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.

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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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