The question of good and bad art, and the need for art today, are very important issues. As we move from Kali to Dwapara Yuga, we’re living in a time of a shift in values. There is a great deal of confusion as to what is right and wrong morally, and this confusion is especially reflected in the arts.

Art should take us toward joy

Many people say that art is simply a matter of taste, as if taste existed in a vacuum and had nothing to do with anything else. But we call this weekend at Ananda Village the “Joyful Arts Festival” for a very good reason. True art should take us in the direction of joy, but why?

Joy is the essence of our being, the central reality of who we are. Anything you do that takes you toward joy, will lift your ego into higher awareness. It will raise the energy up the spine, and expand your consciousness to include the consciousness of others.

Art, therefore, should express joy, expansion, and kindness, not because it’s a matter of taste, but because it should reflect back to us our highest aspirations. All of us have within us a mixture of tendencies, tendencies that want to rise and tendencies that want to sink. Art should help you to rise. If art is to fulfill a divine mission—and everything on earth is a divine mission if understood properly—it should help you to uplift your consciousness through color, form, melody, harmony, or rhythm.

Underlying all human life, there’s a certain sadness, a longing of the soul for its true home in God. The joys of life are only small reflections of that bliss that we’re seeking. There’s only one way out, and art should point us in that direction.

Some art is spiritually harmful

Art that is unkind, brutal, or insensitive can be good art technically, but it is harmful spiritually; it pulls the energy down. Just because a painting is famous doesn’t mean that you should hang it in your home. Ask, rather, what is its effect on you?

Some paintings have a very depressing effect. They may have been painted by a great artist and worth millions of dollars, but I wouldn’t want to go near them! I’d rather have something done by an amateur that made me feel cheerful. I think most art today needs to be called an infectious disease. You open up to it and it takes you away from what you truly want.

Intensifying the ego

I’ve often used the simple analogy of how to increase the water pressure in a hose. You can either turn on the faucet, or you can squeeze the end of the hose. The more tightly you squeeze it, the more powerful the spray will be.

In this analogy, turning on the faucet means drawing more power and inspiration from the divine source. Squeezing the end more tightly means to generate energy by squeezing or constricting one’s heart. This may produce a powerful spray, but it’s achieved by intensifying one’s sense of ego and separation from the divine source.

Many modern artists think they’re giving you something worthwhile by constricting their hearts, but all they’re producing are negative emotions like anger, jealousy, and hate. Such art is devoid of any flow of love or joy.

Everything expresses consciousness

Today one also sees a great deal of art that is mechanical and has no point. Anyone who simply makes a mechanical pattern out of music or color is not creating true art.

Art is that aspect of human activity that engages the chitta or feeling aspect of consciousness. Art, therefore, needs to express feeling. For it to be uplifting, it needs to express joy, reverence, or—as Albert Einstein put it—a sense of “mystical awe.”

God manifested the world from his own consciousness, and everything is an aspect of that consciousness. There is no possibility of anything existing outside of that. For art to be truly good, it has to reflect this truth.

It’s not that the subject matter of art must be beautiful. Leonardo da Vinci, for example, used to enjoy painting ugly people, because he saw beauty in them. He understood that in their ugliness, they were still expressions of God. If you have joy in your heart, you’ll look beyond the outward form to the divine within, and the art will reflect that.

The colors in our auras

Some people say, “Well, I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like.” This is not an invalid criterion, because what they are really saying is, “I know what makes me feel uplifted or downcast.”

The colors you’re naturally drawn to are expressive of who you are. The concept of the aura around your body is an actuality, and the kind of aura you emanate depends entirely on your state of consciousness. You will naturally be drawn to different colors—to red, pink, blue, or green—according to the colors in your aura. Each of these colors has its own particular impact on the consciousness.

Dark and muddy colors, for example, indicate a dark and muddy consciousness, and a great deal of modern art uses these tones. It produces a disturbing and unsettling effect.

The arts reflect duality

For God to produce creation, there had to be movement, and that movement created an appearance of duality. Implicit in every aspect of duality, is its opposite. It’s like a swing on a playground: the swing goes up and as it reaches its apex in one direction, already implicit in that position is its opposite, and then it goes down. Similarly, for every high wave, there has to be a corresponding trough.

So the arts, too, reflect both aspects of duality. In happy music, for example, there’s always implicit a certain sadness, and in sad music, a certain joy. These two are implicit in one another, because they are part of the same central reality.

The need to return to center

Although everything in creation expresses duality, there is also a need to return to center. Everything in the end has to balance itself out. We need to understand this if we want to know the nature of true art.

A few years ago I went to the Joffrey Ballet in New York, and saw a dance in which some bright fellow had the thought that every movement had to be an extension away from the last movement. This meant that there was never a balancing movement that returned you to the center. It was an intensely dissatisfying experience.

All true art has to come back to that center of the self. Just as there is something in the ocean that, though it moves up and down, always returns to the calmness of the surface, so also is there something in human nature that wants to bring you back to your center. Anybody who tries to change this will be doing something that is against his own nature.

In music the center is the first note of the scale. There are times when you don’t want to use that note, but it’s got to be a very conscious choice, something you do to create a certain effect. But the ideal is not to push the wave higher and higher. You find that in a great deal of modern music there is the drive to make it more and more exciting, to push the wave higher and higher. But the only end to that is a crash. These are fundamental realities that never change.

Seek inspiration from the superconscious

In creating art, perhaps more than anything else, there should be a sense of discovery, awe and reverence. For that to happen, it needs to flow from the superconscious. We need to ask for inspiration from that level.

How do you do that? When your feelings are calm, tune in deeply at the spiritual eye, the center of superconsciousness, and ask for creative guidance. You will receive that guidance in the heart center. When the heart’s energy is turned upward, and you ask at the point between the eyebrows, answers to all sorts of problems will come to you.

Does it express my higher self ?

Always ask, at every stage of the creative process: “Does this art express my higher self?” Technique is secondary, but the consciousness behind it is all-important. Try to let your art reflect the Divine Creator behind everything, and it will be a source of meaning, strength, and upliftment for all.

Excerpted from a June 6, 2006 talk at Ananda Village

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