Universal Brotherhood Path – November 1900

THEOSOPHY AND ART: IN SEARCH OF THE REAL — R. W. Machell

I want to show that the true artist does not take a common-place fact and put beauty into it, nor conceal its real nature by giving it an ideal appearance. I do not mean to say this is not done by artists; unfortunately, many do more of this than anything else, I fear, just as many of us Theosophists take the facts of life and try to conceal them behind the veil of a half-understood ideal, instead of trying to see the meaning and truth of the facts before us.

The true artist, I hold, tries to show in his work some deeper truth, some more real fact than is seen by the casual observer. He sees in the facts of life around him a scheme, a harmony, a purpose, that is more real because it is more universal than the ordinary perception of the same facts in the mind of the ordinary person. So he strives to express that harmony, and in doing so he makes a beautiful picture, which, to him, is but a poor attempt to express what he has felt, but which may appear to the spectator as a flight of the wildest imagination, even though he paint allegorical pictures with colors, lights, and effects, not peculiar to the physical world, he may still be doing the same thing. That is, he may be trying to give expression to something which he has internally perceived as a feeling, an idea, or an impression, and which, to him, may have been formless, in some form more or less familiar to the ordinary mind.

Thus an artist may have felt at some moment the beauty of a scheme of color in nature. The underlying sense of harmony has perhaps echoed in his own heart, and later on he will try to express it. To do this he may use familiar forms; he may take a landscape and seek to express the idea by harmonious arrangement of the objects familiar to us in country life and scenery, and then you may look at the picture, "a country lane," perhaps, and think, ''Well, I never saw a country lane look like that!" But some day you may see something quite different, say a London street scene, that will momentarily give you a flash of some such harmony of color and form that was in reality the subject of the picture.

Coming along the City Road, which is ugly and commonplace enough generally; plodding along in a rather dreamy fashion, no doubt; I became conscious of a harmony of color that charmed my inner sense of beauty. There was a varied scheme of purple and blue that was delicious in the perfect balance of mass and intensity of color and tone. My attention being called to it, my mind began at once to examine it in the ordinary, commonplace way; and immediately I was dragged into the analytical frame of mind, which says, "Oh, that is a woman!" Then the male animal chimed in scornfully, "Yes, old, ugly, and dirty, too!" at which the scientific mind was shocked, and, proceeding with its analysis, said, "The purple mass is produced by an old woolen shawl and faded blue skirt, and an old bonnet or hat with some indescribable blue stuff on it, and that flash of violet light is the sun shining on a bit of blue paper covering her old basket; the sunlight playing on the faded and variegated materials does the rest." Then I recalled the deeper mood, and saw the harmony of the whole, and realized the fitness of the stooping gait, the shapeless form, the utter unconsciousness of the poor old woman; and I thought, "Now, if one were to try and reproduce that harmony, that scheme of color, in a dress or costume for a state ball, the genius of a great dressmaker would require to use the costliest materials that the world can produce, embroidered by the greatest needle-workers. And then only a man of genius like Worth could accomplish the task of reproducing the harmony that Nature and necessity had worked for the clothing of that poor old woman. 'Consider the lilies . . .!'"

The Japanese artists have understood this idea of harmony better than most of our European people, and in the best of their work — their enamels and embroideries — -you will see these wonderfully subtle harmonies expressed, though the design itself may be composed of dragons and butterflies, of flowers, waterfalls, and so on.

Then again, an English artist, having been deeply impressed with the beauty of such a harmony, might try to express it in a picture of a beautiful young girl in wonderful draperies, or a mother and child, a cottage scene, a fairy picture, or a classic myth, or, indeed, any form that pleased him. But only the greatest artists, or the least, would venture to use the same materials that Nature had used.

This brings me to consider again the things we see going on around us, and in ourselves, in this Theosophical work. When we begin, we are seized by the truth and beauty of some idea; either the scheme of Philosophy, or the Principle of Brotherhood; and this fills our minds and gives us satisfaction, and we talk of it at all times easily and readily. Then we come to another stage, at which point we begin to see that this is so far only talk, and that the idea has not yet entered into our nature and become assimilated. Then we begin to try to get it into working order in our own lives, and if our power of self-analysis is strong, we soon realize the enormous difficulty of the task. And then we begin to draw in, and are not so ready to preach to others, nor to find fault with those who are doing better than ourselves — in fact, we seem to be doing nothing. And it may be a long time or a short time, but it will certainly seem a long time, before we see what is the best method for the expression of the idea which at last has entered into the depths of our nature, and begun to germinate there. The seed must be buried in the earth, it must have time to germinate, then the tree must grow, and all this before the new fruit can be borne.

I spoke of three classes of minds: the Materialist, the Idealist, and the Realist. I should explain that in my idea all these modes of consciousness are present in each one, but usually one mode is so much stronger than the rest that it becomes predominant, and determines the class of mind to which a person may be said to belong. So a person who is an animal-materialist does not cease to be so by simply altering the character of his desires and appetites, but by eventually substituting an ideal for an appetite. Then the progress continues by constantly putting higher and higher ideals before the mind, until at last a reaction sets in; the internal faculties awake, and a flash of internal perception of truth forever shatters his belief in the permanence of any ideal. Then a new order of things has begun, and the tyranny of the ideal begins slowly to give way before the enlightened and developed Will set free. Now the path is the search for the Real, and the endeavor to express it. These expressions, or efforts at expression, become then ideals for those who follow on. No man can be freed from the bondage of the ideal by the substitution of higher ideals for lower, although this must be done in order to get on at all; but Freedom comes at last as a light from within, by means of which we begin to see and to know the Real in ourselves and in our surroundings.

So the process of development, or of human progress, seems to be not merely a course of gradual growth, but to be also a series of stages, with distinct turning-points, or gateways, to be passed, when the old method has to give place to a new light. And these gateways are as distinct entrances into new life as is the actual birth of a physical body into the physical world; though, of course, the whole process of birth, from the state of germ to the state of fully formed body is a long and steady growth. When the egg-shell is broken, and the fully formed chicken steps out, there is a very distinct step taken in development; and it is as impossible for the chicken to return to its shell, as for a man who has once caught a glimpse of Reality to be ever again content with any fixed Ideal, however lofty.

Both in Art and in Occultism you see people pinning their faith to a method, or a manner, as if it were the method. Then, getting dissatisfied with it, they reject it, and adopt another, and yet another, and so on — all the time remaining under the same protecting shell of what I should call methodism. Now I am not saying that methods are bad, but quite the reverse; they are just as necessary as language is to speech. But a time comes when speech is found to be inadequate. Then it becomes useless to invent more and more perfect languages, for what is wanted is not speech, but a better mode of expression. Then at last a new development occurs, and humanity perhaps becomes aware of the possibility of direct thought transference without speech at all.

If some few people have seen the superiority of this new power, and wish to benefit humanity, they may, even then, fall into the error of trying to force the new light upon those who have not yet mastered the old methods of expression; then arises conflict, and in such a conflict you may have perfectly honest and sensible people opposing one another, and each looking on their opponents as the enemies of humanity. And if, on the other hand the advanced members of the race, having seen the new light, refuse to speak of it or share their knowledge with the rest, are they not then indeed becoming the enemies of the race? For the human race is led by the advance guard, not by the main body, and certainly not by the rear guard, and if the leaders refuse to show the road, then confusion follows. So therein lies a problem, and like all such problems of right conduct, there is only one principle to enable us to find the solution, and that is the pearl beyond price — the internal sense of the fitness of things, which in Philosophy may be called Wisdom, and in daily life is known as Common-sense, the diamond among precious stones. But beware of spurious imitations!


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