Hazrat Inayat : The Divinity of Art pt I

Hazrat Inayat Khan here gives some insight into the relationship that can develop between art and spirituality.

Art may be defined as having four aspects. One aspect of art may be called imitative art, the tendency and ability to produce as exactly as possible, on the canvas or in the clay, something that one sees. This is the first stage, and one that leads the artist further on the path of art. In order to develop this faculty, the mind must be fully concentrated. When the artist lacks concentration, he cannot observe objects and their beauty keenly, and therefore he is not able to reproduce them exactly as he sees them. Concentration has such great power that a concentrated person can penetrate into an object, and can see not only the outside of it but also the inside. In other words, a concentrated person not only sees the form but its spirit. This is the fullness of observation, and it comes by concentration. Whenever the artist cannot imitate nature, cannot copy an object exactly, it shows that he lacks concentration.

The next aspect of art is suggestive art. This can be divided into two kinds: first, an art which directly suggests a certain idea, so that as soon as we see the picture we can see what it says, what it explains, and what it represents; and the other kind, which is expressed in symbols, an art which through a certain symbolism expresses a great wisdom. This wisdom is covered; and the more one looks at the picture and the more one studies it, the more it reveals the idea, the wisdom, the thought that is hidden in it. Such art is a revelation. The art of ancient Egypt, of Greece, and especially of the Mongolians and of India, was chiefly symbolical art. In such periods, when other types of pictures were not produced and books were not printed, this was the only means of keeping wisdom alive and handing it on to the coming generations. This was done by the master artists, who were inspired by spiritual wisdom and who tried to guide humanity. With hammer and chisel, they carved in wood and engraved on the rocks, and left their work in the caves of the mountains and in the old temples and palaces. It is an art that expresses wisdom. When one visits one of these caves where wisdom is expressed in the realm of art, one will find that one symbol can reveal more than a volume of written manuscript. In this way, the sculptures of a temple or of a mountain cave were like a library with thousands of books. The one who can read, can find divine wisdom there, expressed distinctly and with great intelligence and wit.

The ideas of the Hindus about gods and goddesses, the different postures in which they stand or sit, and the way Buddha holds his hands, all these express to him who knows a teaching that is connected with the culture of the spirit.

The third aspect of art is the creative aspect. In this aspect, an artist creates a theme and improvises upon that theme as he goes on working. In this way the artist creates wisdom and power. No doubt the higher the art, the less it is appreciated and the less it is studied, and the majority will always seem to be ignorant of its meaning. Nevertheless, the artist who reaches that plane where he can create, can from that moment call himself an artist. Creating is different from imitating or suggesting. In the development of art, imitating is the first step; suggesting is the second step; and creating is the third step.

In India, fifty years ago, there was an artist, the brother of the maharaja of Travancore. After having read the sacred traditions of the Hindus, he wondered if it would not be a wise thing to reproduce these legends and stories in the realm of art. So he devoted all his life to this idea, and made perhaps twenty or thirty pictures of the ancient traditions. Since that time, India has understood and appreciated its ancient spiritual traditions far better than ever before. By expressing the sacred traditions in the form of art, he brought a new outlook and a new spiritual message to the people of India. This shows how much more effect art can have upon people if a spiritual idea is embodied in it.

To be continued…

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