I do not propose to speak on this subject in any sort of technical manner, but rather to put forward some ideas that present themselves strongly to my mind on the subject in its bearing on life in general. We are not specially interested in the life of an artist unless we ourselves are artists, but we all live lives in which Art plays a part, and alas in most lives a very small part, so small indeed, that to most people it is considered as something quite unnecessary and wholly ornamental; but I think that an artist, who is a true artist, is one who has specialized in his life some faculty that is present in the lives of all men, or would be present if they were living true lives, which few can do to-day.
In this connection I want to speak first of the use and meaning of effort in Art. For there are some who toil and labor but are not worthy to be called artists; and there are others who try to live as butterflies, without effort, trusting to their genius to do their work and to spare them all need of effort. And here I am reminded of the saying of a great artist who took a butterfly as his emblem. He said, "Industry in Art is not a virtue; it is a necessity."
No lazy man can be an artist for long. No mean shuffler, who is unwilling to make effort, can do more than trade on his ability with which he started and which will wear out or waste if no effort to increase it be made, — and yet "Industry in Art is not a virtue."
But now comes the usual and inevitable contradiction or paradox. The effort to make your work artistic is doomed to failure; the effort to be artistic must fail; the effort to be beautiful will make you ridiculous; yet none of these can be obtained without effort. Art, beauty, love, joy, these flow from the heart freely and without effort; aye, they are more like a lake that overflows its banks and rushes down the mountain side in streams and rivers, sweeping all obstacles away in its impetuous flood.
The effort that is needed is the effort to rise out of a low level of emotion, or sensation, into that higher state in which the soul can speak through the heart of the creator in his work. Once that point is reached, an effort is required to maintain that which is gained, but no effort is needed or in any way useful when the soul is speaking in the heart, for then the work flows of its own accord as the river flows, and the flow is like a song of joy. Many who seek to reach that state, have found it for a moment and known the joy of true Art and the easy flow of inspiration, and said, "Now I know the secret of Art, it is to just sit still and let the music play through you." And they then and there renounce all further effort and live on the aroma of that one illumination, in blissful repetition of the single theme, varied and colored by their passing moods until it fades and leaves them empty and stranded on the roadside of Art, waiting for the Light to come again, like men who have wandered deep into a gloomy wood and sit down waiting for the sun to rise as once they saw it rise upon the mountain top.
We are all so bound together in our life here, so closely held by the same ties of use and habit and the customs of our life, that for one man to rise above the common level of the thought and feeling of the rest, requires effort; to remain there, where the sunlight of the Soul can shine within his heart, requires constant and heroic effort and endurance; and to make his position there secure, so that he stands unshaken as a light to all, that means not only effort and endurance, courage and patience, hope and faith, but also an eternal vigilance. He has to hold the citadel of his heart against, the thoughts and feelings of all the world about him. For as surely as one such man can raise the tone of all men's thoughts, so also can their lower natures drag him down, unless he guard well the citadel of his heart and mind.
This is why effort is so necessary in all art work, effort to rise above the dead level of the thoughts and emotions that the artist shares in common with the rest of the world about him, and which are like a host of demons and ghouls that swarm around him day and night seeking to make a playground of his mind. When they get in, the Soul-light fades and dies away. Then the work of clearing out this host begins again and efforts are made which, unless they are successful, apparently accomplish nothing and yet are not wholly wasted. How long have we not most of us maintained this kind of struggle, just making effort enough to weary ourselves, without being energetic enough or hopeful enough to succeed and reach the light.
All work done with the aid of this Soul-light is not only joyful work but is bound to be good work, useful and beautiful, — and in Nature there is nothing mean or insignificant. Study a little any natural object or creature, and you find yourself in presence of all the forces of Nature working as fully and harmoniously there — it may be in the body of a reptile — as in the body of a man; you find the gorgeous glories of the sunset sky reflected in a stagnant pool, and that same stagnant pool may offer you a field of study with a microscope as wonderful as the starry sky above reveals to the astronomer. So too in ourselves, there is no life so mean but it is really a field in which the same forces are at work as in the life of one who shines before the world as one of its great ones.
