Hazrat Inayat : Art and Religion pt I

Continuing with his teachings about art, Hazrat Inayat Khan now speaks about the relationship between art and the religious impulse.

Very few in the world today link religion with art, or art with religion. But in point of fact, art is much more important than the average person realizes it to be – despite the saying that ‘art is what man makes, and nature is what God makes.’ I would prefer to say that nature is what God makes as God, and art is what God makes as man. The artist who has arrived at some perfection in his art, whatever his art may be, will come to realize that it is not he who ever achieved anything; it is someone else who came forward every time. And when the artist produces a perfect thing, he finds it difficult to imagine that it has been produced by him. He can do nothing but bow his head in humility before that unseen power and wisdom which takes his body, his heart, his brain, and his eyes as its instrument. Whenever beauty is produced in art, be it music, or poetry, or painting, or writing, or anything else, one must never think that man produced it. It is through man that God completes His creation. Thus there is nothing that is done in this world or in heaven that is not divine immanence, which is not divine creation. It is the apparent separating of that divine work which causes the perplexity that separates man from his Lord.

In the first place, everything that we see in the world – all the occupations that we engage in willingly or unwillingly – lead us to accomplish a certain purpose. But it is a fact that there are certain things in life by which we accomplish a far greater purpose, and which can only be accomplished by an inspiration from within. Art is a domain in which inspiration manifests with great facility. In order to become spiritual, to attain inspiration, it is not necessary that a man should be very religious or especially good; what is necessary is love of beauty. What is art? Art is the creation of beauty in whatever form it is created. As long as an artist thinks that whatever he creates in the form of art is his own creation, and as long as he is vain about his creation, he has not learned true art. True art can only come on one condition, and that is that the artist forgets himself – that he forgets himself in the vision of beauty. There is one condition through which his art can be still more valuable, and that is when the artist begins to recognize the divine in his art. As long as the artist has not realized this, he has not touched the perfection of art.

In reality, art is nature re-expressed, perfecting the beauty that is already there. Nature in no way lacks beauty; nature is perfect and therefore is most exalting. But it is beyond man’s power to see nature as a whole. He only sees a part of it, and everything that is only seen in part is limited. It is this condition which limits the beauty for us. As man sees only a limited beauty in nature, his first impulse is to perfect it; and the means he adopts to improve upon it he calls art. The soul of man is the light of God, and so this impulse that arises in the heart of man to improve upon nature is also a divine impulse. Therefore, art is divine, for all beauty is divine.

It is said in the Bible, ‘God is love,’ and again, ‘In God we live and move and have our being.’ The word of the Prophet is, ‘God is beautiful, and He loves beauty.’ If we take these two teachings and unite them as one, we shall find that God Himself is love and at the same time beauty. In whatever direction man strives in life, it leads towards a certain beauty. If he wishes to be rich, or to have a high position – whatever may be his pursuit in life – in some form or other it is in order to have beauty. No doubt the idea of beauty is different for each individual. One considers beauty to consist of a beautiful environment; another, that it means being dressed in beautiful clothes; yet another thinks that grace of movement, of manner, or of expression is beauty. One person sees beauty in character, another in virtue; one finds beauty in verse, another in the realm of music; one admires the beauty that is external, another seeks beauty within. And it is the method of creating beauty, under whatever aspect, which is called art.

Man is always seeking for beauty, and yet he is unaware of the treasure of beauty that is hidden in his own heart. He strives after it throughout his whole life. It is as if he was in pursuit of the horizon: the further he proceeds, the further the horizon seems to have moved away. For there are two aims: the one is real, and the other false. That which is false is momentary, transitory, and unreliable – wealth, power, fame, and position are all snatched from one hand by the other. Therefore in the language of the mystic this is called maya; its nature is to change constantly. But our soul’s longing is to hold on to something, to grasp something that we can depend upon. If a man seeks a position, he feels, ‘If only I could find something which would be permanent, something I could depend upon.’ If he seeks a friend, his first thought is to find a friend upon whom he can depend. Constancy is more valuable than anything else in friendship.

To be continued…

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