ART AS RELEASE OF POWER
Magic and Engineering
Whenever Man, under the stress of a desire, wills to act, he assumes power. He does not create it, for as modern science begins to teach us, Energy or Power in a cosmic sense is eternal, indestructible and non-begettable. He assumes it. Having assumed it, he either builds a form-of-power fit to receive, transform and utilize this power, or else sets into operation one which nature has endowed him with, viz. usually his body, in parts or as a whole. Having assumed the power, having set the form-of-power in operation, release of power follows. The action is per-formed; which means the will has become act (release of power) through a form adapted to the releasing of the special type of power considered and assumed.
In other words life is a continuous assumption, enforming and performing of power. Power is infinite, eternal. We are in it, just as fishes are in the water. We are IT, just as fishes again are in truth condensed and differentiated sea-water; but not only fishes; every living being on earth. What, previously, we have called in a general way "life-forms," especially organic biological forms, are condensations of energy, energy solidified into matter through a process which we begin slightly to fathom within the shrine of the atom's life. To put it perhaps more accurately "life-forms" are transformers of energy. In some way they tap the cosmic reservoir of undifferentiated Energy and transform this Energy into various types of forces, which we call electricity, magnetism, light, etc.
More and more we come near seeing that the atom is nothing but such a transformer. It steps down as it were Cosmic Energy into the various forces produced by the discharge of one or several electrons. These electrons appear at the same time apparently both as corpuscles and as waves. In a sense they cannot be traced or identified as 'entities.' Where they are, something happens; and conversely the only certain clue to their existence is that somewhere something has happened; this something is always more or less a release of Energy.
We probably shall come to find definitely that the number and disposition of electrons, or any other intra-atomic units, characterizes the type of life of the atom, the type of energy it radiates. In other words the atom is a life-form. It has Form. It is a form-of-power because through it energy or power is released, affecting in definite and characteristic ways the other atoms, the other lives of the world.
All organic bodies have the same function. They differ in form because the type of energy they release varies. Evolution can be defined: the continual perfecting of a form for the release of a certain type of power which it is the Will of the Species to release; which the Genius of the Species (as Bergson understands such) has assumed.
Today humanity, propelled by various desires and stresses, has assumed electric power. Its inventors are evolving ever more perfect engines, machines, forms-of-power, to release more efficiently this electric power assumed: to ACT ELECTRICALLY, to perform electrically. In order to build such forms or engines two essential factors enter into consideration: the material out of which the machine is to be made, then the form given to such material or materials. Electrical machines use copper because of its property of conductibility, or gutta-percha because of its non-conductive property. They use many other substances, each of which has some characteristic property which enables it to fulfill a definite function in the sum-total of operations and motions concurring to the final release of electrical power.
The substances being chosen for their functional values, a definite form has to be given to the parts of the machine. This form, if successful and thoroughly efficient, will be patterned after the characteristic rhythm of the type of energy which needs to be released, or in another sense after the type of resistance of the surrounding medium. For instance in the first case a gasoline engine working on the principle of explosive discharge will adopt cylindrical forms as the most efficient, the best adapted to the character of the explosive energy, while an electrical engine will emphasize for instance the element of friction and of a certain type of rotation. In the second case we see that a motor-boat takes a certain form adapted to the resistance of the water on which it rides, the submarine a different form because of its complete immersion in the sea.
We have seen automobiles evolving in shape until in the racing type we have a form-of-power perfectly adapted to its special function of speed on land. Such an evolution is toward greater efficiency, toward a sort of elemental necessity and the pruning of all superfluous ornaments. All evolution is based on such a reaching out for greatest efficiency, as evolution means the perfecting of forms-of-power through which life will be able to act out its specific Will, or if one prefers the characteristic destiny of this or that Species.
For instance the vegetable kingdom is in the main that aspect of the Earth-life which has as its function or destiny to capture solar caloric or energy, and release it, at the cost of its own life, as food to the animal kingdom, as coal, etc. . . . Whether the vegetable Species is conscious of such a function or not is not the point we wish to make here. Whether there is a Purpose to the operations which in their totality constitute biological or cosmic activity, whether this Purpose, if any, is consciously apprehended by beings other than human (admitting that humans do apprehend it!) — all these problems will have to be left untouched.
The point we wish to make is merely that the mode of operation which led to the biological specialization of the green leaves and made of them forms-of-power whose function is to capture and later release solar energy, is in its general outline the same as that which led to the evolution of a perfect dynamo whose function is to capture and release electrical energy. The leaves do not create power, nor does the dynamo really generate power. Both transform, differentiate and release undifferentiated Cosmic Energy, electronic energy if one may wish to call it so.
And so do our muscles' cells, our brains' cells, etc. They are all machines for the transformation of energy. They are all performers: the two terms are identical. They mean; releasing power through a form. The human body as a whole is such an engine. The mind, even if one grants it a more or less independent existence, as do many philosophers or occultists, is such an engine. All are forms-of-power. Through them Life, or Spirit, or Soul, or Self, perform. All such performances can therefore be called magical.
