There are two aspects of
things, the outward and the inward. It is purely a matter of emphasis with me.
The outward has no meaning except in so far as it helps the inward. All true Art
is thus the expression of the soul. The outward forms have value only in so far
as they are the expression of the inner spirit of man.
I know that many call
themselves as artists, and are recognized as such, and yet in their works there
is absolutely no trace of the soul’s upward urge and unrest….
Take Oscar Wilde. I can speak
of him, as I was in England at the time that he was being much discussed and
talked about…. Wilde saw the highest Art simply in outward forms and, therefore,
succeeded in beautifying immorality. All true Art must help the soul to realize
its inner self. In my own case, I find that I can do entirely without external
forms in my soul’s realization. I can claim, therefore, that there is truly
sufficient Art in my life, though you might not see what you call works of Art
about me. My room may have blank walls; and I may even dispense with the roof,
so that I may gaze out upon the starry heavens overhead that stretch in an
unending expanse of beauty. What conscious Art of man can give me the panoramic
scenes that open out before me, when I look up to the sky above with all its
shining stars? This, however, does not mean that I refuse to accept the value of
productions of Art, generally accepted as such, but only that I personally feel
how inadequate these are compared with the eternal symbols of beauty in Nature.
These productions of man’s Art have their value only so far as they help the
soul onward towards self-realization.
I see and find beauty in Truth
or through Truth. All truths, not merely true ideas, but truthful faces,
truthful pictures, or songs, are highly beautiful. People generally fail to see
Beauty in Truth, the ordinary man runs away from it and becomes blind to the
Beauty in it. Whenever men begin to see Beauty in Truth, then true Art will arise.
Mere outward form may not make
a thing beautiful. To a true artist only that face is beautiful which, quite
apart from its exterior, shines with the Truth within soul. There is then, as I
have said, no beauty apart from Truth. On the other hand, Truth may manifest
itself in forms which may not be outwardly beautiful at all. Socrates, we are
told, was the most truthful man of his time and yet his features are said to
have been the ugliest in Greece. To my mind, he was beautiful because all his
life was a striving after Truth, and you may remember that his outward form did
not prevent Phidias from appreciating the beauty of Truth in him, though as an
artist he was accustomed to see Beauty in outward forms also!
Truth and untruth often co-exist; good and evil are often found together. In an artist also, not seldom
the right perception of things and the wrong co-exist. Truly beautiful creations
come when right perception is at work. If these moments are rare in life, they
are also rare in Art.
Young India, 13-11-24, p. 377
Truth is the first thing to
be sought for, and Beauty and Goodness will then be added unto you. Jesus
was, to my mind, a supreme artist, because he saw and expressed Truth; and
so was Mohammed, the Quran being the most perfect composition in all Arabic
literature, at any rate, that is what scholars say. It is because both of
them strove first for Truth, that the grace of expression naturally came in;
and yet neither Jesus nor Mohammed wrote on Art. That is the Truth and
beauty I crave for, live for, and would die for.
“May not after all some artists
be able to see Truth in and through Beauty?”
Some may, but here too, just as
elsewhere, I must think in terms of the millions. And to the millions we cannot
give that training to acquire a perception of Beauty in such a way as to see
Truth in it. Show them Truth first, and they will see beauty afterwards….
Whatever can be useful to those starving millions is beautiful to my mind. Let
us give today the vital things of life, and all the graces and ornaments of life
Young India, 20-11-24, p. 386
Man’s beauty is in his
character, that of a beast in its bodily form. In the case of cow, for
instance, we may say how good it is because of its skin, or hair, or feet,
or horns; in the case of man, on the other hand, we do not say that he is
good, because he is five feet and a half, and bad because he is four feet
and a half, and better if he is an inch more than five and a half feet. The
basis of goodness or badness in the case of man lies in his heart, not in
the body, or even in accumulated wealth.
Bapu’s Letters to Ashram Sisters, (1952), p. 102
True beauty, after all, consists in purity of heart.
Young India, 20-10-27, p. 350
Why should I need an artist
to explain a work of art to me? Why should it not speak out to me itself? I
tell you what I mean. I saw in the Vatican art collection a statue of Christ
on the Cross which simply captured me and kept me spell-bound. I saw it five
years ago but it is still before me. There was no one there to explain its
charm to me. In Belur in Mysore, I saw in the ancient temple a bracket in
stone made of a little statuette, which spoke out to me without anyone to
help me to understand it. It was just a woman, half-naked, struggling with
the folds of her clothes to extricate herself from the shafts of cupid, who
is after all lying defeated at her feet in the shape of a scorpion. I could
see the agony on the form-the agony of the stings of the scorpion. That, at
any rate, was my interpretation of it….
I want art and literature that can speak to the millions.
