Jean Gullo, Director
Nearly a hundred years ago Wassily Kandinsky said in his book, Concerning the Spiritual in Art:
“Painting is an art, and art is not a vague production, transitory and isolated, but a power that must be directed to the improvement and refinement of the human soul – to, in fact, the raising of the spiritual triangle. If art refrains from doing this work, a chasm remains unbridged, for no other power can take the place of art in this activity. And at times when the human soul is gaining greater strength, art will also grow in power, for the two are inextricably connected and complementary one to the other. Conversely, at those times when the soul tends to be choked by material disbelief, art becomes purposeless and talk is heard that art exists for art’s sake alone. The artist must have something to say, for mastery over form is not his goal but rather the adapting of form to its inner meaning.”
Art and Music: Keys to a New Age
In a time of economic crisis, of political upheaval and wars or imminent threats of war, of deteriorating public and private morals, and of hunger and oppression, why are we witnessing the greatest expansion of the arts and music of any time in the history of the world? The simplest explanation might be that we seek escape through entertainment, novelty, sensual excitement or beauty. This may certainly hold true for much of what is put out commercially for public consumption, and yet all of art and music cannot be so neatly pigeonholed or dismissed.
Throughout history the arts have had an essential place in the development of civilization and in the growth of human consciousness. As Claude said, “Art is related to life much as mathematics are related to discovery; that is, as a direction-finder and foreshadower of things to come.” While the arts and music were for many centuries under the tight control of church and/or state, whose strong authorities dictated subject, style and use, the common man was allowed to enjoy art under the most limited and occasional circumstances. It was calculated by these authorities – and rightly so – that the impact of the arts would be that much greater and thus enhance the purpose for which they had been commissioned, to glorify those in power. Suddenly, in our times, the arts have become the province of the public. One need not even buy a ticket to the concert hall or go to a museum (though firsthand – “live” – is still the best) to enjoy the greatest art. Television, radio and recordings bring it all to us at home. In a short twenty years public taste has become so sophisticated and demanding through exposure to the media that producers and recorders can hardly keep up with the demand for something new or better (not necessarily synonymous). But though we may be annoyed or confused by the mass output of such varying quality and genre, the inconsequential, the tasteless, the ugly – and the untrue – will inevitably be sorted out and discarded by time and exposure. And the sorting is taking place at an accelerated speed. It used to take perhaps 50 to 100 years for a work of art to be appreciated at its true worth, but now it often falls into oblivion or is understood as genius in 20 years or less, often less. In addition to this sorting, we are all encouraged to try our own hands at being creative. This doesn’t often engender great art, but it does make us more appreciative and discriminating about the art of others.
Also, in the evolutionary development toward human perfection, creativity is a necessary part of that unfoldment. This is part of the reason for the validity of art in our lives. Those works of art that have lasted the longest – the real expressions of genius – always represent some archetypal truth, regardless of the symbols employed, and they stretch our imaginations into the mysteries of the unknown beyond personal ken. Concepts of beauty are transient. Beethoven’s music and Rembrandt’s painting were considered by many of their “knowledgeable” contemporaries to be incomprehensible and ugly. But while novelty and “breaking the rules” doesn’t insure great art, truth will out in time; only the symbols change. And the symbols were frequently ingenious, whether the forces of nature and the gods were represented in a highly personal, anthropomorphic relationship, or though depictions of nature, or through human emotion and aspiration. These symbols were present in every art, and always suited to the times and the consciousness of humanity. Real works of art appear to contain some element of the known – a rhythm, a movement, a word association or picture, a landscape or a face or figure, or a configuration of lines and colors to which one may relate more easily; and at the same time suggest the unknown beyond. We can no longer demand that the arts use only the symbols of the physical world, for many things exist in nature – that indeed are part of us – which are super physical, and these are now often depicted in art and music. Why?
It is significant that our current interests include a dual preoccupation with space – both inner and outer space. And this interest is deeply involved with the arts of our times. It is no coincidence that in our century Einstein brought forth the theory of the space-time continuum; that there has been a rapid development of flight and space travel; that the communications, electronics and miniaturization that made it possible were developed at the same time. Film, radio and TV – mass media – were another result. Also in this century there was a growing public interest in psychism; then in Theosophical ideas in the Western world; and later a preoccupation with meditation and the expansion of consciousness. There was also a development of psychology into humanism and toward metaphysics.
