Egô de technên ou kalô, ho an ê alogon pragma.” Plato, Gorgias 465A12

We are peculiar people. I say this with reference to the fact that whereas almost all other peoples have called their theory of art or expression a “rhetoric” and have thought of art as a kind of knowledge, we have invented an “aesthetic” and think of art as a kind of feeling.

The Greek original of the word “aesthetic” means perception by the senses, especially by feeling. Aesthetic experience is a faculty that we share with animals and vegetables, and is irrational. The “aesthetic soul” is that part of our psychic makeup that “senses” things and reacts to them: in other words, the “sentimental” part of us. To identify our approach to art with the pursuit of these reactions is not to make art “fine” but to apply it only to the life of pleasure and to disconnect it from the active and contemplative lives.

Our word “aesthetic”, then, takes for granted what is now commonly assumed, viz. that art is evoked by, and has for its end to express and again evoke, emotions. In this connection, Alfred North Whitehead has remarked that “it was a tremendous discovery, how to excite emotions for their own sake.”3 We have gone on to invent a science of our likes and dislikes, a “science of the soul”, psychology, and have substituted psychological explanations for the traditional conception of art as an intellectual virtue and of beauty as pertaining to knowledge.4 Our current resentment of meaning in art is as strong as the word “aesthetic” implies. When we speak of a work of art as “significant” we try to forget that this word can only be used with a following of that expression can be significant only of some thesis that was to be expressed, and we overlook that whatever does not mean something is literally insignificant. If, indeed, the whole end of art were “to express emotion”, then the degree of our emotional reaction would be the measure of beauty and all judgement would be subjective, for there can be no disputing about tastes. It should be remembered that a reaction is an “affection”, and every affection a passion, that is, something passively suffered or undergone, and not—as in the operation of judgement—an activity on our part.5 To equate the love of art with a love of fine sensations is to make of works of art a kind of aphrodisiac. The words “disinterested aesthetic contemplation” are a contradiction in terms and a pure nonsense.

“Rhetoric”, of which the Greek original means skill in public speaking, implies, on the other hand, a theory of art as the effective expression of theses. There is a very wide difference between what is said for effect, and what is said or made to be effective, and must work, or would not have been worth saying or making. It is true that there is a so-called rhetoric of the production of “effects”, just as there is a so-called poetry that consists only of emotive words, and a sort of painting that is merely spectacular; but this kind of eloquence that makes use of figures for their own sake, or merely to display the artist, or to betray the truth in courts of law, is not properly a rhetoric, but a sophistic, or art of flattery. By “rhetoric” we mean, with Plato and Aristotle, “the art of giving effectiveness to truth”.6 My thesis will be, then, that if we propose to use or understand any works of art (with the possible exception of contemporary works, which may be “unintelligible”7), we ought to abandon the term “aesthetic” in its present application and return to “rhetoric”, Quintilian’s “bene dicendi scientia.”

It may be objected by those for whom art is not a language but a spectacle that rhetoric has primarily to do with verbal eloquence and not with the life of works of art in general. I am not sure that even such objectors would really agree to describe their own works as dumb or ineloquent. But however this may be, we must affirm that the principles of art are not altered by the variety of the material in which the artist works—materials such as vibrant air in the case of music or poetry, human flesh on the stage, or stone, metal, clay in architecture, sculpture, and pottery. Nor can one material be called more beautiful than another; you cannot make a better sword of gold than of steel. Indeed, the material as such, being relatively formless, is relatively ugly. Art implies a transformation of the material, the impression of a new form on material that had been more or less formless; and it is precisely in this sense that the creation of the world from a completely formless matter is called a “work of adornment”.

There are good reasons for the fact that the theory of art has generally been stated in terms of the spoken (or secondarily, written) word. It is, in the first place, “by a word conceived in intellect” that the artist, whether human or divine, works.8 Again, those whose own art was, like mine, verbal, naturally discussed the art of verbal expression, while those who worked in other materials were not also necessarily expert in “logical” formulation. And finally, the art of speaking can be better understood by all than could the art of, let us say, the potter, because all men make use of speech (whether rhetorically, to communicate a meaning, or sophistically, to exhibit themselves), while relatively few are workers in clay.

