Art and the Spiritual Dimension
Watkins Body Mind Spirit Issue 50
Part One of an interview with Eckhart Tolle by Alexander de Cadenet
Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the founding fathers of the Transcendentalism movement, wrote in his essay Art: “Art should exhilarate, and throw down the walls of circumstance on every side, awakening in the beholder the same sense of universal relation and power which the work evinced in the artist, and its highest effect is to create new artists”.
For me, this statement defines the work of Eckhart Tolle. His work, through his books, talks, web TV channel, retreats, recently launched foundation and also his photography, is awakening millions of people to life within the spiritual dimension and indeed to become ‘spiritual artists’ themselves. Eckhart’s teachings offer access to the macro energy source that pervades the world and is responsible for the creation of all things, including all the stars and space that exist in the universe! Eckhart has called this energy field ‘The Great Artist’, as he sees that at its core is creativity and how things manifest into material existence.
Unlike many teachers, he lowers a ladder down to enable everyone to ascend; it’s not a competitive enterprise, it’s inclusive, for the benefit of all. That is why he wrote The Power of Now as ‘A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment’ - to awaken us towards transcending our ego-based state of consciousness and to live within a more deeply connected and creative state of reality.
I was invited to meet with Eckhart in Vancouver in September 2016 to explore his perspective on the relationship between art and the spiritual dimension and also how this relates to Eckhart’s own practice as a spiritual teacher and amateur photographer. It was a joyful, life-affirming encounter, filled with profound insights into the sacred mysteries of creativity.
What follows is the first of a two-part interview featuring extracts from the interview with Eckhart and categorized into the various themes explored: Beauty, Art as a Portal, What Makes a ‘Classic’, Eckhart’s Favourite Visual Artists.
AdeC: In The Power of Now, in the section entitled ‘Beauty arises in the stillness of your presence’, you write: “Because we live in such a mind-dominated culture, most modern art, architecture, music and literature are devoid of beauty, of inner essence, with very few exceptions…”
ET: I find that a lot of the time, modern art and architecture do not have that essential essence that is sometimes called ‘Beauty’, but the word itself may be limiting because it could give the misleading impression of something that’s only externally pleasing to the eye. There is ‘Beauty’ in a work of art, a picture or painting; in architecture or music, when something else shines through, something that is not part of the world of sense perception.
‘Beauty’ at first sight, seems to be associated with sense perceptions, because you either look at it or you listen to it. However, it would be very limiting to believe that beauty is just something that is pleasant to look at or pleasant to listen to.
Beauty arises when something more essential or deeper, something that underlies the world of sense perception shines through. It is what I call the ‘underlying Intelligence’ that is the organizing principle behind the world of form, a hidden harmony, as it were.
To use more traditional language, it belongs to the realm of the transcendent, the realm of the divine, if you want to call it that. When that shines through, then true beauty arises. But you can only become aware of it if you have at least some degree of access to that dimension within yourself, otherwise it simply does not exist for you. Beauty is something that is intrinsically part of your consciousness. In other words, if there is nobody there to see or hear it, there is no beauty.
You also have beauty everywhere in nature, and primarily this is where I personally connect with it often. Beauty can also be created by humans, artists, composers etc., but only by those who have access within themselves to a deeper dimension that transcends the stream of thinking and conceptualization. Whether it’s an object or a living thing - a tree, a flower, an animal or a human being- beauty arises when that transcendent dimension shines through, but of course it depends for its existence on a perceiving consciousness. Ultimately beauty is an outer reflection in the world of form of your innermost essence, which is formless. Spiritual realization is to sense that essence within yourself. Nature is naturally connected with it. It’s kind of rooted in ‘Being’. That’s its natural state.
When you look at a tree and don’t impose mental labels on it, you can sense a stillness, a deep rootedness. The tree is not only deeply rooted in the soil, but more fundamentally it is rooted in ‘Being’. Even when you look at a dog there’s a connection to something deeper. It does not derive its identity, its sense of self from the mind. It has no conceptual identity whatsoever. The tree doesn’t think of itself as a tree and the dog has no problem with self-esteem, because it doesn’t have a self-image. It’s more directly rooted in Being and that shines through somehow.
Look into the eyes of an animal; there you have something shining through that’s also beauty. So, the perceiver is an essential part of that which is being perceived. They become a single phenomenon.
Art as a Portal
AdeC: Do you feel it’s the responsibility of artists to be able to create a portal, not just for themselves or to allow those who already perceive, but also a portal which encourages those who are not perceiving so deeply, to be able to go through?
ET: That’s right. That’s one of the main functions of art.
If I can perceive beauty everywhere in nature, I don’t even really need art anymore because art is everywhere. But there are many humans who cannot perceive it, although they may be able to open up that portal within themselves by contemplating art. Both art and nature can serve as portals into the transcendent dimension, your essence identity. The artist has access to that dimension in the act of creation.
There are many people who began to look more consciously at the sky and the light as a result of appreciating the luminous paintings of Turner. The same process operates when writing becomes truly creative and so the words become imbued with beauty and power. It happened to me when I wrote the books. Of course, the mind is being used - you have to formulate words - but there is something deeper that is beyond words, and that’s the source of all inspiration.
AdeC: So you’re like a conduit?