What is Magic? The word has become the synonym of fraud and charlatanism; and this is most unfortunate, because it was an excellent word which expressed perfectly well etymologically and otherwise an idea which the world needs intensely today. Magic is merely the release of power through an efficient form by an act of will. It is in fact life itself; but life in terms of human characteristics, destiny and will-power.
Magic, thus understood, differs from age to age according to the focalization of the Race's will and desire. That is to say, when the human race was strictly emotional and very close to physical nature, in direct communion as it were with elemental and telluric forces, at such a time Magic was essentially the release of elemental power by an act of emotional will through forms which were somewhat close to natural life-forms. The magician was trying to evoke nature's powers, certain types of energy which are linked mostly with physiological-biological processes in man or nature. He used certain forms-of-power which were adapted to such powers and processes of life, just as perfectly adapted to them as our turbines are adapted to the distension of steam, and cylinders to the explosion of gasoline. We shall speak of these forms-of-power, magical forms or names, later on.
At present the race, rather the elite of the human race, is more and more polarized in the mind. There is its point of emphasis. Its desires are, if not very intellectual or mental as yet, still strongly dominated by intellectual concepts and reactions. Human will has thus become mentalized, individualized; and as a result divorced from purely physical-biological nature with which it does not want any longer to commune, but which it essentially wants to master. The two italicized terms mark the difference, a difference of will, of emotional reaction and purpose. Thus the type of energy called upon, assumed for the magical operations of today, has become very different from that which was used by magicians of old — the real ones, not the pseudo- "occultists" of today who are for the most part insincere or deluded — magicians who worked as consecrated beings, as hierophants of the mysteries, when such had still a vital meaning. This new type of energy assumed by mental man requires a new technique of performance. This technique is based essentially upon the intellectual method developed by mathematical studies. It rests upon intellectual abstract formulas, just as the old magical technique of the sanctuaries rested upon the handling of certain magnetic forces of a biological physiological nature by means of the training and development of an aspect of the human will. Now the mathematician or electrical engineer needs relatively little development of his will. What is developed is his abstract mind. The technique of such a development is complex, arduous; just as long and arduous as was the training followed in certain temples of Egypt, India, etc. . . The two methods lead to the development of two different faculties. These two different faculties are based on two different types of race desires or race-impulses. Through them two different types of Energy are assumed, two different kinds of forms-of-power are built through which two different modes of power will be released.
The Indian dancers and singers who in New Mexico succeed in bringing down rain by the magical power of their ceremonial, and the engineer who takes from the air nitrogen which will fecundate the exhausted fields by means of huge chemical apparatus, are doing basically the same thing. The vibrations used traditionally by the performer (but tradition may once have been science!) and made effectual through bodily motions and the utterances of words and names (which are potential forms-of-power accomplish a release of power which is not essentially different from the power released for instance through a radio station and its apparatus. In both cases power is released as vibration through certain generators made of various substances; vocal organs or body in general are such generators producing certain vibrations, a certain flow of energy, — the radio machinery is another such generator composed of different materials.
We could give an infinity of examples. But ours is not the task of proving the worth of archaic magical feats. We merely wish to show on what principle of operation magic was built in general and to point out the fact that modern science in its own realm is merely repeating the age-old process of release of power through especially adapted forms constructed for such a purpose. We wish to show that such a process is the very process of living, that the release of power effected by any living being is essentially magic; that therefore what differentiates all these types of magical operation, these types of life-activity in fact, is merely the type of will assuming power and releasing it through substances formed, constructed as transformers, generators, engines.
Thus all biological cells are engines, all bodies are engines, words and vocal tones moulded by the vocal organs are engines, ideas themselves are engines, all forms through which power is released are engines. Our next point is to show how some of such magical forms-of-power are set apart at certain periods of human history and classified generally under one common designation: — ART.
II. Art as a Gesture of Will
In a preceding essay we wrote: "Art presupposes forms. Whether we consider a symphony or a dance or a painting, we are really dealing with forms, that is with certain material or substantial elements organized into a meaningful artistic form. A symphony is a musical form composed of tones or notes, a dance-ritual or a ballet, a choregraphic form composed of evolving gestures or bodily patterns, a painting, a pictorial form made up of points, lines and surfaces of various colorations."
Any material or substance may be organized into an artistic form. But such a form in order to be artistic must have a "meaning," using the term in the most general and philosophical sense it can convey. What can this meaning be? What makes a form "artistic"? What is the impulse which impels any so-called "artist", which urges him to make such an artistic form? What place will the collectivity of such forms hold in. a particular race or civilization? All these are problems the solution of which. has been the subject of much controversy.
