Artists: Notes on Art Making

The relation between philosophy and art is similar to that which subsists between mysticism and religion. The religion of an individual is not the creed into which his body is born, but the mode of thought and action which springs from his consciousness. Within every man the mystic exists and as the latter ideates so the former acts. So with the artist -- the philosopher in him creates the poem or the picture, the song or the statue. A man’s religion speaks in his manners and habits, expresses itself in the tone of his voice and the texture of his deeds. The mystic in man is ever at work and in most men it is an unconscious process. Often the outer sensual man rushing about towards the objects of sense, overpowers the mystic within and fashions for himself a way of life founded entirely upon his apperceptions and upon the education he acquires at school and college. Then the man has become a materialist and the mystic in him is silenced.

But when the mystic succeeds in impressing the man of flesh we have the birth of true genius - not artificial genius, the outcome of sense culture and merely intellectual acuteness. Lavater speaks of two types of genius: --

“The proportion of genius (in general) to the vulgar, is like one to a million; but genius without tyranny, without pretension, that judges the weak with equity, the superior with humanity, and equals with justice, is like one in ten millions.”

So with the artist. His work is commonplace and lifeless when the philosopher in him is submerged. In most artists, the philosopher functions subjectively but often they are not conscious of the process. Because of the increasing influence of the mystic within him, the religious man turns to yoga-shastra to learn the technique by which the mystic (to borrow a phrase from the Gita) “becomes evident at every gate of the body.” Unfortunately the specific yoga-exercises by which the philosopher in the artist can be evoked at every gate of the body are not known.

Our civilization is dominated by the ideology of science, and therefore the prevailing view is that matter is the womb of spirit: most people are educated to regard the mind as the product of senses, nerves and brain, and to look upon the Soul as the flame which dies when the tallow of muscle and the wick of nerve are exhausted. Therefore the geniuses produced by our civilization are mostly of the first type mentioned by Lavater. But another marked feature of this modern civilization is the growing recognition of the value of art, not only as a creator of beauty and a dispenser of joy but as a practical inspirer to noble living. Art frees the mind. Beauty produces joy which drowns sordidness and releases the emotions of love and altruism -- be it only for an hour or even a few moments. And beauty is vital and viable; it brings back again and again the feeling of the joy and the love and altruism once experienced.

The artist too is very greatly influenced by the teaching that matter is reality and spirit is but its product and that man’s soul born of his brain is as mortal as the brain; but the tendency of culture is towards mysticism in religion and philosophy in art. In an increasing measure the artist, the priest of the Beautiful, is influencing the modern mind and that is why India, with her ancient traditions of the art language of symbol, emblem, myth, allegory and personification, has an almost unique opportunity of fulfilling her mission in the world through the channel of art.

The Indian philosophical view of the Universe is that both Spirit and Matter are real; Spirit expressed Reality through changeless Repose which is Atman or Brahman or Nirvana; Matter also expresses Reality through change and flux which is Maya, who, dropping a veil, reveals her greater beauty and radiance. The World of Spirit is within the World of Matter and through the latter the mind of man perceives the stability of Spirit, as through the former the human heart controls the mighty magic of Prakriti.

There are two aspects of the Beautiful in manifestation -- the purely spiritual and the sensuous. This latter does not mean something evil or gross but simply that which is born of Kama, human feeling and passion, born of senses which are material. This aspect of the Beautiful is pleasing and entertaining, at times instructive and even inspiring. Its chief characteristic is that it moves between the comic and the tragic, between love and hate, between raga and dvesha. The swing of emotion now clears the mind and then befogs it, and misery chases ever-receding happiness and fools us into mistaking that chase for happiness itself. Is not this after all the common message of every picture and poem, every cartoon and satire in our cities and homes of the twentieth century? And yet - not altogether. There is the higher aspect of the Beautiful -- the purely spiritual, the Beautiful not born of Kama, but of Karuna, universal Compassion and tender Mercy. That aspect of the Beautiful manifests itself in Forms of Life which are direct projections of the Light Universal and which show themselves as Living Colours out of which Immortal Gods fashion their bodies; as Pure Sounds which arise in Soundless Space; as Words of Power which Silence speaks. These all make up Nature’s Picture Gallery called Akasha, or -- better and truer comparison -- they make up Nature’s Templei which Living Gods enshrine themselves out of great mercy and compassion so that the straining eyes of man may catch a glimpse, his expecting ears receive a heavenly sound or his silenced tongue learn to utter an immortal Word of Power.

The hearers of the Vedas were called the Seers of the Mantras. They but faithfully recorded what the World of Spirit reflected in their eyes and impressed on their ears. Is not then the highest function of Art to reproduce in the world of Matter the Beauty of the World of Spirit? Our civilization is surfeited with the ‘original’ creations of clever brains and complex-ridden minds: let us have faithful copies of the Great Originals in Akasha -- the Dance of Shiva, the Flute=Playing of Krishna, the Figures of the trimurti; not these as familiar to us in story and song and statue but as new aspects and fresh phases of these arupa (formless) Realities. For this purpose the artist must become a Twice-Born, as he was in days of yore. He must bring to birth within himself the Philosopher-Yogi capable of precipitating Spiritual Realities which are the enduring expression of the Beautiful. Will The Four Arts Annual help him to do so?

Published in the 4 Arts Annual, 1936-37
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