The dual problems of overpopulation and materialism served to make personal space of vital concern and have contributed significantly to the exploration of both inner and outer space. And the arts are deeply involved with these explorations. The forms used in both sculpture and painting have become huge, and less cluttered with detail, lending a feeling of space and vastness. There is less emphasis on literal physical representations. Materials and colors are often brilliant, fused or explosive, giving us glimpses of the emotional-astral world. Sculpture often moves – is kinetic – or employs lights or other unusual effects. Some art is actually entered and gives the viewer a feeling of involvement or even disorientation. One may sometimes have a momentary feeling of weightlessness.
Architecture has become spacious as well. Almost in direct proportion to shrinking real estate, buildings are less cluttered, less broken up into tiny cells. There are fewer things to look at or get in the way, or to distract the mind and eye, and more space to give the illusion of freedom and size. The yard has shrunk and the house has grown.
Many art works deal with inner or outer space directly. Film may be a prime example. Psychological subjects, psychism, “visions” and visitors from outer space are favorite subjects. And films that are set in outer space have hit an all-time popularity. Part of this success is due to the development of two new art forms: video and film special effects, and electronics. In fact, visual and sonic arts have nearly taken over our lives, while the literary arts have waned. Educators and writers complain that fewer people are reading – anything – and poets seem to have little or no place in society.
Of deep significance in this phenomenon is the discovery in recent years that the right and left hemispheres of the brain have discrete functions. Both are essential to the growth of humans, but each functions differently. The left brain deals with speech and language, mathematics, reason and facts, analysis, sequence and time. And up to now it was our task to develop that consciousness. The right brain is concerned with the non-verbal, with abstraction, with intuition and synthesis into a whole and with space. No wonder our western educational system is having a bad time of it, since it is almost entirely left-brain oriented, dealing with memorization, facts, and the printed word. Interestingly, it is the art schools that are adopting techniques to help students develop right-brain usage. We are becoming less and less dependent on language to communicate, and more and more space and feeling oriented. Is humanity, then, starting the development of a more super physical consciousness?
Perhaps the greatest impact is being made by music, and it’s with us all the time in one form or another. Until recent years music has been cast in more or less prescribed forms and was sequential. It was as horizontal as a landscape through which the listener traveled. Now music has gone into space. Time and key signatures are arbitrarily broken, different rhythms and keys often going at the same time. Its patterns are often vertical or even radial. Aleatoric music is being used whereby sounds (vocal or instrumental) are continuous at each performer’s own pace while in concert with others doing the same thing. It creates curtains of sound. This music cannot be listened to in the old way – with the left brain. The use of electronics in music creates new sounds and sound effects, enhances reproduction to a great degree of purity, even at high decibel levels, and is capable of producing multi-layered tapes of great density. Many of thee processes can create a feeling of other-worldliness. Electronics are a tremendous tool for new instrumentation and are only beginning to be explored. Films about inner or outer space use both electronic sound as well as visual special effects and the impact is sometimes awesome – perhaps greater than the producers realize.
The illusion of space and abstraction has affected the dance as well, minimizing and enlarging sets, and stretching the dancers’ bodies to their limits to create abstract tensions and relationships. The capabilities and beauty of the human body are astounding and all the possibilities of its ability to create patterns is being explored.
Opera is enjoying a renaissance in popularity: perhaps because there is a rediscovery of the magic and beauty of the human voice, and certainly because opera depicts human emotion in larger-than-life terms, a little the way the ancient Greek drama did. Drama has been nearly swallowed whole by films and TV, and much of what survives on the stage, because of the limitation of the setting, deals with personal psychology, or with nostalgia.
The arts and music have a purpose in human evolution – they’ve been with us too long not to. And evolution has reached a point, not only of tremendous acceleration, but of crossover into a new realm of consciousness. If we can keep our equilibrium in the midst of a mass of experimentation, and learn to use the arts – to work with them – we may embark on a truly New Age consciousness. We need openness to all the old as well as to new arts coupled with the intuition to discern the real from the unreal, the true from the untrue, and we can make the fullest use of the opportunity for growth and insight that the arts offer. For they have the potential to heal, to purge, to inspire, and to provide the means for and a perception of that not previously known – to awaken the consciousness of the New Age. – Jean Gullo
“You will see the condition of change coming over us in art; for art is becoming quite a new thing, quite a different thing. In the old days we were content to admire the old masters and those who followed in their footsteps, but now you know that all kinds of new art are arising. They are like nothing in heaven or earth now, but I believe they will be. You will find the same thing in music; the newer music differs widely from the old, and sounds strange to old-fashioned people, but are really efforts to express something higher. (These arts and music) have a fascination for some people; they make us see more than the ordinary physical eye can see; they are intended to suggest the things of the higher worlds.” Annie Besant, The Changing World (published 1909)