Harijan, 14-11-36, p. 315
People who claim to pursue
“art for art’s sake” are unable to make good their claim. There is a place
for art in life, apart from the question-what is art? But art can only be a
means to the end which we must all of us achieve. If however, it becomes an
end in itself, it enslaves and degrades humanity.
The Diary of Mahadev Desai I, (1953), p. 160
Few people, who have
devoted themselves to art, are known to have achieved a unique blending of
devotion to art and pure and blameless life. We have somehow accustomed
ourselves to the belief that art is independent of the purity of private
life. I can say with all the experience at my command that nothing could be
more untrue. As I am nearing the end of my earthly life, I can say that
purity of life is the highest and truest art. The art of producing good
music from a cultivated voice can be achieved by many, but art of producing
that music from the harmony of a pure life is achieved very rarely.
Harijan, 19-2-38, p. 10
True art takes note not
merely of form, but also of what lies behind. There is an art that kills and
an art that gives life…. True art must be evidence of happiness, contentment
and purity of its authors.
Young India, 11-8-21, p. 253
“Won’t you ask people to
grow flowers on a small piece of land? Colour and beauty is as necessary to
the soul, as food is to the body.”
No, I won’t. Why can’t you see
the beauty of colour in vegetables? And then, there is beauty in the speckles
sky. But no, you want the colours of the rainbow which is a mere optical
illusion. We have been taught to believe that what is beautiful need not be
useful and what is useful cannot be beautiful. I want to show that what is
useful can also be beautiful.
Harijan, 7-4-46, 67
Beauty divorced from
utility is inconceivable, utility here being taken in the widest sense of
the word. Cloth woven from 400s may or may not be good for wearing, but the
laborious effort which one has to put forth in spinning such superfine yarn,
the mysteries of the art of spinning which are unfolded to him and the
solutions of problems which suggest themselves to him in the process are all
beneficial for Daridranarana (God as the poor)……
What do the pictures and
sculptures which held me spell-bound at the Vatican show? There are not many who
have the capacity of appreciating their beauty. But the painters and the
sculptors in question certainly worked with a view to serve humanity. If a
picture inspires evil thoughts in the minds of the spectator, it does not
deserve to be called artistic. For, art is that which leads a man one step
forward on the path of morality and gives him elevated views. If it degrades him
ethically, it is not art, but only obscenity.
The Diary of Mahadev Desai- I, (1953), pp. 224-25
Who can deny that much that
passes for science and art today destroys the soul instead of uplifting it,
and instead of evoking the best in us panders to our basest passions?
Young India, 11-8-27, p. 255
There is a famous classical
saying which has now become a proverb that he man ‘that hath no music in
himself’ is either an ascetic or a beast. We are far from being ascetics,
and to the extent that we are devoid of music we are near allied to beasts.
To know music is to transfer it to life. The prevalent discord of today is
an indication of our sad plight….
Where there is discord and
every one striking his own tune, there is bad government or anarchy….Where there
is filth and squalor and misery, there can be no music. It implies an atmosphere
quite the contrary. If we put a broad interpretation on music, i.e., if we mean
by it union, concord, mutual help, it may be said that in no department of life
can we dispense with it.
Music today has been regarded
to mean the vocal effort of a singing girl. We fight shy of sending our sisters
and daughters to music schools. There seems to be superstition that their voice
is best when it is devoid of sweetness.
Music, truly speaking, is an
ancient and sacred art. The hymns of Sama Veda1
mine of music, and no ayat2
of Quran can be recited
unmusically. David’s psalms transport you to raptures and remind you of hymns
from Sama Veda. Let us revive that art….
But to go a step further. If we
would see music in millions of our poor homes, we should all wear Khadi and
spin. The music of the spinning-wheel can be a free gift to all and is,
therefore, sweeter. It is the hope and solace and mainstay of the millions and
for me, therefore, the truly good music.
Young India, 15-4-26, p. 140
Music has given me peace. I
can remember occasions when music instantly tranquilized occasions my mind
when I was greatly agitated over something. Music has helped me to overcome
anger. I can recall occasions when a hymn sank deep into me, though the same
thing expressed in prose had failed to touch me. I also found that the
meaning of hymns discordantly sung has failed to come home to me and that it
burns itself on my mind when they have been properly sung. When I hear Gita
verses melodiously recited, I never grow weary of hearing; and the more I
hear, the deeper sinks the meaning into my heart. Melodious recitations of
the Ramayana, which I heard in my childhood, left on me an impression which
years have not obliterated or weakened. I distinctly remember how when once
“The path of the Lord is meant
for the brave, not the coward” was sung to me in an extraordinary sweet tune, it
moved me as it had never before. In 1907, while in the Transvaal I was almost
fatally assaulted, the pain of the wounds was relieved when, at my instance,
Oliver Doke gently sang to me’ Lead Kindly Light’.
