Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
ART, YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
In all periods of history, art has played a prominent part in the life of humanity. With every rise and fall, and with all the different changes that art has gone through, it has always been the soul of life. It cannot be otherwise, for art is an improvement on nature. It is said that nature is made by God and art by man, but at the same time nature is made by God and art is made by God through man. In other words, art finishes nature. Therefore the artist, whether one considers he has evolved or he has not, is indeed the hand of God; for that which is not to be found in nature, the artist adds. That is why art has often proved to be the stepping-stone to God's shrine.
The Sufis have seen God in the realm of love, harmony, and beauty. The tendency towards art shows itself in all three, for beauty is produced through harmony. If the arrangement of lines or the composition of colors is not harmonious, a thing cannot be beautiful. Harmony creates beauty, and love of beauty results in art; thus art is the practice of that philosophy which Sufism teaches: the philosophy of love, harmony, and beauty.
Today we notice on every side an increasing appreciation and love of the art of sculpture. A great effort is also being made by modern sculptors to produce art which the soul of the world is seeking; yet it seems that they are continually seeking for something that is still missing. Today many sculptors look at Greek art with envy, and with the anticipation that they may one day produce again what was produced long ago.
The drawback today is the method of development. Before trying to imitate ancient art, it is first necessary to open the inner eye, to look at life as it really is. A statue is something dead; if one tries to make something exactly like it, it is only imitating something that is dead. The first thing one should understand is what has produced the statue, and one will see that it was inspiration; it was the opening of the inner eye that produced the art of yesterday, and now the sculptors find it hard to produce anything like it. In spite of all the development in sculpture, one finds that fineness, magnetism, and attraction are lacking; and that is because today art is approached from a practical point of view.
Also, art cannot be accomplished in the first place by effort; art should come from inspiration. The life of the artist should be easy, without anxiety and worry, without pressure to produce something. He should be passive, so that the work of art may come naturally. Then the Creator Himself, who is the Lord of beauty, can use the artist as His pen. No doubt suffering can purify a person and make him more capable of inspiration, but when an artist wants to produce a beautiful work of art, he does not open himself to inspiration by hardening himself and by straining his will.
In ancient times, people were very often inspired through their love of subtlety and beauty. When we study Greek art, we find that the Greek people were fine and subtle in perception. From their statues, we can observe that they did not lay down their philosophy in rigid, prosaic words. They made a shrine for wisdom in the form of legends and myths; they put the words of truth in a beautiful frame. This shows us the subtlety of their nature, and out of this subtlety a wonderful art was born.
Some of the most ancient statues are to be found in India and China. By studying these, we find that the sculptors had not only finished them in every detail, but had also put magnetism into them. Hundreds and thousands of times people have experienced that some of these statues possess great magnetism; this shows that the artist of those days was not only an artist, his art also had magic and an influence that would last for thousands of years. Whenever we go near such statues, they have a certain effect; merely by being in their presence, by looking at them, by sitting before them, we can feel their influence. It is like that of a living being, or even stronger.
It is therefore not surprising that the Hindus have kept for ages in their temples the images of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Rama, Krishna, and many others. Even with their great philosophy and comprehension of life, this art has always helped and inspired them, for it has given them a wonderful influence. When a statue has been worshipped in a shrine for a very long time, this too will magnetize it. Yet the statue must have something to attract in the first place, in order to make intelligent people inclined to bow before it. It is as if the statue called out, 'Come here with all your intelligence, man, and bow before me! I am sitting here full of life and influence, though I do not speak.'
Many stories are told about a sculptor of long ago, whose name was Azar. The peculiarity of his art was that as soon as those who were antagonistic to idol-worship saw a statue of a god or a goddess made by Azar, they began following that particular religion. Art conquers humanity without words.