Those who are students in the School of Universal Brotherhood at Point Loma soon learn this fact, and are as willing to seek the divine illumination of the Soul by serving in the kitchen or the stable, as in the class room or the studio. No work is thought unworthy in the service of our Cause, which is the Helping of the World to find the Light of its own Soul and reach to Joy and Freedom. We, who work thus in this cause, know that the light cannot be reached except by effort, steady, continuous effort to keep back the lower nature, and to let the light of the Soul shine. We know too, that when that light does shine, our Life is joy and all our labor is delight, the ceaseless work is happiness and peace.
Ah! how we narrow down the meaning of words that are so great! What have we made of Art? Why, when we use the word, we can scarcely seem to grasp any idea beyond pictures and paintings; even sculpture has got separated off so that we speak of a sculptor and an artist, meaning by the latter a painter of pictures. Is it not a sign of the age we live in, an indication of the state of the world to-day, in which all great ideas are belittled and narrowed, and specialized?
Art is creation, it is the expression of the Soul bursting through the clouds of man's mind and making its own beauty and joy visible and audible to the world, even when its theme is tragic and pathetic. For then we hear the wail of the imprisoned Soul, — its cry of anguish could not wring our hearts if sorrow were the law of life; it can move us, because we feel deep in our hearts that Life, true Life, is Joy, and all this agony and gloom, displayed in the great tragedies, is the dark shadow that itself is proof of something that obstructs the Light, the Joy, the Life, the Soul of Man.
This is true of all the dramas and the tragedies of daily life. We know, some of us, at any rate, do know that we have lived through dramas as wild and passionate, as tragic and as gloomy, and as tender and pathetic as any we can read or see presented on the stage; but being in it, an actor in the tragedy, playing perhaps a villainous part unknowingly, we do not always realize the drama as a whole, and get so tied up in the part that we are playing, that we are quite unable to stand back and take a good wide view of all the comedy and tragedy of our life. Could we do that, we should know that here, right here, in our own daily lives, are being acted out the mighty dramas of the evolving Soul — each one an actor in a play that is no make-believe.
That is again another point where modern life and modern ideas are so small and mean that even the Drama, or perhaps we should say the Drama most of all, has fallen into the region of mere make-believe, fiction, and unreality. When men forgot the existence of their own Souls, they hardly could ensoul their plays, or give to them a truth and force that was no longer in their lives. We can hardly realize that actors in a play might be in fact living the parts they are presenting, gaining in actual fact the experience of the events enacted and making by their acts a model for the lives of men who should come after.
But the true Drama of the Soul is coming back again and in our plays we shall have actors who know the forces they are dealing with and whose souls will live the parts, and mould the hearts and feelings of the spectators so that they too shall know the truth, and see their own souls struggling in the struggles of the hero on the stage, triumph in his triumphs and go out from such a play raised and ennobled, to see the drama of their own lives, to fight as heroes in their daily lives to free their own imprisoned Souls from all the enemies that have held them bound so long. Such plays will be no make-believe. They are more real, by far, than the lives lived actually by masses of our fellow men around us. When we can see the Drama of our own lives so unfold itself before us, and know ourselves as heroes of a tragedy that has run its course through countless ages, then we shall know that Art cannot be separated from true life, and Life, true life is daily life, right here and now. Then we shall not torment ourselves to be artistic, we shall be real, our lives will be realities and Art will breathe in every part of lives that are themselves expressions of the Soul. And then, perhaps, some of the makers of the so-called works of art will find a better occupation, for all men who have awakened to the knowledge of the actual presence in them of their own Soul all the time, will naturally make each act of life an act of beauty, and each thing they make for use will be so wisely made that it will be beautiful as the flowers are beautiful, simply because they can not help it.
Do you think now we can not have Art in daily life? I tell you daily life on this old world of ours shall yet be beautiful and glad for all who live upon it. It can be so and shall be, and we will live to see the changing of the times, and you and I may help to bring about the changing of the times. We have the opportunity to share in such a work, for there is such a Teacher with us now that we, who see her work, are every day astonished more and more to see how beautiful and simple are the ways, by which the wrong old methods can be righted, how the pure joy of life springs naturally in the children brought beneath her care, and how that simple life of joy brings all the virtues in its train, so easily and simply, that if it were not for the contrast in ourselves, who have grown old and stiff in worldly ways, we should simply say — "Why, what is there wonderful in that, it is quite natural!" It is quite natural; but what then is the life of all the world outside, which is so different!
Universal Brotherhood PathTHEOSOPHICAL UNIVERSITY PRESS ONLINE