Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Perspectives > Chapter 14: The Arts in Culture
The Arts in Culture
Beauty is as much an aspect of Reality as truth. He who is insensitive to the one has not found the other.
We must call in the services of art to give religion its finest dress. Music must show its triumphs in the individual soul, architecture must create the proper atmosphere for communion, painting and sculpture must give visual assistance to the mind's upward ascension.
Through the practice of art a man may come closer to soul than through occultism.
Art can take the place of and be a substitute for religion only when it is truly inspired.
A gracious and refined style of living might be disapproved by those of ascetic tendencies and even decried as materialistic. But aesthetic feeling can be quite compatible with spirituality.
When they fulfil their highest mission, painting and sculpture try to make visible, music tries to make audible, prose literature tries to make thinkable, poetic literature tries to make imaginable the invisible, inaudible, unthinkable, and unimaginable mystery of pure Spirit. Although it is true that they can never give shape to what is by its very nature the Shapeless, it is also true that they can hint, suggest, symbolize, and point to It.
Judge a work of art by analysing its effect. Does it leave you feeling better or worse, inspired or disturbed, calmed or restless, perceptive or dulled? For every opportunity to behold great paintings or listen to inspired music or read deeply discerning literature is itself a kind of Grace granted to us.
What Buddha taught about the transient, the changing, the elusive character of all human joy is plainly true: he went further and declared it unsatisfactory because of these reasons. Still further and on the same grounds, he rejected the attractions of the Beautiful Form. We are not to be ensnared by these perfections of form, that shapeliness of figure, that stateliness of architecture, and those symmetries of pattern such as engaged the ancient Greek artist. But the philosopher who cannot accept this further attitude is entitled to ask, "So long as we do not permit ourselves to be deceived into regarding them as the ultimate happiness, so long as we acknowledge their relativity and brevity, so what if they do pass, if they have their day? Why not enjoy them to the utmost while they are there? Why refuse an exquisite sight or an enchanting sound if, apart from the pleasure it affords, it might even be used as a stepping-stone to spiritual uplift?"
Art fulfils its highest purpose, acquires more valuable significance, when it becomes a vehicle for spiritual beauty.
It is true that men learn through disappointment and develop through suffering. But this need not cause us to forget that they also learn and develop through joy and beauty.
Such an inspired production gives out a form of energy which makes those who can receive it with enough sympathy feel and see what its creator felt and saw. There is an actual transmission.
A work of art which awakens in its beholder or hearer or reader a deep feeling of reverential worship or inner strength or mental tranquillity thereby gives him a blessing. It enables him to share the artist's inspiration.
There is this quality about an inspired work, that you can come back to it again and again and discover something fresh or helpful or beautiful or benedictory.
Anyone who is susceptible to beauty in music or place has a spiritual path ready-made for him.
The inspired beauty to which a true artist introduces the world is an aspect of the same power to which a true priest introduces his flock.
The writer or artist or musician who is to stir up the intuitions in your mind must be the human receptacle of divine inspiration.
An art production whose form derives from spiritual tradition or symbolism, whose content derives from spiritual experience or understanding, is at least as worthy of veneration as a religious relic.
A simple environment, even an austere one, is understandable and acceptable in the case of those who have outwardly renounced the world, as well as of those who try to live in the world and yet be inwardly detached from it. But an ugly environment, even a drab one, is neither understandable nor acceptable in the case of those who profess to worship the Spirit. For its attributes are not only Goodness and Truth, among others, but also Beauty. To cultivate an indifferent attitude toward material possessions is one thing, but to show an insensitive one toward beautiful creations and to feel no repugnance toward ugly ones is not a spiritual approach; it is anti-spiritual.
It is a fact that beautiful surroundings create an atmosphere, benefit the emotional-mental state, and rest or stimulate a man according to their nature.
A philosophic temperament, well-developed and sufficiently rounded, has little taste for the ugly bareness propagated in the name of simple living, or for the dreary denial of the beautiful arts in the name of anti-sensuality.
Whether it be a piece of glued furniture or a constructed building, a piece of written prose or a flying machine, it should serve not the functional alone nor the beautiful alone, but a blend of both together.
The artist has two functions: to receive through inspiration and to give through technique.
