Theosophy and Art
Theosophy in Art
From Practical Theosophy, first published in 1918 from
THE place of Art in life grows in significance each day as men develop greater faculties of thought and feeling. The higher the civilisation the more powerful is the influence of art in it; and the capacity for artistic conception and expression in a man becomes in many ways the standard of his evolutionary
achievement. Why this is so we shall see, when we examine what art is from the standpoint of Theosophy.
Now all our living leads to action; even in deep meditation a man is acting, and acting in reality far more vigorously than when he disturbs merely the equilibrium of physical nature. Each action is the final issue of a series of forces either mental or emotional. When an action originates in thought, that action is wise and just where thought has dealt with realities and not falsities; where the thought has been grounded in truth, and is four-square to
the facts of nature, the action is right and productive of good to the individual and to the whole. It is the function of science to produce right action by purifying the mind and by training it to be true to reality.
The function of art, on the other hand, is to induce right action through right feeling; and since art has shown itself to be in many ways a synthesis of man's highest self-expression, it is obvious that in our human feelings there are ranges of emotion by means of which we can come to truth swifter than by any
exercise of even the most discriminating mind. Man in his emotional nature is near to the brute in some of his desires; yet there are within him certain emotions which unbar hidden reservoirs of power which makes him absolute master of circumstance. It is with these finer emotions that art is concerned. The keen sensibility to the beauty of a sunset synthesises in a moment our past experiences of life and states them to our emotions in vast, sweeping generalisations; a phrase of music in a particular mood may give us the glimpse of a heaven hoped for or lost; the beauty of a human face may lead us whither all the philosophies lead as they seek eternal verities. And these finalities, which are stated to us by the highest developments of the intellect, are given to us equally, and sometimes more profoundly and more truly, by our feelings.
An understanding of Theosophy explains the process of that right feeling which is necessary for art. Feeling, looked at from within the man, is a mood; but looked at from without, is the setting in movement of a finer vehicle, called the astral body. Upon the purity of material, delicacy of structure, and
pliability of the astral body, depend the nature of a man's feelings, and therefore his capacity for art. Theosophy applied to art deals primarily with the purification and the training of the feelings.
Since the astral body is dependent for its sensations so largely upon impacts which reach it through the physical body, the purification of the physical body becomes the first essential. According to the kind of food eaten is the kind of body; if the diet contains flesh of any animal, the body acquires a gross
texture which reacts on the texture of the astral body, the vehicle of feeling; when the food is pure and refined, the finer texture of the physical body induces purity and delicacy in the astral. It is true that hitherto some of the greatest artists have had, from the Theosophical standpoint, gross bodies, and yet they have been creators of art; but this only means that they would have
achieved still more, had not something of their creative force been lost in its transmission through a coarsened physical vehicle. In spite of the over-riding by will of nature's laws, the general law remains that the purer is the physical body the greater is the sensibility to feeling, and hence the greater the capacity for art.
Next, the feelings must be trained to be pure, that is, they must be irresponsive to what conduces to impurity and keenly sensitive to what harbours, purity. Here at once the question arises : What is, purity ? Leaving aside the question of what purity is as a moral virtue, purity in the domain of art means a correct appreciation of Beauty. What the Ideal Beauty is, which is the unchanging standard, we need not for the moment consider; for there is already in the world some knowledge of that Ideal Beauty, and for the practical purposes of life there is no difficulty in distinguishing the beautiful front the
commonplace or the ugly. What is important to realise is that, for artistic development, there must be a continuous communion with Beauty and a definite avoidance of what is the not-beautiful.. We little realise how the lines in the objects that surround us in the home and in the streets affect our astral bodies and so our emotional nature; discords of colour and sound, impurities of line and form: give a warp to our natures which adds to our moral weaknesses and debilitates our mental strength. Men find it difficult to be virtuous largely because so much ugliness surrounds them; just as bacteria in the dust and the air, and parasites of various kinds, induce many a disease and diminish the physical vitality of men, so invisibly, but not the less harmfully, hosts of emotional bacteria, the ugly lines and forms and colours and sounds, infect our feelings and induce in them a chronic moral ill-health which saps the vitality of the soul. Civilisation has not yet awakened to the gravity of this
hidden contagion; it is taking place all the time, though we are little; aware of it because we are "used" to it. But it is never the soul's nature to be " used " to ugliness and evil; the inner constraint shows itself in outer fractiousness; and, just as a baby's peevishness is to be traced to some hurt produced in his little body by improper feeding or by some annoyance like a pin
sticking into him, so it is with men's tendencies to evil; the visible and invisible uglinesses in life are responsible for the crimes of men sometimes far more than their own criminal propensities.
