October 6th, 7th and 8th 1975 saw a three-day exhibit of Sri Chinmoy’s art at Manhattan’s prestigious School of Visual Arts. The brief showing was viewed by hundreds of artists, art lovers, art students and art teachers. On the last day of the exhibit Sri Chinmoy gave a short talk on art and spirituality, and answered questions. The Dean of Students, Brian Gormley, who attended the lecture, was later inspired to write a commentary. Sri Chinmoy’s speech and Dean Gormley’s comments are reproduced below.
Sri Chinmoy: Dear Dean Gormley, a few minutes earlier I had the unique occasion to speak with you. Your purity, simplicity, clarity and integrity have touched the very depth of my heart. Today you have given me the golden opportunity to be of service to the God-lover in the artists and art lovers here at this illustrious school. To me, there can be no difference between a true God-lover and an art lover. I offer my most soulful gratitude to you for giving me this opportunity to be of service to seekers of Truth and Light and lovers of universal art.
Before I give a short talk on spirituality and art, I wish to sing a devotional song.
[Sri Chinmoy sang ‘Dipto Madhuri’, a Bengali song written and composed by himself.]
Spirituality and art
Spirituality is realisation, realisation of one’s universal oneness with the Absolute Reality. Art is manifestation, manifestation of the cosmic consciousness, which each human being embodies. Spirituality is transcendental joy. Art is universal beauty. Joy is the source; beauty is the source. We came into this existence from boundless joy. In joy we grow, and at the end of our journey’s close, into joy we shall retire. This joy we experience only when we live in the soul, in the world of the real Reality. If we live in the outer world, our life is nothing but excruciating pangs.
Spirituality is the essence of an ideal. This ideal illumines the world, the world that cries to elevate its consciousness. Art is the expression of an idea. This idea inspires the world to dive deep within and to move forward constantly. Spirituality is an upward movement and art is a forward movement. Spirituality is a soaring bird and art is a running athlete.
Spirituality has a friend: aspiration. Art has a friend: inspiration. Our aspiration-friend tells us that when we reach our destined goal we not only see the face of our goal but we also grow into the very image of our goal. Our inspiration-friend tells us to run forward, for there is the goal. That goal is awaiting us. At God’s choice Hour we are destined to reach that goal.
A seeker tells his artist-friend, “Not this, not this, my friend. Something else here on earth and there in Heaven.” The artist-friend tells the seeker, “This is it. This is the thing that you actually want. I have precisely what you want.”
There is real spirituality and false spirituality, real art and false art. Real art does not imitate anything, not even nature. Real art does not imitate; it only represents. Real spirituality does not reject anything; it only accepts and transforms. Real spirituality is not asceticism. It does not advocate living in hermit caves. Real spirituality is based on vision. Real spirituality tells us to accept life and to transform the undivine in life. Today’s imperfection need not be the imperfection of tomorrow. Tomorrow’s perfection can dawn provided we cry soulfully, ceaselessly and unconditionally for illumining light.
Human art and divine art. The human art is social and commercial success. The divine art is constant outer and inner progress.
Success and progress. Success stimulates us. Progress energises and immortalises us. Success is a short-lived life. Progress is an abiding life. Success can easily be followed by frustration, and inside frustration looms large destruction. But when we make progress in our inner and outer life, we feel a sense of satisfaction. Progress is of paramount importance in our life here on earth.
The human artist and the divine artist. The human artist has as an aim: greatness. The divine artist has a goal: goodness. Greatness consciously or unconsciously creates supremacy. If I have greatness, I must needs be much higher than you. This is the only way I can exercise supremacy and lord it over you. Goodness does not do this. If I have goodness, I can establish my inseparable oneness with you. But if I am higher than you, then I cannot establish my oneness with you on the same footing. To the desire-loving world, God is great. To the aspiration-loving world, God is good.
A divine artist always tries to establish oneness with art, music, poetry. He feels that it is oneness that can offer satisfaction, not separativity or a sense of duality.
With your kind permission I wish to say a few words about my own art. I have been a seeker from the dawn of my life, praying and meditating to realise the ever-transcending Reality. I have been serving seekers regardless of their religion for many years. Service is an outer manifestation of the divinity within us. Inner divinity can easily he manifested through soulful art. My art, which has been on display here at your school for the past few days, is another form of my service to all of aspiring mankind.
Sri Chinmoy’s speech ‘Spirituality and Art’
by Brian Gormley
Dean of Students, School of Visual Arts, Manhattan
Upon hearing Sri Chinmoy’s speech given at the School of Visual Arts on Spirituality and Art, I was deeply moved by what I heard. I do not believe I understood all of what was said that day but I was struck with one startling concept: that true art and spirituality are indeed one.
