The Supplementary Papers
The Divinity of Art
People belonging to different faiths very often make the mistake of considering art as something outside of religion. The fact is that the whole creation is the art of the Creator, and one sees the perfection of His art in divine man. This shows that the source of the whole creation has the spirit of art at the back of it. In all ages man has developed his artistic faculty, and he has tried to progress in art. But, in the end, where does he arrive? He remains far from touching either the beauty of nature or the art of creation. Man's art always fails to equal the art of God.
This shows that the source of every soul is the spirit of art, and art is spirit, that everything which has come out from that spirit has manifested in the form of art. Did man look more at nature – at the heavens, the beauty of the stars and planets, of the clouds and the sun, its rising and setting, and when the sun is at its zenith, the waxing and waning of the moon, the different shades of color which we can see in the sky – the more would man always marvel at the art at work behind it all.
When one is alone with nature, near the sea, on the river bank, among the mountains, in the forest, in the wilderness, a feeling comes over one which is never felt among a crowd, not even if one were in the crowd for years. In one moment a feeling becomes born, as soon as one is face to face with the true art of God. It then seems as if the soul had seen something which it has always admired and worshipped. The soul now begins to recognize One Whom she has always silently worshipped, and now the presence of that mighty Creator, that Artist, is realized through seeing His art. Many experience this, but few will express it. None can come back from such an experience without a deep impression, without something having been awakened to consciousness through having seen the divine art.
This shows that this creation, this manifestation which is before us, has not been made mechanically, has not been created blindly or unconsciously; but as a great poet of Persia, Sadi, says, "The more one looks at nature, the more one begins to feel that there is a perfection of wisdom, a perfect skill, behind it, which has made it, and it will take numberless years for mankind to imitate that art. In fact mankind will never be able to attain it perfectly."
Whoever studies the kingdom of flowers, of vegetables, of minerals, the birds, the insects, the germs, and the worms, the animals and their forms and colors, and the beauty which each form suggests, will surely recognize as did the prophets of old that the world is created by the Spirit, that divine Spirit Who has created it with eyes wide open; and showing perfect wisdom behind it, and perfect skill in it, and a sense of beauty so perfect that man must always be incapable of achieving it. But now the question comes, "What is man?" Man is the miniature of God, and man has inherited as his divine inheritance the tendency to art.
Therefore any man with intelligence and with tender feeling – which goes to make a person a normal man – must admit the beauty of art. He is born with that tendency. A child is born with the love of art, as is proved by the infant being attracted to toys and beautiful colors. Lines attract him. And the first thing which he begins to like or desire is color and movement. This is the time of his life during which he is impressed by artistic things. When a person loses his sense of art, it is just as when the heart has become blind. It cannot see the art anymore because of the clouds of all manner of ugliness and undesirableness, and all that one does not like to look upon. All such things and impressions cover his heart and his soul, and make him, so to speak, blind to beauty, blind to art. But this is not the normal condition. The normal state of a sound mind in a sound body with tender feeling is love of beauty, is to admire art.
No doubt very often man does not live a natural life. That is, his business or profession or responsibility holds him. Some work or some thought for the needs of the body, for bread and butter or any other everyday need holds him and absorbs the whole of his thoughts, so that he becomes useless for the discovery of the beauty and joy and happiness of life. Hence, as we see around us today, life is becoming so difficult and so full of anxiety and trouble and responsibility. From morning till evening man is just loaded with his responsibilities, toil day and night. He has never a moment to think of the beauty of art. Since art is the first step which leads man to the cause of art, how can a person who has never admired or understood the beauty of art hope to admire or understand the Artist?
So God remains unrecognized, and not through the fault of God, but through the fault of man. The Creator in the role of an artist has created His beautiful art, which is not far from human eyes. But man is so engrossed in thoughts and occupations which have nothing to do with that art. All his time and thought and effort are devoted to occupations which never allow him one moment to think of art and admire it and understand and appreciate it. Naturally, then, he remains as if his eyes were covered over from the vision of the Artist. The real purpose of human life was not that man be born to toil for bread and butter; the real purpose of human life was not that man should be avaricious and compete with his fellow man and hate him and view another with prejudice and use the whole of his time in a kind of spirit of rivalry and competition, in which there can be no harmony or joy or peace. With the necessarily ever-increasing avariciousness there is an absence of that beauty for which the soul so constantly longs.