The creative faculty should be cultivated and developed as both a great aid to, and an expression of, spiritual growth.
If he succeeds in transmitting through the medium of his work something of the inspiration he receives, be he priest or artist, he is truly creative.
This is creative stillness; it is also magical, for it brings about the merging of yin and yang.
No artist really creates anything. All he can do is to try to communicate to others in turn what has been communicated to him.
What is the final call of true art? Not to the work which expresses it but to the spirit which inspires it, the divine source of which it reminds us.
If he composes, paints, sculpts, or writes as the light within shows him the thing or thought to be depicted--not as opinion, bias, or untruth urges him--he will be truly inspired.
The artist may work to earn his livelihood. But if he is also to consult his conscience, he must at the same time strive to become a servant of the Holy Spirit.
The artist who is infatuated with himself uses his production to flatter and hence strengthen his ego.
An artistic production that is really inspired must give joy to its creator at the time of creation equally as to its possessor, hearer, or beholder. If it does not, then it is not inspired. (14-2.25)
The genius is both receptive and expressive. What he gets intuitively from within he gives out again in the forms of his art or skill.
He creates, not to express his small personality as so many others do, but to escape from it. For it is to the divine which transcends him, which is loftily impersonal, that he looks for inspiration.
Method and technique are necessary in themselves but incomplete; inspiration and intuition should shine behind them.
Although technical equipment is not all there is to the practice of art, it must be mastered. Without it, inspiration suffers from a faulty or deficient medium.
In matter and manner, in content and technique, in substance and style, the productions of the faultless artist who is only technically competent will never equal those of the faultless artist who is also spiritually mature.
The philosophic search for enlightenment and the artist's search for perfection of work can meet and unite.
Art can be a path to spiritual enlightenment but not to complete and lasting enlightenment. It can be born out of, and can give birth itself to, only Glimpses. For art is a search for beauty, which by itself is not enough. Beauty must be supported by virtue and both require wisdom to guide them.
When a piece of deep music or a chapter of illumined writing puts him under a kind of spell towards the end, when the aesthetic joy or intellectual stimulus of one or the other gives him the sensation of being carried away, he ought to take full advantage of what has happened by putting aside the thought of the music or book and remembering that he is at the gate of the Overself.
Beauty is one side of reality which attracts our seeking and our love. But because it is so subtle and our perceptions are so gross, we find it first in the forms of art and Nature, only last in the pure immaterial being of the intangible reality.
The artist must raise the cup of his vision aloft to the gods in the high hope that they will pour into it the sweet mellow wine of inspiration. If his star of fair fortune favours him that day, then must he surrender his lips to the soft lure of the amber-coloured drink that sets care aflying and restores to the tongue the forgotten language of the soul. For these sibylline inspirations of his come from a sky that is brighter than his own, and he cannot control it.
The function of art is different from that of mysticism, but both converge in the same ultimate direction. Both are expressions of the human search for something higher than the ordinary.
The supremely gifted artist who works primarily out of pure love of his art--whether it be writing, painting, or music--rather than out of love of its rewards, sometimes approaches and arrives at this same concept through another channel. Such a genius unconsciously throws the plumbline of feeling into the deep mystery of his being. He is lifted beyond his ordinary self at his most inspired moments. He feels that he is floating in a deeper element. He receives intimations of the pure timeless reality of Mind, whose beauty, he now discovers, his best works have vainly sought to adumbrate. The flash of insight is granted him, although if he is only an artist and not also a philosopher he may not know how to retain it.
The creative artist is taken out of himself for a time and is serenely elevated, just as the meditative mystic is. But the two states, although psychologically similar, are not spiritually similar. For the mystic enters his elevated state consciously and deliberately goes in quest of his inner being or soul. He uses it as a springboard to escape from the world of space time and change. The artist, however, uses it as a means of creating something in the world of space time and change. Hence although art approaches quite close to mysticism, it has not the same divine possibilities, for it lacks the higher values, the moral disciplines, and the supersensuous aims of mysticism.
