In cultures where all of creation is honored for its sacredness, artists play an important leadership role. “Art,” observes Santayana, is “more spiritual than dogma.”
The poets, the painters, the musicians, the script writers—these are frequently those who lead the struggle against the demons attacking life: whether through ignorance or denial or the drive for power.
The artist calls up our common roots so that we all might examine, enjoy, and criticize them. Artists are the “monks” of a lay culture, not asking necessarily to be imitated in lifestyle or morality.
Tolstoy put it this way: “The poet skims off the best of life and puts it in his work. That is why his work is beautiful and his life [sometimes] bad.” Artists invite others to plumb their recognition of the spiritual within life. The artist is a listener to life who responds in poetry, painting, music, theater etc. to what life has done to them.
Classical pianist Arthur Rubinstein, near the end of his long life, offered this advice: “I have noticed that through experience and through my own observations that Providence, Nature, God, or what I would call the Power of Creation, seems to favor human beings who accept and love life unconditionally. And I am certainly one who does, with all my heart.”
Plato explained the artist’s special quest by his being empowered with a divine mandate. An artist is sensitive to life because he/she is open to contemplation, or an experience of the whole. A scholar of Beethoven’s life and work says that “All art exists to communicate states of consciousness which are higher synthetic wholes than those of ordinary experience. “
Tolstoy pronounced on his vocation:
“An artist’s mission must not be to produce an irrefutable solution to a problem, but to compel us to love life in all its countless and inexhaustible manifestations.
If I were told I might write a book in which I should demonstrate beyond any doubt the correctness of my opinions on every social problem I should not waste two hours at it; but if I were told that what I wrote would be read twenty years from now by people who are children today and they would read and laugh over my book and love life more because of it, then I should devote all my life and strength to such a work.”
Recall the French critic Charles du Bos’ judgment on Tolstoy’s War and Peace: “Life would speak thus if life could speak.”
Adapted from Matthew Fox, Prayer: A Radical Response to Life, pp. 140f., xxvix.
Banner Image: “Cryptothesia Rubrocincta/Morpho Laertes,” (c) 2015, by Alana Lea, environmental artist, speaker, and founder of the nonprofit IGiveTrees.org, re-establishing the Atlantic Rainforest of Brazil. See more of Alana’s work here.
Queries for Contemplation
Is it your experience too that “art is more spiritual than dogma”? If so, what are you doing about it?
Do you agree with Rubinstein that to accept and love life unconditionally opens the door to the Divine experience? What experiences do you recall that confirm that reality?
A new edition of one of Matthew Fox’s most powerful early books, in which Fox proposes that prayer is our deep Yes to Life and our deep No to life’s enemies, and is prompted by Spirit through us, and that our magnanimous mystical and prophetic response to life draws on what we find in the lives of Jesus, St. Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King Jr., Teresa of Avila, Malcolm X, and Cesar Chavez, to name a few.