All our sources are conscious of the fundamental identity of all the arts. Plato, for example, remarks that “the expert, who is intent upon the best when he speaks, will surely not speak at random, but with an end in view; he is just like all those other artists, the painters, builders, shipwrights, etc.”;9 and again, “the productions of all arts are kinds of poetry, and their craftsmen are all poets”10, in the broad sense of the word. “Demiurge” (dêmiourgos) and “technician” (technitês) are the ordinary Greek words for “artist” (artifex), and under these headings Plato includes not only poets, painters, and musicians, but also archers, weavers, embroiderers, potters, carpenters, sculptors, farmers, doctors, hunters, and above all those whose art is government, only making a distinction between creation (dêmiourgia) and mere labor (cheirourgia), art (technê) and artless industry (atechnos tribê).11 All these artists, insofar as they are really makers and not merely industrious, insofar as they are musical and therefore wise and good, and insofar as they are in possession of their art (entechnos, cf. entheos) and governed by it, are infallible.12 The primary meaning of the word sophia, “wisdom”, is that of “skill”, just as Sanskrit kausalam is “skill” of any kind, whether in making, doing, or knowing.

Now what are all these arts for? Always and only to supply a real or an imagined need or deficiency on the part of the human patron, for whom as the collective consumer the artist works.13 When he is working for himself, the artist as a human being is also a consumer. The necessities to be served by art may appear to be material or spiritual, but as Plato insists, it is one and the same art–or a combination of both arts, practical and philosophical—that must serve both body and soul if it is to be admitted in the ideal City.14 We shall see presently that to propose to serve the two ends separately is the peculiar symptom of our modern “heartlessness”. Our distinction of “fine” from “applied” art (ridiculous, because the fine art itself is applied to giving pleasure) is as though “not by bread alone”15 had meant “by cake” for the elite that go to exhibitions and “bread alone” for the majority and usually for all. Plato’s music and gymnastics, which correspond to what we seem to intend by “fine” and “applied” art (since one is for the soul and the other for the body), are never divorced in his theory of education; to follow one alone leads to effeminacy, to follow only the other, to brutality; the tender artist is no more a man than the tough athlete; music must be realized in bodily graces, and physical power should be exercised only in measured, not in violent motions.16

It would be superfluous to explain what are the material necessities to be served by art: we need only remember that a censorship of what ought or ought not to be made at all should correspond to our knowledge of what is good or bad for us. It is clear that a wise government, even a government of the free by the free, cannot permit the manufacture and sale of products that are necessarily injurious, however profitable such manufacture may be to those whose interest it is to sell, but must insist upon those standards of living to secure which was once the function of the guilds and of the individual artist “inclined by justice, which rectifies the will, to do his work faithfully”.17

As for the spiritual ends of the arts, what Plato says is that we are endowed by the gods with vision and hearing, and harmony “was given by the Muses to him that can use them intellectually (meta nou), not as an aid to irrational pleasure (hêdonê alogos), as is nowadays supposed, but to assist the soul’s interior revolution, to restore it to order and concord with itself. And because of the want of measure and lack of graces in most of us, rhythm was given us by the same gods for the same ends”;18 and that while the passion (pathê) evoked by a composition of sounds “furnishes a pleasure of the senses (hêdonê) to the unintelligent, it (the composition) bestows on the intelligent that hearts ease that is induced by the imitation of the divine harmony produced in mortal motions”.19 This last delight or gladness that is experienced when we partake of the feast of reason, which is also a communion, is not a passion but an ecstasy, a going out of ourselves and being in the spirit: a condition insusceptible of analysis in terms of the pleasure or pain that can be felt by sensitive bodies or souls.