The artist uses a medium outside himself to effect his own personal approach to the ecstatic state of ideal beauty as well as to inspire the appreciators of his artistic production. The mystic uses no external medium whatever, but makes his approach to the source he finds inside himself. Although the mystic, if he be blessed with intellectual talents or artistic gifts, can project his ecstatic experience into an intellectual or artistic production when he chooses, he is not obliged to do so. He has this internal method of transmitting his experience to others through mental telepathy. Hence mysticism is on a higher level than art. Nevertheless, art, being much easier for most people to comprehend and appreciate, necessarily makes a wider appeal and reaches hundreds of thousands where mysticism reaches only a few.
The artist's productions may be most inspired; he may glorify art and put it on a pinnacle as the noblest and loftiest human activity when at its best. But it is still a manifestation of man's ego, the finest and final one. He must transcend it in the end. Like yoga, it prepares the way, is a step not a stop.
Whoever accepts the higher mission of art and comes nearer and nearer to it through his creative activity, will then go on from art to the Spirit deep within his own self.
A mind caught up with spiritually significant meanings, or attentively held by highly beautiful sounds, is a mind that one day will respond to Truth.
It is a rare moment when he looks upon Beauty itself rather than upon the forms of Beauty.
It is a common mistake among artists and writers to regard inflammation as inspiration, and to take inflamed feelings for inspired revealings.
The human being is played upon by various influences at various stages of his life in the body. We all know what climate and music will do to create different moods, but one factor often not understood or neglected is the influence of colour. It is always there in our surroundings, in a room, apartment, or house, in our clothing and in our furnishings. It can contribute towards health or take away from it; it can cheer or depress the emotions; it can invigorate or devitalize the body; it can give pleasure to the eyes or irritate them. Red, for instance, colour of the planet Mars and associated in astrology with war and anger, can be stimulating and life-giving if it is in its pure clear form. But in its undesirable darkish shades, it simply stimulates the lower desires, the animal feelings. However, it is a warm colour and for those who are old in years and in whom the circulation of blood is poor, the presence of pure red in the decorations and furnishings will help to keep them warmer. Orange will give the beneficial side of red and less of its negative side. Yellow is the colour of reason and helps to lift a man above his lower desires. In its pure golden sun-coloured phase, it is the colour of spiritual attainment, of the master who has achieved rulership over his emotions and body and passions. Green, which is Nature's colour, is restful, soothing, cheerful, and health-giving. The pure azure blue of Italian skies is associated by astrology with the planet Venus, the star of art, beauty, and sympathy verging almost on love. In its purest form it denotes devotional love, spiritual aspiration. It is not enough to know the meaning of colours; one must also know two other things about them: first, how to blend different colours and second, how to contrast them.
The notion that the effects of inspiration should not be handled by the labours of revision is a wrong one. This is so, first, because few artists ever achieve a total purity of inspiration--however ecstatic their creative experience may be--and, second, because even if achieved it is still limited by the personal nature of the channel through which it flows. The writer who refuses to touch manuscripts again or to correct proofs displays vanity or ignorance or both.
I shall never forget the wonderful message which Ramana Maharshi sent me by the lips of an Indian friend (he never wrote letters). It was some years before his death and my friend was visiting the ashram preparatory to a visit to the West, whither he was being sent on a mission by his government. I had long been estranged from the ashram management, and there seemed no likelihood of my ever seeing the saint again. The visitor mentioned to the Maharishee that he intended to meet me: was there any communication of which he could be the bearer? "Yes," said the Maharishee, "When heart speaks to heart, what is there to say?" Now I don't know if he was aware of Beethoven's existence in the distant world of Western music, but I am certain he could not have known that the dedication to the Missa Solemnis was "May heart speak to heart." This is a work whose infrequent performance stirs me to depths when I hear it, so reverential, so supernal is it. Few know that Beethoven himself regarded the Missa as his greatest composition. It must surely be his most spiritual composition, a perfect expression of the link between man and God.
