Art like religion deals with inner reality. The artist reveals the inside of life and not the outside.'
This statement by George Rowley is about visual art. But it applies to every art form, painting, sculpture, music, dance, drama, film and literature. Even architecture which puts buildings on the ground is about more than just structures. All the arts reveal what lives within the form. And because the arts are human creations they are expressing and communicating the soul life of the individual creator. Within this framework I would include in ‘the arts’ the talented artisans who bring their inspired ideas into the physical realm -craftworkers, chefs and gardeners for example.
There has been much controversy during the covid-19 lock down about the unfairness of who misses out on government assistance. Diverse groups suffer the hard consequences of not having money to live on. In Australia artists are among them, those whose life involves expressing that intangible inner reality. Artists were the first to be shut down completely, in particular those who do not make 'useful' products.
All the arts are given economic value, a price, which is measured by the level of return for monetary outlay. That may be why a few arts groups involved in staging big shows and making blockbuster movies have belatedly been offered financial support.
Meanwhile artists have gone online to innovate with making, painting, drawing, singing, playing music, dancing, putting on mini plays and operas, 'together' but apart in their separate lockdowns. Some ask for a donation; others perform because of love and need – that need to express what lives in their soul and to communicate.
Economics aside, we can discover certain inherent aesthetic laws that inform us about artistic quality. But how can you assess the soul's offering?
The arts are entertainment. This is not in any way frivolous and a genuine artist knows that. To entertain is essentially a spiritual activity – or should be. Entertainment may thrill or amuse us, releasing us from the ordinary for a time. But the true meaning lives in the word’s French origin - from entré to enter, and tenir meaning to hold or maintain.
Live performers are trained to work the space between themselves and the audience. Some recognise that it is alive with non-physical dimensions. This is a powerful space and a performer can enter and take hold of the energy there and keep it alive. The audience members in turn respond to what happens in that space and so also enter it. Souls are actively participating there.
Although this is obvious in performing arts, every art form entertains in this sense. The artist reaches out through the work, and through seeing and hearing and at times through touch or taste our soul engages with the creation and the inner life within it. Communion happens in that invisible arena - in a real way the art takes place here. Online media makes the experience ‘flatter’ and less vital yet in my experience the space between still has life.
Because the arts are so powerful some restrictive societies try to control any form of artistic expression. Others even ban it. And in societies where materialistic utilitarianism dominates the arts are sidelined. What happened to the arts in Australia in the pandemic lockdown is just one example.
The potent disrupters
Perhaps such governments hope pesky artists will fade away - they are often under suspicion for being disruptive. And if the arts fulfill their purpose, they do disrupt the received and habitual order of things. That is how they work on the inner human being. The arts open up consciousness in that potent waiting space.
But genuine art does not merely disrupt, and it never tears down. If it is genuine something is added to the inner life of creator and to the responder. When we are moved by the work, in diverse and often subtle ways we are reflected back to ourselves, to what needs to change, and to a higher potentiality in us. This inner activity is what distinguishes the work of a true artist.
You cannot measure the soul’s expression in the arts, although you can know what is real, deeply, personally. My love of the arts has led me to explore all the different expressions and their significance for us physically, emotionally, and most of all spiritually. That's why I wrote Prodigal Daughters: a new vision of spirituality and the inner histories of the arts, a book about the need to reaffirm their place at the heart of human society, alongside the wonders of scientific innovation and aligned with the growth of compassion and love.
Quote by George Rowley in 'Principles of Chinese Painting'