Art

   Artists are not very good at telling you how it is that they got to be good, but there is one artist that I know of who did, and that was James Joyce.  In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man he gives the best clue that I know of on how to create a work of art.  In the last chapter, Stephen Dedalus explains to his friend Lynch the essential points of the artist’s work.  He tells him that there are two kinds of art.  There is proper and improper art.  Improper art is kinetic.  Improper art moves you either with desire to possess the object or with loathing and fear to resist it and avoid it.  Art that excites desire for the object he calls “pornographic.”  All advertising is pornographic art.  Art that excites loathing and criticism of the object he calls “didactic,” and so much of our writing, particularly in the first half of this century, has been didactic writing, what I call the work of “didactic pornographers.”

   Proper art is static.  It holds you in ecstatic arrest – arrest at what?  Joyce brings up Aquinas at this point, who says that in the art moment, the first experience is integritas, the beholding of one object set apart from all objects in the world.  This is a thing, and within that thing what is important is the relation of part to part, and part to the whole, the rhythm, the rhythm of beauty.  And this is the key of all art.  This is the key of form.  The rhythm of beauty.  And this is the key of all art.  This is the key of form.  The rhythm is implicit in your own body.  It is implicit in your expression.  And when the rhythm is properly, fortunately achieved, the result is radiance, rapture, beholding it.  Why?  Because the rhythm before you is the rhythm of nature.  It is the rhythm of your nature.  Cézanne says somewhere, “Art is a harmony parallel to nature.”  Art is the rendition of the interface between your inner nature and the nature out there.  TMD 187

   The natural mythologies are also art in that sense.  They are modes, they are thythms, in which everything is an expression of nature.  When I was a student in Paris, back in the 1920s, I knew a sculptor, a very great sculptor, Antoine Bourdelle, who used to say, “L’art fait ressortir les grandes lignes de la nature” (art brings out the great lines of nature).  And that is all it does.  And why is it that you are held in aesthetic arrest?  It is because the nature you are looking at is your nature.  There is an accord between you and the object, and that is why you say, “Aha!”

   In one of the Upanishads it says, when the glow of a sunset holds you and you say “Aha,” that is the recognition of divinity.  And what divinity is it?  It is your divinity, which is the only divinity there is.  We are all phenomenal manifestations of a divine will to live, and that will and the consciousness of life is one in all of us, and that is what the artwork expresses. 

   Now this is what is meant by an archetype of the unconscious.  An archetype of the unconscious is a recognized form, but the problem with it, when you begin to talk about it, is that it is not recognized at all; it is talked about.  The thing gets to be a cliché, and it is no good any more.  This is another great difficulty in the creative life.  If you know exactly what it is you are creating, it is not going to work.  You have turned it into a sign or a concept instead of a thing in itself.  It has to come out beyond speech, as life does. 

   My great friend Heinrich Zimmer had a saying: “The best things cannot be told; the second best are misunderstood.”  The second best are misunderstood because they talk about what cannot be told and one things one knows what they are saying.  This is the way religion is.  The idea of God is an idea that is metaphoric of something that cannot be told, and yet we say that God is good, God is merciful, God is just, and God loves these people and not those, etc., etc.  We are not talking about God at all.  We are talking about our idea of God.  Meister Eckhart, in the thirteenth century, said, “The ultimate leave-taking is leaving God for God.”  The word that is missing is the other word.  The European languages lack that very important word.  Monotheism is idolatry in that it imagines its god to be the God for which you leave this one.  The Hindus have the word Brahman or atman.  No Hindu, nobody east of Suez, would mistake god for God, mistake a god for Brahman.  Gods are all metaphors of this ultimate mystery, the mystery of your own being.  So God is not “out there”; God is in here.  This is the source of the lyric, and what you are writing about is the word of God that is coming out.  That is what is meant by inspiration.  That is what is meant by the “Word of God.”  That life that is of your essence is talking through your inspirations.  So let the mind up here relax and listen, not dictate, and recognize the implication of the word.   TMD 188

Many artists today like to pretend to bring forth their own marvels innocently out of their natural genial accord with the ground of being, when they have actually been doing rather a bit of midnight reading in Jung, Freud, Nietzsche, and Joyce. 

   However, it is also possible – as Jung seems to have proven conclusively – to bring forth symbolic forms spontaneously in dream, vision, and art that perfectly match those of the great traditional mythologies.  Such forms have an immediate effect as energy-releasing agents, which comes antecedent to and independent of (indeed, can even contradict) their rational interpretation.  I have discussed this problem already at the opening of Primitive Mythology and shall not return to it here, beyond suggesting that the motivation of art and the impact of its forms (in contrast to the rhetorical discussion of them) is a function of this energetic potential.  And in such works of art as those with which I deal in Creative Mythology, the way in which this potential is tapped is my chief concern.   RG 122

A.T. Coomeraswamy says that the transformation of nature has to do with indicating its mystic dimension, and nature just naturally is out there, so what!  You see it in pictures, you go out in the fields and you see it again.  But what the artist does by his organization is so to render a rhythmic statement that something of the mystery dimension comes radiantly through and touches us.  Cézanne had a saying, “Art is harmony parallel to nature,” and the harmony that is stated in art is of the nature that is both the nature of our own lives and the nature out there.  So we get an “Aha!” a sense that, “Ah, yes, I’ve known that all the time.”   G37