It would be no exaggeration to say that all these disagreeable things which go on in this world – wars, diseases and the like – all come from the lack of artistic attitude in life the lack of a sense of beauty, and the lack of that vision which unites the whole humanity in one center; and this center is God. When man closes his eyes to beauty, he will never think of looking for the beautiful, although beauty is constantly beside him. Behind the beauty, as [Hadith] says, God is. "God is beautiful and He loves beauty." The natural tendency to love and admire beauty is a divine inheritance; it is the spiritual thing which leads to spirituality. Through this tendency one accomplishes one's spiritual duty in life. When that tendency has gone and religion is left without art, then the religion may be perhaps useful for an inartistic society, but it turns into a sort of formality. One does one thing, one does another. As one does weekday work, so one also does Sunday duty.
Man very often separates nature from art. He considers nature different from art; he considers the one superior and the other inferior. But in reality art is that which, by divinely inherited tendency, plays its role through man. God working in nature with His hidden hands has created nature, and He shows His art in that nature. In the other aspect of art which we call "art," God produces beauty through the human hand and the human mind, and so finishes that which has been left over to be finished and has not yet been finished in nature. Therefore in one respect art is a step forward to nature, although compared with nature art is so limited. Nature is unlimited. But at the same time, art is an improvement of nature.
Seen metaphysically, the artistic spirit of God is satisfied by fulfilling its artistic tendency through the art of the human being. Therefore those who consider art from a higher point of view recognize the artistic impulse not only as a human impulse, not only as brain work, but as a true artistic impulse, as an inspiration in itself. But in order to prepare the mind for the artistic impulse, what is necessary? Does one need some kind of learning, or some kind of study? Is there some preliminary study to be make first? No. It requires a tuning, a bringing of ourselves to an object to whose beauty the human heart can respond, to a beauty which the heart can appreciate. When the heart can concentrate upon beauty, then it works itself up to a certain pitch, for inspiration is not a thing which one can pull upon to obtain as by pulling a rope. Inspiration is a thing which comes only when the heart is tuned to that object, when it is in a position to receive it. Therefore inspired artists have been divinely gifted, and the spirit of art is one, though the arts are so many. When the heart is tuned to the proper pitch, it is not only capable of producing or appreciating one kind of art and beauty, but all kinds.
Thus there can be an art in architecture. A gifted architect can produce a great deal of beauty in his work. So too with drawing, with embroidery, with the work of dyeing, of sewing. In fact there is nothing which man does which cannot have art in it if he knows how to attune himself to that pitch which enables the art to be expressed. Poetry is an art in the same way. Unless a person is tuned to the proper pitch, he may write poetry all his life and yet it will not please either him or anyone else. So with a painter, or a musician (violin, piano, any instrument); he will not please himself or anyone else during his whole life unless he has become tuned to that pitch.
This shows that the question as to what grade of evolution a person has attained comes in every walk in life. Whether a person be a painter, or sculptor, or architect, or designer, or singer, or dancer, whatever walk he may follow, there is no better source of inspiration in nature, whence to draw inspiration from above, than by means of art. The more cultivated the sense of art is in man, the more able he is to respond to the beauty of art, and the more able he is to produce or create something beautiful in himself. The more he comes into touch with that spirit Who is constantly helping every soul toward beauty, the more man can produce. Everything that helps man to approach the beauty of God is sacred. Therefore art can become religion. It would not be an exaggeration to say that there is no better religion than art itself.
When one has reached to that degree of understanding, when one has reached that knowledge of art by which he can become profited, when the heart is once tuned to that pitch by which one can understand and appreciate art, and when one has changed one's outlook upon life so as to see in the beauty of art the beauty of the divine Being, then one can progress in the true art.
From this we learn that consciously or unconsciously that which our soul is really seeking is art; and yet at the same time man very frequently avoids this very thing that he is really seeking. The right way and the wrong way are so near to one another. The only difference is that a person is journeying along the right way when at every step he can say, "I see the signs that support and help me to go on further and promise that the goal is before me." When he is journeying along the wrong way every step tells him, "I am not in the right way, I must go back; I am not on the road on which I ought to be."
Consciously or unconsciously every soul seeks for beauty, and at each step of our lives we think that beauty is receiving us as we go, that beauty meets us at every step on our path, then that soul is satisfied, is full of hope, knowing that the road he is one is his proper road, and that some day or other he will arrive at his goal. The person who thinks at every step of his journey, "I am not on a right road, I do not like this; I am not pleased with that," is making no progress. The beauty he is looking for, he is ever leaving behind. He is traveling in quite another way from that which he is expecting.
So we see that whether our road is right or wrong depends on our appreciation of the artistic side of life or on our lack of it. But by saying this, one does not wish it to be understood that everyone must necessarily practice to become an artist, or learn some branch of art. It is only to say that there is a spark of artistic faculty in every soul. There is not a single soul who has not got this spark. Some have more, some have less. Yet that spark does not have to be used by everybody to that extent which is called "artist." No. But we must exhibit and utilize that faculty in our everyday life. A person with the artistic faculty is sure to show it in everything he does, even in dusting a room or keeping it tidy, or in keeping a machine in order. In all these directions can a person show art. One does not require a palace before one can begin to manifest art. If one really has the love for beauty, one can show the artistic faculty in quite small things.