Following. the trend of our preceding essays. we shall say briefly that the meaning attributed to an Art-form is far from being constant; that such an Art-form may mean at least two fundamentally different things; that it may have either a magical or an esthetical meaning. In fact the very same object may be considered either as a magical form or as an esthetical form. according to the points of view held by the experiencer or onlooker.
If we consider first of all so-called Primitive Art we will come across many things, such as statuettes, figurines, carved objects found in tombs, or associated in one way or another with sacred ceremonies, or even with everyday life-as pottery, furniture, tools, etc. . . In music we will encounter certain definite chants sung with words which often have no literary or logical significance, chants the delivery of which has to conform with very strict laws, the origin of which is unknown but usually attributed to a god or priest, and which lend a definite efficiency to certain rites or ceremonies. In architecture we find constructions, the dimensions of which are usually set very precisely according to some mystical series of numbers, whose shape represents some sort of glyph or symbol endowed with cosmic occult significance. The decorations or frescoes such buildings contain are records of conventionalized facts, allegories, symbols, etc and carry no personal imprint of their author or authors.
We of today travel through such archaic ruins, buy from tomb-diggers potteries, bronzes, etc and display them in our salons; we exclaim: how beautiful! We discuss the artistic value of the forms, we isolate the mysterious element of 'significant form' etc. . . etc. . . For us these objects are artistic, esthetical. Were they for the men who fashioned them?
Were the sacred incantations of Assur, or even the true archaic chants of India or China which we may possibly still hear on rare occasions, were they music with an esthetical character? Are the songs which still accompany the weaving of Persian rugs, or the trances of some Sufi or Dervish sects "musical"?
Obviously they are NOT. The people who carved or sung or built in these ancient dawns of culture did not intend primarily, and often did not intend at all, to produce esthetical forms, beauty. They were making forms-of-power. which would be efficient, which would have a definite, scientific, magical use. They were constructing engines; just as a manufacturer of racing-cars is building forms-of-power, scientifically, for efficient use, with no aim to produce beautiful forms. Yet the forms are, if you want, beautiful. Why? We shall come to that in a moment.
Take the case of a primitive man in Africa or Sumatra forging a weapon and fashioning the features of some ferocious elemental power. For this man elemental powers; gods or spirits do exist. He feels them. His life is set in the very rhythm of natural powers which surround him. He has his totems which are real, which he has seen in dreams, in trances. When he is chiseling the weird and monstrous face on the handle of the weapon is he attempting to create "beauty"? Indeed not. The word probably means nothing to him. What he wants is to conjure the elemental power whose cosmic function is to kill, to force this power to incarnate into his sword; why? . . . so that the sword may kill better.
The archaic craftsman is a man able to enhance the functional efficiency of the objects he designs or fashions by certain forms-of-power. The weird face is not an ornament, it is an accumulator, a battery of destructive electricity, if you want. And the same is true in regard to the words-of-power (Catholic priests still use the word 'Amen' and others with such traditional intention; so do Masons, and all heirs to esoteric tradition), to mystic Names, to incantations, liturgic chants. In fact slogan-words like "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity," like Democracy, Proletariat, God, etc., are still actively used as words-of-power; that is as vocal utterances (vibratory forms) endowed with effectual power, as forms through which power is released, the power to sway minds, to convince, etc. Therefore they are engines. We speak of dynamic words, as well as dynamic personalities. They are forms for the release of power: magical forms.
Was the Gettysburg Address intended by Lincoln to be beautiful? We doubt it. It was to be an effectual vehicle for a powerful idea, a word engine which was meant to work. The strong terseness of its utterances was to imprint itself forcibly upon the mind of the nation. It worked well, just like a fine sledge-hammer. Likewise all good publicity-mottoes are forms-of-power. They are efficient. They release power. We learn Lincoln's words at school and are taught to admire their style. Why not be taught rather to admire their power? We are shown the pyramids and led to wonder at their beautiful proportions. Why not be led to the proper realization of the power of the magical mysterious operations performed therein which conditioned their form?
The artists of old were not really artists; they dealt with applied magic, as the builder of aeroplanes deals with applied science. They conceived their activities in terms of life, in terms of doing things, of accumulating power, of commanding elements, of being a master of natural forces; in order to live a fuller and more intense, freer existence, an existence richer with power — which is the one great eternal goal of all men. We now admire in their works something which, if present, was a secondary preoccupation, and most of the time no preoccupation at all. We admire the form as form; they conceived it in terms of the power which was to be released through that form. And thus what is esthetical to us, was to them vital, magical.
Therefore art, in such a magical sense, is perhaps not art at all. And yet it is the greatest and only universal, only permanent ART. For it is an immediate, direct gesture of Life, the gesture of a will which has assumed Power, and relates itself to other wills. Forms which are fashioned as patterns of beauty belong to the realm of Form, of ever-changing, ever-decaying cultures. As we have seen in our last essay they are syntheses, interpretations (personal in character) of sensations; sensations always changing, subordinate to climates, to times and to more or less fleeting moods; sensations whose validity is necessarily limited.
