Letter to a Modern Artist

by Edda Livingston

I have been meaning to write: I have circled the writing pad as the swans circled Delos; I have hovered above the white paper as the Eagles hover above the compound in the Philosophic Egg, hoping for a birth of the spirit that drives one to get things done. The trouble with me is I have always got my nose buried in heart and mind consuming stuff, and when I finallly look up whoa! It's already spring. And here's me thinking it's only 3 a.m. I have obviously lost the ability to tell late from early. Do you know where early ends and late starts?

I am aware that you consider me particularly ignorant on the subject of Art, and I really do not take offense at such an evaluation, as it is probably more right than wrong. But the works of Art I like are not ignorant and the beauty of them are not in the least affected by my ignorance, but, as I look upon them, find myself washed clean of the leprosy of false art, with which the world is filled to brimming. Perhaps it would be useful at this point to give you a list of small selection of the works I value, because, God forbid, it might be Andy Warhole for all you know, and unless you know what I value, you cannot know where my heart is. If Earth was heaven, I should live in a Gothic Cathedral with great rose windows and make a portal just like the virgin portal at Notre Dame. The doors would be Ghiberti's and the ceilings Michelangelo's. On the walls I'd hang Leonardo's St. John and the Annunciation, Poussin's Et in Arcadia Ego (Les Bergers d'Arcadie. Later version of the Louvre), also Poussin's Orpheous and Eurydice. Titan's Bacchus and Ariadne, and The Entombment I'd fetch from the Louvre. The same gallery would also suffer the loss of the Silver Statue of the Virgin and Child and Amiens Cathedral would be minus their Madonna. Bernini and Michelangelo would supply the centerpieces and Cellini the golden nic-nacs. The Greeks would be useful as tile layers, but hey, who would object to a few Romans lending a helping hand? I should ask God to plant me a garden but this time without Adam and Eve, those greedy fruit eaters.

All these great works are full of symbolism for those who care to read them. They are hieroglyphs from God, created in stone or on canvas by the Servants of the Lords of Light. And I truly believe that to be a true Artist is to be a Servant of the Higher Powers and of Truth; for to be otherwise is to be a creator of wallpaper - or of shelf-fillers - or of infernal cacophony.

But the pure Beauty of Great Art lifts the thoughts away from earthly cares and woes, and brings Grace to the inner minds of those who look upon them with eyes that see; clarifying the sight until there are no more boundaries and no distance. I see these Works as the materialized 'shadows' of Holy Inspiration earthly representatives of what the great Artist sees in his enlightened Vision, and which he can only reproduce as best he can with whatever talent and sweat is his. (I can only imagine that the true Artist will never be satisfied with the reproduction of his vision, for no work of Art can ever tell us exactly what those who wrote or painted saw or heard or felt in their visions. And I speak here only of great works, not of the twaddle poured out by would-be artists.

Old Ouspensky said quite rightly that: "In art it is necessary to study "occultism" - the hidden side of life. The artist must be a clairvoyant: he must see that which others do not see; he must be a magician: must possess the power to make others see that which they do not themselves see, but which he does see." If Holy Vision and Inspiration is missing and if works of art does not allow us any discovery capable of elevating and instructing us, of bringing us nearer to our Creator, then art becomes useless. Art, which gives man his indisputable superiority, loses it nobility, its greatness, its beauty when devoid of revelation, and becomes no more than a distressing vanity."

Though the Symbolism employed by the Great Artist we can get close to Spiritual Wisdom here in the darkness of this ignorant and ghost-ridden realm men know as 'The Earth'. It becomes a foretaste of that immortality and joyful, bright existence, brought to birth within the Self. But, sadly, men no longer have a feeling for the divine, and the ungodly masses are no longer interested in the ideal of the Superior Powers. Being entirely 'in the dark' about symbolism, they apply themselves to the creation of works without taste, without character and without esoteric thought.

