Volume X - Sufi Mysticism
ART, YESTERDAY, TODAY, AND TOMORROW
In all art there are three stages, and especially in sculpture. The first stage is conception, the next stage is composition, and the third stage is production. If the artist is not capable of conceiving an idea, he cannot go any further. He may try hundreds of times, but he will not arrive at the desired result. The outer world may help to bring about such a conception, but it must actually spring from within. It depends upon the stage of the artist's evolution; according to his evolution he is able to catch, to sense, the rising stream of inspiration which comes from within.
The sculptor's work is of very great importance, for it is an imitation of the art of the Creator, and not always in miniature form. The sculptor's first idea is to make a life-size statue, or perhaps even larger than life-size. If it is smaller, his task is to put so much life into it that it may take the place of a living creature. Thus, sculpture is imitating God.
Composition comes from another faculty. Conception is the work of intuition, but even if a person has enough intuition to form an idea, he still needs the faculty of composition to express it. A gifted artist is he who has the gift, the capacity, to compose in his mind that which he wants to bring out. There are many intuitive artists who owing to their particular stage of evolution can perceive an intuition, but if they are not gifted, they cannot compose it. That is another talent. No doubt a lover of nature, a keen observer, an admirer of line and curve, a real artist, all have such a gift – the aptitude for composing that which intuition brings in the form of an idea.
The third stage is the production. If a person is not qualified to produce something with his hands, then he may have intuition and the gift of composition, yet he cannot produce a work of art. This is something else: skill, and skill is learned by practice. Human nature is such that it considers everything easy. If one has intuition, one readily thinks that one can also compose; and if one is able to compose a work of art in one's mind, one believes that one can produce it. But again, producing requires another kind of talent.
Which is the most difficult stage? This cannot be determined, for one artist has talent but is without intuition; another artist can compose in his mind and yet is without skill in producing; and there is yet another who has intuition but is lacking in composition and production. In order to combine these three faculties, one must not only be an artist; one must become art itself. Then to the one who is so absorbed in his work that he forgets himself, that capacity, that intuition, that skill will come naturally. He begins to do wonders, and his art becomes a perfect expression of what he had in mind.
In the ancient art of Egypt, one finds an extraordinary atmosphere. One may take a simple statue that seems to have been made with little skill, when compared with the art of ancient Greece; but when it is studied from a psychological point of view, one finds something living within it. It is not only a work of art; life has been put into it. This shows that the tendency of the ancient artists was to give life to their thought. Their sculpture may not show a high degree of skill, yet it is a phenomenon. If a piece of rock that was carved thousands of years ago can produce atmosphere, this proves that the artist who made it gave it life. And the more man investigates the ancient history of Egypt, the more he will find that the Egyptians possessed the art of putting life into objects.
Coming to the art of India, the artists there made use of sculpture to produce scriptures. Every work of art in India is a scripture, and we can read one or another philosophical truth in each one. The carvings and engravings in the temples, the gods and goddesses, their several hands each holding some symbolical object, all have a deep meaning. By the study of this meaning, one may arrive at realization. Thus, the ancient temples of India were not only places where people worshipped, they were at the same time scriptures, places where people were inspired if their insight was keen enough to observe what was behind the symbols. The tourists who go there now and admire the artistic aspect of these sculptures, do not see what is behind them, and with what idea they were made. The artists did not give their attention only to the artistic side, for the principal motive behind these sculptures was to express certain aspects of the philosophy of life.
One finds this form of art all over India, for instance near Bombay in the caves of Elephanta, and in a place called Ajanta near Aurangabad. There are also examples near Darjeeling and in Nepal and its surroundings. When one goes farther into Tibet, one finds that the ancient philosophy has been preserved for thousands of years in the form of sculpture, ready to be revealed to souls which are evolved enough to read what was written there.
In the East, ancient China was considered to have the highest artistic skill. What is most estimable in the art of China is its imagery; the Chinese artist produced the picture of patience, of greed, of wrath; the image of war, the image of peace; and all kinds of abstract ideas like these, in the form of an animal or of man. It is a peculiar talent which is not to be found in every artist, as man naturally is inclined to picture what he is familiar with. But an artist who can imagine something entirely different from what one is accustomed to see, has quite a different talent. When we look at it from this point of view, it is very admirable. The Chinese were indeed able to make most interesting works of art in this way.