The soulful or sentimental self enjoys itself in the aesthetic surfaces of natural or artificial things, to which it is akin; the intellectual or spiritual self enjoys their order and is nourished by what in them is akin to it. The spirit is much rather a fastidious than a sensitive entity; it is not the physical qualities of things, but what is called their scent or flavor, for example “the picture not in the colors”, or “the unheard music”, not a sensible shape but an intelligible form, that it tastes. Plato’s “hearts ease” is the same as that “intellectual beatitude” which Indian rhetoric sees in the “tasting of the flavor” of a work of art, an immediate experience, and congeneric with the tasting of God.20

This is, then, by no means an aesthetic or psychological experience but implies what Plato and Aristotle call a katharsis, and a “defeat of the sensations of pleasure” or pain.21 The Platonic katharsis implies an ecstasy, or “standing aside” of the energetic, spiritual, and imperturbable self from the passive, aesthetic, and natural self, a “being out of oneself” that is a being “in one’s right mind” and real Self, that “insistence” that Plato has in mind when he “would be born again in beauty inwardly”, and calls this a sufficient prayer.22

Plato rebukes his much beloved Homer for attributing to the gods and heroes all too human passions, and for the skilful imitations of these passions that are so well calculated to arouse our own “sympathies”.23 The katharsis of Plato’s City is to be effected not by such exhibitions as this, but by the banishment of artists who allow themselves to imitate all sorts of things, however shameful. Our own novelists and biographers would have been the first to go, while among modern poets it is not easy to think of any but William Morris of whom Plato could have heartily approved.

The katharsis of the City parallels that of the individual; the emotions are traditionally connected with the organs of evacuation, precisely because the emotions are waste products. It is difficult to be sure of the exact meaning of Aristotle’s better-known definition, in which tragedy “by its imitation of pity and fear effects a katharsis from these and like passions”24, though it is clear that for him too the purification is from the passions (pathêmata); we must bear in mind that, for Aristotle, tragedy is still essentially a representation of actions, and not of character. It is certainly not a periodical “outlet” of—that is to say, indulgence in—our “pent-up” emotions that can bring about an emancipation from them; such an outlet, like a drunkard’s bout, can be only a temporary satiation.25 In what Plato calls with approval the “more austere” kind of poetry, we are presumed to be enjoying a feast of reason rather than a “breakfast” of sensations. His katharsis is an ecstasy or liberation of the “immortal soul” from the affections of the “mortal”, a conception of emancipation that is closely paralleled in the Indian texts in which liberation is realized by a process of “shaking off one’s bodies”.26 The reader or spectator of the imitation of a “myth” is to be rapt away from his habitual and passable personality and, just as in all other sacrificial rituals, becomes a god for the duration of the rite and only returns to himself when the rite is relinquished, when the epiphany is at an end and the curtain falls. We must remember that all artistic operations were originally rites, and that the purpose of the rite (as the word teletê implies) is to sacrifice the old and to bring into being a new and more perfect man.

We can well imagine, then, what Plato, stating a philosophy of art that is not “his own” but intrinsic to the Philosophia Perennis, would have thought of our aesthetic interpretations and of our contention that the last end of art is simply to please. For, as he says, “ornament, painting, and music made only to give pleasure” are just “toys”.27 The “lover of art”, in other words, is a “playboy”. It is admitted that a majority of men judge works of art by the pleasure they afford; but rather than sink to such a level, Socrates says no, “not even if all the oxen and horses and animals in the world, by their pursuit of pleasure, proclaim that such is the criterion.”28 The kind of music of which he approves is not a multifarious and changeable but a canonical music;29 not the sound of “polyharmonic” instruments, but the simple music (haplotês) of the lyre accompanied by chanting “deliberately designed to produce in the soul that symphony of which we have been speaking”;30 not the music of Marsyas the Satyr, but that of Apollo.31

