Art and the People

Svetoslav Roerich

Michelangelo over four centuries ago uttered these inspiring words: «True Art is made noble and religious by the mind producing it. For those who feel it nothing makes the soul so religious and pure, as the Endeavour to create something perfect, for God is perfection and whoever strives after perfection is striving for something Divine».

Rabindranath Tagore in his analysis of Art wrote these beautiful words: «In Art the person in us is sending its answer to the Supreme Person who reveals Himself to us in a word of endless beauty across the lightless world of facts».

Swami Vivekananda exclaimed: «That man cannot be truly religious who has not the faculty of feeling the beauty and grandeur of Art».

My Father, Nicholas Roerich, affirmed: «Art will unify all Humanity. Art is one – indivisible. Art has its many brunches, yet all are one. Art is the manifestation of the coming synthesis. Art is for all. Everyone will enjoy true art. The gates of the ‘Sacred Source’ must be wide open for everybody, and the light of art will influence numerous hearts with a new love. At first this feeling will be unconscious, but after all it will purify human consciousness, and how many young hearts are searching for something real and beautiful! So give it to them. Bring art to the people where it belongs. We should have not only Museums, Theatres, Universities, Public Libraries, Railway Stations and Hospitals, but even prisons decorated and beautified. Then we shall have no more prisons».
How beautiful and lofty are these sentiments, to quote just a few. And though expressed by people far apart in time, place and birth, yet how close they come in their innermost feelings. This essential unity is the unity of true couture and the Arts as the exponents of that Culture.

When Leibnitz watched Rembrandt paint, he found that Rembrandt meditated and lamented about the appearance of his paintings more than he actually used his brush. Leibnitz writes: «Rembrandt believes in the magic of his excited eye, the magic of his invocation, the magic of a word. Rembrandt believes that if he laughs in his soul while painting, the painting will exhale joy; if he covers it with his sighs and moaning, the painting will exhale sorrow».

These words written by Leibnitz give us an insight into the processes that go into the creation of a great work of Art. In other words the work of art is given a life of its own. The creator breathes a living soul into inert physical matter. Like all great artists Rembrandt knew well that in order to convey a living message, to convey the powerful truth of an experience, the artist must identify himself completely with the inner soul of the subject he was treating or expressing.

There, where our words come from our heart, our inner being, where we stand as a complete personification of our emotions and thoughts, our message will have the greatest power, carry the greatest conviction; in other words, it will be truth itself.

Why are we moved by the early primitives, their simple, often clumsy lines and forms, all far from the perfection of technique attained at later periods? The faith which animated those artists, the directness and sincerity of their feelings, radiate upon us from these early works and convey the message with the same vibrant intensity as it was experienced by the artists themselves.

Have you ever felt a thrill when beholding a beautiful painting, listening to music or to the words of an inspired poet? Have you ever felt moved or elevated contemplating a beautiful statue, a great work of Art? Works of genius are the crystallizations of the artist’s thoughts and emotions, his aspirations and trials. They are living records left to us by these inspired souls. These works of Art have a subjective force concealed in their outward aspect, and by tuning ourselves to them we respond to the vibrations that have originally called forth these particular images. We must consciously make an effort to rouse our mind to a receptive state, to draw and let ourselves become aware of the influences emanating from a work of Art.

The true artist has the power to arouse in the onlooker or listener a sudden surge of emotions and thoughts to fill the soul of men with new images, new living concepts, experiences and inspirations.

It is not an accident that people like to keep some little keepsake of a beloved hero or leader – it is not only the memory or associations. Take for instance the handwriting, even an autograph. The character of the writer can be read from the signature by an experienced graphologist. In other words, it lives imprisoned in those lines and curves and speaks eloquently to him who can decipher them, and for those who cannot consciously do so, it remains there still concealed and radiates its influences, but it will be felt subconsciously. This unseen energy, this inner life is ready to emerge for anyone who can attune himself to its influence.

Likewise, all great works of art are endowed with a measure of life. They are the living records of the artists’ emotions, accumulated thoughts and influences. They are powerful storehouses of manifold energies, and we must respect and value them in same way as we would any sincere and great emotions in a living person.

But would not this, in some way, lead us to hero-worship, it may be asked? Hero-worship is only the natural, I should say evolutionary, urge to aspire towards something beyond the manifestations of everyday life. It may degenerate only when it is misplaced, as almost any misplaced devotion is apt to, but otherwise it is essentially a most worthy feeling, this recognition of merit and achievement. Only by aspiring to something better and greater can we raise ourselves; and in this light, how paramount becomes the need to guard and preserve all the innumerable heritages entrusted to our safe keeping by generations already past!