Since every object around us affects invisibly our capacity for feeling, either by hardening and coarsening or by making it more sensitive and profound, a practical understanding of the place of art in life means a thorough reconstruction of the environment of each man. Specially is that reconstruction necessary in the case of children, whose astral bodies during their childhood
and youth are sensitive to outer influences far more than are the astral bodies of grown-up people. Every object that surrounds children from the moment of birth should have some touch of beauty; the lines and curves and colours of walls and ceilings and furniture should definitely be aimed to influence the child's feelings; ungainly street hoardings and palings, ugly plots of ground and discordant sounds should all be banished from our towns for the sake of the children, if not for our own sakes. We insist on sanitation to preserve the health of the physical body; why should we not equally insist on a moral sanitation to safeguard the health and sensitiveness of our finer vehicles ?
Purity of feeling is thus one element of right feeling; a second element is sympathy. No feeling is right feeling unless in it there is reflected the larger world of men's griefs and joys; each feeling, if it is to develop the higher sensitiveness which produces art, must enshrine in ,it in miniature the similar feelings of all humanity. There is no such thing as "art for art's sake", if by
that phrase is meant that there exists a world of art and beauty irrespective of its relation to the world of men. The highest art, consciously or unconsciously, had its roots in men's hearts, though its boughs may lift up their flowers to heaven; the most abstractly musical phrase of a symphony of Beethoven has yet
its reflex in our human feelings. The more the artist's feelings widen out in their sympathy with men's sufferings and hopes and dreams, the vaster is his art horizon, and the more universally understood his artistic creation.
Hence it follows that the artist must train his sympathies by observation, by meditation, by travel, by practical service; while he purposely uses his purified feelings as the tools of his art, yet must those feelings be supported by a broad and purified intellect. There could be no greater boon to an artist than Theosophy, which teaches him what are the universal feelings of men, and what is that "God's Plan for men", the contemplation of which is a perennial source of wisdom and purification.
While the purely artistic development is possible by temperament to only a few, there is no man or woman or child born who has not some distinct capacity for artistic feeling and expression. Every effort should be made to rouse in the
child the dormant tendency to appreciate beauty; not only should he be surrounded by beautiful objects, he should also be taught how to produce beautiful things. The energies of his physical body should be taught the meaning of rhythm through the dance; his eye and brain should be trained by drawing. He should be taught what are pure tones of sound in speech and in singing, and his imagination should be trained through poetry and through abstract music. Just as it is the duty of parents to see that children have healthy bodies, not less is it their duty to see that their children have refined tastes too. By placing before the sensitive feelings and unspoiled natures of children none but
what is in the best of taste, and only what is best artistically, an immense impetus is given to the unfolding of the Divine Spirit in man. For art is less a faculty of the soul than an element of its inmost structure. Just as, in the evolutionary process, the senselessness of the stone gives way to the sensitiveness of the plant, and the vague feeling of the plant gives way to the
surging passions of the animal, and the animal's inchoate thoughts give way in the next grade to man's coherent thinking, so too man's power of understanding through the mind is to be made subordinate to knowledge by the Intuition. In most men this intuition is dormant, or only dimly sensed; the next stage in
human evolution is to understand life in the full light of the intuition.
