Why traditional art is divine? – Ananda K Coomaraswamy

Recently had a interaction which roughly went like this — Surprised why no RW angst over Shri Keshav’s paintings of krishna which certainly are not always very conventional – he himself calls them experiments. This passage of *Ananda K Coomaraswamy – The Arts & Crafts of India & Ceylon* captures perfectly what I always felt about Shri Keshav

 The Indian imager approached his work with great solemnity, invoking the god whom he would represent. In the Agni Purana,he is told, the night before undertaking a great work, to pray: “O thou Lord of all gods, teach me in dreams how to carry out all the work I have in my mind.” He is inspired by Vishvakarma. We have already seen that many of the Hindu and Buddhist divinities are deified charms: ordinary methods of personal worship of an Ishta Devata involve the repetition of these charms, and a deliberate process of visualisation or imagination. In the same way the artist, or magician (Sadhaka) as he is sometimes called (an idea recalling the yoga maya or magic of illusion by which Ishvara creates the world), is required after various purificatory rites, physical and mental, to invoke and visualise and finally to identify himself completely in thought with the divinity to be represented. He thus acts on the principle of the saying, “Devo bhutwa. devam yajet” – “By becoming the god, one should worship the god.” This identification of subject with object is the chief aim of the yoga (union) philosophy: it is certainly a prerequisite for the most perfect art for none can really know what appears external to himself. Were it possible to find any true short way to art, it would surely be this, that the artist must identify himself with his subject; it should be an insult to credit him with observation, for to observe implies a separation from that which is observed. It is likewise a test of art, that it should enable the spectator to forget himself, and to become its subject, as he does in dreams. But this method is not really a short one. “Only when I was seventy-three, “says Hokusai, “had I got some sort of insight into the real structure of nature … at the age of eighty I shall have advanced still further; at ninety, I shall grasp the mystery of things; at a hundred, I shall be a marvel, and at a hundred and ten every blot, every line from my brush shall be alive.”

It is not, of course, to be supposed that every minor craftsman always followed out the ritual prescribed for the artist, or that the ritual never degenerated into a mere formula: but the theory no doubt actually represents the mental attitude of those who first saw the great motifs, as truly as it represents the position of those who heard the Vedas. All these, sculptors, poets, or singers, desired to make themselves a channel for the passage of ideas from a divine world to this physical earth, and all equally regarded personal and discrete intellectual activity as incompatible with the apprehension of remote truth.


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