Vogue photograph of Samantha Wallace by Richard Avedon


 Beauty, Art, and Transcendence


The heart suffers when it cannot see and touch beauty,
but beauty is not shy, it is synonymous with existence—Hafiz

 Of which beauty will you speak?  There are many: there are a thousand:
there is one for every look,
for every spirit, adapted to each taste,
to each particular constitution—
Eugene Delacroix

Lawren Harris,  member of the Canadian “Group of Seven” painters, writes,  “I have loved beauty to the point of addiction, which, I have come to understand, is too far, creating inevitable imbalance in life.  And I have learned to recognize and deeply appreciate not only the presence and the appearance of beauty, but the feeling it engenders.  This feeling may be divine, mysterious, or wild, bold or subtle, gay, sad, or horrifying.  This ‘feeling’ quality is surely the point of any human work of art, for the arts epitomize, intensify and clarify the experience of beauty for us as nothing else can.”

In spite of life lessons that taught me the hierarchial value of health and peace of mind, I too have worshiped beauty. When I first read, “It’s not how you feel, it’s how you look,” I burst into laughter. But as disturbingly true in our superficial society as this quote surely is, I know absolutely that it is what we are feeling which determines our sense of our own beauty, or lack thereof. Ironically, other people often judge us attractive even in the midst of life’s difficulties: Have you ever been feeling low, or actually ill, and someone comes along and remarks how good you are looking?

Unlike the photograph above—which is special to me because it was the first picture taken following the birth of my first child, and I was thinking of her while it was being shot—there were other times when I posed for photographs that were, in reality, beautiful images of the deepest possible unhappiness.

It is the artist’s job to revere beauty without being enchanted by it
to aim for it but also to aim for truth and goodness
just in case they, and not beauty, are the real things of value
Eric Maisel

 We ourselves possess Beauty
when we are true to our own being.—

We naturally resonate with what appeals to us at certain periods in our lives, and it’s well known that the image of what constitutes beauty is different at different times and in different cultures. The hair, make-up, and dress, of even one decade is different from the others before it, and the longer the time, the greater the distinction.  Few women today want to look like a nineteen-twenties “flapper,” yet features like balanced bone structure, large eyes, glossy hair, well shaped limbs, and healthy skin, delight us as much now—in spite of ever changing fashion and style—as I believe they always have.

In art and in life, what most appeals to me, and what at this time I consider to be beautiful, is an inner quality of tenderness and compassion.  I’ve come to believe that the height of beauty in every art form, in public figures and friends, is the feeling engendered in the viewer (myself) which comes from, or is triggered by, another person or image or object, informing me of inner qualities of tenderness, compassion, and kindness.  To me this is the essence of beauty, an experience that may be more familiar and more comprehensible in portraiture and the human form, but which also manifests in landscapes and still life.  It is the inimitable perfection of the expressions of nature, achieved in certain (but by no means all) works of Turner, Degas, and John Singer Sargent, among others—by means of their extraordinarily developed sensibilities and technique.

There are two ways of painting the world.  In the whole history
of art there are only these two ways.
One is the way of Greece and Africa, which sees the world
as a geometric design.  The other is the way of Persia and India
and China, which sees the world as a flower.
Ingres, Cezanne, Picasso, paint the world as geometry.
Van Gogh, Renoir, Kandinsky, Chagall,
paint the world as a flower.
—John Marin

 Alone or almost alone among painters Rembrandt has…that heartbroken tenderness,
that glimpse into a superhuman infinitude which seems so natural there.
—Van Gogh

It is this feeling of tenderness, together with an awareness of what I can only describe as spiritual essence, the calm center within each of us, the real place of silent power and bliss that is the ultimate reality of life—and which lies is beneath and supports the visible tip of the iceberg of daily life—that is the experience in which I most delight at this time in my life, and which I have come crave. 

Such experience is always life enhancing, a doorway to the unbounded abundance of complete transcendence. 

 There is a spirit which is mind and life,
light and truth and vast spaces.
It contains all works and desires and perfumes and all tastes.
It enfolds the whole universe,
and in its silence is loving to all—
Chandyoga Upanishad

 Beauty itself is but the sensible image
of the Infinite—
Sir Francis Bacon

In art, the manifestation of such an experience often (but, interestingly, not always) requires extremely subtle technique on the part of the artist.  “Technique,” explains artist and teacher Ted Seth Jacobs, “cannot be separated from expression, or emotional content.”

Where the spirit does not work with the hand
there is no art—
Leonardo Da Vinci

In the Western world of painting, Leonardo is surely the undisputed master of technique, followed closely by Raphael, Michelangelo, Titian, and Ingres, for example, although thousands of lesser known artists, poets, and musicians, are also capable of engendering the experience. 

