one's thought, one's imagination, the more capable one is of expressing them in the realm of art. Therefore, the beautifying of one's thought is the greatest source of development in art. And when we have understood this, we will come to the conclusion that whether the outer works of art are poetry, or music, or painting, or sculpture, it is the art of personality that is the greatest of all arts. But it is an art that cannot be perfected without developing the spirit of sympathy. This is the principal and most important thing in life. The deeper our sympathy, the greater our power and inspiration will become to bring our art to perfection.