"He excells whose understanding is the same, amidst the well-disposed, the friendly, the neutral arbiter and hostile, amidst enemies and allies, amidst the righteous and the sinful." - Bhagavad Gita VI.9













PRABUDDHA BHARATAPrabuddha Bharata | October 2010  





              The Divine Artist










     ‘I want to know what were the steps by which men passed from barbarism to civilization,’ said Voltaire. We can step in and answer in two words: art and spirituality. In India these two words - rather fields - were never disparate. Nowadays a distinction is made between spirituality, religion, and art. However, in many ancient cultures everything was done religiously: being born, eating, sleeping, and finally even dying. Religion is a step towards spirituality, for no irreligious person can be spiritual. If religion permeated every facet of life, art too had this inseparable connection. All great religious movements - Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam - gave rise to art, and art in turn helped spread these movements.



     The development of art is an index of a society’s progress, its identifying characteristics, and uniqueness. This distinctness of every culture and community finds expression in such genres as folk tales, mythology, and philosophy, which in turn inspire art. Defining art is, however, difficult. The fine arts - painting, music, dance, and sculpture - can be viewed as a classificatory schema of art. These divisions have further ramified into hundreds of branches, and each subdivision has developed its philosophy; therefore, a specific definition of art becomes difficult. Fine art is different from industrial art, stylistic forms, and decorative designs; and what an artisan or a skilled worker produces belongs to applied art.





     The fine arts produce an experience - of beauty, goodness, value, excellence; they have emotional intensity and raise the mind from the mundane, at least for the time being. Truly speaking, art is not located somewhere outside the artist or the connoisseur. If an object of art could speak, it would say
something like: ‘I am not a mere elephant carved in stone, I am an idea.’ It is the ‘idea’ that is expressed through various media.



     Music, painting, dance, literature, sculpture, are actually forms of communication having a language of their own. Whoever understands this language is able to experience the feelings and moods of the poet, the artist, or the sculptor. In India, since ancient times, aesthetics was termed rasa - literally, flavour or essence - and was based on the doctrine of bhavas, moods. The various bhavas have been used to refer to artistic sentiments and also to the modes of response. Indian art did not overly burden itself with questions of style, of schools or genre, or of historical and social influences.



     Is all art spiritual? We find works of art being defaced, destroyed, derided, and demeaned; art­ ists being criticized, hooted at, abused, and even beaten up. It is not easy for artists to gain recognition. Some are lucky to get it only after they have passed away. An artist should have the freedom of expression, but sometimes the expression may be frivolous - an aberration or an idiosyncrasy not commonly shared - this cannot be passed as art. Art - even abstract art - cannot be totally divorced from Reality; it ought to have a universal dimension and a timeless quality to it. Above all, in the words of Swami Vivekananda, ‘Art must be in touch with nature - and wherever that touch is gone, Art degenerates - yet it must be above nature.



     Once a person came to Sant Kabir saying, ‘Where is the bluest sky, where the deepest ocean; in which forest would I find the fairest flower, where can I hear the best raga.’ Kabir was surprised and replied, ‘Pani bich min piyasi, mohin sun sun awat hansi; the fish is thirsty in the waters, I feel like laughing on hearing so.’ What Kabir meantwas this: we are surrounded with the aesthetic, and yet are searching and dying for it. Standing in front of the Taj Mahal on a full moon night can move even a dull heart, but a busy bazaar does not generally evoke any artistic sentiment. The first experience can be enhanced a thousandfold if the eye is trained. Swamiji clarifies: ‘In glancing at a highly finished painting we cannot understand where its beauty lies. Moreover, unless the eye is, to a certain extent, trained, one cannot appreciate the subtle touches and blendings, the inner genius of a work of art.’ The same holds good for music, sculpture, or dance. Thus appreciation of art needs a degree of training. The more trained the eye, the better the aesthetic experience. The work of art, the artist, and the observer must coalesce for a while.



     A trained eye means a trained mind. This comes through refinement of the senses and the intellect. There are many ways to gain this refinement: from attending an art appreciation course to contemplating on God. To a refined mind that has become perfect through sadhana, the whole universe becomes a work of art. That mind also understands that a work of art is a small portion of the vast Nature expressed creatively by one or more persons. This individual creativity is very important for it proves the inexhaustible capacity of the human mind.



     One who can perceive art even beyond forms, lines, tunes, or verses, comes in touch with the Divine Artist. Swamiji declares: ‘I never read of any more beautiful conception of God than the following: “He is the Great Poet, the Ancient Poet; the whole universe is His poem, coming in verses and rhymes and rhythms, written in infinite bliss.”’ That is why God is called kavi, poet, and, as the Upanishad says, ‘Raso vai sah; the Self-­created is verily joy.’ Moreover, the rishis who realized this Poet were also called kavis and the scriptures - vedic, epic, and mythological - they gave are poetic and musical. These scriptures in turn have inspired art for thousands of generations, and are still doing so.



     ‘It is my opinion’, Swamiji says, ‘that Sri Rama­krishna was born to vivify all the branches of art and culture in this country.’ Sri Ramakrishna was not only good at painting, vocal music, sculpture, and dance, there was something extraordinary about him: he was a natural artist in touch with a higher Reality. Ordinarily, art unveils nature. Yet, such art can also be thoroughly materialistic and a source of hedonistic pleasure. But sublime art has a different dimension. Sublime artists empty their hearts of all worldly slime to visualize within an intelligible image or idea; then they identify with it and proceed to work in stone, paint, metal, words, or sound. The ideal then is that of a Reality beyond Nature. Sublime art has always tried to capture the transcendent Reality in its manifestations.



     To experience the Divine Artist is the zenith of art, and we find that experience in Sri Ramakrishna, the sublime Artist. The revival of all branches of art and culture, for which he is the harbinger, must have this spiritual dimension. Those who are part of this revival may not produce tangible works of art, but their very lives are artistic, beautiful, valuable, universal, and timeless. Their words, thoughts, feel­ ings, and karmas assume a transcendent dimension. Their senses, body, mind, and intelligence - indeed their whole personality - become a work of art.



     Such artists can stand in the busy bazaar or in front of the Taj Mahal and not make any distinction between the two. In pain and misery, in happiness and joy, in poverty and wealth, in learning and ignorance, in sickness and health, they catch the Real. We read how as a boy Sri Ramakrishna saw a flock of milk­white cranes flying across a jet­ black rain cloud and went into samadhi. But some­ times he also experienced samadhi while looking at drunkards and prostitutes, for he saw the Divine in them. For him the Divine Artist, Nature, and human beings fused into one. Sri Ramakrishna’s art has given us a fresh perspective on fine art.



     Therefore, after its long travails from barbarism, humanity cannot tarry merely at being civilized, it has to proceed further. Deep down there is a grow­ing universal need for direction, which is gracefully addressed by the Divine Artist.

International Yoga Day 21 June 2015
International Yoga Day 21 June 2015







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