Of Aesthetics and Self-forgetfulness

Artist: Bindu Popli
 “[The] ultimate aim of an artist is to discover the Divine through beauty; highest art is that which reveals the Spirit. ” (1)
I came across this sentence when I was re-reading something I wrote years ago for a course I was taking at that time. As I ponder upon this now, I find that it is indeed a mighty goal for an artist, and I begin to question whether this discovery of Divine through beauty and revelation of the Spirit is also shared by the viewer or patron of that art. In other words, as a non-artist how do I develop a sense of perception or vision so that I can access or relate to or somehow connect with the sense of divinity that the artist is trying to reveal or attempting to discover through her or his work?
Aesthetic values in general are not really spiritual values, what may seem beautiful to an individual’s aesthetic sense may not lead him or her to connect with the Spirit, the Invisible. This can be true both for the artist as well as the viewer. Cultivation of an aesthetic sensibility that can begin to transform aesthetic values into spiritual values is required of the art-lovers just as it is required of the artist who wants to make art his or her sadhana (spiritual discipline).
As I was contemplating on these thoughts over the last several days, a sentence caught my attention in this wonderful little book I had been reading by Ananda Coomaraswamy. He writes:
“The vision of beauty is spontaneous, in just the same sense as the inward light of the lover (bhakta). It is a state of grace that cannot be achieved by deliberate effort; though perhaps we can remove hindrances to its manifestation, for there are many witnesses that the secret of all art is to be found in self-forgetfulness. And we know that this state of grace is not achieved in the pursuit of pleasure; the hedonists have their reward, but they are in bondage to loveliness, while the artist is free in beauty.” (2)
What struck me in this sentence was the sort of an answer to my ponderings that I find in his words: to practice self-forgetfulness so as to be in a state of grace. The self-forgetfulness he speaks of is not a casual mind-less-ness, but rather a practice of going higher than the realm of mind where the mental, vital self is forgotten along with its incessant demands, desires, expectations, and preferences. It is in that state that one begins to experience a sense of oneness with that real ‘self’ which is spontaneously and freely identified with the object d’art one is creating as an artist or even experiencing as a viewer. That, according to Coomaraswamy, is the secret to experience beauty, similar to the secret known by the true bhaktas (devotees), true lovers – namely, to experience that Divinity within that unites, in absolute freedom, the lover with the beloved, the devotee with the Lord, the Beauty with the Beautiful, and makes them One (or Two that are in Truth One).
(1)   V. Madhusudan Reddy, Towards a Global Future: Agenda for the Third Millennium, p. 32
(2)   Ananda Coomaraswamy, The Dance of Shiva: Fourteen Essays, pp. 39-40.


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