All the arts, without exception, are imitative. The work of art can only be judged as such (and independently of its “value”) by the degree to which the model has been correctly represented. The beauty of the work is proportionate to its accuracy (orthotês = integritas sive perfectio), or truth (alêtheia = veritas). In other words, the artist’s judgement of his own work by the criterion of art is a criticism based upon the proportion of essential to actual form, paradigm to image. “Imitation” (mimêsis), a word that can be as easily misunderstood as St. Thomas Aquinas’s “Art is the imitation of Nature in her manner of operation”32, can be mistaken to mean that that is the best art that is “truest to nature”, as we now use the word in its most limited sense, with reference not to “Mother Nature”, Natura naturans, Creatrix Universalis, Deus, but to whatever is presented by our own immediate and natural environment, whether visually or otherwise accessible to observation (aisthêsis). In this connection it is important not to overlook that the delineation of character (êthos) in literature and painting is, just as much as the representation of the looking-glass image of a physiognomy, an empirical and realistic procedure, dependent on observation. St. Thomas’s “Nature”, on the other hand, is that Nature “to find which”, as Meister Eckhart says, “all her forms must be shattered”.

The imitation or “representation” of a model (even a “presented” model) involves, indeed, a likeness (homoia, similitudo, Skr. sâdrsya), but hardly what we usually mean by “verisimilitude” (homoiotês). What is traditionally meant by “likeness” is not a copy but an image akin (sungenês) and “equal” (isos) to its model; in other words, a natural and “adequate” symbol of its referent. The representation of a man, for example, must really correspond to the idea of the man, but must not look so like him as to deceive the eye; for the work of art, as regards its form, is a mind-made thing and aims at the mind, but an illusion is no more intelligible than the natural object it mimics. The plaster cast of a man will not be a work of art, but the representation of a man on wheels where verisimilitude would have required feet may be an entirely adequate “imitation” well and truly made.33

It is with perfect right that the mathematician speaks of a “beautiful equation” and feels for it what we feel about “art”.34 The beauty of the admirable equation is the attractive aspect of its simplicity. It is a single form that is the form of many different things. In the same way Beauty absolutely is the equation that is the single form of all things, which are themselves beautiful to the extent that they participate in the simplicity of their source. “The beauty of the straight line and the circle, and the plane and solid figures formed from these ... is not, like that of other things, relative, but always absolutely beautiful.”35 Now we know that Plato, who says this, is always praising what is ancient and deprecating innovations (of which the causes are, in the strictest and worst sense of the word, aesthetic), and that he ranks the formal and canonical arts of Egypt far above the humanistic Greek art that he saw coming into fashion.36 The kind of art that Plato endorsed was, then, precisely what we know as Greek Geometric art. We must not think that it would have been primarily for its decorative values that Plato must have admired this kind of “primitive” art, but for its truth or accuracy, because of which it has the kind of beauty that is universal and invariable, its equations being “akin” to the First Principles of which the myths and mysteries, related or enacted, are imitations in other kinds of material. The forms of the simplest and severest kinds of art, the synoptic kind of art that we call “primitive”, are the natural language of all traditional philosophy; and it is for this very reason that Plato’s dialectic makes continual use of figures of speech, which are really figures of thought.

Plato knew as well as the Scholastic philosophers that the artist as such has no moral responsibilities, and can sin as an artist only if he fails to consider the sole good of the work to be done, whatever it may be.37 But, like Cicero, Plato also knows that “though he is an artist, he is nevertheless a man”38 and, if a free man, responsible as such for whatever it may be that he undertakes to make; a man who, if he represents what ought not to be represented and brings into being things unworthy of free men, should be punished, or at the least restrained or exiled like any other criminal or madman. It is precisely those poets or other artists who imitate anything and everything, and are not ashamed to represent or even “idealize” things essentially base, that Plato, without respect for their abilities, however great, would banish from the society of rational men, “lest from the imitation of shameful things men should imbibe their actuality”,39 that is to say, for the same reasons that we in moments of sanity (sôphrosunê) see fit to condemn the exhibition of gangster films in which the villain is made a hero, or agree to forbid the manufacture of even the most skilfully adulterated foods.