In these lower orders of art, the artists tell us that they paint, write or sculpt as they see or hear it. These include the ridiculous individuals who throw together 'masterworks' out of bits of string, old tires, sacks of cement and scrap iron. How dismal it must be for those pitiful souls to hear and see such dreadful distortions of art, and in what chaotic state their minds must be! And those who like to see and hear these abominations must be in an equally low state of mind.

But should anyone dare to criticize these artist, then the hordes of absurd and miserable 'admirers' fall upon one and pour out their wrath, they, not being happy, until they have imprisoned every free mind and have dragged down to their level. Once we are all crushed into the dunghill, there is much happiness and back-slapping among the in-elect.

"He bared his arms and kissed the purple swollen flesh and prayed that it might ever be so, that in body and mind and spirit he might ever be beaten and reviled and made ridiculous for the sacred things, that he might ever be on the side of the despised and the unsuccessful, that his life might ever be in the shadow - in the shadow of the Mysteries." (A. Machen.)

So much of today's commercial art is reminiscent of hopes which never bore ripe fruit -like vain ideals of witless wills. Bone - clanking like a skeleton strung upon the bough of some dreary tree of ill-fate; fleshless, bloodless and with stringy sinew clinging to its sapless frame, unwatered by the dew of inspiration but nourished by its low roots. Its creators ensnared by the illusion that they themselves are the source of inspiration and wisdom.

We claim to have advanced - that modern man has civilized and 'wised up'. If so, then where is the artist who can call the Madonna of Bruges out of the marble? And where the soul who can improve on Rembrandt's shadows? Make a violin superior to Stradivarius? Spin tales like Virgil? Compose music sweeter, sadder than Mozart? Where is the equal (never mind the superior to) Shelly, Pythagoras or Da Vinci? It seems to me we have degenerated rather than progressed, and what is worse - no one seems to mind it. Only occasionally is there heard a lone voice protesting our backsliding - only to be trampled to death by an un-critical public who will believe anything, accept everything that has been repeated often enough and loud enough by our so-called experts who all too often make their living by using the lower parts of their heads rather than the upper. Discrimination is missing, along with sense, beauty, mystery and inspiration from on high.


It seems to me that the modern arts have let its Soul escape, and all we are left with is the dead, cold intellect unfermented by Spirit. Similar to an abortion of the Immaculate Conception and a last minute cancellation of the Alchemical Wedding. No more Mystery! How ugly and unmagical it all is these days! I call it the Black hole Age which swallowed the Light of Wisdom and in its stead spewed out the meaningless and pretentious.

I realize that I have stepped onto the private grounds of some artistic swampland here, and that at any minute I may get swallowed up in a torrent of mud. But so be it. I am singly concerned with the state of my Soul and care little or anything or nothing for men's opinions of me. I would rather be flattened by a steamroller than live in order to inoffensively please man. That way lies the broad, easy path leading straight to the nether realms.


Now that you know a little of my feelings about Art - or I should say the Arts - I can finally approach your book that you so kindly sent me, my dear Brother. From the depths of my heart I am thankful and happy for your success. I pray that you will go from strength to strength, from peak to peak, and that the glorious crescendo will be filled with fireworks and trumpets. I am utterly sincere in this wish for you. But - in the words of Leonardo: "You do ill if you praise but worse if you censure what you do not rightly understand" - and I must leave it so, because I cannot claim to understand. God forbid that I should be so vain as to imagine that there might not be something far loftier than my feeble mind can grasp within your works. Through experience, I have learnt to inquire thoroughly before throwing away the bad and holding fast to the good.

To end, let me quote our friend Machen again: "Advanced? What is advancement? Freedom from excesses, from extravagances, from wild enthusiasms? Small Protestant tradesmen are free from all these things, certainly. But is the joy of Adulteration to be the last goal, the final Initiation of the Race of Men? The Flagons of the Song of Songs did not contain ginger beer."

Sadly, it seems to me it does these days: Ginger beer with a thick head of trivial froth.

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