The Eye of the Beholder

Me painting, age 2I don’t mind admitting that beauty is crucial for my inspiration: in itself, and as a context for other experiences. Beauty owns a door through which I reach the vestibule of love for God, from which I can (potentially) access doors to other spiritual qualities: service, patience, trust, carefulness, willingness, (et al, ad infinitum). If I return through the door to beauty having experienced love for God in that central vestibule, that beauty is augmented.

Colours are nutrients. I crave them and forage for them. When I see a new combination or ingenious use, I gorge and am replete. A visual clash or lack of care unnerves me like an ugly noise. Like sounds or scents colours harbour harmony or dissonance; they breathe or bleed life and energy.

On the balance of my life’s priorities, it was the relative weight of beauty that enticed me to study art.

It was not glamorous.

Socks, books, hair, fingernails all betrayed my occupation. Everything I owned was ink-smirched or bore a stray blotch of colour in a circle of oil. However carefully the charcoal was stowed, a crushed stub would find itself a most inconvenient and disappointing home.

I walked eight miles a day on flimsy plimsolls, in all the relentless weathers of North Yorkshire, existing mainly on potatoes and donuts. Why? To pass a day in paint fumes, observing the scales of a dead fish, or callusing my young fingers with wire. Why?

They were bleak, hungry years, but they were beauty – inward and outward.

I went nowhere without a sketchbook, and nowhere without observing the shades, shapes and spaces in things. Fine art formed my first year, but textiles and costume followed. My tutor was ruthless, for which I am now glad – that built me self-assurance. For me her common comment was: “Nice maquette” when presented with a finished piece. Costume thrives on impermanence, thus its enchantment. It is now that I can see reverence for impermanence as a useful quality: to move on to higher perfection without attachment. Are we not ourselves just God’s maquettes?

We are fortunate indeed to have devised ways of reproducing colour. Gone the days when blue came only sparingly from the grinding of precious lapis lazuli, and the hues of cloth relied on the nearest available herb. At the click of a button we may change the shade or shape of anything.

Yet in God’s Lila the spectrum always jumped and spread in endless glory as it does now. The cornflower defeats even lapis in brilliance; the sunflower deafens a saffron robe. I am more content nowadays to see art in natural situ; un-transferred to canvas, and un-described by paint.

Read more…
For an in-depth study of the relationship between art and spirituality, you may be interested in Art’s Life and the Soul’s Light by Sri Chinmoy

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10 Responses to The Eye of the Beholder

  1. Bhashini May 20, 2012 at 3:32 pm #

    It’s lovely to hear you describe colours as nutrients. It reminds me of a time, not long after I first met you, when you were forced to go on a one food diet :)
    On a Temple-Song-Hearts tour of the former Yugoslavia in the mid 90s, we moved from one soviet era concert hall to another, all functionally rather than aesthetically constructed. As we entered another almost identical changing room you looked around wide eyed with astonishment and exclaimed “I’ve never seen so many shades of brown!”

    • Sumangali May 20, 2012 at 3:42 pm #

      I remember that very well Bhashini, what a limited diet! I actually like brown, and I loved that tour, but there was one particular dressing room where I made that proclamation. There was a lot of dark wood, brown curtains, and all the paintwork was brown, but what really hammered it home was the one picture hanging on the wall was brown. All of it. I’m all for matching accessories, and as a designer I appreciate the benefits of a “limited palette”, but the concept is rarely used so… rigourosly… :-)

  2. Ashley@Scentsy February 21, 2010 at 5:24 pm #

    I love that picture! Gorgeous little girl! I bet you’re just as beautiful now!

  3. Liara Covert May 3, 2008 at 8:33 am #

    Such enthusiasm and joy visible in the eyes of that child! As we follow a thread back through our lives from where we are to how we seem to have arrived, we gain such inordinate wisdom that reflection can seem incredibly profound. Human beings rarely understand the significance of an experience in a given moment. It is only later that we think back and realize instinct and passion are our deepest driving forces. They make us who we are or remind us when we temporarily forget.

  4. Sumangali Morhall April 28, 2008 at 1:26 pm #

    Alf, I’ve added a link to Wikipedia for a description of the word maquette, but I’m glad I didn’t think to do it before, as you might not have seen it from an Italian angle.

    In the portrait, yes, either I was trying to imbibe the colours and missed, or I was trying out a beauty spot à la Marie Antoinette, or I was pondering the possible Italian root of the word maquette.

  5. Alf April 28, 2008 at 12:19 pm #

    When I saw your picture, my first thought was that you might have been imbibing from your palette. And then I read, ‘Colours are nutrients.’ Hmmm.

    Also, The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Lady was invented; except unlike James Joyce, your writing makes sense.

    I learnt what a ‘maquette’ is and that the word has its origin from ‘macchia’ – spot in Italian. I thus deduced that it is related to caffe macchiato. That is always translated as meaning the espresso is literally ‘stained’ with milk, which is what happens when you get a spot on something I guess.

    Then I decided to write my own blog post about art instead of filling up your comments any further.

  6. Sumangali Morhall April 28, 2008 at 10:49 am #

    Shane, I think it must be the joi de vivre.

  7. Shane Magee April 27, 2008 at 10:54 pm #

    Is it just me, or is there a striking resemblance between 2 year old you and 55ish year old Premamrita?

    Just a passing comment :)

  8. Sumangali Morhall April 27, 2008 at 5:46 pm #

    Hello Doris, what a nice surprise to see you here! Wishing you all happiness too.

  9. Doris April 27, 2008 at 5:37 pm #

    Dear Sumangali, I currently take care of a sweet Indian child that is two years old. She looks as you do on the picture when we try to use water colours to paint something that ends up in painting on the table very nicely. I very much relate to your image at such a tender age. Wishing you all happiness.

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