By Aparna Jacob
Art is constantly inspiring us with fresh insights into what we know as reality. Born of inspiration and nurtured by intuition, art must be the ‘daughter of the divine‘
Anandarupamamrtam yadvibhati, concede the Upanishads. All that is, is manifestation of His joy, His deathlessness-all is a manifestation of truth and beauty, joy and immortality. Art seeks to realize and communicate this joy and everlastingness of the True. Perhaps primordial man gazed at the giant orb that opened on the world each day and first glimpsed this truth. As he grew in experience, he scribbled these on the walls of caves to make sense of the world around him. Since these nascent expressions, whenever man has had a profound realization of the Truth, he has put up a sign, in temples, in places of pilgrimage, on canvas, in sculpture or burst into song or dance.
Creation of art calls for a vision that transcends the apparent stuff of life and goes beyond linear thinking. When one sees through the ephemerality of the material to the sacredness of life, art is conceived. Art is a grand display of the human spirit, which expands the consciousness to absorb life, which in revealing certain human truths offers flashes of that universal truth of which we are all a part.
Art can aid man in the process of self-discovery, feels artist Baiju Parthan whose concern is unraveling the complexity of existence. ‘‘I believe in a universe that is super-intelligent, aware and is made up of multidimensional realities. Our experience of it, confined to our perception, is not the only reality.‘‘
J. Donald Walters writes in Art as a Guide to Self-realization: ‘‘Art can inspire us with fresh insights into reality. The feelings it expresses and evokes in others are valid only if they promote our quest for greater understanding. The more one opens one‘s limited consciousness to infinite possibilities, the more our creative work can become the sort of art which mankind has always recognized as great.‘‘
Jayant Parikh, a Surat-based spiritual artist, has been painting for 45 years, capturing impressions of the divine manifest in nature, which he believes is the purest art. ‘‘In things that grow, in the laughter of a child, in the eyes of a woman, I have a darshan of divine energy or shakti that regulates the way things move,‘‘ says Parikh. ‘‘I get drunk on the rhythms of nature. In quiet moments, I can recollect the same feeling of joy, and then make an emotional transfer of these onto the canvas. And once the painting is done, I‘m filled with an immense feeling of spiritual completion.‘‘
This is similar to what Rumi Ray has experienced ever since she had an epiphany in 1994 when Christ began conversing with her. ‘‘One of the first things Jesus asked me was: ‘What do you want?‘ I answered ‘colors‘ for reasons even I didn‘t know. He said: ‘Come with me and I‘ll show you all the colors you want‘.‘‘ And so after a period of starvation of the soul that had lasted 20 years, Rumi began producing works that sing of the divine glory of life.
‘‘Art is the most rapid vehicle, after prayer, for connecting directly with one‘s Buddha-nature,‘‘ writes Yonten Rabje in his essay ‘Art as a means of spiritual elevation‘. Rabje, a Buddhist monk, lives at Samye Ling Tibetan Center where, in retreat, he began to paint for the first time in his life. Says he: ‘‘Art is not only a means of free expression, it is also a means of satisfaction, otherwise it is not living.‘‘ Art without spirituality, he says, gradually dies out. ‘‘Because art, unlike other means of intellectual production, is an activity that is essentially of our Buddha-nature.‘‘
When inspiration strikes
Each of us is endowed with the spark of creativity. ‘‘Art is inspired creation and when we participate in the divine play that is creativity, we are offered a glimpse of who we really are: a being fashioned in the image and likeness of God. Like the source of all creation, you are a creator, too,‘‘ writes art therapist Lucia Capacchione in The Soul of Creativity.
Creation itself is a mystical moment in which the mind opens. Baiju Parthan calls this the ‘tender minded receptive‘ state, in which, sufficiently free from daily concerns, the magical colors of a sunset or a solitary bird darting across the skies could trigger an experience where our psychological filtering mechanisms are suspended, and the world is experienced afresh. In his essay ‘Art as a Transmuted Experience‘, Parthan writes: ‘‘Here one may experience a direct contact with the immensity that is the cosmos or the unsolvable mystery that is life, or the human condition in relation to the larger picture of life.‘‘
But how successful the artist is in transmuting this experience into art depends upon the balance he establishes between form and content. The creative process rests on a foundation of attentiveness, skill, and hard work. At her most inspired, the master pianist loses herself in performance, transcending technique and dissolving into the Creative Self.
Says Rumi Ray: ‘‘When I put my brush to the canvas, there‘s fear, anxiety about whether I can do it. But there‘s also the sense of adventure that accompanies creation. There‘s the freedom to create anything you want and that‘s terrifying and thrilling.‘‘ Jenny Bhatt, who describes herself as an artist who is spiritually inclined, describes this process thus: ‘‘My painting and I become one. The rest of the world ceases to exist. It is this feeling of oneness that is important. It is a moment of pure awareness, when the self is forgotten.‘‘
Losing yourself in the divine embrace of the creative process, your limited sense of separateness vanishes, and you emerge into the ocean of creativity. This is a state of intuitive awareness in which you renounce control from your head alone. Instead, you allow the Creative Self to flow through you.