The art of ancient times was almost entirely symbolic. In those days, printing had not yet been invented, and the only way in which an idea could be bequeathed to later generations was through the medium of art. So by different symbols, the artists expressed the inspiration and the wisdom that were to be left for humanity. That is why we so often find that ancient works of art contain a message. The day will come when people will not be curious only about the artistic aspect of the ancient sculpture, but will begin to read this art as a sculpture. No doubt there is already much curiosity everywhere about such art, and a great desire to go and study it in the East, in Egypt, in India and in China. So far, there is only appreciation of the skill and great fineness and beauty with which it was produced. But on the day when lovers of beauty look at it from a spiritual point of view, they will find in that ancient art an expression of divine wisdom that will once again become a source of revelation.
To some extent, symbology can be learnt, but symbology does not come to one only by learning; it comes by intuition. Symbolism is a language of intuition; it comes by itself, and suddenly one begins to understand the meaning of the different forms and colors. When it is said that the twelve apostles began to know different languages, it only means they knew the language of each person.
Suppose there were a book on symbology, and the book explained the meanings of different symbols. This would only be the opinion of the man who wrote the book. Perhaps all he said was wrong. But when symbolism comes by intuition, then the true meaning of the symbol is revealed. Therefore, the knowledge of symbolism is not a form of learning. First the intuitive faculty must be opened, and then the whole meaning of the symbols will be understood; often it will be quite a different meaning from what the object seems to represent. It is a different language. It is learning the language of life.
Essentially symbols have the same meaning for everyone, yet according to the direction in which people are looking, their interpretation differs. Under the same sun, we all see everything more or less alike, and in the same way, in the light from within we all can see the meaning of the symbols. The only difference is that between individuals, in other words limitations. This is the reason the wise very often spoke in symbols. Even their jokes were symbolical.
In ancient art, one often finds faces that are unlike those of human beings. This only means that the artist adopted an exaggerated way of picturing the features of different human beings in order to bring out their characteristics. Besides, when a man looks at a statue which is not very different from the human form, it is just like looking at one's own kind; and when there is no difference, one does not get such a clear vision. Clear vision comes from difference. Some artists, especially those of China, therefore adopted this particular method of making sculptures not exactly like human beings, but a little different. By making them somewhat different, they produced a clearness of vision which enabled man to see through it and recognize what he would not have recognized otherwise.
In the same way, they made animals of different kinds. Sometimes in ancient art we see animals that are unlike the animals we know; but if they had been familiar animals, they would not convey a certain idea to us. Making them different helps us to concentrate our mind on some idea. A sculpture like this speaks to us louder than one which we can easily recognize. When the mind sees an object with keen sight and interest, it is ready to receive the lesson that the object is meant to give. That is why many ancient statues appear unusual.
We also see that in ancient works of art, great attention was given to detail; wonderful skill was used in producing every detail. Then, when we look at the materials of which the sculptures were made, it is still more wonderful. Many statues made thousands of years ago look as fresh as ever today.
There is no doubt that the art of sculpture stands out and attracts our attention more than any other kind of art. And as soon as the unrest of the world lessens, and this age of labor and strife begins to decline, there will be an improvement in the realm of art. People will come to value it more, they will appreciate the artist more, and art will attain greater prominence. As the world evolves, there will surely come a time when art will recapture its ancient glory and will again become the means of expressing divine wisdom. On that day, words will not be necessary; art itself will be the source of revelation.
Furthermore, whether the artist knows it or not, what he makes always has an influence. Once, when I was visiting Berlin, I saw some statuary around the Kaiser's palace. When I looked at it, I thought that it was no wonder that this empire had collapsed. It could not have been otherwise; it was as if the statues had been put there on purpose in order to ruin it! The symbolism which, either consciously or unconsciously, the artist had embodied in these statues was nothing but a source of ruin. Even now or at some future time, if anyone lives there, there will be a downfall. It cannot be otherwise.
Can it be that a thing is beautiful and yet has a bad influence? It is very difficult to say what is beautiful, and sometimes that which one person considers beautiful another thinks very ugly. Also, something which appears most beautiful to many people may have an effect which is just the reverse, like a fruit which looks delicious, but when one eats it, proves to be quite bitter. Therefore, one can say that something that is not beautiful in its effect is not really beautiful.