Besides this there is the fact that the soul manifests outwardly that which it holds inwardly, so that it is the beauty which man has within himself which he expresses without. Man shows his artistic faculty in his manner towards his friend and towards his surroundings. A person who has no sense of art is called "rude", "inconsiderate", "thoughtless", "foolish", "simpleminded", "crude", "coarse."
A person does not need to have much money in order to be able to express his art. He can express it in various circumstances. He may be the poorest man in the world and yet he can express the beauty of his soul in whatever state he may be placed. Beauty will not be hidden. One shows one's art in one's words. When one is in business, or in the family, or among friends, one does not know how many times during the day one hurts the feeling of others; one does not even notice them. Even though one were very learned or experienced, the lack of art would still manifest. Even a loving, kind, and good person will never be able to express the goodness which is hidden in his heart if art is lacking.
When Jesus Christ taught in the Sermon Upon the Mount, "Blessed are they who are gentle, who are meek, humble, poor in spirit," what lesson does it teach us? It is this lesson of art. The lesson is, "produce in one's personality." Even so-called artists, musicians, poets, painters, if they have not fostered art, if art is not impressed on the soul, and if the soul has not expressed the beauty of art, they do not know art; they are profane; they claim to be something they are not.
Having thought much upon this subject, and being specially interested in art, I have come in contact with artists of different countries both in the East and West. It has always proved that those who have really attained some greatness in their art were those who showed glimpses of art in their personality. It showed in the words they spoke, in the way they received me, and in the manner in which they spoke with me: their tenderness of heart, their friendliness, their interest in my affairs. Every sign of art could be seen in such personalities. Even if not an artist literally, a painter, a singer, a poet, whatever the real occupation, it does not matter as long as one has realized beauty in that occupation, and has perceived beauty around one and has collected around one all that one finds beautiful. All this must be expressed in return, and it is that which is true art.
In the Hindu language there are two attitudes mentioned by the philosophers, namely, 1. "hamsadi;" 2. "suhradi." The former attitude is that of a bird of paradise, a mythical bird of the Hindus called Hamsa. If you put milk mixed with water before Hamsa, it will drink the milk and leave the water behind. The suhradi attitude is that of the people. It is the tendency of looking to find where there is any dirty spot and then wanting to sit in it. Such is the tendency of man. One person is always looking for what may be wrong in people, and is delighted to hear something wrong about them, and is very interested in discussing their faults and hearing of their being disgraced or insulted in some way. Such persons are always wanting to see the evil around them, in whatever form it may be.
This pleasure grows until the whole life becomes a burden, for the presence of evil produces its bad impression, and bad thoughts collect around him, for they are reproduced just as a gramophone record produces sounds. Such a person becomes the gramophone record for the evil he collects; he utters it, he retains the bad feelings within; he spreads them abroad wheresoever he goes. Nobody likes him, nor does he like anyone either; the time will come when he cannot even like himself. Another kind of character is he who overlooks all that does not seem to be harmonious; he looks only for good in every person, and finds some good even in the worst person in the world. This person seeks for good, wishes to see it wherever he can find it, and in this way constantly gathers good impressions. And what is "good?" Good is beauty. What is Beauty? Beauty is God.
What is virtue? Virtue is beauty. What is beauty is also virtue. One does not have to learn in a book or a scripture or from some other person what is good and what is bad. We can learn from our own sense of art. The greater one's sense of art, the more it will show what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad. As soon as the senses begin to develop and understand what it is that takes away beauty and what it is that imparts beauty, then such a one gathers beauty as one gathers flowers. Such persons welcome others with beauty, they express beauty, they impart it to others. Others love them. They love others. They live and move and have their being in love, just as it is said in the Bible, "They live and move and have their being in God." So a person who lives and moves and has his being in love will certainly also live and move and have his being in God.This may be called "the divine art," for which a person may study and strive. But besides this there is the art which every person must look for and develop in his own nature. The Message of Sufism to the Western world has this as its chief object, to awaken the spirit of the world from this thought of antagonism and mutual hatred, and to bring about the feeling of human brotherhood; so that all humanity may meet with one another, whatever be their nation, race, or religion, in one place, in one center, namely, the thought of God. And in order to rise to this ideal, and in order to tune our soul to this pitch, so necessary from beginning to end, it is necessary to seek the path of beauty, and to recognize in beauty the Being of God.
God bless you.