If we dare not ask with Plato “imitations of what sort of life?” and “whether of the appearance or the reality, the phantasm or the truth?”40 it is because we are no longer sure what kind of life it is that we ought for our own good and happiness to imitate, and are for the most part convinced that no one knows or can know the final truth about anything: we only know what we “approve” of, i.e., what we like to do or think, and we desire a freedom to do and think what we like more than we desire a freedom from error. Our educational systems are chaotic because we are not agreed for what to educate, if not for self-expression. But all tradition is agreed as to what kind of models are to be imitated: “The city can never otherwise be happy unless it is designed by those painters who follow a divine original”;41 “The crafts such as building and carpentry ... take their principles from that realm and from the thinking there”;42 “Lo, make all things in accordance with the pattern that was shown thee upon the mount”;43 “It is in imitation (anukrti) of the divine forms that any human form (silpa) is invented here”;44 “There is this divine harp, to be sure; this human harp comes into being in its likeness” (tad anukrti);45 “We must do what the Gods did first.”46 This is the “imitation of Nature in her manner of operation”, and, like the first creation, the imitation of an intelligible, not a perceptible model.

But such an imitation of the divine principles is only possible if we have known them “as they are”, for if we have not ourselves seen them, our mimetic iconography, based upon opinion, will be at fault; we cannot know the reflection of anything unless we know itself.47 It is the basis of Plato’s criticism of naturalistic poets and painters that they know nothing of the reality but only the appearances of things, for which their vision is overkeen; their imitations are not of the divine originals, but are only copies of copies.48 And seeing that God alone is truly beautiful, and all other beauty is by participation, it is only a work of art that has been wrought, in its kind (idea) and its significance (dunamis), after an eternal model, that can be called beautiful.49 And since the eternal and intelligible models are supersensual and invisible, it is evidently “not by observation” but in contemplation that they must be known.50 Two acts, then, one of contemplation and one of operation, are necessary to the production of any work of art.51

And now as to the judgement of the work of art, first by the criterion of art, and second with respect to its human value. As we have already seen, it is not by our reactions, pleasurable or otherwise, but by its perfect accuracy, beauty, or perfection, or truth—in other words, by the equality or proportion of the image to its model—that a work of art can be judged as such. That is to consider only the good of the work to be done, the business of the artist. But we have also to consider the good of the man for whom the work is done, whether this “consumer” (chrômenos) be the artist himself or some other patron.52 This man judges in another way, not, or not only, by this truth or accuracy, but by the artefact's utility or aptitude (ôpheleia) to serve the purpose of its original intention (boulêsis), viz. the need (endeia) that was the first and is also the last cause of the work. Accuracy and aptitude together make the “wholesomeness” (hugieinon) of the work that is its ultimaterightness (orthotês).53 The distinction of beauty from utility is logical, not real (in re).

So when taste has been rejected as a criterion in art, Plato’s Stranger sums up thus, “The judge of anything that has been made (poiêma) must know its essence—what its intention (boulêsis) is and what the real thing of which it is an image—or else will hardly be able to diagnose whether it hits or misses the mark of its intention.” And again, “The expert critic of any image, whether in painting, music, or any other art, must know three things, what was the archetype, and in each case whether it was correctly and whether well made ... whether the representation was good (kalon) or not.”54 The complete judgement, made by the whole man, is as to whether the thing under consideration has been both truly and well made. It is only “by the mob that the beautiful and the just are rent apart”,55 by the mob, shall we say, of “aesthetes”, the men who “know what they like”?

Of the two judgements, respectively by art and by value, the first only establishes the existence of the object as a true work of art and not a falsification (pseudos) of its archetype: it is a judgement normally made by the artist before he can allow the work to leave his shop, and so a judgement that is really presupposed when we as patrons or consumers propose to evaluate the work. It is only under certain conditions, and typically those of modern manufacture and salesmanship, that it becomes necessary for the patron or consumer to ask whether the object he has commissioned or proposes to buy is really a true work of art. Under normal conditions, where making is a vocation and the artist is disposed and free to consider nothing but the good of the work to be done, it is superfluous to ask, Is this a “true” work of art? When, however, the question must be asked, or if we wish to ask it in order to understand completely the genesis of the work, then the grounds of our judgement in this respect will be the same as for the original artist; we must know of what the work is intended to remind us, and whether it is equal to (is an “adequate symbol” of) this content, or by want of truth betrays its paradigm. In any case, when this judgement has been made, or is taken for granted, we can proceed to ask whether or not the work has a value for us, to ask whether it will serve our needs. If we are whole men, not such as live by bread alone, the question will be asked with respect to spiritual and physical needs to be satisfied together; we shall ask whether the model has been well chosen, and whether it has been applied to the material in such a way as to serve our immediate need; in other words, What does it say? and Will it work? If we have asked for a bread that will support the whole man, and receive however fine a stone, we are not morally, though we may be legally, bound to “pay the piper.” All our efforts to obey the Devil and “command this stone that it be made bread” are doomed to failure.

It is one of Plato’s virtues, and that of all traditional doctrine about art, that “value” is never taken to mean an exclusively spiritual or exclusively physical value. It is neither advantageous, nor altogether possible, to separate these values, making some things sacred and others profane: the highest wisdom must be “mixed”56 with practical knowledge, the contemplative life combined with the active. The pleasures that pertain to these lives are altogether legitimate, and it is only those pleasures that are irrational, bestial, and in the worst sense of the words seductive and distracting that are to be excluded. Plato’s music and gymnastics, which correspond to our culture and physical training, are not alternative curricula, but essential parts of one and the same education.57 Philosophy is the highest form of music (culture), but the philosopher who has escaped from the cave must return to it to participate in the everyday life of the world and, quite literally, play the game.58 Plato’s criterion of “wholesomeness” implies that nothing ought to be made, nothing can be really worth having, that is not at the same time correct or true or formal or beautiful (whichever word you prefer) and adapted to good use.

For, to state the Platonic doctrine in more familiar words, “It is written that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God, ... that bread which came down from heaven”,59 that is, not by mere utilities but also by those “divine realities” and “causal beauty” with which the wholesome works of art are informed, so that they also live and speak. It is just to the extent that we try to live by bread alone and by all the other insignificant utilities that “bread alone” includes—good as utilities, but bad as mere utilities—that our contemporary civilization can be rightly called inhuman and must be unfavourably compared with the “primitive” cultures in which, as the anthropologists assure us, “the needs of the body and soul are satisfied together.”60 Manufacture for the needs of the body alone is the curse of modern civilization.

Should we propose to raise our standard of living to the savage level, on which there is no distinction of fine from applied or sacred from profane art, it need not imply the sacrifice of any of the necessities or even conveniences of life, but only of luxuries, only of such utilities as are not at the same time useful and significant. If such a proposal to return to primitive levels of culture should seem to be utopian and impracticable, it is only because a manufacture of significant utilities would have to be a manufacture for use, the use of the whole man, and not for the salesman’s profit. The price to be paid for putting back into the market place, where they belong, such things as are now to be seen only in museums would be that of economic revolution. It may be doubted whether our boasted love of art extends so far.