All that we are accustomed to see is easy to admire, because our eyes are used to it; but any form that is different seems odd to us, something strange. The Chinese have given beauty to forms which have never been seen but which attract the eye and the mind all the same; and the thoughtful will stop to think what is behind them. By their imagery, the Chinese artists attempted to bring the abstract into objective form. And to a greater or lesser degree, the world has admired the ancient art of China. Yet the world has not wholly understood its meaning. Nowadays, experts on Chinese art are trying to explain it to Western art lovers – but it is not the art expert who can explain the art of China. It needs psychological explanation, it needs the mystical touch; for it has come from minds that are deep and thoughtful, the minds of a people who have suffered for thousands of years and who have been in quest of the truth.
But as regards beauty, there is no art that can be compared with that of Greece. Ancient Greek art stands alone in its beauty, in its fineness. Its peculiarity is the movement within it. It seems as if movement had been given to the statue, and that the statue has been moving for thousands of years. The gracefulness, the delicacy, and at the same time the mysticism of ancient Greek art is wonderful. Every action that we can observe in this statuary reveals some meaning. Greek imagery, too, fills us with wonder and admiration.
When we come to the art of sculpture today, it seems as if the artist is searching; he is trying to reach something that he knows is absent. The soul of the sculptor is seeking for something that seems lost. First of all, by lack of appreciation around him, the artist is discouraged. Next, he is put in the midst of the business world; and the relief which should be given to the heart of the artist, so that he may think of art and nothing else, is not to be found today. There was not so much thought of competition in ancient times; there was not a fixed price for art. Art was invaluable. The admirers of ancient art never considered a work of art as having a fixed price. They always thought that they could never give enough for real art. In that way, art progressed; it was admired.
Besides, the direction of art today is not of the same nature as in ancient times. The direction of ancient art was towards spiritual realization. Love, harmony, and beauty were seen by the artist in their highest aspects. And when the artist loses that direction, then he comes down to earth; instead of going upward, he is going downward. There is no doubt that humanity nowadays is less religious. Every step we think we are taking in a new direction seems further removed from religion; in everything, we see that humanity is forgetting religion, and educated and intellectual people even wish to avoid any conversation on the subject. Many feel that to pronounce the name of God puts a great burden upon them; they think it is so heavy. And when this subject comes up in a conversation, they say things like 'higher forces,' 'higher powers,' or sometimes, with great difficulty, they say 'gods.' To merely say 'God' is too simple; they believe they are too evolved to say the word 'God.'
A wrong conception of democracy has also resulted in modern writers writing against the ideal of God, an ideal which was depicted and beautified by the great prophets of Ben Israel and all the saints and sages. This ideal was a stepping-stone for them; but these writers say that by speaking, for instance, of the 'wrath of God,' God was depicted in a cruel form. They think that the intelligent people of today would have expressed it better, would have given it a more beautiful form; but instead of giving it a more beautiful form, they have destroyed the ideal and thus impoverished mankind. With the ideal lost, there is nothing to hold onto except objects that the senses can perceive and touch.
This does not mean that Western art has not developed since the Renaissance. It has evolved at every step, but still it seems that there is something lacking; and what needs to be added to modern art is not yet there. Modern art needs so much to make it perfect, and no one can feel this as deeply as the artist feels it today. The scientist is sooner contented with what little he discovers, but the better the work of art, the more the artist feels that there is something still missing; his heart is longing all through his life to produce something more than that. Consciously or unconsciously, every artist is craving for that something which is missing. And if this goes on, no doubt the artist will find it; and on the day when the mystery is found, art will again become a language.
The meditative quality and the practice of concentration should be developed in art, and also the higher ideal; but the material world forms a barrier to all these. It stands in the way of the artist's progress. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that a real artist is always spiritually inclined; he is only hindered by the world, and therefore it is possible that tomorrow the art of sculpture will evolve. It will evolve in fineness and in beauty, and sculptors will also develop their imagery. Then art will culminate in that greatest of achievements, when the artist will really be able to produce a living statue.
The motive behind the whole of creation is to put life into everything. That is its sole objective. In other words, every rock is longing for the day when it will burst out as a volcano, and when all that is valuable in it will come out. Sulfur, diamonds, gold, and silver; everything that is in its heart must come out one day. That is its purpose.
Every tree is longing for the day when it will bear fruit. Love expresses itself through every channel, and it manifests outwardly in order that God may see Himself face to face. And so it is with a work of art. People think that it is the artist who has made it; in reality, it is God who has perfected it. As it is God's pleasure to create the world, so it is also God's pleasure to create through pen and brush and chisel, to give life to what is lifeless. If there is life, it is God. And what is God? God is love, and thus the desire of that love is to manifest in the form of beauty in the realm of art.