Beauty · Indian Culture · Words of The Mother and Sri Aurobindo

Art Appreciation with Sri Aurobindo

The decluttering and reorganising continues on this space….


Sometime back at the suggestion of a friend, I had expanded and revised an old blog post on Art Appreciation, for possible publication in a Sri Aurobindo related journal. The article was published in the August 2019 issue of New Race: A Journal of Integral Studies, Vol V, Issue 3 (pp. 38-43).

It was wonderful to select the 13 examples of various paintings (I kept the focus on painting only) to illustrate what I have been learning and reflecting upon. As a student of Sri Aurobindo, I have always felt that only quoting his words is never enough. As a master-teacher, as a guru, he compels us to rise up in our own understanding and awareness and experience to see for ourselves if we are indeed able to see the truth in his words. Whether these words are about the highest Integral vision of future course of evolution, or about the inner truths of Indian painting.

Am I able to experience, even for a few minutes, what he says about the truth of the highest artistic vision which has guided Indian arts? If so, then only his words become a part of me. Otherwise they are only on the level of the outer intellect, which doesn’t really mean much.

Since I wrote the piece for New Race, I have had a few more examples and thoughts come to me which have helped me deepen my learning a bit more. Hopefully there will be another revised and expanded version of this article in future….

I recently had an opportunity to share some of the thoughts from this article with a group of young students at IIT-Madras.


What I Learned about Appreciating Indian Art from Sri Aurobindo
Beloo Mehra

All great artistic work proceeds from an act of intuition, not really an intellectual idea or a splendid imagination, — these are only mental translations, — but a direct intuition of some truth of life or being, some significant form of that truth, some development of it in the mind of man. (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA 20: 266).

This is one thing that strikes anyone almost immediately when reading Sri Aurobindo’s
essays on Indian art. It is important to note first of all that Sri Aurobindo here speaks of “all great artistic work,” not only great Indian artistic works. Thus, the first thing the Master helps us learn is that in order to truly ‘see’ any great work of art we must be able to somehow tap into the “direct intuition of truth of life or being” which the artist is expressing through his or her creation. This naturally implies that development of intuitive capabilities is essential for the one appreciating the art. Because great art is not merely an intellectual idea, any ‘critique’ of art from an intellectual standpoint will never really capture the essence of what the artist is trying to express.

Sri Aurobindo then proceeds to deeply examine this. He reminds the reader that while
the above is true there still remains immense divergence between different cultural forms of art. This happens because of various significant differences:

  • in the object and field of the intuitive vision,
  • in the method of working out the sight or suggestion,
  • in the rendering by the external form and technique,
  • in the whole way of the rendering to the human mind, and
  • in the center of our being to which the work appeals.

This is how we begin to learn the fundamental differences between the greatest of Indian art and the greatest of Western art. As will be clear by the examples I share in this essay, the words ‘Indian’ and ‘Western’ here are not really used in the sense of a geographical marker but rather as a representative of a particular outlook on life, existence, reality, knowledge, truth, and of course, Art. It is these ‘cultural’ differences or characteristics which carry themselves into the representative art of the culture as well as its predominant artistic process itself.

‘Indian’ refers to a more integral approach where Spirit is not removed from Life and Matter, just hidden, and hence all Life and Art become a means to express and unveil that hidden spirit. ‘Western’ is used more in the sense of a rational-materialistic approach to Life and Art, which views Spirit as something outside, something separate from Life and Nature.

Coming to the role of the differences in cultural outlook on life, nature, and spirit, Sri
Aurobindo explains that when the object and field of creative intuition of the artist is limited to life, action, passion, emotion, idea or nature, or when all these are seen for their own sake and for an aesthetic delight in them, such art appeals more directly to the outward soul by a strong awakening of the sensuous, the vital, the emotional, the intellectual and imaginative being. It is not directed to the eye of the deepest self and spirit within.

He adds that the spiritual component in such artistic work is limited to as much or as
little that is suitable to, and that expresses itself through the outward form. This is because the modern, rational, westernized mind, for the most part, is attracted and captured by the outer form. It lingers on it and cannot get away from its charm. Such a mind loves the form for its own beauty.

Even in the realms beyond the physical beauty of the form, such a mind relies on the emotional, intellectual, and aesthetic suggestions that arise directly from the most visible language of the form. Because for a rational mind if there is something akin to soul, that too is confined in the limits of the body. For such a mind, form creates the spirit, the spirit depends for its existence and for everything it has to say on the form.

This is true both for the artist and the one appreciating the art.

Let us take a look at some examples as we proceed further. I may add that the examples I have chosen to illustrate the different points that we come across in this analysis are mostly of works by contemporary artists. This is done to highlight the point that some differences between different cultural forms of art remain regardless of the truth that art transcends boundaries.

To read or download rest of the article….click HERE.



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