By Faraaz Tanveer June 2008 As contemporary art loses its way in the realm of materialism, an artist takes a stand for the cause of uplifting, spiritual art A Personal ExperienceDana shared her new vision of art through an experiential workshop titled Art as a Vehicle for Spiritual Evolution, conducted at Ananda Sangha’s Shanti House in Gurgaon, New Delhi. We were a small group from diverse backgrounds. A judicious combination of reflection, meditation and creative expression marked the proceedings of the day. We learnt to access our inner reservoirs of creativity and spiritual energy through a number of guided visualisations, chanting and movements. As I gently swayed to the music and allowed my body to open up and ‘feel’, I could sense a distinct sense of release. This latent potential was then utilised for expression in the form of paintings. ‘It’s not the form, but the spirit behind the form that’s important,’ Dana said. ‘The process, not the product’ was the motto. Dana pointed out that art and spiritual practice are metaphors for our approach towards life itself. She emphasised the need for the right intention and attention in all work. ‘Intention is the feminine principle while attention is masculine. Generally, we tend to be biased towards one or the other, giving into aggressive concentration or a passive slump. Relaxed awareness is the most creative place to be,’ she said. All we need to do to achieve it is to tune into the right vibrations that surround us. Just like a radio receiver, we can also learn to tune into the higher vibrations by being open and aware. As I felt my way into my past and the problems and challenges of my life through the instrument of my body, it expressed on paper as a chaotic, angry mêlée of colours. Bright reds and dark blues jostled for space. Inner turmoil was out on paper. Then we proceeded to meditate, through chanting and visualisations, balancing and healing the chakras. What came out on paper surprised me. Right next to the earlier chaotic mess, was a beautiful flower, a gentle flow of harmonious colours, which symbolised my highest aspirations. ‘Don’t get carried away by the end product,’ warned Dana, ‘Be honest and be yourself.’ ‘But I have no idea what I am doing,’ exclaimed a worried participant. ‘Then you are on the right track,’ was Dana’s reply. ‘Not knowing is the most intimate’ said the Zen master. Now I can see why. As she stepped into the newly refurbished United Coffee House in Connaught Place on a balmy March afternoon, Dana Lynne Andersen’s buoyant energy was palpable. Dressed in salwar kameez and chappals, looking very much the New Age artist that she is, she was evidently excited to be there. It was the prospect of discussing spiritual art which had persuaded her to take an afternoon off from her hectic preparations for her upcoming exhibition in Delhi’s India Habitat Centre. Being an amateur artist myself, I was also looking forward to an insightful conversation with a kindred spirit. I was not disappointed. As she showed me some of her beautiful paintings, I was struck by the effortless flow in form and harmony of colours. Although she is very eloquent herself, it is her paintings that speak the loudest, a riot of colours ecstatically unfolding on paper. Dana is not just a painter. She is also an illustrator, writer, playwright, philosopher and teacher with a Master’s in Consciousness Studies from John F Kennedy University. The unique programmes she offers in schools, universities, conferences and civic centres facilitate the use of art and creativity for spiritual upliftment. She is also a member of The Awakening Arts Studio, which is a worldwide artists network that supports uplifting the human spirit and awakening higher consciousness through the arts. Andersen recently arrived in India with acclaim from recent solo shows at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco where she was praised as ‘a visionary of great importance to the global community’, and at the Institute of Noetic Sciences where she was artist in residence for a year. Her recent works in India include her paintings on the covers of two important books – The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita and Revelations of Christ, both by Swami Kriyananda. A deep love for India and its rich art tradition is a thread that runs through all her work. She urges India to draw from its legacy of spiritual depth to lead the way for the resurgence of spirituality in art. Here are a few excerpts from our conversation. You have said, “It is no longer sufficient for the artist to express the darkness or to show that we are lost. It is time for all artists to claim the heroic task of finding the light and showing the way.” It is quite a departure from the elitist ‘art for art’s sake’ standpoint of many purists. What motivates you to take this stand? I think ‘art for art’s sake’ may have been a necessary phase in the beginning of modern art because there was a need to break free of the past and the dogmas and demands of tradition. Fifty years ago, breaking the rules was a healthy thing to do. It was, in a sense, a wild adolescent period. It is time for modern art to mature beyond an adolescent ‘rebel without a cause’ and take responsibility for its actions and effects. Instead of ‘art for art’s sake’, I am advocating ‘art on purpose’. The present global crisis demands a profound response from every aspect of society, especially the arts. It is the artist’s role in society to lift the mind and heart above the fray in order to access creative solutions. Art must show solutions and not just reflections of the problems. What difference do you see between western and Indian art? What role can India play in promoting spiritual art? The western art scene is very materialistic in nature. India has an opportunity to show the way toward a contemporary art that is vital, soul-nourishing and spiritually alive. India has an ancient tradition of consciousness embedded in art, in symbols such as yantra for instance. India can reveal the power of art that is rooted in deep spiritual perceptions, and which promotes the awakening of higher consciousness. Though I must admit that many of the current crop of best-selling Indian artists are still trying to fit in within the western materialistic system. In the west, there is a ‘shock value contest’ in the art scene, and a tendency towards depressing, disturbing imagery. For instance, Damien Hurst’s Dead shark in formaldehyde display. They equate jadedness with depth. Swami Kriyananda compares this with pressing the mouth of a hose water pipe to make the water gush out with force. Likewise, art based on base emotions can produce a strong push, but the ‘sound and fury’ is a result of a false constriction, and thus the effect is not of lasting value. Certainly, India should learn from the west about material efficiency but please let it remain rooted in its own spiritual integrity. Of the many ways that India has the opportunity to lead the world, none is more urgent than in the arts. The weight of the global economy is already shifting as the flow of capital and ideas pours into Asia. India could seize the moment to shift the centre of gravity in art and culture away from the jaded, ‘postmodern’ culture of NYC toward new wellsprings of vitality in the arts. Can modern art be spiritual?Modern art in the west began at the font of the spiritual, but it has lost its way. Few people realise that abstract art began as a kind of spiritual movement. Kandinsky, one of the first modern artists, wrote about the spiritual potential of abstraction in his work, Concerning the Spiritual in Art (published in 1911). He saw abstraction as a way to move beyond a mere reflection of the material world. Abstract art could do more than represent what is already visible – it had the power to bring forth what is otherwise invisible, the spiritual and transcendent realms of timeless truth. India’s greatest strength is her anchoring to eternal truths. If she can return the arts to this, their native wellspring, it will be among her greatest contributions. There’s so much potential…where did art lose its way?Art lost its way when it was hijacked by materialism and consumerism. It has led to a critic/dealer-driven elitist art scene. Also, we need to redefine depth. In the west, depth equals jadedness, angst and restless creativity. India can use its newfound ‘in’ status in the world of art……to make happiness ‘cool’ again!Yeah! Given what you’ve said, what do you make of India’s newfound love for consumerism?I believe India can skip/ speed up this phase if Indians learn from the west. The west waited till the point of saturation to find out that consumerism is true starvation. Just like Indians have bypassed landline phones to jump on to cellphones in many parts, they can move from spiritual junk food to the great wealth of nutritive fare that its tradition has to offer. At the same time, it can learn material efficiency, infrastructure development, and principles of civic society from the west. What is your yardstick of judging good art? What is beautiful to you?To me, work that awakens the viewer to a higher state of consciousness is beautiful. I believe beauty is not just in the eyes of the beholder; it is a universal phenomenon – a quality of reality as is harmony in nature. A perceptive person can feel the energy that went into and is coming out of a work of art. So the consciousness of the artist while creating the piece is also important. Spielberg said, “
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