Swami Kriyananda on Art and the Artist
This first offering is a chapter from Swamiji’s book, Cities of Light: A New Vision for the Future.
The concept of Cities of Light might be likened to a great wheel, the hub of which is the central concept itself: a life lived in Crystal Clarity, in expanded, divine awareness. The spokes of the wheel, radiating outward from the hub, are the outward expressions of that consciousness of Crystal Clarity. And the rim represents the unity of those outward expressions in cooperative, mutually supportive activity. The rim, then, denotes the community’s life as a totality, both as it revolves upon itself and as it touches the rest of the world.
The spokes that radiate outward from this hub include the expression of Crystal Clarity in business, in home building, in family life, in government and leadership, in marriage, in education, and, indeed, in every phase of life. There is no aspect of human existence that cannot receive fresh clarity and vitality, when we apply to it these central principles.
One of the most fertile fields for applying Crystal Clarity is the arts. For men are led more surely through the arts than through philosophy. Philosophy touches only their minds, but the arts involve also their feelings. The arts affect people’s lives as outward expressions of their ideas. Indeed, if the arts are broad enough in their vision, they can touch also the soul.
New ideas almost always begin as philosophy. At this stage they may be read and discussed by few – even as, in science, Einstein was first discussed by only a handful of other scientists, and understood by even fewer. Creative artists (composers, writers, and others who express themselves creatively) are usually closer to new waves of thought than the general mass of people. Few artists are philosophers themselves, but they enjoy the stimulation of new ideas, and tend to become the popularizers of those ideas. Thus, through the arts new concepts reach out and actually touch the common man.
The arts, therefore, are in one sense the most important expression that can come out of the vision of Crystal Clarity. For people may lecture and theorize abstractly, even enthusiastically, without really moving even themselves to practical action. The way to make a new idea really one’s own is to live it. And the best way of living it, short of embracing it wholly, is to experience it vicariously through some form of artistic expression.
A novel that describes people living in a new state of awareness can give the reader almost the feeling that he, too, shares in that awareness. A painting that describes social injustice can bring the reality of that injustice more vividly to the heart and mind than any mere lecture on the subject. Music, too, can stir an experience of new states of awareness.
If there is one thing, then, that Cities of Light ought to focus on, it is the question of how to express their philosophy through the arts. Probably only after they’ve succeeded in expressing their ideals and their state of consciousness through some aspect of the arts will people generally come to appreciate what they represent.
The only influence greater than the arts in its potential for inspiring people is direct, inner religious experience. This doesn’t mean fanaticism or religious dogmatism, but rather some actual experience of inner, divine blessing. People who have been so blessed find themselves transformed from inside, and not merely superficially, through their emotions and imaginations. Such an inner change is much greater and more enduring than any that is effected from without, through the arts.
Cities of Light need, as I’ve said repeatedly, to be developed as a new kind of monastic order; otherwise, they will not succeed. Communities that have a spiritual base will naturally be able to touch people on a soul-level. The more they themselves experience of God’s presence in their lives, the better they will be able to share with others something vital and valid.
In addition to touching others directly on a soul level, however, they can touch people also, and perhaps reach many more people, through the arts. The arts, therefore, will always be one of the best possible ways for communities to reach out to others. They will also remain an important way for a community to clarify its own directions.
Members of the community that have a talent for artistic expression should be encouraged to paint, write, compose music, sing, write plays and act in them, create spiritually inspiring dances, and carve in stone or cast in iron the great, central ideas that have ever uplifted the human race, and that will ever continue to do so.
Artistic expression in this century expresses the negative philosophy of our times. This philosophy is – even self-vauntingly so – materialistic, ego-centered, iconoclastic and contemptuous of high ideals. It is atheistic, and filled with affirmations of meaninglessness and despair. New art forms are waiting to express a more exalted philosophy.
Such forms can only come out of the sort of new vision that Cities of Light can provide. For it would not be possible to bring new insights into being while surrounded by old influences, and by the daily repetition of old clichs.
An example of this impossibility is the new wave of Christian music. It represents a desperate attempt to reawaken devotion to the teachings of the Bible by setting high sentiments to the popular beat of rock music. Rock and roll, however, is a music form that places heavy stress on the ego. The singers of this new Christian music actually go to the lengths of appearing dressed fantastically in sequins, in imitation of popular rock stars. Their dress, their music, their very comportment all seem to shout, “Look at me!” Only the words they sing are different, and what good does it do to sing, “Love Jesus!” if everything else about you is pleading, “Yeah, yeah, but love me, too!”
The dilemma is the same for actors. What plays are there for them to act in that represent truly the deep spiritual needs of our times? None, with which I am familiar, anyway.
It is necessary first to produce artistic forms that will express a consciousness of Crystal Clarity. Such creations will then naturally find expression through the interpretive arts.
Crystal Clarity as it applies to the arts should involve communication with all things as manifestations of consciousness. It should mean seeing them as expressions in, and not only of, Crystal Clarity. It should entail a reaching out to relate to broader realities than one’s own, so that the work one is creating will suggest a greater sphere of reality than it expresses overtly.
The essence of good taste, always, is understatement. A good painting will suggest moods and feelings without actually labeling them. In its very suggestion it implies recognition that there is a certain consciousness present in its subject – even if the subject be a flower, a rock, or a stream.
Crystal Clarity in the arts means art that communicates – and that communicates not only with the people who, so the artist hopes, will enjoy his work, but also with his subject. If nothing else, Crystal Clarity can be his means of opening up new layers of sensitivity within himself.
If, however, the teaching is true that matter expresses consciousness, however dim the degree of consciousness expressed, then the arts afford man a means of actually expanding his consciousness into a greater, conscious, reality.
At Ananda, artistic inspiration has found outlet through new forms of expression in music, songs, poetry, stories, photography, painting, and simply through the effort, manifested everywhere, to create beautiful homes and a harmonious environment. The constant effort of the community members is to serve, on every level possible, as channels of Crystal Clarity.
Perhaps it would be good to include, as an example of the arts, a life lived in Crystal Clarity. For is not this the highest purpose of the arts – that they help us to live our own lives more consciously?