Therefore it is that artistic development becomes supremely necessary for all men; it enables them to do their life's work by a swifter and completer process - that of the intuition - than thought can provide them. It is true that the loftiest thought, by its utter impersonality and when suffused by a desire for
service, touches the realm of the intuition; the great philosophers especially reveal the same insight into life's problems which the pure intuition reveals when reflected in art. But it is far easier to make men pure and sympathetic in feeling than impersonal in thought; therefore, while science and philosophy are essential for human culture, that culture is more swiftly developed by appealing to the artistic instincts of men.
When, by surrounding men with beauty, and by training them to respond to it, their intuitions are aroused, they discover a higher and a more lasting truth than science can reveal to them. The great advantage of the vision of truth by the intuition is that it is always synthetic; each truth of life discovered by the intuition is linked to the totality of truth, and man can proceed in his
further discoveries along a road that has no break nor divergence. The drift of things is seen clearer, and from a more central point, by the intuition than by the highest purely mental process.
There is scarce any such humanitarian influence in life as art, if its inner force is understood and consciously used. Each feeling which art gives rise to is like the segment of a circle of universal feeling in which the feelings of all the rest of humanity too are like segments. Each artistic creation — not the mere imaginative fancy or tour de force, but the real creation which is as a
window into a Divine World of Ideas — links the creator to all men; it at-ones him with humanity.
A soul capable during life of only one work of art, either in the thought world or in the emotional realm, has yet linked all humanity with him to that measure of the artistic capacity in him; while a great poet or painter or sculptor or musician becomes like an eternal priest of humanity, linking man ever to God. This at-one-ing quality of art is a force which is as yet but dimly understood by man; when civilisation everywhere is instinctively artistic, then un-charitableness and enmity must utterly vanish, since to love art is to love that Totality of which each of us is but an infinitesimal fraction.
Lastly, there is through artistic development a discovery that utterly revolutionises the life of the discoverer. True art, as already explained, is born where there is purity of feeling and sympathy; and when art becomes creative there results a lofty impersonality. The result achieved of "casting out the self" by scientific thought is also achieved by the artist while he creates; all great artists concur that at the supreme moments of inspiration all thought and sense of their little selves are swept away. When the little self of the artist is thus swept away, there steps into his life for the moment a larger Self, an indescribable Personality. It is the discovery of this Personality, who is master of his craft and infallible in his wisdom, which is the great
event in the artist's life. It is the artist's "salvation", that realisation of man's eternal safety and of his imperishable nature which religions try to give through ecstatic contemplation. Perhaps it is only at a few moments of his
creative life that the artist makes the great discovery; but each moment of discovery is as a milestone in his unending artistic career, and to have even for once known that Personality is thenceforth to see all life with "larger, other eyes" than are possessed by men.
The artists who have this vision are "not of an age but for all time," and an Ideal World hovers round them, shedding its many-hued gleams on the drab events of this mortal world. That world is always around us, though only the great artists can tell us what it is in its grandeur and totality. Yet each man can
gain a glimpse of it, in so far as he trains his feelings to be pure and radiating with understanding and sympathy. A child with his integrity of heart and innocency of hands, may gain a glimpse of that world, becoming for the time truly an artist; gleams of it are seen in the colour of the clouds, in the blue of the sea and in the roar of the waves. The mountain ranges mirror it, and in
every lake and pool, and in the fields at eventide, and in forest, and in thicket, that world looks into our hearts and minds. The face of friend and beloved is a mirror of it; the harmonies of music tell us ofit with an almost maddening insistence. The great Reality, in which our immortal natures are rooted, is not far away, to be realised perhaps - who knows ? — only after death; it is here, and now, the source of every solace as it is too the cause of all pining and death. And Art has the key to open the door to it, to all who seek that door.
Try these links for
more info about Theosophy
and there’s always a cup of tea afterwards
Independent Theosophy Blog
One liners and quick explanations
About aspects of Theosophy
Classic Introductory Theosophy Text
A Text Book of Theosophy By C
Try these if you are looking for a
local Theosophy Group or Centre