Let us safeguard jealously and lovingly the living records of all great men. These great souls, who left us their enduring records, will ever radiate their influence on those who can attune themselves to them. Let us strive and find a worthy purpose in life, not only to improve our material existence. Let us look beyond it, and life will assume a new aspect full of meaning, full of significance.

New and beautiful concepts regenerate our everyday life, with widening horizons will grow our interests and tolerance, the aspirations of our brother will assume a greater meaning through the spirit of understanding and cooperation. Let us beautify our life, let us carry the message of Beauty into every heart and every home. Let us make the pursuit of the Beautiful our daily prayer.

Violence hesitates under the vaults of a lofty cathedral while it will thrive in an ugly den. Beautiful surroundings will radiate their influence upon us, upon our children, and repay us a thousand fold.

We know of the influence colors have on the mood of people. Extensive experiments have been carried out and have clearly demonstrated this reaction on the mentality of men.

Those countries which encouraged the Arts most had the greatest artists; as if to compensate for their striving towards Beauty, the souls of great artists were born in brilliant galaxies, where conditions were ready to receive them.

Let us remember the great popular enthusiasm aroused by great works of Art, enthusiasm which marked the performance of the Greek tragedies by Aeschylus and Euripides, the great influence exerted by the great poets of the Classical period and the Middle Ages, the great upsurges of popular emotion in response to great works of Art. There are moments when the people, the masses, suddenly recognize the influence of Art within the very heart of their lives and they respond to the inner call of a great genius. They, the people, feel the truth, a great emotion crystallized within a great work of Art even if they cannot always explain it.

Whenever we behold a great masterpiece let us remember the full meaning of the process that underlines its creation, and without prejudice try to read its innermost meaning and attune ourselves to the influence both of the Artist’s inner life and those complex higher forces that flowed through the artist at the time of his realization and creation.

Like Prometheus, a true artist brings down to us the Heavenly Fire of his greater inspiration, experience and beauty, and like Orpheus he builds through the harmonies of his art the walls of his Heavenly City.

It is impossible to describe, to convey in words the importance of Art in our daily life. Besides the wonderful training the study and practice of the Arts provide, they help to crystallize the genius of the people and give an outlet to the creative faculty which resides in every human being, that mysterious creative force which expresses itself throughout the infinite manifestations of life, from the flash of a butterfly’s wings ready to alight on a flower adapted to its pollination to the happy song of a bird calling out to its mate and forgetting all in the ecstasy of its sublime expression.

Who can measure the true benefits which great Art bestows upon the people? So much of its influence can never be calculated or directly equated to any experience, besides the purely physical benefits of refining the taste, attracting people, making a place known and making others respect and admire the community or race which has produced great works of Art.

Even if vast sums were expended on the building of a Taj Mahal, it has paid for itself thousands of times, not only in fame and providing an endless source of inspiration, admiration, study, research, discussion and also imitation. It has even supported a large number of artists for centuries making reproductions of the famous edifice or some details of its decorations.

It is the duty of every enlightened government, of every community to try to foster and help the National Genius to manifest itself by providing the opportunities and encouraging the creative genius of its citizens. Who can tell where that genius will appear and what great benefits he may ultimately bestow upon us?

Good examples of Art will multiply and encourage good Art, since Art like Life reproduces itself and refines and sublimates Life.
Leonardo da Vinci thus described the art of Painting: “He who despises the art of Painting despises the philosophical and sensitive contemplation of the world, for painting is the legitimate daughter or rather grand-daughter of nature. Everything that exists has been begotten of nature which in turn has begotten the science of Painting. For this reason I maintain that the art of Painting is the grand-daughter of nature and is related to God Himself”.

Who was better entitled to speak on this subject than that sublime Master?

To conclude, I shall quote a quaint Russian legend which came down to us from the Middle Ages. When Christ was ascending to heaven, some minstrels approached him and asked, “Lord Christ, to whom are you leaving us? How can we exist without you?” And Christ answered, “My children, I shall give you the golden mountains and silver rivers and beautiful gardens and you shall be nourished and happy”. But then St. John approached Christ and said, “Oh Lord, give them not golden mountains and silver rivers. They do not know how to guard them, and someone rich and powerful will attack them and take away the golden mountains. Give them only your name and your beautiful songs and give the command that all those who appreciate the songs and who care for and guard the singers shall find the gates open to Paradise”. And Christ replied, “Yes, I shall give them not golden mountains, but my songs and all who appreciate them shall find the gates to Paradise open”.


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