Of all the arts which minister to the enjoyment of man, music is the loftiest. It provides him with the satisfaction which brings him nearer to truth than any other art. Such is its mysterious power that it speaks a language which is universally acknowledged throughout the world and amongst every class of people; it stirs the primitive savage no less than the cultured man of the twentieth century. When we try to understand this peculiar power which resides in music, we find that it is the most transient of all the others. The sounds which delight your ears have appeared suddenly out of the absolute silence which envelops the world and they disappear almost instantaneously into that same silence. Music seems to carry with it something of the divine power which inheres in that great silence so that it is really an ambassador sent by the Supreme Reality to remind wandering mortals of their real home. The aspirant for truth will therefore love and enjoy music, but he must take care that it is the right kind of music--the kind that will elevate and exalt his heart rather than degrade and jar it.
Art is not only here to embellish human existence. It is also here to express divine existence. In good concert music, especially, a man may find the most exalted refuge from the drab realism of his prosaic everyday life. For such music alone can express the ethereal feelings, the divine stirrings and echoes which have been suppressed by mundane extroversion. The third movement of Beethoven's Quartet in A Minor, for instance, possesses genuine mystical fervour. One may derive for a few minutes from hearing its long slow strains a grave reverence, a timeless patience, a deep humility, an utter resignation and withdrawnness from the turmoil of the everyday world.
Music can express the mystical experience better than language; it can tell of its mystery, joy, sadness, and peace far better than words can utter. The fatigued intellect finds a tonic and the harassed emotions find comfort in music.
Music like any of the intellectual arts may help or hinder this Quest. When it is extremely sensual or disruptive or noisy, it is a hindrance and perhaps even a danger. When it is uplifting or inspiring or spiritually soothing, it is a help.
The spiritual author who conforms to his own teachings, who is as careful of his ethics, motives, actions, and thoughts as he is of his style, is a rare creature. There is not less posing to a public audience in the world of religio-mysticism than there is in the world of politics. The completely sincere may write down their experiences or their ideas for the benefit of others, but they are more likely to do so for posterity rather than for their own era. Their most inspired work is published after their death, not before it. The half-sincere and the completely insincere feel the need of playing out their roles during life, for the ego's vanity, ambition, or acquisitiveness must be gratified. The half-sincere seldom suspect their own motives; the insincere know their own too well.
The writer who engages the reader's mind and invites it to think renders an intellectual service. But the writer who incites it to intuit renders a spiritual one.
Wisdom is all the better when it is likewise witty. Raise a laugh while you lift a man. Mix some humour with your ink and you shall write all the better. Sound sense loses nothing of its soundness when it is poured into bright, good-humoured phrases. Truth is often cold-blooded and a bath in warm smiles makes it the more attractive.
There are phrases in the New Testament which must impress the mind of every sensitive person. These phrases embody truths but they embody them in language which carries added authority derived from the style. I refer to the King James version, the translation into English made in the seventeenth century and today replaced by several modern versions in plain everyday twentieth-century English. It is true that in the modern ones the ordinary person gets a clearer notion of the meaning and, therefore, for him the modern translation is undoubtedly more useful. But I wrote of the sensitive person. For him not only is the meaning clear enough in the old version, but the style, with its beauty and authority, makes the statements even weightier.
Refined and gracious living is an expression of refined taste. It does not necessarily need great wealth to support it, for even within a modest income it can still be expressed in a modest way. A few plants, soft lights, fine porcelain, pleasantly patterned carpet, brightly coloured pictures, and a minimum of decorative furniture will give a man comfort and beauty.
A creative work of music, pictorial art, or literature which kindles an inspired mood in the audience, the beholder, or the reader has justified itself. It has made a contribution to humanity not less valuable on its own different plane than that which is made by the engineer or the builder.
Even the highest art is only a means to an end--it ought not to be made an end in itself. The inspired artist must in the end put aside his theme, his medium, his work and turn to the Divine alone, not to its expressions down here.
It is not only the workers in art who may get carried away by their concentration, but also the laymen who become the recipients of their productions and put themselves under their charm with a similar degree of concentration. In both cases--in the artist who creates and the layman who contemplates--there is an approach to the borderline of yoga. If it is pure beauty which calls forth their adoration and not some lesser thing, they may indeed cross this borderline and find themselves in a yogic state. What is said here of art is true also of the impulses derived from Nature. If man would only take such moods more seriously and rise to the highest level towards which the mood can carry them, they may well return to ordinary consciousness if not with a glimpse then with the next best thing to a glimpse.
The Notebooks are copyright © 1984-1989, The Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation.