In her talks and in letters to disciples, the Mother said many things about art, artists and the expression of beauty which may be of interest in connection with her own artistic work. A selection of this material is presented below.
To learn means months and months of study before any picture can be; studies from nature, drawing first for a long time, painting only after. If you are ready to study hard and regularly, then you can begin, otherwise it is better not to try. 1
You must be prepared to be unsuccessful many many times before you can truly learn. It is with the effort of many failures that you prepare a progress leading towards success.2
It is good to make sketches from nature. It gives richness, variety and precision to the execution.3
You can begin to study the human figure but that from Nature, not from books.4
Before doing a drawing you must find the proper place for the model to sit. Generally near a window where the lights and the shadows will be frank and precise, is the best. Before starting the work, you must try several positions and choose the best.5
When you want to do a certain sketch on a certain sheet of paper, you must first establish roughly the whole of it keeping in view only the proportions. For a whole figure it will make it easier to keep the right proportions by keeping in mind that a normal body contains 7 heads including the head itself; less makes a short man and more a tall one.
I am sending you the sketch of the man with the seven heads marked.6
(The technique of "broken colour")
The technique is to apply the colours by dots and short lines very close to one another but not to mix; it gives a much more living effect than the mixing and expresses well the play of colours and of light . . . you can make in that way all possible shades.7
So-called black hair is never black. Look at it attentively and you will see that in the shadows there are deep browns, deep blues and purples. The lights are pale blue if the hair is very black and reddish brown if the hair is less black.8
The colour of the shadows is always somewhat complementary to that of the light. The complementary colours are: green and red, orange and blue, violet and yellow—and all the intermediate shades with all the possible combinations.
Thus if in the light your ground is green, in the shadow it will probably be a reddish brown—if it is of some kind of golden orange the shadow will be of bluish purple, and so on.9
Art and Consciousness
(To a student who was thinking of leaving the Ashram to study art in Paris)
I have seen your paintings—they are almost perfect. But what they lack is not technique—it is consciousness. If you develop your consciousness you will spontaneously discover how to express yourself. Nobody, and especially not the official teachers, can teach you that.
So to leave here and go anywhere else, to any of the "Art Academies", would be to leave the light and step into a pit of obscurity and unconsciousness.
You cannot learn to be an artist with tricks—it is as if you wanted to realize the Divine by imitating religious ceremonies.
Above all and always the most important thing is Sincerity.
Develop your inner being—find your soul, and at the same time you will find the true artistic expression.10
The consciousness must grow in light and sincerity and the eyes must learn to see artistically.11
I was not able to look at your paintings until today. Certainly they represent an effort, and the one which is framed is pleasing to the eye. But you think too much and you do not see enough. In other words, your vision is not original, spontaneous or direct, which means that your execution is still conventional and lacks originality—an imitation of what others do.
There is, behind all things, a divine beauty, a divine harmony: it is with this that we must come into contact; it is this that we must express.12
The largest of the flower-paintings is the best because it is more spontaneous and free. You must feel what you paint and do it with joy.
Copy many beautiful things, but try even more to catch the emotion, the deeper life of things.13
When a painter paints a picture, if he observes himself painting the picture, the picture will never be good, it will always be a kind of projection of the painter's personality; it will be without life, without force, without beauty. But if, all of a sudden, he becomes the thing he wants to express, if he becomes the brushes, the painting, the canvas, the subject, the image, the colours, the value, the whole thing, and is entirely inside it and lives it, he will make something magnificent.14
The Power of Concentration in Art and Science
How is it that in people occupied with scientific studies artistic imagination is lacking? Are these two things opposed to each other?
They do not belong to the same domain. It is exactly as though you had what is called in English a "torchlight", a small beacon in your head, at the place of observation. Scientists who want to do a certain work turn the beacon in a particular way, they always put it there and the beacon remains like that: they turn it towards matter, towards the details of matter. But imaginative people turn it upwards, because up above there is everything, all the inspirations for artistic and literary things: this comes from another domain. It comes from a much subtler domain, much less material. So these turn upwards and want to receive the light from above. But it is the same instrument. The others turn it downwards, and it is quite simply a lack of gymnastic skill. It is the same instrument. It is the same power of a luminous ray upon something. But because one has made a habit of concentrating it in a certain direction, one is no longer flexible, one loses the habit of doing things differently.
But you can at any moment do both things. When you are doing science, you turn it in one direction and when you do literature and art, you turn it in the other direction; but it is the same instrument: all depends on the orientation. If you have concentration, you can move this power of concentration from one place to another and in every case it will be effective. If you are occupied with science, you use it in a scientific way, and if you want to do art, you use it inan artistic way. But it is the same instrument and it is the same power of concentration. It is simply because people don't know this that they limit themselves. So the hinges get rusty, they don't turn any more. Otherwise, if one keeps the habit of turning them, they continue to turn. Moreover, even from the ordinary point of view, it is not rare to find a scientist having as his pastime some artistic occupation—and the reverse also. It is because they have discovered that the one was not harmful to the other and that it was the same faculty which could be applied in both cases.
Essentially, from a general point of view, particularly from the intellectual point of view, the capacity of attention and concentration is the most important thing, the thing one must work to develop. From the point of view of action (physical action), it is the will: you must work to build up an unshakable will. From the intellectual point of view, you must work to build up a power of concentration which nothing can shake. And if you have both, concentration and will, you will be a genius and nothing will resist you.15
Painting in Communion with the Divine
You have said: "if you surrender [to the Divine] you have to give up effort, but that does not mean that you have to abandon also all willed action." But if one wants to do something, it means personal effort, doesn't it? What then is the will?
There is a difference between the will and this feeling of tension, effort, of counting only on oneself, having recourse to oneself alone which personal effort means; this kind of tension, of something very acute and at times very painful; you count only on yourself and you have the feeling that if you do not make an effort at every minute, all will be lost. That is personal effort.
But the will is something altogether different. It is the capacity to concentrate on everything one does, to do it as best one can and not stop doing it unless one receives a very precise intimation that it is finished. It is difficult to explain to you. But suppose, for example, that through a combination of circumstances a work comes into your hands. Take an artist who has in one way or another received an inspiration and decided to paint a picture. He knows very well that if he has no inspiration and is not sustained by forces other than his own, he will do nothing much. It will look more like a daub than a painting. He knows this. But it has been settled, the painting is to be done; there may be many reasons for it, but the painting is to be done. Then if he had the passive attitude, well, he would get out his palette, his colours, his brushes, his canvas and then sit down in front of them and say to the Divine: "Now you are going to paint." But the Divine does not do things that way. The painter himself must take up everything and arrange everything, concentrate on his subject, find the forms, the colours that will express it and put his whole will for a more and more perfect execution. His will must be there all the time. But he will keep the sense that he must be open to the inspiration, he will not forget that in spite of all his knowledge of technique, in spite of the care he takes to arrange, organise and prepare his colours and the forms of his design, in spite of all that, if he has no inspiration, it will be one picture among a million others and it will not be very interesting. He does not forget. He attempts, he tries to see, to feel what he wants his painting to express and in what way it should be expressed. He has his colours, he has his brushes, he has his model, he has made his sketch which he will enlarge and make into a picture, he calls his inspiration. There are even some who manage to have a clear, precise vision of what is to be done. But then, day after day, hour after hour, they have this will to work, to study, to do with care all that must be done until they reproduce as perfectly as they can the first inspiration.... That person has worked for the Divine, in communion with Him, but not in a passive way, not with a passive surrender; it is with an active surrender, a dynamic will. The result generally is something very good. Well, the example of the painter is interesting, because a painter who is truly an artist is able to see what he is going to do, he is able to connect himself to the divine Power that is beyond expression and inspires all expression. For the poet, the writer, it is the same thing and for all people who do something, it is the same.16
Art and Yoga
Is it possible for a Yogi to become an artist or can an artist be a Yogi? What is the relation of Art to Yoga?
The two are not so antagonistic as you seem to think. There is nothing to prevent a Yogi from being an artist or an artist from being a Yogi. But when you are in Yoga, there is a profound change in the values of things, of Art as of everything else; you begin to look at Art from a very different standpoint. It is no longer the one supreme all-engrossing thing for you, no longer an end in itself. Art is a means, not an end; it is a means of expression. And the artist then ceases too to believe that the whole world turns round what he is doing or that his work is the most important thing that has ever been done. His personality counts no longer; he is an agent, a channel, his art a means of expressing his relations with the Divine. He uses it for that purpose as he might have used any other means that were part of the powers of his nature.
But does an artist feel at all any impulse to create once he takes up Yoga?
Why should he not have the impulse? He can express his relation with the Divine in the way of his art, exactly as he would in any other. If you want art to be the true and highest art, it must be the expression of a divine world brought down into this material world. All true artists have some feeling of this kind, some sense that they are intermediaries between a higher world and this physical existence. If you consider it in this light. Art is not very different from Yoga. But most often the artist has only an indefinite feeling, he has not the knowledge….
There is one way in which Yoga may stop the artist's productive impulse. If the origin of his art is in the vital world, once he becomes a Yogi he will lose his inspiration or, rather, the source from which his inspiration used to come will inspire him no more, for then the vital world appears in its true light; it puts on its true value, and that value is very relative. Most of those who call themselves artists draw their inspiration from the vital world only; and it carries in it no high or great significance. But when a true artist, one who looks for his creative source to a higher world, turns to Yoga, he will find that his inspiration becomes more direct and powerful and his expression clearer and deeper. Of those who possess a true value the power of Yoga will increase the value, but from one who has only some false appearance of art even that appearance will vanish or else lose its appeal. To one earnest in Yoga, the first simple truth that strikes his opening vision is that what he does is a very relative thing in comparison with the universal manifestation, the universal movement. But an artist is usually vain and looks on himself as a highly important personage, a kind of demigod in the human world. Many artists say that if they did not believe what they do to be of a supreme importance, they would not be able to do it. But I have known some whose inspiration was from a higher world and yet they did not believe that what they did was of so immense an importance. That is nearer the spirit of true art. If a man is truly led to express himself in art, it is the way' the Divine has chosen to manifest in him, and then by Yoga his art will gain and not lose. . . .
There are some who are not officially Yogis, they are not gums and have no disciples; the world does not know what they do; they are not anxious for fame and do not attract to themselves the attention of men; but they have the higher consciousness, are in touch with a Divine Power, and when they create they create from there. The best paintings in India and much of the best statuary and architecture were done by Buddhist monks who passed their lives in spiritual contemplation and practice; they did supreme artistic work, but did not care to leave their names to posterity. The chief reason why Yogis are notusually known by their art is that they do not consider their art-expression as the most important part of their life and do not put so much time and energy into it as a mere artist. And what they do does not always reach the public. How many there are who have done great things and not published them to the world! . . .
Art is nothing less in its fundamental truth than the aspect of beauty of the Divine manifestation. Perhaps, looking from this standpoint, there will be found very few true artists; but still there are some and these can very well be considered as Yogis. For like a Yogi an artist goes into deep contemplation to await and receive his inspiration. To create something truly beautiful he has first to see it within, to realise it as a whole in his inner consciousness; only when so found, seen, held within, can he execute it outwardly; he creates according to this greater inner vision. This too is a kind of yogic discipline, for by it he enters into intimate communion with the inner worlds.17
"The Yogin's aim in the Arts should not be a mere aesthetic, mental or vital gratification, but, seeing the Divine everywhere, worshipping it with a revelation of the meaning of its works, to express that One Divine in gods and men and creatures and objects."
How can we "express that One Divine"?
It depends on the subject one wants to express: gods, men or things.
When one paints a picture or composes music or writes poetry, each one has his own way of expressing himself. Every painter, every musician, every poet, every sculptor has or ought to have a unique, personal contact with the Divine, and through the work which is his specialty, the art he has mastered, he must express this contact in his own way, with his own words, his own colours. Instead of copying the outer forms of Nature, he takes these forms as the covering of something else, of his relation with the realities which are behind, deeper, and he tries to make them express that. Instead of merely imitating what he sees, he tries to make them speak of what is behind them, and this is what makes the difference between a living art and just a flat copy of Nature.18
The Expression of Beauty
Painting is not done to copy Nature, but to express an impression, a feeling, an emotion that we experience on seeing the beauty of Nature. It is this that is interesting and it is this that has to be expressed. . . . 19
In the physical world, of all things it is beauty that expresses best the Divine. The physical world is the world of form and the perfection of form is beauty. Beauty interprets, expresses, manifests the Eternal. Its role is to put all manifested nature in contact with the Eternal through the perfection of form, through harmony and a sense of the Ideal which uplifts and leads towards something higher.20
True art means the expression of beauty in the material world. In a work wholly converted, that is to say, expressing integrally the divine reality, art must serve as the revealer and teacher of this divine beauty in life.21
There is a domain far above the mind which we could call the world of Harmony and, if you can reach there, you will find the root of all harmony that has been manifested in whatever form upon earth. . . .