When we consider however these forms which are gestures of will, which are acts of a living self, we find there a power of vitality which usually halos them with a living intensity. We say 'usually' for of course when we are considering gestures of power through efficient forms, we have to reckon with essentially two kinds of such gestures: those which arise from a personal or rather strictly individualistic self or will; and those which are rooted in the very center of the Race-life.
We refer for a discussion of the matter to our preceding essay "Art of gestures and Art of patterns" where the distinction was made between personal emotions and Cosmic Motions. In ages of strong individualistic development great egos may arise who will use forms-of-power of all types to force their will upon other men. There is beneficent and maleficent magic; just as dynamite may be used to dig the foundations of some great public structure, or to destroy homes and kill human beings. And so we have a great variety of magical Art-forms just as we have also a variety of esthetical patterns. That gives to the former, permanency and universal meaning, is the fact that the forms-of-power are built according to universal laws, with true scientific knowledge of the material used and of basic geometrical or mathematical Principles, and as such are channels through which cosmic life-forces flow, even when the will of the fashioner is no longer operative.
Otherwise the forms may somehow carry the will of the operator as long as he uses them; but their significance vanishes when he is no longer there to act through them. But with the true Art-magician the source of the 'gesture of will is not in his own limited selfhood but in the Race-Self. As the Race-Self endures for long, long ages, with it must also endure the forms, as long as their substance does not deteriorate. In other words true magical Art, or as we called it also Sacred Art, is an act of projection, a sacramental act or gesture of the (relatively) Universal Self. Just as biological life-forms or bodies are the magical forms whereby the Genius of the Species releases its power of living and enacts its selfhood, likewise Sacred Art, (which is always magical and never esthetical) is constituted by the sum-total of Art-forms through which the Race-Self, manifesting through great sacrificial personalities (transvolutionary beings as we named them) who are the Seed of a cycle, enacts its own selfhood, shows forth its great Desire-to-be. Sacred Art, in the most complete sense of the term, is the sum-total of the utterances of this Race-Self during the transvolutionary period of the Cycle, the seed-time, the time of Soul-incarnation. In that sense Sacred Art includes all spiritual manifestations, which are all release of power, gestures of will — as is all true spiritual living. Art thus encompasses all spiritual magic, all so-called "practical occultism," all sacrificial actions, the coming of the great Spiritual Teachers, Christs, Buddhas, Avataras — whose personalities are nothing but forms-of-power through which LIFE flows. Art then is Soul-activity.
The Soul is Energy. It is Will or Motion. It is the Whole. It is Wholeness. It desires to be. It assumes power. It gathers substance which it differentiates and organizes as a form-of-power. This form is Mind; and reflectively it is Body. Through the Form the Soul enacts its Selfhood, its Desire. . . The beginning of all world-processes is so described in many Sacred Books. Such a beginning is ART, in the true sacred and spiritual sense of the word.
III. Objectivity in Art
The preceding discussion, when properly understood, solves the age-old problem of objectivity and subjectivity in Art, a problem which has come to the fore more than ever during the last few years. While some, who are called disparagingly by their opponents "romanticists" (romanticism being no longer fashionable in most quarters) champion the idea of subjectivism, of self-expression, of emotional and, some may say, poetical inspiration, others have come back loudly to the classical ideal so-called, to the ideal of pure objectivity, unemotionality; they deny that Art has anything to do with so queer a thing as Soul, and that it resolves itself exclusively into the making of beautiful forms, that is, forms the balance and proportions of which endow them with an esthetical character. The artist in a sense must remain aloof from his paintings or symphonies; he is a craftsman fashioning objects (even musical objects, says Stravinsky) which have form and the form of which is their sufficient "raison d'etre." Problems of mass, line, surface, lighting, problems of technical organization and disposition are alone problems of "pure esthetics." All other considerations are "extra-artistic" or as often said "literary."
This dualism of conception appears meaningless to the Art-magician, to the creator of Sacred Art (or Hierophant, we might call him). Both are wrong, because incomplete. For such a hierophant (precisely an unveiler or re-vealer of the Sacred) Art is essentially an utterance, a mode of activity, and it presupposes three elements: power, substance and form, unified by what you may call Will, or Idea, or Soul-Desire.
Art can never be solely objective in the sense that it is not vital without an utterer, without the power the release of which is the main function of the Art-entity. Art is essentially such a release of power and thus it is necessarily subjective, because there is no power actually manifest (i.e., differentiated and dynamically at work) unless some sort of a self or subject desired and assumed it. If Art is a gesture of power some one must will to perform that gesture; must capture the power or energy necessary for such a gesture. But this Will would be totally helpless unless it had some material out of which to construct an engine for the release of this assumed power. The engine as such is an objective form; and it must be engineered as a machine, according to changeless laws, to scientific equations solving problems, of proportion, mass, line, color, etc. . .
Considering this task of building the Art-engine, or any engine, we see that there must be a close connection between substance and form; that, as many recent artists say, the "material determines the form." But let us say rather that substance and form are two elements resulting from the type of energy or power, the release of which is desired or willed by the builder. Suitable material is selected which has certain characteristic properties connected with the nature of the energy to be released; the rhythm of this energy determines the proper form to be given to the special material.
One thing is certain and that is that we do not build locomotives to look at through a glass panel in a museum, to enjoy their form, to fall into rapture before the technical precision and skill of their makers. We build engines for use. And all Art-magicians likewise build their Art-engines for use; which means for the release of a power which will enable us to become increasingly masters of life, of nature; to live more fully, more extensively, more intensely and permanently.
To put it in another way the Art-form has no value as a form unless this form is put to use and generates energy of a certain kind; no more than a dynamo has value unless some electric current is produced by it. It is true that the Art-form IS beautiful, esthetically speaking; and also true that. the dynamo is in a sense also esthetically beautiful. But the dynamo was not conceived and built for such a secondary purpose; its esthetical character is not deliberately aimed at; it is an epiphenomenon; it results from the fact that the machine is perfectly adequate to the function for which it was built, that it is, one might almost say, a perfect condensation, incarnation of the power which is to flow through its organic parts; that each part is necessary, is unified into the single gesture of power which the engineer has willed. In such a way only is true vital Beauty constituted.
Now it is conceivable that 10,000 years from now humanity may have discovered the use of intra-atomic energy and thus changed entirely its mode of living, its buildings, etc. Perhaps then some archaeologist will dig where now appears some huge city or factory. This ambitious man will uncover a dynamo or an aeroplane engine (the kind which is winged and so 'beautiful') and will present it to his fellow citizens, none of whom will know what such an engine was meant for. The engine will be sent to a museum and classified among the objects of art belonging to this century. Some may claim that it was a sculpture, others that it was something else. All will say that it is a perfect specimen of 20th century art.
And so it will be for them; just as the Pyramids or a Negro fetish are works of art for us. They were not works of art for the men who built these forms-of-power, then. Forms remain, after the magician-engineer who uttered power through them is dead. Once the life-power is gone, they still retain something, viz, the crystallized and immobilized matrix of the energy which they released. This matrix has form; which form is really the path of the energy flowing therefrom. Just as a sea-shell is the immobilized path of the life which once grew that shell. The shell is beautiful; it was not so to the mollusk. It was something used for certain purposes. The living entity is dead; the form remains, the esthetical form.
All great esthetic Art-Forms are the remains of magical utterances. They are "sacred"; they were consecrated by the Power which they released. Any other Art-form made for esthetical purposes, to be enjoyed, to please etc., is either an imitation or deformation of such once living sacred forms-of-power. The esthetical emotion which they still radiate is but the memory; the associative remembrance of the living power that flowed through them; very much as the photograph of a loved one re-arouses in us emotions of love.
But let us not misunderstand the latter thought. It is not as individuals that we thus "remember" the magical power gone, though some individuals are of course infinitely more sensitive to it than others; it is rather as the human race. Humanity in us remembers; perhaps soon it may foresee. . . .
In other words the magical experience, the power-experience of earlier ages has been more or less forgotten by our present generations, and many preceding ones for centuries. Racial evolution has transformed the capacity for such an experience into another capacity; the esthetical capacity. Races evolve much as single human beings evolve. The child may have faculties and vital powers which transform themselves constantly as it grows. The vital and enthusiastic urge of the adolescent, soon becomes the mature self-complacency, the self-centered calm and quiet wisdom of the man of age charged with responsibilities and much disabused by life. Likewise humanity had powers in the 12th century which we find considerably modified five centuries later. If we go still further back to the early Aryans we may believe that certain forces, psychological and physiological, normally operative in them, have transformed themselves in the course of centuries and milleniums into new faculties, perhaps intellectual powers of a certain order, perhaps a certain mechanical instinct, and in general a sense of self-assertion.
In a recent interview Ford said:- "This is not an age of machines; it is an age of power." This is undoubtedly true. Machines are merely the outward expressions of an inner reality. We are entering AGAIN an age of power. Therefore we have got to build machines, engines to release that power assumed by our Will, individual and collective. Again?. . . yes. The Greco-Latin and the Christian European cycles have known relatively very little of what Power means, generally speaking. The old Egyptians knew; probably the Chaldean, the Magians or Iranians, the oldest Aryans, also. The last two racial cycles, in the Western hemisphere at least, have concentrated on the development of the formative power of the intellect. The Greek started, as far as we know. Europe followed. . . unfortunately perhaps the wrong kind of Greek intellectuality, the Aristotelian instead of the Platonic. Now intellect has grown to the extent of enabling us to build quite efficiently a certain kind of machine, to operate certain type of power. And on that basis we are beginning new age of power . . . in especially in America — not so much formative as operative power — a capital distinction.