The purest art
Spiritual motivation produces the purest art. Says Yonten Rabje: ‘‘If the artist is genuine and sincere, his work sooner or later becomes conducive to practising a faith.‘‘
Rabje attributes the spontaneous origin of his creative work to a still mind. Surely works of art created thus, Rabje says, will inspire similar entiments in recipients. Donald Walters agrees: ‘‘It is great if its message inspires us however subtly towards calm intuitive feeling, and if it helps us recognize in that feeling at least a suggestion of our own highest spiritual potential.‘‘
Levels of beauty, ecstasy and truth in a work of art would hinge on how the artist is dealing with his own spiritual journey. As her spiritual inclination intensified, Jenny Bhatt found the gradual emergence of lightness and confidence in her work, the colors grew brighter and fluidity replaced earlier rigidity.
Intuitive artist Rekha Krishnan says her earlier paintings were a constant search for the meaning of life. ‘‘When my art turned purely spiritual, the searching stopped. I work more intensely, going deep within myself, as the act of painting itself is a form of meditation.‘‘ Her study of Sri Vidya has led to a series on the Sri Yantra, and she‘s currently working on Dasa Maha Vidyas (Ten Great Cosmic Powers).
Jenny Bhatt insists that art that originates in spirituality is most beneficial to the artist‘s growth. ‘‘Even as a piece of art it holds most merit because it is able to establish a direct, intuitive connection with the viewer. It is true art, without pretence and without the burden of an agenda. Its purpose is to be, rather than to do.‘‘
One reason that so many works of art fail is that the artists are deluded by the thought that they create anything, remarks Walters. The greater a work of art, the less it is a product of the mind. Great artists have often remarked, as Handel did after writing the Messiah, it was as if inspiration came to them from a higher source. Brahms said that mind-born inspiration belongs to a lower class of creativity and deception will show through. Parthan maintains that: ‘‘The level of integrity that goes into a work of art is visible…one can see where an artist has glossed over a point or bluffed. A lie speaks loud in a work of art.‘‘
Arts greater sake
Jerome Tupa, a Benedictine monk and artist at the St John‘s Abbey, Minnesota, USA, is often quoted for saying how his religious art serves a larger divine purpose. Painting is his way of finding a balance between the ordered monastic life and his need to express himself: ‘‘Painting, like spirituality, is liberating. Both are expressions of one‘s distinct and deeper relationships with the work, and with God.‘‘ Tupa feels that a painting must stop a person and speak to him. ‘‘It‘s a process of communication between the artist and the viewer.‘‘
Indeed, art does have a message to convey. It should ideally transmit inspiration directly to the spectator. By a mental resonance the spectator is led to a state of fascination, the same as the artist, and he xperiences the same passion of unity with the source and essence of existence-which, by definition, is the origin of art.
How is this communicated? Says Jenny Bhatt: ‘‘When the artist paints honestly and with his whole self, it is best communicated to the beholder. The beholder connects with that universal aspect of the experience. Intellectually, people might be different but everyone experiences the same emotions, and some are able to transcend it, though they can connect with others by a memory of that experience.‘‘
Baiju Parthan speaks of the instant appeal or revulsion a work of art usually invites. ‘‘But a good work of art doesn‘t stop at that. Getting to know it is like getting to know a person. New things are discovered with prolonged interaction.‘‘ Even after years of living with a painting, may be in a moment of intense sorrow, it suddenly make sense, or provides an insight that‘s entirely new.
Any artwork is an object of intense obsession because the artist has obsessed over it, transferred into it a lot of his energies. When a viewer observes the work of art, an exchange of these latent energies takes place. ‘‘If the viewer can maintain a contemplative and receptive mental state and then employ the capacity to feel, rather than try to reason out the meaning, the work of art in front of him could metamorphose into a mythopoeic experience. One could then claim to have experienced a work of art from its core,‘‘ explains Parthan.
Artist as Shaman
At times, the artist plays a mediator between the divine source and the receiver. This demands purity in thought, word and deed. Rabindranath Tagore stresses: ‘‘A real artist must be a seeker, an ascetic. In creating important works of art, artists have proved the strength of their character whereas in dissipating their talents they have shown us their weakness by succumbing to passion and proving false to their own ideal of beauty.‘‘
It is for an artist to remind the world that with truth of expression, we grow in truth. Baiju Parthan concedes: ‘‘When I say ‘I am aware‘, I‘m tapping into this universal wisdom and becoming a conduit through which creativity flows. But does the flow belong to the tap?‘‘ He describes the precise moment during creation of a painting when he knows he has to let go:
‘‘When you begin a work there‘s a certain amount of conscious planning and effort, like mixing colors or division of space on the canvas. But when I‘m nearly three-fourths through, a sudden shift happens, when you have to let go of your ego. The painting takes you over and evolves in the direction it chooses. Impose your will on it then and you will kill it.‘‘
Jenny Bhatt describes it as not unlike having a ringside seat at a performance: ‘‘I feel as if a superior force is painting and I am only a spectator. My best work is done this way and not when I am conscious of what I am doing.‘‘
In a day and age where chaos reign supreme, it might be difficult to comprehend that art, as Van Gogh said, is born from something as lofty as ‘the soul of a painter‘. But it is precisely in such a world that the artist has a role to play. Parthan explains: ‘‘A society is made of rules and an artist‘s role is to stretch those rules and make things that are not acceptable today acceptable tomorrow. We constantly use metaphors to understand reality. Artists generate metaphors through which we can understand reality.‘‘ Art obviously has its work cut out for it.
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