If by Yoga you are capable of reaching this source of all art, then you are master, if you will, of all the arts. Those that may have gone there before, found it perhaps happier, more pleasant or full of a rapturous ease to remain and enjoy the Beauty and the Delight that are there, not manifesting it, not embodying it upon earth. But this abstention is not all the truth nor the true truth of Yoga; it is rather a deformation, a diminution of the dynamic freedom of Yoga by the more negative spirit of Sannyasa. The will of the Divine is to manifest, not to remain altogether withdrawn in inactivity and an absolute silence; if the Divine Consciousness were really an inaction of unmanifesting bliss, there would never have been any creation.22
Modern Art and the Art of the Future
Modern art is an experiment, still very clumsy, to express something other than the simple physical appearance. The idea is good—but naturally the value of the expression depends entirely on the value of that which wants to express itself.23
The story began with... the man who used to do still-lifes and whose plates were never round... Cezanne! It was he who began it; he said that if you made round plates it was not living, that never, when one looks spontaneously a things, does one see plates as round: one sees them like this (gesture). I don't know why, but he said that it is only the mind that makes us see plates as round, because one knows they are round, otherwise one does not see them round. It is he who began.... He painted a still-life which was truly a very beautiful thing, note that; a very beautiful thing, with a truly striking impression of colour and form (I could show you reproductions one day, I must have them, but they are not colour reproductions unfortunately; the beauty is especially in the colour). But, of course, his plate was not round. He had friends who told him just this, "But after all, why don't you make your plate round?" He replied, "My deal fellow, you are altogether mental, you are not an artist, it is because you think that you make your plates round: if you only see, you will do it like this" (gesture). It is in accordance with the impression that the plate ought to be painted; it gives you an impact, you translate the impact, and it is this which is truly artistic. This is how modern art began. And note that he was right. His plates were not round, but he was right in principle.
What has made art what it is, do you want me to tell you, psychologically? It is photography. Photographers did not know their job and gave you hideous things, frightfully ugly, it was mechanical, it had no soul, it had no art, it was dreadful. All the first attempts of photography until... not very long ago, were like that. It is about fifty years ago that it became tolerable, and now with gradual improvement it has become something good; but it must be said that the process is absolutely different. In those days, when your portrait was taken, you sat in a comfortable chair, you had to sit leaning nicely and facing an enormous thing with a black cloth, which opened like this towards you. And the man ordered, "Don't move!" That was the end of the old painting. When the painter made something life-like, a life-like portrait, his friends said, "Why now, this is photography!"
It must be said that the art of the end of the last century, the art of the Second Empire, was bad. It was an age of businessmen, above all an age of bankers, of financiers, and taste, upon my word, had sunk very low. I don't think businessmen are people who are necessarily very competent in art, but when they wanted their portrait, they wanted a likeness! One could not leave out the least detail, it was quite comic: "But you know I have a little wrinkle there, don't forget to put it in!" and the lady who said, "You know, you must make my shoulders quite round", and so on. So the artists made portraits which indeed verged on photography. They were flat, cold, without soul and without vision. I can name a number of artists of that period, it was truly a shame for art. This lasted till towards the end of the last century, till about 1875. Afterwards, there started the reaction. Then there was an entire very beautiful period (I don't say this because I myself was painting) but all the artists I knew at that time were truly artists, they were serious and did admirable things which have remained admirable. It was the period of the impressionists; it was the period of Manet, it was a beautiful period, they did beautiful things. But people tire of beautiful things as they tire of bad ones. So there were those who wanted to found the "Salon d'Autornne". They wanted to surpass the others, to go more towards the new, towards the truly anti-photographic. And my goodness, they went a little beyond the limit (according to my taste). They began to depreciate Rembrandt—Rembrandt was a dauber, Titian was a dauber, all the great painters of the Italian Renaissance were daubers. You were not to pronounce the name of Raphael, it was a shame. And all the great age of the Italian Renaissance Was "not worth very much"; even the works of Leonardo da Vinci; "You know, you must take them or leave them." Then they went a little further; they wanted something entirely new, they became extravagant. . . .
This is the history of art as I knew it.
Now, to tell you the truth, we are on the ascending curve again. Truly, I think we have gone down to the depths of incoherence, absurdity, nastiness- of the taste for the sordid and ugly, the dirty, the outrageous. We have gone, I believe, to the very bottom.
Are we really going up again?