But there are machines and machines, power and power. The old Egyptians had not developed the kind of intellect which flowers into an Einstein or a modern engineer. But they had developed another kind of mind which was able also to build engines; a different kind of engine attuned to a different type of power. We may call this power psychological, to differentiate it from the materialistic, molecular or atomic kind of energy we are most familiar with. But that may not really express the difference. And who knows if within a few centuries Americans will not also become adepts in the use of this old psychological power — for weal or woe! — and if the New Arts may not lead to such a consummation.
There are already signs pointing to the increased use of more or less workable thought-forms-of-power. The War propaganda is an example of such mental magic, of a sinister kind! Engines may be made of thought, or mental stuff. They may be made of sounds, of lights and colors. To every one of such materials corresponds a certain type of useable energy. A corresponding type of mind has to be developed to control (by becoming one with it) each of these types of energy.
The artist who is truly of today or tomorrow is one who handles power deliberately through his Art-forms; in fact one who is hardly conscious of being an artist, but rather of being a controller and evoker of energy. A very few begin to have such a consciousness, or at least glimpses of it. Others are working instinctively, as mere mediums of the Race-consciousness. The Race-to-be builds through them its new powers, prepares the ground for its new achievements and the adepts that are to come.
"Where is this new Art of power which is not what we usually call Art?" many will ask. Let us try and discover its hesitating beginnings.
IV. Constructivism and Sacred Art
The war and post-war periods saw the growth and development of a type of art-philosophy which is usually designated by the term 'expressionism.' Expressionism flowered mostly in Central Europe and is by no means entirely dead, at least as a general ideal. The expressionist is an artist or rather creator who believes that the outer world of forms is purely the outward manifestation of the consciousness of the ego. It is the ego that creates this outer world, that creates it according to his feelings, thoughts and peculiar desires and idiosyncrasies. At a time when humanity at large seemed to have gone crazy, individual egos attempted desperately to break away from this mob-humanity and its conventional world-creation, and to prove to themselves their reality and freedom by creating forms, nay more an outer universe which would be an individualistic universe, their own. Thus they would "express" their own selfhood, their own emotions by precipitating those into material artistic forms. The general mood being one of rebellion, of despair, or of frantic self-affirmation, the result was that expressionism produced essentially chaotic and often bewildering forms. Extreme individualism and subjectivism led to anarchy, to cryptic utterances which have no meaning save for the mind which invents its own hieroglyphs and does not care to impart any key to an interpretation of the symbols used.
Now higher mathematics also use complex sets of symbols. These symbols however do not pretend to "express" the selfhood of their inventors, but to interpret natural phenomena insofar as these can be reduced to universal laws and thus mastered. Of these sets of symbols there exist two kinds at present: some called algebras are sets of symbols which have proven their fitness and which actually enable us to interpret nature and its laws, and thus to use these laws for the release of power; — others are called algorisms which, though perfectly logical sets of symbols, yet do not seem to fit in with any particular operation of nature. In a sense they are thus 'expressionistic'; they are the individual creations of a mind which in these symbols manifested its own mentality, its own logical powers; yet apparently for no useful purpose. In other words they are 'forms' from which no power can be released . . . as yet. Perhaps some day they will be found to solve new unsuspected problems. Then these algorisms will become algebras. On them a new physics, a new science of matter may be built which will enable mankind to master new modes of energy: the supreme goal.
Algebras are forms-of-power of a mental type; algorisms are expressionistic forms. In a sense they are esthetical forms; the mathematician constantly uses the term 'elegant' to define simple and efficient demonstrations in which nothing but the most necessary steps are used. Algebras are also 'elegant' or esthetical but more than this, they work; the others do not. Why do they 'work'? Because they fit in with natural operations; because they are patterned as it were upon the rhythm of operation of natural powers, of life.
This last point is most important. You can only control power by becoming in tune with, in harmony with, synchronous with the power you wish to control. This is the great law of life. The human mind may either harmonize itself with nature, and certain natural energies in particular, or else it can short-circuit itself, self-center and glorify itself against the rhythm of natural forces.
What the philosopher or mystic calls a universal or cosmic mind is the mind of a man who, because he does not oppose the flow of life, because he has become positively one with cosmic power, has become the interpreter, the cognizer, the master of such cosmic power. In other words such a man has in fact become Life made significant; more than that, he has become an Agent of Life. Through him Life ACTS. He has become thus a true Magician, He feels the flow of Power through him, and he knows at once what type of form will be necessary to release such Power. A mathematician is confronted by a problem. If he is a great mathematician he senses at once the solution, he senses at once the course which the mental operation will take, the direction of mental energy we might say. He can almost immediately put down that equation (a form-of-power) which will release the power of understanding, which will work. Later he may have to finish up and make more precise details and intermediary steps; that is only the polishing of the form, of the intellectual engine.
