Just before the death of our great Teacher, H. P. Blavatsky, there appeared in Lucifer one of her thundering editorials, entitled "Civilization the Death of Art and Beauty." In it she referred to the desolation of landscapes by smoke and refuse-heaps, the meanness of modern architecture and decoration, and the dreary, prosaic, and desecrated aspect of modern life in general. Surely, in this swan-song of hers, she struck one of those key-notes which she was sent to strike, and which it is the duty of her pupils to echo. Beauty is one of the age's departed glories that it has to win back, for ugliness is a thing of evil.
Modern ugliness is the expression of internal discord and gloom, and cannot be altered until harmony is felt in the souls of men. Artificial attempts to produce beautiful forms only lead to greater incongruities; for scenic and decorative beauty are like human beauty — not to be won by cosmetics, but the symbol of a healthy vitality within.
It is said that the beautiful has been sacrificed to the useful, but never was worse blasphemy uttered. As if the truly useful could ever be dissociated from the truly beautiful! But "useful" and "beautiful" have come to have quite different meanings nowadays. Nearly all our "useful" things are ugly, and very many of our beautiful things are useless to us. But this is only because we have lost that canon of art and construction which can produce objects that combine the greatest utility with the greatest beauty. Surely this canon is of universal application; if it is recognized in bridge-construction, why could we not also make our grand-pianos and steam-rollers beautiful? But this is a question for artists.
The first essential to beauty is harmony or concord. In music, painting, sculpture, architecture, this principle is obvious. In Nature, whether in her mineral, plant, or animal kingdoms, harmony is preserved. But civilized humanity is like an orchestra in which each instrument plays a different tune. The members of our human choir must be trained to have one ear for their own part and one ear for the general effect, or they will get out of time and tune. Which of our great money-makers ever has an eye to the effect which his doings will have upon society generally?
This exclusiveness, pushed to extremes, may become very ridiculous, even to our hardened eyes. For instance, we often see two semi-detached houses with a common portico, one half of which is painted red and the other half green; or two members of the same family in church, one turning to the east and the other to the north. Sights like this make one say, "Verily, un-brotherliness is the insanity of the age."
To achieve beauty, then, we have to practice harmony. We may as well begin at home, in our family circle. We can make the experiment of living henceforth with a view — not to our own personal interest — but to the general harmony. To try to fit in to the general pattern, instead of shouting our own favorite note regardless of other notes — this will be a first step in the direction of practical harmony. This harmony does not mean subjection to prevailing prejudices, for harmony is not the same as unison.
There is need to welcome back the old mystic idea that every family, as also every community, has a special Over-soul of its own, apart from the souls of the individual members thereof. We speak of the "family interest" and the "commonweal," but the ideas are not concrete enough to furnish strong motives for collective action. If we could look upon a family as an actual conscious being, of which each member is a part, the motive for harmonious action would become more real. Such a being could be invoked in cases of disagreement among the members, and thus the family would become a unit and its parts would be in mutual adjustment. I have taken the family merely as a type of communities in general, and the same principle applies throughout.
It is in Individualism and Selfishness, therefore, that the cause of ugliness lies; nor will beauty reign again in our midst, until harmony rules our lives. Aesthetic movements, artistic, musical, or what not, will fail, as they have failed, unless the basic truth of soul-harmony is made their foundation-stone. In default of this, they fall an easy prey to the harpies of greed and sensualism. Lovelier far a cottage, where love reigns, than the most aesthetic mansion that rots in stifling atmosphere of selfish seclusion.
Oh! let each of us who loves beauty keep his great, angular, jarring personality muzzled, and blend unobtrusively with the mass. Let us not ask the beauties of Nature to degrade themselves by clustering around our personality in some isolated palace-prison. Let us devote our humble life to the endeavor to sing in tune in whatever choir we may find ourselves. Thus we may do our part in restoring that lost harmony which is the soul of beauty.
Universal BrotherhoodTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE