Our thinking, feeling and acting is controlled by the conditions and circumstances of nature and by our cultural conditioning. We are present in both realities and they both shape us and form the perception tools with which we can understand and respond to the world and ourselves.
Nature and culture
Nature is the basis of everything. There would not be any culture without a natural existence. Whatever works are created on this basis, they will be maintained or destroyed by nature.
The visible nature as an expression of the invisible and as a source of inspiration gradually withdrew from the perception and examination of art in the last century, in favour of realities that lie „behind” it – with some magnificent, but also with questionable results in art and science. The dissolution of matter and of the visible form into energy, gained through nuclear fission or the production of „biomass“ for petrol and biogas refer, in an alarming way, to what has been overlooked because it is so evident: to the shape, the form and its beneficial beauty.
The visible nature with its fullness of shape is, in many spiritual views, interpreted as illusion, as Maya, as Samsara or debased as mere „dust“. The „veil of Isis“ also bears witness of the fact that the truth is somewhere behind, and in the famous allegory of the cave by Plato the sensory and visible world is represented as a shadow world, as a pale reflection and an echo of eternal ideas, not as a self-contained reality. Even if it is understood what is meant by this, this point of view may also support an ignorant attitude towards what is a given basis and may indirectly allow the exploitation of the „inferior nature“ with its corresponding implications.
Reducing the visible and sensory nature to a mere illusion, which distracts us from the essential, is similar to an attitude which limits the reality of a house to its building materials, the effect of a painting by Rembrandt to the canvas, the binders and the pigments or a symphony by Mozart to the physical sound waves.
It is then basically a materialist attitude which, in its one-sidedness is related to the opposite opinion, namely that only matter with its scientifically provable and useful side is the reality and everything else arises from a person‘s imagination, who cannot bear to live in a meaningless universe which came about by coincidence and who, therefore, has to „invent God“ not to get lost in this meaningless emptiness full of struggle and need.
The form – an open secret
The form is a great secret. It is an open secret, as Goethe says. The form is an unsolved riddle. Not only is it amazing in what abundance and differentiation it exists, but that it exists at all, since the probability that complex beings arise out of a few basic elements, verges on the impossible.
Shapes and forms are not prescribed as genetic information. Each molecule can integrate into all shapes, the way building material is suitable for different buildings. However, who designs the buildings? Who is the architect of an apple? What force, what will convince the free atoms and molecules to become, connected with others, a leaf, an ant, a human being for a certain time? How does the agreement come about that out of a beech seed a beech will develop, although the same substances can also be found in every other seed?
Certainly, the shape is not the divine, no more than the word „tree“ is the tree itself. But there is a connection. Visible form is language or, as Novalis expresses it wonderfully: „The visible is the invisible that has been lifted into a secret state.“
It is up to us if we see nature, which has not been created by humans and which we belong to as perceiving and interfering beings, as a divine manifestation or as a kind of „cake“ that is there for us to consume greedily. The way we interpret nature makes us into what we become and are, since we are self-creating to a certain degree.
Form as the manifestation of a divine potential, that comes into being – like we ourselves – and disappears again – like us – can be interpreted as a wonderful encounter and training. Our eyes are created by light, our ears by sound, our feelings by love and our thoughts by the spirit. These are our perceptive organs.
To focus our eyes on the unfathomable vastness of the obvious, on the unspectacular, the evident, seems to me – in contrast to watching „tele-vision“ – to be a sensible orientation. The riddle is not behind the form, it is the form itself (Goethe).
Perception itself is a creative act and the „core business“ of art.
Spirituality and art
The word art can be deducted from ability, knowledge, wisdom, insight. We can recognise this if we enter into an „imaginary museum” (André Malraux).
Whether we enter through the lush gates into the clarity of an Indian temple or are elated in gothic cathedrals, whether we remember the massive pyramids of Egypt, which tower as geometrical stone bodies with an enormous durability in the midst of sandy deserts, or whether we are touched by the joyful-desperate colour ecstasies by van Gogh, something will always reach us from the source of being through formed works of art, if we know how to be open for it.
Paintings, sculptures and buildings are installed in time. The imagery, which rises out of a temporal process of growth and which leads its own existence in time and independent from its creator, has become a witness of creative force through the millennia. If you stand before a Greek sculpture, you will not see its proportional and expressive perfection as an antiquated, cultural relic, but you will experience it as something that is relevant and valid and lasting into the future. They are embodiments, which express ideas, feelings and visions and represent them now. They are not only substitutional, though: they contain something of what they manifest.
Works of art, which are in a spiritual tradition, are bodies, whose holy purpose it is to give the unmanifested basis, which is described as light, emptiness, energy or pure consciousness, a place in time and space. Works of art, which follow this orientation and task, create an invisible atmospheric space, in which the non-manifested is the essential thing, like the empty space in a container. The unfathomable is paradoxically present and absent at the same time in a work of art. Communication and an encounter with the formless energy become possible across the bridge of the sensorially tangible form.
Force lines pervade each space, each format, which the old Chinese poetically called „dragon arteries“ and the Westerners soberly call the laws of composition. Composition is the art to connect contrasting forms and forces to become a complex whole, in which the single parts are not only integrated but enhance each other. Therefore, composition is also the means to harmonise the contradictory, individual and social requirements, and to shape them into a wider life figure. As personal and different the works may be in the different cultures, their relation lies in the harmonies and proportions according to which they were created. All the complex structures can be reduced to pairs of basic forms: circle and beam (linear), circle and square (two-dimensional), sphere and cube (spatial).
(to be continued)