The same is true in a certain type of music. A psychic emotional tension is felt; a certain desire to create. A release of power has become necessary. The true tone-producer will at once sense the direction of the flow of energy and synchronizing his own vibrations to it, will build the tone-form. (it may be an immediate improvisation in actual sounds, or a more abstract form in the shape of a musical score on paper) through which the power will be released.
In other words the form engine will call of the power which it shall release. materialize at the The human mind being nearly identical to a mid-wife though in another sense it is more than that, both fecundator and mid-wife.
Returning to the expressionistic artist we see now that he is one who does not deal with actual power, with the actualization of that power through a form which is almost inherent in the rhythm and mode of discharge of that very power. He is concerned with expressing his own ideas, his own self, as distinct from all other selves, from life in general. He is a rebel. He projects a form which is the reflection or shadow of his own characteristics, thus of his own peculiar difference. He is original. . . but not in the sense of being 'an origin' really, only in the sense of being different from anyone else, which is not 'original' but really 'conclusional'. The projected form is an end in itself. It says — "there I am; am I not interesting?"
The Art-form which is form-of-power does not say anything, it Does something to you. It strikes you or pervades you with the power it releases; whether it is for the best or the worst does not matter just now. At any rate it acts, it is a gesture of power.
The true expressionist however is one who does not delight in reflecting and glorifying his own idiosyncrasies, but who in some way is the mouthpiece of some greater Power and some greater Self. . . which means much the same in a sense; one who speaks for his Race, who speaks for humanity; one who has attuned himself with the Power of a whole cycle of life — in general who has identified himself with a Source of Power.
Such a one must be more than solely an expressionist; he must also be a constructivist. He must construct a form-of-power; he must be a builder, an engineer. The moment the expressionist thinks of building a form-of-power according to laws which are inherent in the material to be used, in the energy to be released, then he forgets his all-important self and personality, and begins to think in terms of life, in universal terms. He attunes himself to life, life-as-power and life-as-substance.
Now we have heard a great deal about constructivism as a school of art, especially in Russia. Its ideals appear to many as a reaction against expressionism. But in fact German expressionism. and Russian constructivism are two poles of the same thing; and both are incomplete and useless separately. As the two ideals merge, the Art of Power or Sacred Art is born.
The usual type of constructivism is an attempt at being very objective, very scientific, and at constructing forms which, while they have no necessary relation. with anything we see in nature, are meant to possess some sort of appeal which really is no other than magical. Such abstract or symbolical forms are to release a definite powerful emotional power. But what this power exactly is the constructivist does not seem to know very well. He knows only that the forms have to be definitely related to the material or substances out of which they are made. He knows that every substance has a certain characteristic property which is to be released through certain adequate forms. So that the saying has become known that: the material determines the form.
On the other hand, especially with regard to architecture, another important idea has become widespread, that: the function determines the form. And we see this principle adopted more or less consciously by engineers and architects as well. We see it conditioning the rise of a new decorative art, of a new style of furniture. These arts, architecture included, have become almost grouped into one vast category of Applied Arts. And with them the general principle of utility, of functional utility has become predominant. This means the discarding of all superfluous forms, of all ornaments (supposedly beautiful), of all that is not necessary. A building, a boat, a chair, a drawing room are to be elegant 'solutions' (just as mathematical demonstrations) of certain functional problems.
This brings these arts very close to life again; one with the rhythm of our modern living. It frees them from all superfluous 'esthetical' superfetation, from all artificial 'beauty' — leaving only inherent beauty which is identical with inherent necessity. It makes of them true forms-of-power; why? Because these forms condition the release of the powers of human living. Furniture can become a most essential form-of-power; many of our daily activities are conditioned by the furniture, the implements, the many objects we use; by the disposition of our apartments, our buildings, our cities.
City-planning, architecture, furniture-making, advertising, the fashioning of penholders, typewriters, telephone-apparatus etc. . . . all these are if you want Applied Arts; but these are among the most essential and most magical arts. To shun them under the term commercial is one of of the most patent absurdities which fortunately the new generation is beginning to forget. Commerce means exchange. Art-forms are forms of exchange; Art like life itself is exchange of power. Only in certain well-definable and not so frequent cases is the artist something else besides a com-merchant; when he is attempting to fecundate the today with the still unborn tomorrow, and therefore acts as a spiritual teacher. Then compassion takes the place of commerce, sacrificial action takes the place of exchange.
This leads us to the category of arts which, in contradistinction to the Applied Arts, we may call the Sacred Arts. While the former deal mostly with human activity in physical matter and are connected with bodily energies and the handling of social power (industry, commerce proper, civic life, political expressions) the latter are related mostly to the psychic and spiritual life of individuals or homogenous groups of co-believers or brotherhoods (in the real sense of the term). These Sacred Arts are essentially the arts which have for subject-matter the spiritualization of matter and the incarnation of spirit or rather Soul.