Let no one infer from this that
I know music. On the contrary, it would be more correct to say that my knowledge
of music is very elementary. I cannot critically judge music. All I can claim is
that I have a natural ear for good homely music.
I do not mean to suggest either
that because the influence of music has been uniformly good on me, it must act
similarly on others. On the contrary, I know that many people employ music to
feed their carnal passions. To sum up, therefore, we may say that the influence
of music will differ according to temperaments. As Tulsidas has sung:
“The Lord of Creation created
everything in this world as an admixture of good and evil.
“But a good man selects the
good and rejects the evil, even as the fabled swan is said to help himself to
cream, leaving the water in the milk.”
Young India, 10-1-29, p. 15
Music exercises great
influence on us. We have not given sufficient consideration to this
important fact or else we should have provided for the teaching of music to
our boys and girls. The Vedic hymns are found to have been composed on the
basis of music.
Harmonious music has the power
to soothe the anguish of the soul. At times, we find that there is too much
restlessness prevailing in large gatherings. This can be arrested and calmed if
a national song is sung by all. When a larger number of people sing in harmony
it is very inspiring and uplifting. Hundreds of boys singing a poem full of the
spirit of adventure and bravery will be an impressive spectacle. While carrying
on their work it is quite common to the boatmen and other labourers raise the
cry of Harihar3
This is to enable them to do their work more easily. It is an example of the
power of music. I have seen my English friends trying to ignore the cold weather
by singing. Our boys easily pick up songs from popular plays and learn to play
upon such a crude musical instrument as the harmonium. This prevents cultivation
a taste for a good music. Instead, if they were trained in classical music,
their time which is now wasted in singing popular and often silly songs, would
be put to good use. Just as a trained singer does not sing out of tune or out to
time, even so a learner of the right kind of music would not sing dirty songs.
Music must be given a place in our scheme of education, and its value in the
cultural awakening of the people accepted.
True Education, (1962), p. 30
“Do you really care for music?”
What a question! I have loved
music-particularly devotional songs-since my childhood days. Of course I cannot
claim, I warn you, and expert or analytical knowledge of its technique, but I
cannot say I regret that very much, seeing that good music always moves
me-genuinely. After all that is the essential thing, isn’t it?
“Don’t you think such knowledge
generally deepens our appreciation for music as an art?”
Maybe. But as I told you just
now I have never pined for expertism. To me music is something to receive joy
and inspiration from, and I am quite content so long as I get that.
How well I remember, the joy
and peace and comfort that music used to give me when I was ailing in a South
African hospital. I was then recovering from some hurts I had received at the
hands of some roughs who had been engaged to cripple me-thanks to the growing
success of my Passive Resistance Campaign. At my request the daughter of a
friend of mine used, very often, to sing to me the famous hymn, ‘Lead Kindly
Light’. And how it acted like a healing balm-invariably! I still remember this
song with the gratitude. So there-are you persuaded that I really care for
music-or shall I have to adduce more convincing proofs?
Mira’s songs are always
beautiful. Well-I know a good many of them. I like the members of my Ashram to
sing to me her lovely songs-so touching in their sincerity and poetic appeal!...
They are so moving, because
they are so genuine. Mira sang because she could not help singing. Her songs
well forth straight from the heart-like a spray. They were not composed for the
lure of fame or popular applause as are some others’ songs….
It would be tragedy indeed if
our beautiful music were to die from sheer popular neglect and indifference. I
have always said so….
“To be frank, I was under the
impression that art had no place in the gospel of your austere life. In fact I
had often pictured you as a dread saint who was positively against music.”
Against music I !....
“May not your asceticism be
somewhat responsible for such popular misconceptions? For surely you wouldn’t
blame the people too much if they found it rather difficult to reconcile
asceticism with art?”
But I do maintain that
asceticism is the greatest of all arts. For what is art but beauty in simplicity
and what is asceticism but the loftiest manifestation of simple beauty in daily
life shorn of artificialities and make –believes? That is why I always say that
a true ascetic not only practices art but lives it…..I cannot even conceive of
the evolution of India’s religious life without her music!
“Why then do people suppose
that you are unkind to art?”
Well-well-there are some
plausible reasons, I imagine. One is that I fail to see anything in much that
passes for art in these days. In other words, my values are different. For
instance, I don’t call that a great art which demands an intimate knowledge of
technique for its appreciation. To me art, in order to be truly great, must,
like the beauty of Nature, be universal in its appeal. I cannot, for the life of
me, call the power of making hair-splitting distinctions the test of artistic
appreciation. True art and its appreciation can have nothing to do with
sophisticated pretentiousness. It must be simple in its presentation and direct
in its expression like the language of Nature.
“But I am told you are averse
to pictures on the walls of your rooms.”