I think so. Recently I saw some pictures which truly showed something other than ugliness and indecency. It is not yet art, it is very far from being beautiful, but there are signs that we are going up again. You will see, fifty years hence we shall perhaps have beautiful things to see. I felt this some days ago, that truly we had come to the end of the descending curve—we are still very low down, but are beginning to climb up. There is a kind of anguish and there is still a complete lack of understanding of what beauty can and should be, but one finds an aspiration towards something which would not be sordidlymaterial. For a time art had wanted to wallow in the mire, to be what they called "realistic". They had chosen as "real" what was most repulsive in the world, most ugly: all the deformities, all the filth, all the ugliness, all the horrors, all the incoherences of colour and form; well, I believe this is behind us now. I had this feeling very strongly these last few days (not through seeing pictures, for we do not have a chance to see much here, but by "sensing the atmosphere"). And even in the reproductions we are shown, there is some aspiration towards something which would be a little higher. It will need about fifty years; then... Unless there is another war, another catastrophe; because certainly, to a large extent, what is responsible for this taste for the sordid are the wars and the horrors of war. People are compelled to put aside all refined sensibility, the love of harmony, the need for beauty, to be able to undergo all that; otherwise, I believe, they would really have died of horror.24
Why are today's painters not so good as those of the days of Leonardo da Vinci?
Because human evolution goes in spirals. I have explained this. I said that art had become something altogether mercantile, obscure and ignorant, from the beginning of the last century till its middle. It had become something very commercial and quite remote from the true sense of art. And so, naturally, the artistic spirit does not come. It followed bad forms, yet it tried to manifest to counteract the degradation of taste which prevailed. But naturally, as with every movement of Nature in man, some having gone to one extreme, others went to the other extreme; and as these made a sort of servile copy of life- not even that, in those days it was called "a photographic view" of things, but now one can no longer say that, for photography has progressed so much that it would be doing it an injustice to say this, wouldn't it? Photography has become artistic; so a picture cannot be criticised by calling it photographic; nor can one call it "realistic" any longer, for there is a realistic painting which is not at all like that—but it was conventional, artificial and without any true life, so the reaction was to the very opposite, and naturally to another absurdity: "art" was no longer to express physical life but mental life or vital life. And so came all the schools, like the Cubists and others, who created from their head. But in art it is not the head that dominates, it is the feeling for beauty. And they produced absurd and ridiculous and frightful things. Now they have gone further still, but that, that is due to the wars—with every war there descends upon earth a world in decomposition which produces a sort of chaos. And some, of course, find all this very beautiful and admire it very much.
I understand what they want to do, I understand it very well, but I cannot say that I find they do it well. All I can say is that they are trying.
But it is perhaps (with all its horror, from a certain point of view), it is perhaps better than what was produced in that age of extreme and practical philistinism: the Victorian age or in France the Second Empire. So, one starts from a point where there was a harmony and describes a curve, and with this curve one goes completely out of this harmony and may enter into a total darkness; and then one climbs up, and when one finds oneself in line with the old realisation of art, one becomes aware of the truth there was in this realisation, but with the necessity of expressing something more complete and more conscious. But in describing the circle one forgets that art is the expression of forms and one tries to express ideas and feelings with a minimum of forms. That gives what we have, what you may see. . . . But if one goes a little farther still, this idea and these feelings they wish to express and express very clumsily—if one returns to the same point of the spirit (only a little higher), one will discover that it is the embryo of a new art which will be an art of beauty and will express not only material life but will also try to express its soul.25
. . . At one time, when I looked at the paintings of Rembrandt, the paintings of Titian or Tintoretto, the paintings of Renoir, the paintings of Monet, I felt a great aesthetic joy. This aesthetic joy I don't feel any more. I have progressed, because I follow the whole movement of terrestrial evolution; therefore, I have had to overpass that cycle, I have arrived at another; and that one seems to me empty of aesthetic joy. From the point of view of reason one may dispute this, speak of all that is beautiful and well done; all that is another matter. But this subtle something which is the true aesthetic joy is gone, I don't feel it any more. Of course, I am a hundred miles away from having it when I look at the things they are doing now. But still it is something which is behind this that has made the other disappear. So perhaps by making just a little effort towards the future, we are going to be able to find the formula of the new beauty. That would be interesting.
It is quite recently that this impression has come to me; it is not old. I have tried with the most perfect goodwill, by abolishing all kinds of preferences, preconceived ideas, habits, past tastes, all that; all that eliminated, I look at their pictures and I don't succeed in getting any pleasure; it doesn't give me any, sometimes it gives me a disgust, but above all the impression of something that is not true, a painful impression of insincerity. But then quite recently, I suddenly felt this, this sensation of something very new, something of the future pushing, pushing, trying to manifest, trying to express itself and not succeeding, but something that will be a tremendous progress over all that has been felt and expressed before; and then, at the same time was born this movement of consciousness which turns towards this new thing and wants to grasp it. This will perhaps be interesting.26