It is with regard to these arts that the constructivist has to learn what kind of power it is which Art may release, in its most spiritual implications. The reader who has seen us constantly comparing Art-forms with engines may lose his patience here and say: "but what is this mysterious power which your Art-forms-of-power release? How can we measure it? Show it to me?" Unfortunately modern humanity has become so materialistic and so convinced that thought is a secretion of the brain and soul a compound of reflexes, that it is very difficult to explain what Soul-force may be; or these, to us mysterious yet to old India very well catalogued, powers latent in the body of man, of which nerve-force or human magnetism, etc. . .etc. . . are but the grossest manifestations.
Travelers in the East may speak of the hypnotic power of chants they heard, chants which need to be performed at very definite time, hours, days, seasons. What these chants release is a kind of cosmic power which for us Westerns has no name. The Sufis who also used chants to bring about certain ecstatic states knew that sound may be power when proper forms-of-power, proper intonations and rhythms are used. Likewise dancing has been considered a powerful means of inducing certain psycho-physiological states of consciousness, of ecstasy, etc. A very ancient art, made over and renewed outwardly, is the art of motion picture. Forms in motion, the play of shadows are most powerful agents of power. In fact they may actually produce, or might if properly used, a sort of hypnotic condition. They, even now, influence powerfully the subconscious imagination of the human race. . . unfortunately so far! But then what is imagination? In old India the nature of it was very precisely described; it was shown to be the manifestation of a certain power or shakti.
Everything we do not know today we call emotional or psychic. We may therefore say that Art-forms are engines releasing emotional energy. We will be both right and wrong. Or rather we will not have said very much. Let us only refer to a previous essay where we differentiated personal emotions and Cosmic Motions. Both however are power incarnated. E-motion is power. Arts which are based on motion, like music, dancing, motion picture (we shall study poetry and drama in our next essay) are more specifically arts through which power is generated.
We spoke of the way in which furniture and architecture are influencing our living. However they do not so much generate power as condition the flow of it. They are canalizations rather than engines; because they are static manifestations. They market, they distribute, they transform, concentrate or waste power, power which was already at the human stage. But the true Sacred Arts, which are dynamic arts, differentiate Cosmic Energy into human power; they actually release or generate power. In their highest manifestations they are, as already said, Soul-enactments.
The constructivist usually denies the Soul; the expressionist but too often is concerned but with his own personal ephemeral ego or psyche. Therefore they are unable to study the Laws of operation of something or some Power which they deny at the outset. On the other hand the great genius may have an instinctive knowledge of such laws of Soul-operation and his work may be a true Sacred Form; but he is only an unconscious medium, and when he tries to explain what has happened to him. . . the result is most unfortunate!
Only he who is consciously a Soul (or as we said before who is a trans-volutionary being acting out sacramental deeds) can know and deliberately use Soul-force. Knowing the law and rhythm of such a force he will be able to use it at will, to build engines, forms-of-power which can release at will such a force. How will the force act upon other people? Obviously according to their capacity of response, of harmonization with the force. They may or may not be tuned up to the wavelength used by the Soul-radio. They may not get anything; or else they may interpret what they get in lower frequencies, and speak of their "emotional" excitement, of queer feelings, in their spines, or they may laugh hysterically, or feel angry, indignant etc. . .etc. . .
Whatever they feel or do not feel does not matter in the least. The Power which has been released, has been released. What this Power accomplishes, who knows? It may affect telluric elements just as much as human beings. Who knows what the songs of the birds do to the earth during spring? Who knows that they do not affect the growth of plants, the germination of seeds?
We know so very little about energy. We have managed to use some modes of it, more or less by chance. We have built steam engines and electrical engines. Yet we know nothing much concerning electricity. Likewise artists have built symphonies and sung songs and painted forms and danced about. Some of these performances have left a definite impression on successive generations; they seem to have touched some living throbbing spot in the human constitution. Then theories have been built out of the dissected forms from which the mysterious something seemed to radiate. The forms have been analyzed, laws deduced therefrom. Then problems of form have arisen, which artists tried to solve each in his own patented way. And beautiful forms have been made in ever-increasing number amidst much self-congratulation and excitement. And people say: how wonderful to be able to express oneself in Art! How thrilling it must be to compose! etc.
And so we have the esthetical attitude; we hear of the "inspired" artist, and Muse, and much non-sense. Art is a very simple operation. But humanity has lost the knowledge of the Science of Art, just as it has lost that of the Science of Soul. It revels in material excitement and sentimental feelings and is bound in forms; therefore it worships forms which it calls beautiful or esthetical. For those who begin to grasp the operation of Power which is Soul, there is nothing but engines which either work or do not work. But he who wishes to handle Power, must first BE Power.
Art as Release of Power