Universal Brotherhood Path – July 1901

THEOSOPHY AND THE ARTIST — W. T. Hanson

It is generally accepted as quite legitimate for the man of business to work for himself, to make money, to further his own interests by howsoever he may, provided of course that he do so honestly.

In view of this, it is somewhat strange, but a wonderful and splendid thing that a different and higher basis of action is expected of the artist. It is recognized as right and in accord with the fitness of things that a painter, for instance, receive a great price for a great picture. But an unwritten law, perceived by the finer feelings of all people, demands that he do the work for the sake of the art and not for the money return. To find him guilty of the latter occasions a disagreeable shock. We may appreciate his business instincts but as an artist he stands degraded and condemned. As a matter of fact such a man is not really an artist at all but a manufacturer who makes use of artistic powers in the production of his wares.

But admitting all this to be at least somewhat true, what difference does it make to those who have to deal with existence in a commonplace prosaic way?

Does any fact underlie the tradition of the "Lost Canon of Proportion?" Its existence is maintained by all the sages of antiquity. It is held to solve any problem, unlock any mystery, furnish the key to every situation whatsoever, disclosing the wisest, most correct, most effective plan of action in any case. The profounder students of life, sooner or later, all come to the recognition of the possibility of such. What can be its nature and how can its use be recovered?

As we all know there are many arts but, as conceived by Theosophy, these, each and every one, are branches, departments, integral powers of one Great Art — the Art of living, the Art of so acting at every time and place that the forthcoming results will be more desirable, more satisfactory, all things considered, than if any other way had been chosen. Any one who catches this idea, and endeavors to put it into operation forthwith begins the development of his artistic nature by the most effective procedure that can be adopted. In this sense all people should be artists and in every circumstance of their lives they have the opportunity of becoming such.

There is a great difference between an artist and a mere creator. All men are creators by every motion they make, by their every thought, feeling, and act. But all are not artists. It is one thing to do or create, if you please, any old thing that may enter the mind or stir the impulse; it is quite another to produce that thing or perform that act which will give the best possible result practicable. The first requires only the power to move, think, feel and act. The other calls for the exercise of a power which can control and so order the motion, thought, feeling and act that the true relation of things is advanced and fostered. This is where the Lost Canon of Proportion would come into such useful play.

That which makes an artist an artist is a sense of proportion, whether he be an actor, a musician, a sculptor, a painter, a writer — and for the statesman, or lawyer, or doctor, or merchant, or day laborer, for any worker whatsoever to properly perform his function, the exercise of this sense is necessary. What else is the sense of right action? Could such ever have been so powerful, so delicate, so comprehensive, so pointed that it would operate not only in reference to morals and ethics, but every circumstance, every undertaking, every idea and object that could occupy the attention of the human mind? So all the Great Teachers have taught. All men have it in greater or less degree in some form or another. Only a touch now perhaps, but still enough to be the sign of its fuller existence and function.

How could it have become so weakened that intelligent, conscious recognition of it is all but lost? How, except by the way in which all things are lost, by neglect, misuse, abuse, outrage and the like?

Can it be recovered and regenerated to the fullness of its rightful powers? If so, how? How otherwise, than by use, exercise, careful and nurturing regard of the germ that remains?

That we all still have a touch of it is shown in many ways, in the fine sensitive feeling that an artist shall work for the sake of the art, and not find the mainspring of his effort in what he himself shall receive therefrom. The explanation is simple enough. It is the function of the artist to express the beautiful, the strengthening, the instructive, the inspiring, the virtues and nobilities and harmonies of life. To do this to his fullest capacity he must first of all be true to his nature and mission as an artist, and in his own living show due regard for true proportions and relations.

To be able to express an ideal thing and then make that ability subservient to a selfish personal interest is contrary to the sense of proportion, offends it, injures it, weakens it in him who so uses it, thereby unavoidably deteriorating the character of the work that is being done. It is a shameful thing and is rightly adjudged so in the general estimation of the world whose sense of proportion has been shocked by the fact.

Being an artist, coming more in contact with ideals and the loftier energies of life than men commonly, he should and does more fully and clearly understand the true relations of things, and for him to place an inferior thing — his personal aggrandizement — above a more worthy something, his mission in life, is worse than for a business man who has not as keen perceptions and sensibilities to work for the money to be obtained.

However, there is no hope for humanity except as it becomes more alive to that side of its nature which we are at present naming the artist. Only as this is done, call it as we like, will it be possible to eradicate the thousand and one ills that now affect existence — all of which have arisen through the disregard or abuse of man's inherent sense of proportion. Such is the key to the overcoming of drudgery — of ennobling and dignifying labor, and bringing joy into existence.

The discontent current in the world is the logical and inevitable sequence of the motive of action on which most men base their effort. Discontent with one's condition and one's work arises from the simple fact that the condition or employment is something of which any right thinking, right feeling man is ashamed. This may require amplification, and to avoid misunderstanding and misconception and confusion in the mind it is necessary to perceive the case as it really is and not as it may superficially appear. The following is the fundamental gist of the matter plainly stated.

The condition of a discontented man is the condition of one who directly or indirectly is working primarily for himself. When he is discontented with his employment it is because in the last analysis he is employed in furthering his own interests above all other things and frequently without much consideration for any thing else. Naturally he is ashamed. It is to his credit. But the shame makes him uncomfortable and discontented. Offense is given to his sense of true proportion, which continually reminds him that he is engaged in a mean, small, petty, unworthy, business, when, by right, he could and should be doing something important, noble, dignified and grand.

There is an adage current in the legal profession, that "the man who acts as his own lawyer has a fool for a client." The same form applies, here, in that a man who works for himself, has a grasping, insatiable task-master and a very unwise and unreliable employer — grasping, because he wants all the returns for himself; unwise, because in working selfishly he goes contrary to the highest intelligence in him; unreliable, because he who violates principle — the highest principle in his nature — cannot be depended upon.

It is much better to be an artist, to exercise that sense of proportion which operates toward having every act performed — the right thing to do — and being right it is important, worthy, noble, and possessing an inherent dignity, unassailable by ridicule or disrespect, and forming an armor impenetrable to the darts of discontent.

By so becoming an artist, in whatsoever line one may be, is to begin the cultivation and development of the intelligence and all the faculties by the most powerful and rapid and substantial of all processes — the exercise of the sense of proportion; which will apply instantly and, as it were, automatically to every conceivable situation and circumstance.

So, in this sense, to become an artist will pay better than any other thing, in the avenues and opportunities that will be opened up and developed. Yet when it is done because it will pay, the returns are much slower and much less and it defeats its own ends.

There is perhaps but one thing more unprofitable than working for one's self, that is not working at all. Sometimes it does seem that the selfish man is the subject of a great joke. Being too lazy or indifferent or inconsiderate to play voluntarily the true part of a man in the great drama of life, his soul so works upon his nature as to stir the feelings of self-interest, which drive him to a task with the certainty before him of never being able to satisfy himself on that line and of learning in time that he is engaged in a small business. Then comes upon him discontent bringing to him, however, the opportunity to perceive the larger life into which he may enter if he will but evoke and cherish the artist in him, by beginning to do what he has to do, and is able to do, in accord with his reawakening sense of proportion, — which, once he unalterably establishes it, will quickly guide him out of all pain, discontent, difficulties, ugliness and gloom, into the real sunshine and joy of living.


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