But why must my walls be
overlaid with pictures if I thought that walls were meant only for sheltering
us? Why may I not use of them for other purposes?
“But if other people should
want to have pictures.”
That is their affair, not
mine. If it pleases them, let them adorn their walls with as many pictures as
they like. Only I do not need them for my inspiration that is all. Nature
suffices for me and that’s all, there is to it.
Have I not gazed and gazed at
the marvelous mystery of the starry vault, hardly ever tiring of that great
panorama? Have I not the forests and the seas, the rivers and the mountains, the
fields and the valleys with which to slake my thirst for beauty? Could one
conceive of any painting comparable in inspiration to that of the star-studded
sky, the majestic sea, the noble mountains? Is there a painter’s colour
comparable to the vermillion of an emergent dawn or the gold of a parting a day?
No, my friend, I need no inspiration other than Nature’s. She has never failed
me yet: she mystifies me, bewilders me, sends me into ecstasies. What need have
I for the childish colour-schemes of humans? Beside God’s handiwork does not
man’s fade into insignificance? And-to be more concrete-tell me how can art be
so thrilling, after all, when Nature, the mightiest artist, is there to cater
Life must immensely exceed all
the arts put together. For what is this hot-house art-plant of yours without
life-soul and background of a steady worthy life? It may be all very edifying to
flaunt it, but what, after all, does this fussing with art amount to if it all
the time stultifies life instead of elevating it? Is not grotesque to claim-as
so many artists do-that art is the crown of creation, the last meaning of
Art greater than life indeed!
As if you could ever truly live under the aegis of a slogan! As if the soul
could be spoon-fed with just one principle of enjoyment! It is exactly when such
high pretensions are loud in the land in the name of art that I have to cry
halt. For to me the greatest artist is surely he who lives the finest life. It
is therefore not art I repudiate, but the lofty airs it gives itself. In other
words, my values are different, that’s all….
To me life is far too great a
mystery, far too sacred a gift of the Gods to be appraised adequately from one
particular angle. And that is why, I said so categorically just now that the
greatest artist is he who lives the finest life.
Among the Great, (1950), pp. 61-67
I did not want to suggest
arts were to be roundly condemned by all. Don’t I know that people have
different temperaments? I merely meant that so far as I was concerned I had
no need of arts like painting for my own inspiration. For I myself find
enough satisfaction in the view of the starry vault. Perhaps Europe needs
paintings to satisfy her. She hasn’t our sky.
Her love for painting may,
indeed, be due to other sources. I only wanted to impress on you the fact that I
personally, find paintings rather superfluous….
I must repeat I am not keen
I have told you that so far as
I am concerned Nature suffices for me. But for others, if they are sincerely
convinced that arts such as painting do any real good to humanity, so far so
good. Only, let the artist guard against self-deception and self-love. Let him
be always alive to his duty towards the masses. To the extent that his art
benefits the masses, it is to be approved of. To the extent that it doesn’t, it
is to be discouraged.
I cannot quite see eye to eye
with those who swear by specialization. A real work of art should appeal to all.
“Why are you so much against specialization?”
I would put to you a
counter-question: Why are you so much against the universalization of art,
against helping it to derive its real inspiration from the virgin soil of
popular response-in short, against vitalizing art by the life-blood of humanity?
Why don’t you look the plain fact in the face that Nature, which must be the
last inspiration of all real arts, never stints? She never specializes in a way
so that only the cultured few may enjoy her bounties leaving the vast majority
out in the cold. Why then do you want to make art the handmaid of a privileged
few? Surely, it can be no part of true art’s mission to confine its appeal to a
select coterie, a handful of connoisseurs. Why must art lose touch with the life
of the soil? I fail to see how you are going to reclaim art unless it were
progressively stimulated by some widespread demand of the people. How would you
save art if you didn’t tend its roots by the sap of the soil which is the fount
of life? Why make art into a sort of plaything for a small Upper House?...
I maintain that the profoundest
utterances of man in every great philosophy or religion as in every great art
must appeal equally to all. I cannot for the life of me see much in any
specialization which can mean nothing to the vast multitude. Its only tangible
effect seems to be that it gives a swelled head to a few and breeds in them
contempt for the majority where there should be sympathy and understanding for
all. Can there be anything commendable in such a perverted tendency? Or do you
suppose that an activity which makes only for division instead of unity could
ever rebound to the glory of our Creator? Rather than serve such a fine mission
would it not be a thousand times better to do our best to alleviate the
widespread misery of mankind, to come forward with the balm of sympathy and
light of knowledge, to wipe the tears with which the earth is soaked from crust to center?
Among The Great, (1950), p. 78-82
. One of the four Vedas –the ancient lyrical and highly profound works of the Aryans.
. A verse from the Quran
. Hindu name of God
. Muslim name of God