 A fine suggestion, a sketch with great feeling,
can be as expressive as the most finished product
Eugene Delacroix

It is interesting that an artist will often exhibit the apogee of subtlety and refinement of expression more profoundly and perfectly in a single piece of his or her life work. Other pieces may be wonderful, and the artist in a class of his or her own, yet one work alone inevitably stands to convey the pure experience of a sort of unity consciousness.

How is it that this unique experience of consciousness exists and can be transmitted to the viewer even by an artist who lacks perfect technique?  All I can imagine is that art, indeed all human behavior, is an expression of different levels of consciousness.  And the consciousness of the artist affects our own conscious awareness.  A person many have an extremely developed and powerful consciousness but (for whatever reason) lack a correspondingly developed technique, yet we can still be deeply enriched by their work.—Ellen Coffin, poet, musician, artist

One of the most spiritually potent pieces of art I have ever seen was a small pottery vase—the work a well-known Native American woman potter.  Made of polished light red clay, it was painted on the front with simple, pleasing figure of Corn Maiden, and on the back, a young corn sprout. After thirty years the memory of this vase still evokes an experience beyond space and time, along with a deeply comforting feeling, and a natural happiness and peace.  Though I could not afford to buy this extraordinary object, I returned often to the gallery to see it and feel the same sweet, lively blessing—each time coming away amazed and reverent.

Years later in the Uffizi in Florence, I viewed Botticelli’s Primavera, which was everything I had hoped and imagined it would be, and The Birth of Venus was correspondingly lovely.  I spent a long time studying the details of both of these enormous works before innocently wandering over to another wall that held The Annunciation, also by Botticelli.  Unlike the other two paintings, it had never attracted me in print and I gazed at it with no expectations whatsoever.  Then, as I looked, it was as if I were being physically lifted as I simultaneously witnessed my senses suddenly heightened to a state of incomparable delight.  I didn’t know what was happening, or why, and forced myself to keep glancing back at my family in order to be reassured that I had not somehow left the planet.

These, and other experiences, have informed my definition of art.  If a work does not affect me on some inner level, I cannot think of it as art. But the brushstroke of even an amateur may sometimes awaken something deep inside.

Art is naturally the fruit of the consciousness of the artist and transmits, to whatever degree, that consciousness to the viewer.  

 I have told myself a hundred times that painting—
that is, the material thing called a painting
is no more than a pretext, the bridge between the mind
of the painter and the mind of the spectator—
Eugene Delacroix

Certain forms of fine art and craftsmanship are highly decorative and pleasing, without giving rise to a significant change in our awareness.  Such change is a higher accomplishment, accompanied by a quality of increased awareness or consciousness in the viewer.  It is as if the effect of art is subjective in terms of our receptivity to it.

Two dimensional, visual art consists primarily of the elements of design, light and dark tones, and color.  So that which makes the difference, that which carries us over the threshold of a life-altering experience must possess some quality of spirit or emotion.

All my thinking about art is haunted by a mystical belief
that in its practice one is tapping sources of truth.—
Roger Hilton

I have come to believe that the act of creating art allows us to participate to whatever degree in the transmission of a higher state of consciousness.

Beauty itself is but the sensible image of the Infinite—Sir Francis Bacon

As an artist, some essential part of the process leads to a heightened experience, and as viewers, we gain a portion of this experience for ourselves. “Evolved” work attracts the attention of people who are ready to be open to and influenced by that work.

For he who would proceed aright…should begin in youth to visit beautiful forms…
out of that he should create fair thoughts; and soon he will of himself perceive
that the beauty of one form is akin to the beauty of another,
and that beauty in every form is one and the same

“Visual art,” says painter Adrian Livesley, “has its own agenda. It communicates, but it doesn’t successfully articulate concepts the way language does.

A picture is nothing but a bridge between the soul of the artist

and that of the spectator—Eugene Delacroix

Livesly goes on to say, “Art expresses that which cannot be put into words, namely the intangible, inexplicable ‘inner life’ of subjective experience. It expresses what it is to feel, to be, human.”

What I am trying to translate to you is more mysterious;
it is entwined in the very roots of being, in the implacable source of sensations
—Paul Cezanne

 Art is a mystery and it is the artist’s vocation to journey through that mystery, dwell in it, experience it,
And express it—
Claudio Ghirardo

In the words of St. Paul to the Corinthians, There is a manifestation and there is a mystery.

  Beauty itself is but the sensible image of the Infinite—Sir Francis Bacon

 Beauty does not exist to be ignored, rather it is a reflection
of the soul that invites our participation—
Linda Saccoccio

When we are exposed to great art in any form—music, literature, dance, sculpture, painting—the poet Rilke says, “...there is no place at all that isn’t you. You must change your life.”  The experience of art necessarily changes us, expands us, and stations us on another plateau of maturity and refinement as a human being. If we are fortunate, these experiences will happen often over a long life, each time with a rush of freshness, a larger self-ness, an expansion, remaining with us and gleaming in memory like a fabulous gem.

 Beauty is one of the rare things that do not lead 
to doubt of God—
Jean Anouilh 



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