ET: Yes! And that uses your mind - and that’s fine. I sometimes wonder why I went to university as I don’t even remember any of the stuff I learned there. But there might have been something useful about it, as it sharpened the mind as an instrument. Knowledge or a sharp mind, though, does not amount to creativity. An intellectual may well become an art or literature critic but the majority of intellectuals are unable to create anything themselves. In many cases they have far greater knowledge than the artist him or herself. There have been great artists who were not particularly highly educated. It’s not necessary. What is necessary is that they have access to that inner essence that is beyond the mind.
What makes a ‘Classic’
ET: A lot the popular music that you hear these days is just loud noise. It doesn’t reflect a deeper reality. It’s in the charts today and promptly forgotten a few weeks later, to be replaced by some other noise. And then, very rarely, you get one piece of music that remains. It’s not only played for a few weeks, it’s played the following year, and you hear it again and again. Five years later, people still love it; twenty years later they still love it. It has a timeless quality.
Those songs become ‘classics’ and people respond to them without knowing why. They have that ‘essence’. It’s very hard though, because you can’t really describe exactly what that essence is - you need to feel it. Whether it’s in music, literature, or great art, there is something in humans that recognizes that creative essence, and it can put them in touch, at least to some degree, with their own inner essence. Listen again to the Beatles classic ‘Let it Be’ and you will know what I mean. It is timeless. It embodies beauty and power as well as wisdom.
Eckhart’s Favourite Visual Artists
AdeC: Have you had any experience with a piece of art, where you feel that this artwork is making a contribution as a portal for people to go through? Can you give me any examples of when art has really moved you in that way - specifically visual art?
ET: Well, as I mentioned, there is Turner, definitely, because he comes very close to painting the formless by taking as his subject matter the luminous spaciousness of the sky. Also, I’m attracted to Eastern - Japanese and Chinese – paintings, which usually depict nature. However, in the great works of Asian art, about 75% of the painting is empty space. Vast spaciousness. So, if you’re not just glancing at it for a few seconds, but really stay with it and contemplate it, it can enable you to have access within yourself to what I call ‘stillness’ or ‘spaciousness’, because this is what the painting emanates.
If you only approach it with the thinking mind, you will be unaware of that. You would say: “Well, it’s a little boring to look at”. “Not much there”.
I also love the Impressionist paintings of nature, landscapes and so on.
The interesting thing about these is that they often show you a landscape that is not particularly spectacular. Nor are the artists interested in the fine details, but rather in the invisible ‘soul presence’ in nature. They make the invisible visible, so to speak. Or take the picture of a chair by Van Gogh.
Now, this is very interesting. I mean, one would have thought: “Why does the artist not look for a beautiful chair, maybe some valuable antique chair?” Or, “Why does that other artist not paint a spectacular landscape rather than an unremarkable one?” Why did Van Gogh choose this old cheap chair? The answer is, that in the creative state, the artist sees the extraordinary in the ordinary. He sees the presence or ‘Beingness’ of the chair, or the divine spirit or presence that animates nature.
AdeC: Do you think the artist was conscious of that himself?
ET: Perhaps not on a conceptual level. The artist just looked and became still and then he felt the presence of the chair through his own presence.
Something else came into the painting that is the inner essence of the artist. This fusion of inner and outer creates great art.
Conceptual art doesn’t speak to me so much. It seems to exist in a mental realm, the realm that wants to create something ‘clever’ or something that you could think about. It might be interesting, but it doesn’t have that deeper essence.
AdeC: Morris Graves, the Seattle artist said: “My first interest is in being and along the way I am an artist”. So ‘Being’ is the essential life beyond one’s own conditioning and self-narrative about one’s self. How would you relate to that statement?
ET: Well I completely agree. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.
AdeC: Yes, I thought you might! (Laughter)
AdeC: And can an experience of an artwork ‘awaken’ others?
ET: It can trigger or contribute to the awakening process. True art can play an important part in the awakening of humanity.
Part Two of the interview (Issue 50, May 2017), will explore Eckhart’s perspective on the following themes: Eckhart’s Photographs: The Sky - The Dimension of Spaciousness, Looking at the Stars at Night, Yves Klein’s The Void, The Intersection Between Form and the Formless, The Underlying Harmony, and Meditation and Making Art.
MEET THE AUTHORS:
ECKHART TOLLE’S profound yet simple teachings have helped countless people throughout the world fi inner peace and greater fulfilment in their lives. At the core of the teachings lies the transformation of consciousness, a spiritual awakening that he sees as the next step in human evolution. His books, The Power of Now and the highly acclaimed follow- up A New Earth are two of the best-selling Mind, Body, Spirit books in the world. A pioneer in using technology to disseminate his teachings, Eckhart gives monthly talks, live meditations and answers questions from viewers through EckhartTolleTV.com
ALEXANDER DE CADENET is an artist working primarily with sculpture, photography and painting. His artworks explore philosophical and spiritual themes which often combine a mischievous, humorous tone with deeper, more profound insights. In 2017, he set up The Awakened Artists Group, inspired by a meeting with Eckhart Tolle, which is a platform for artists to share the spiritual dimension of their art practice. On the web: alexanderdecadenet.com
This article first appeared in Watkins Mind Body Spirit Magazine Issue 50, Summer 2017.