How can one define Art? A quick search on my online dictionary yielded sixteen results. The one that caught my eye the most was this:
Skill arising from the exercise of intuitive faculties…
How many times have we been awe-struck, seeing a beautiful painting – perhaps a beautiful portrait or a
serene landscape or a tumultuous seascape? Or perhaps a piece of music floating in from somewhere, struck our ear and then our hearts and minds? Art has the ability to induce overwhelming emotions – peace, love, sorrow, anger, fear…the options are unlimited. However, perhaps “really good” art is needed to generate such feelings…or maybe not. Who can say for sure?
If you, dear reader, have had the good fortune of seeing such a work of art, then you would know what I am referring to. I don’t quite understand why, but listening to a lilting mountain folk melody on an Indian flute moves me immensely, and leaves me with a hollow, empty feeling, yearning for more. But that moment, which creeps up unbeknownst, never quite is replicated again. I tried it too…too many times I’m afraid – ran out to buy a tape or a CD, trying to re-capture, re-play that moment. But it was gone! The heady mix of enchanting melody, throbbing emotions, never quite repeated. These are unique moments – you come upon them, or perhaps they come upon you…and then they are gone. Art can have an effect similar to that of love – leaving one breathless, and pining for more.
The Ethereal Quality
Anyhow, the purpose of this article is not to go on and on about art and its obvious effect on people. I want to write about the “One thing” that’s been stuck in my head for a long time – the source of Art. Every artist has (and needs) a Muse – that has always been the way. Usually one thinks of the Muse as a “personified” entity – say an artist’s love interest or perhaps his personal deity (or God) or maybe his nation.
It took me a while and lot of puzzlement to get to the “root” of this matter. This personified/personalized muse is but merely a symbol, a motif…the real deal is more ethereal…
Call it what you like – God, Universal Consciousness, Psychic Network – there seems to be something beyond the mere material world in play when it comes to Art. The artist usually works on spontaneous bursts of “inspiration”, sometimes during “non-waking” hours. The most moving (in my humble opinion) works of Art are necessarily those, which are most “inspiration-driven” and spontaneous. For instance, a poet (poetry can be considered a form of art) would sometimes not even know what hit him (to use a gentile phrase) and end up with a poem that moves him no end.
I’ve read that it is similar with Scientists as well – interspersed within long periods of hard work are moments of inspiration – and the major breakthroughs usually follow these moments of inspiration (the scientists and/or the artists in our midst – please feel free to share your opinions).
So anyway, before I meander onto a completely different plane – here’s my take on this Ethereal quality. It is my inference that we (human beings) always have the potential to touch this thing – this Inspiration, but seldom do, because we are caught up in our own make-believe world (inside our heads), constantly trying to uphold and reinforce the Ego. In an earlier article (Inner Dialog), I had written about and what role it has to play in upholding Ego and thus obfuscating our true nature from ourselves. Artists (generally notorious for being extremely temperamental) are in closer touch with this intangible quality than most common people are. They experience Inspiration usually when they are caught unawares (same as the rest of us), but have the ability to translate that into meaningful (or in some cases less meaningful) works of art (music, painting, sculpture, anything).
An artist can be so “into” his art that it can become a painful experience. Why, haven’t we all heard of artists, who were such tortured souls, that their only respite was in their art? The paradox of being caught between two worlds is especially true for the great masters of the Arts. They have managed to come to a point where they are more in tune with the Ethereal quality than with everyday reality, but a part of them will not let go. Unfortunate for them, but the creations of such tortured beings are perhaps the most sought after works of Art in the world…
Let’s look at this a little more carefully, shall we?
If we were to split human beings into four categories, the first category would be normal people like most of us, with limited access to Inspiration, going on with our even-tempered little lives, constantly chattering inside our minds; rather clueless (in a non-offensive way), might I add?
The next category would be those who are artistically inclined – more in touch with Inspiration, usually more temperamental, creating maybe the occasional, rare work of Art that would move everyone else. The folks who belong in this category are primarily into Arts purely as forms of self-expression.
The third category is that of the Artistic masters, the Raja Ravi Vermas, Rabindranath Tagores, the Pandit Ravi Shankars of humanity – those luminaries of the Arts, who continue to move us even today. These masters are more in touch with the Inspiration, and their work reflects a more bountiful flow of this inspiration – the felicity of expression. But not all the masters are alike – there are those confused beings who are racked by torment (torn between the free-flowing world of direct experience and the material world of everyday life) and their work reflects that. Vincent Van Gogh would be one great example. His work has definitely moved millions of people all over the world, over the years – but there is no tranquility, no unfettered flow of the Ethereal quality there – his work reflects his inner torment (in my humble opinion).
The fourth category is of those limited few, who have transcended Art and are in direct contact with the Ethereal quality. I will only suggest that the great Spiritual masters of this world would belong in this category…
Art and Mysticism
Not as a veritable rule of thumb, but very frequently we come across artists who belong to this aforementioned “third” category – the Artist sages of this world. Rabindranath Tagore was one such being – an author, poet, composer, artist – this sage person was perhaps not the proverbial “Rishi” (in the truest sense), but was someone who definitely experienced the “Ethereal quality” and many of his works demonstrated that. His poetry has an ageless, yet ancient feel to it…
Then we have our ancient sculptures, cave paintings in places like Ajanta, Ellora, Khajuraho, Belur, etc. If there was ever an element of the mystic in any creation of work – these places would be its living testimony. These nameless artists were obviously (again, in my humble opinion) immersed in the Ethereal quality, to be able to reflect beauty and devotion onto sheer rock walls and surfaces.
Finally, our great Rishis, who epitomize Ethereal quality – their poems, compositions, reflect a direct inference, a direct experience of it (Inspiration) and are perhaps the greatest works of art ever known by humanity. Adi Sankara’s poem – Atma Shatakam – captures non-dualist philosophy in a few simple verses – but has so much power in it that people are left dumbstruck in awe…
Note: What I’ve mentioned here must definitely not be mistaken for a list – I’m just referring to things that have had a profound effect on me…
So is it the Artist or the Muse?
The more I think about this – a question that arises in mind is – “Is art then the creation of the Artist or the Muse?” That’s a tough one to answer.
After all, it IS the artist who creates the art – if we were to ignore the role that Inspiration (the Ethereal quality) plays in the process, then all the credit definitely goes to the artist’s skills. But if we were to consider the fact that the Artist is merely a skillful receptacle of this Inspiration, then how much of the Art actually belongs to the Artist?
And then, we also have the Artist -> Art -> Viewer angle – what I might consider a monumental work of art might seem to someone else to be a monumental waste of time. Would that take away any of that direct experience from the artist or any of the edge from the work of art? Probably not…
Going by the definition of art as we have at the beginning of this article – Art then is a three-way relation – between the Artist, the Muse and the Viewer. The credibility of the Artist lies in “how much of Inspiration” is he capable of experiencing – and how well he can render it onto his medium of expression. Given an average level of sensitivity to Inspiration by us mere mortals – a good work of art would then be the result of the ability of the artist to “move” us into sharing what he could reflect (of his experience of the Ethereal quality; in other words, Inspiration) onto his work of Art.
NOTE: This article was published on Sulekha.com sometime in 2001/2002
More posts by this author:
- The Maya and Karma Conundrum
- In search of the Cradle of Civilization
- Relevance of Eastern Philosophy in the West
- The Reservation Complex — A look at the “Systematic approach” to treat a non-systematic problem