It is important here to first explain how I perceived the definition of terms in the speech. I believe that art, as Sri Chinmoy states, is the artist’s manifestation of reality. It is the spiritual expression of oneness between the “person” and the “subject.” In this way, art, as a manifestation of oneness, is also a symbol of universal oneness. Thus Sri Chinmoy states that art is a “manifestation of the cosmic consciousness which we embody ... Art is the universal beauty.”
When I say art is spiritual I am referring to the union. This union, this oneness which takes place between the artist and the piece, and the viewer and the piece, cannot take place on a physical level; it must transcend. As Sri Chinmoy states: “Art is the expansion of an idea. This idea inspires the world to dive deep within and to move forward constantly.”
However, as Sri Chinmoy points out, all artists do not recognize the spiritual nature of their work. The artist, through his intentions, may choose not to be receptive on this level. This is what Sri Chinmoy calls “human art.” It is art bound by the ego, confined to the physical level by physical goals.
In his book, The Oneness of Experience, Claudio Naranjo states that, “This (expressing or realizing ourselves) represents another aspect of the value of the arts in the developmental process, especially when not taken as a means to an external end but as an occasion for self-discovery.” Sri Chinmoy states:
The human artist has an aim; it is greatness. The divine artist has a goal; it is goodness. Greatness consciously or unconsciously creates supremacy. If I have greatness, I must needs be higher than you ... If I have goodness, I can establish my inseparable oneness with you.
But this is a very pragmatic time in our society and there are many who feel that this definition of art could deprive artists of motivation (i.e., by removing the goals of greatness and commercial success) or even deprive art of validity (i.e., What does it accomplish?) This is especially true of those who equate spirituality with religiosity, which they see little value in.
I do not believe this is true for several reasons. Firstly, “divine” art or art seen as self-discovery is just as likely, or perhaps even more likely, to be accepted by critics of the art world. Thus, the artist could achieve greatness without it being the goal. Secondly, art gains new validity when seen as a means to attain a mystical, religious and psychological goal. I say this because spiritual or divine art is perfectly defendable from a psychological point of view.
It is generally agreed in the field of psychology that a person who has a “psychiatric disorder” exhibits inappropriate behavior caused by some manner of inner conflict, contradiction or split. Freud saw this behavior as a result of inner conflict between the superego, ego and id. Horney referred to the “central conflict” between the actual self and the idealized self, while Jung saw the problem as a conflict between our basic functions such as thinking, feeling and intuiting. In all of these approaches we see the conflict arising from a deviance from reality. And in each of these different approaches the goal is to enable the patient to see the conflict and then to work through it to a unity between the self and reality – a “conciliation of opposites” as Jung said. Once the patient sees that his real self is harmonious with reality (indeed, one with reality) he is considered healthy.
It is this same state of unity which the mystic or religious seeker hopes to achieve, although they emphasize a great deal of reflection or meditation within this state to carry the integrated feeling to a peak experience. And it is this same unity that can be achieved through art.
Sri Chinmoy has stated that his own art is a manifestation of the reality he perceives in a spiritual state, that is, while meditating. Using this pure inspiration, Sri Chinmoy translates the joy and freedom experienced in the meditative state into color and form. The results are paintings which possess child-like innocence and purity.
To Sri Chinmoy, the very act of creating is an intrinsic part of the piece itself. His painting sessions are a constant flow of ideas, color and form. This artist will paint for days at a time without interrupting his artistic flow. During one twenty-four hour period, Sri Chinmoy completed over 16,000 paintings.
Sri Chinmoy’s art might be said to represent the difference between human art and spiritual art. His work is born out of harmony with the aim of goodness.
At a recent show in one of New York’s Soho galleries, one could see from people’s reactions that Sri Chinmoy’s artistic aim is accomplished. One could not help but feel the harmonious and joyful quality of the thousands of paintings displayed. Artist Edith Montlack described this by stating, “I feel that his art has a tremendous way of inspiring and uplifting the viewer ... that his art is extremely important to the twentieth century. I think it will leave a very great mark in the world of art for the future.”
I have stated that art is a union between the artist and his piece, a manifestation of oneness and cosmic consciousness. This “experience” puts a person in touch with himself and reality, indeed, they become one. Sri Chinmoy states, “A divine artist always tries to establish oneness with art, music or poetry. He feels it is oneness that can offer satisfaction and not separativity and not the sense of duality.” It is duality which draws us into conflict because it involves disunity, splitting and oppositions.
As in psychotherapy, the individual cannot “cure” himself instantly through a sudden realization of the “truth” or an “understanding of reality.” The artist, the patient in therapy and the mystic must strive “soulfully, ceaseless and unconditionally ...The divine art is constant outer and inner progress ... when we make progress in our inner and outer life, we feel a sense of satisfaction. It is of paramount importance in our life here on earth.”
I would like to thank Sri Chinmoy for the seed of thought which he placed in my mind. Although I am not a disciple of his, I feel I am one with him and his quest.