Art was born out of the superfluity of life. When the primitive man had killed his prey and satisfied his hunger, he went to sleep, in his cave. As he lay asleep the shadows fell on the walls of the cave; and his wife, with charcoal drew the outline of it. That was the beginning. When the ancient Aryans roaming with their cattle for fodder came first into the Indo-Gangetic plains, they were struck with awe and wonder as they stood face to face with the heaven-kissing mountains, gigantic forests, wide flowing rivers. The luxuriant growth of vegetation and life in the tropics expanded their soul’s vision and they wanted to find their own position and unity in the midst of this rich environment. Thus grew up the lore of myths; till with the unifying vision of the inspired, they could find the meaning of existence for themselves. This search of the soul to find a unity in relation to the diversity of natural environment is the creative urge in man which only finds its solace in Art.
With the growth of social organization, this urge of creation takes within itself all the social forces, and thus art becomes, from individual activity, a social expression. Art in ancient human society expressed the social consciousness of the community. What the society felt of beauty in its environment found expression in the way of living, which it was the business of the artist to incorporate in his art. A sense of proportion, equilibrium of poise, and the idea of form were the guiding principle of the artists. And in that simple life, craftsmanship and art went hand in hand to create beauty in social life.
But complications of modern civilized life have changed the simple ways of living and art has been alienated from the everyday activities of life for the individual of a community. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, man in his frantic activity of Mammon worship has brought in his life waste and frustration and big capital and monopoly interests have created the frustrated spirit in the artists of modern civilization. In the absence of unifying spirit, the soul of the artist is withering into insipidity and waste; and consequently, we hear a cry of despair, and feel the very disintegration of the soul in artistic creations of modern age. In the world of to-day, Art is divorced from all social activities and the artist’s refuge is his own ivory tower. Or as the poet of the age feels, this Mammon worship “has stripped of its halo every occupation hitherto honoured and looked up to with reverent awe. It has converted the physician, the philosopher, the lawyer, the priest, the poet, the scientist, into paid wage labourers.” So in the grim struggle for existence, we have no time for aesthetic pursuits.
Therefore, if art as imaginative reflections of life, is to reflect the fundamental realities of life, it must again get back to its former prestige or position. It must be aware of the synthesis of life behind the flux of life’s changing conditions and bring out that awareness in beauty, rhythm, music and colour. And the artist of the age, while taking us to the altar of Beauty, must ‘carry within his soul all the ambitions, hopes and strifes of humanity. So that we, with him, could share the glory of this vision.
As I have said before, art is the superfluity of life above the goading of the biological instincts of man. Physical beauty delights us with its proportion, symmetry, balance, harmony, form and expression. Art and artistic impulse in easthetic activity have animated and humanized the inanimate by infusing in them through creative urge our own striving, and feeling and emotion. At the moment of creation or apprehension of the beautiful, a unique and marvelous harmony is established between the higher and lower self all sensation, feeling and desire co-operate with intellectual awareness of the great human values liberating the soul from the bondage of the flesh.
Thus artistic creation solves for us the mystery of existence and creates harmony out of discord. “It is the special revelation, in the sphere of the beautiful, of overflowing tenderness of heart, boundless compassion, and passionate disinterestedness of purpose which are the pure and abiding essence of all the ideals of life.” And appreciation of art is the exercise and cultivation of feeling sustained by pleasure which is capable of attaining its fullest and most perfect development, characterized by a calmness-that calmness of mind with all passion spent which Milton found in the catharsis of Greek tragedies.
So that controversy between those who advocate Art for Art’s sake or Art for Morality’s sake is hushed into silence in this aesthetic contemplation of Art. We have no bones to pick with either Oscar. Wilde who advocated Art for Art’s sake or with Ruskin, who after the contemplation of Art in painting and sculpture and poetry asserted that all Art is God’s praise. Tolstoy wrote his great book What is Art to find the value of beauty in Art in terms of other things, and Shelley and his Defence of Poetry laid stress on the moral and intellectual good that Art does to’humanity.
In the beginning of the twentieth century, Benedetto Croce, the philosopher of Naples, offered to the world his great theory of expressionism. He has tried to convince us that beauty is intuition, intuition, he defines, is the unity of the perception of the real as it exists in time and in space. It is the first perception anterior to reason-the form which binds matter with sensations through synthesis or association or spiritual activity. Beauty is intuition, the conceptual stage of thought, the primitive mode and form of thought. Besides, it is not only the expression or intuition of feeling itself.
And according to Croce, Art becomes finally the expression of impressions, and artistic genius is always conscious but does not possess the reflective consciousness of the historian or the critic. Artists have maximum of sensibility or passion as well as a maximum of insensibility or serenity. Beauty in Art, for Croce, in his ultimate analysis, is successful expression.
But in all forms of artistic activity lies this search for ultimate realities of life in terms of the good, the beautiful and the true. Now Literature as much as Sculpture, Painting Music, Dancing is an aesthetic activity of man. It is not only the criticism of life but life itself. It reveals to us the inner roots of life and springs of human feelings and emotions, desires and passions, hopes and fears. It gives us a synthesis of life in terms of our soul, God and Nature. But its highest purpose is to reveal life in terms of the eternal veritiesGoodness, beauty and Truth.
Aristotle has told us that the function of literature is to preach as well as please. Thus the appeal of literature is both to the head and the heart, or as De Quincey would have it, the appeal of true, literature is our understanding heart.
Literature, according to De Quincey, can be divided into two broad categories:
- the literature of Knowledge and
- the literature of Power. All literature that teaches us some truth about nature and some laws behind the working of nature or gives us some information about places or persons is the literature of knowledge. It has no appeal to our sentiment or emotion.
Human life is based on certain fundamental values. These values we cherish all our lives and literature of power only affects us in rousing within us those very sentiments and emotions connected with these sacred values in life. So when the writings of an inspired man call up the emotions, passions hopes and desires, despair and despondency, pleasures and pain, with a finer vision of the ultimate truths of life, it becomes the literature of power. This literature has its full play within the gamut of all emotions, passions and sentiments: its range includes the extreme hopes and desires to extreme despair, and dejection of the human soul.
The Bible is a literature of Power because it affects our understanding heart and its appeal, reaching through our heart, enables us to see the final vision of the Truth of life. So also, Milton’s Paradise Lost, by revealing the eternities of Heaven, Hell and Chaos which contain within them this earth of ours, and by placing the insignificant man at the centre and yet revealing man’s greatness and grandeur, for whose soul, God and His angelic Choir on the one side and Devil and his host on the other fight, affects the heart, as well as the intellect with the sublimity and grandeur with Milton, had justified the Ways of God to man in his grand epic.
All great tragedies of Greece written by Aeschylus, Sophocles and Euripides, Homers, epics, Shakespeare’s dramas, Dante’s vision of Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso Virgil’s immortal Epic and all the great effort of mighty, writers of the past and the present affect with equal grandeur our understanding heart revealing to us the ultimate truth of life in term of Beauty, Goodness and Truth.