Art and the Spiritual Path
For example, one commenter said that "aesthetics is tied to attitude," as if a change in attitude will turn a strip mall into a cathedral, or Snoop Dogg into Howlin' Wolf, or Madonna into Mavis Staples. True, there are many modern objects of beauty, such as certain automobiles, but I think these are the exceptions. Most items of daily use are manufactured and used in the most unconscious manner, with no human maker and no human end.
Likewise, another commenter expressed the wholly relativistic view that beauty was "in the eye of the beholder" -- e.g., that it had no objective ground. He then didn't understand why this view was roundly rejected by subsequent commenters, as if it were just because he had had the temerity to disagree with Dear Leader's crazed cult members. But I never instructed anyone to have the view I have regarding art. Rather, it is a view that any spiritually or metaphysically serious person shares. Art is a revelation of the absolute, and cannot be understood in relative or secular terms.
Now, I wish I had had a more formal art education as a child, but as I have said, my brain didn't even really come fully on line until I was 29, so I've had to do a lot of catching up. My mother tried, but there was just no way I was going to listen to classical music at a time when the contemporary music scene was so extraordinarily rich. All forms of authentic American music were available on a single AM radio station -- R & B, soul, gospel, jazz, blues, country, and a rock music that still retained a close connection to these more pure forms of the soul's expression.
As I expressed it to a friend yesterday, I consider most any form of American roots music to be a sort of archetypal "revelation from the earth," which no single person invented or could have invented. At the time of the formal "birth" of rock music in 1955, Elvis Presley was thoroughly within this spiritual stream. He didn't actually "invent" anything, but was simply expressing his own spontaneous take on the primordial musical forms that surrounded him during his youth. And most of these forms were explicitly or implicitly spiritual.
I was always intensely drawn to music in such a way that it allowed me at an early age to become aware of the soul and to maintain a connection with it. What may have been distraction and dispersal for most was for me a means of vertical recollection, without which I'm not sure how I would have remained tethered to spirit. Despite the fact that it was merely "popular" music, the music of my childhood still had some connection to the uncorrupted soul. Today that connection has largely been severed, so I cannot imagine the spiritual impoverishment of someone who grows up today exposed to the raw musical sewage that passes for entertainment. Much of it is deeply corrupting, and one must generally travel to the fringes to find musicians who still make music for its traditional purpose.
Looking back, it is very clear to me that a visible darkness entered popular music in 1968, to be exact, for I could feel this foreign soul-world at the time, even if I couldn't have articulated it. This is when certain sinister or "demonic" elements began to be introduced wholesale into popular music. Not only could I sense this darkness, but I was repelled by it. Furthermore, I was repelled by the people who enjoyed this kind of music and couldn't distinguish it from the other kind. Even though I was hardly any kind of elitist, I could see that there was something infrahuman in these people. There was also a loss of innocence, nobility, and dignity, and a full identification with, and celebration of, one's animal nature.
While there had always been a dark element in blues, it was always expressed in an ironic or humorous manner. It wasn't a celebration of it, much less a denial of its existence. Likewise, there was always a tragic component in folk music that reflected the human condition -- violence, death, heartbreak -- but it conveyed a kind of sweet and beautiful sadness about life.
I am quite sure that my view has nothing in common with the conservative religious person who cannot make subtle aesthetic distinctions in the realm of rock music, but lumps it all together as "satanic." I still enjoy rock music, but only when it conveys light and spirit, not darkness and mere barbarism. In fact, if you look at footnote 6 on page 298 of my book, you can see all of the various musical influences I wove into the epilogue. The list is quite diverse and sometimes rather random, and could have included hundreds more. But the whole idea was twofold.
First, neo-traditionalist that I am, I wanted to show that contemporary art is not a total loss, and that -- as Will has pointed out -- there was definitely a liberating and life-affirming energy that was unleashed in the 1960's. It's just that this energy was hijacked and co-opted by the left, when in fact, nothing could be more at odds with human liberation than leftism. Furthermore, much of the music of the 1960's was in the service of a spirit of transcendence, however misguided at times. I certainly felt that, and it was a formative influence on my life. I always listened to music with a view toward transcendence.
Consider Bob Dylan, for example, who was first and foremost a traditionalist who submitted himself with absolute fidelity to an existing musical "revelation" of the earth -- i.e., folk music -- before he ever presumed to use it as a template to take it in a new direction. Because he "fell in love" with the form, he wouldn't have done anything to harm or trivialize it. It was the left that attempted to seize folk music for their own crassly political ends, which Dylan soon saw through. He parted ways with them in 1965, and the left still doesn't realize it. He took his music in the opposite direction -- toward an individualistic exploration of consciousness itself, toward an inner liberation which is completely at odds with the left's collective program of forced political "enlightenment" from above.
Likewise, long before the Rolling Stones became the pathetic creatures they are, they started off with absolute fidelity to a traditional "revelation," American blues. And virtually all of the great soul singers came directly out of the black church, which is why their music retains the lineaments of its celestial provenance.
Frithjof Schuon had many important things to say about the critical role of art in the spiritual life. The real purpose of art is not merely to "to induce aesthetic emotions, but to transmit, together with these, a more or less direct spiritual message..." That is, its goal is to transfer "Substance, which is both one and inexhaustible, into the world of accident and to bring the accidental consciousness back to Substance." One might add that it "transposes Being to the world of existence, of action or of becoming, or that it transposes in a certain way the Infinite to the world of the finite, or Essence to the world of forms; it thereby suggests a continuity proceeding from the one to the other, a way starting from appearance or accident and opening onto Substance or its celestial reverberations."
Furthermore, "Art has a function that is both magical and spiritual: magical, it renders present principles, powers and also things that it attracts by virtue of a 'sympathetic magic'; spiritual, it exteriorizes truths and beauties in view of our interiorization, of our return to the 'kingdom of God that is within you.' The Principle becomes manifestation so that manifestation might rebecome the Principle, or so that the 'I' might return to the Self; or simply, so that the human soul might, through given phenomena, make contact with the heavenly archetypes, and thereby with its own archetype."
While genuine art allows spirit to radiate through the phenomena, a profane and despiritualized art "exists only for man and by that very fact betrays him." And that is why art is so important. A merely human "art for art's sake" eases the way for man to sink even further beneath himself, into the circular maze of unredeemed phenomena.