It has sometimes been asked whether the “artist” can survive under modern conditions. In the sense in which the word is used by those who ask the question, one does not see how he can or why he should survive. For, just as the modern artist is neither a useful or significant, but only an ornamental member of society, so the modern workman is nothing but a useful member and is neither significant nor ornamental. It is certain that we shall have to go on working, but not so certain that we could not live, and handsomely, without the exhibitionists of our studios, galleries, and playing fields. We cannot do without art, because art is the knowledge of how things ought to be made, art is the principle of manufacture (recta ratio factibilium), and while an artless play may be innocent, an artless manufacture is merely brutish labor and a sin against the wholesomeness of human nature; we can do without “fine” artists, whose art does not “apply” to anything, and whose organized manufacture of art in studios is the inverse of the laborer’s artless manufacture in factories; and we ought to be able to do without the base mechanics “whose souls are bowed and mutilated by their vulgar occupations even as their bodies are marred by their mechanical arts.”61

Plato himself discusses, in connection with all the arts, whether of potter, painter, poet, or “craftsman of civic liberty”, the relation between the practice of an art and the earning of a livelihood.62 He points out that the practice of an art and the wage-earning capacity are two different things; that the artist (in Plato’s sense and that of the Christian and Oriental social philosophies) does not earn wages by his art. He works by his art, and is only accidentally a trader if he sells what he makes. Being a vocation, his art is most intimately his own and pertains to his own nature, and the pleasure that he takes in it perfects the operation. There is nothing he would rather work (or “play”) at than his making; to him the leisure state would be an abomination of boredom. This situation, in which each man does what is naturally (kata phusin = Skr. svabhâvatas) his to do (to heautou prattein = Skr. svadharma, svakarma), not only is the type of Justice,63 but furthermore, under these conditions (i.e., when the maker loves to work), “more is done, and better done, and with more ease, than in any other way”.64 Artists are not trades men. “They know how to make, but not how to hoard.”65 Under these conditions the worker and maker is not a hireling, but one whose salary enables him to go on doing and making. He is just like any other member of a feudal society, in which none are “hired” men, but all enfeoffed and all possessed of a hereditary standing, that of a professional whose reward is by gift or endowment and not “at so much an hour”. The separation of the creative from the profit motive not only leaves the artist free to put the good of the work above his own good, but at the same time abstracts from manufacture the stain of simony, or “traffic in things sacred”; and this conclusion, which rings strangely in our ears, for whom work and play are alike secular activities, is actually in complete agreement with the traditional order, in which the artist’s operation is not a meaningless labor, but quite literally a significant and sacred rite, and quite as much as the product itself an adequate symbol of a spiritual reality. It is therefore a way, or rather the way, by which the artist, whether potter or painter, poet or king, can best erect or edify (exorthoô) himself at the same time that he “trues” or corrects (orthoô) his work.66 It is, indeed, only by the “true” workman that “true” work can be done; like engenders like.

When Plato lays it down that the arts shall “care for the bodies and souls of your citizens”, and that only things that are sane and free and not any shameful things unbecoming free men (aneleuthera)67 are to be represented, it is as much as to say that the true artist in whatever material must be a free man, meaning by this not an “emancipated artist” in the vulgar sense of one having no obligation or commitment of any kind, but a man emancipated from the despotism of the salesman. Whoever is to “imitate the actions of gods and heroes, the intellections and revolutions of the All”, the very selves and divine paradigms or ideas of our useful inventions, must have known these realities “themselves (auta) and as they really are (hoia estin)”: for “what we have not and know not we can neither give to another nor teach our neighbor”.68

In other words, an act of “imagination”, in which the idea to be represented is first clothed in the imitable form or image of the thing to be made, must precede the operation in which this form is impressed upon the actual material. The first of these acts, in the terms of Scholastic philosophy, is free, the second servile. It is only if the first be omitted that the word “servile” acquires a dishonorable connotation; then we can speak only of labor, and not of art. It need hardly be argued that our methods of manufacture are, in this shameful sense, servile, nor be denied that the industrial system, for which these methods are needed, is an abomination “unfit for free men.” A system of manufacture governed by money values presupposes that there shall be two different kinds of makers, privileged artists who may be “inspired”, and underprivileged laborers, unimaginative by hypothesis, since they are required only to make what other men have imagined, or more often only to copy what other men have already made. It has often been claimed that the productions of “fine” art are useless; it would seem to be a mockery to speak of a society as “free” where it is only the makers of useless things who are supposedly free.

Inspiration is defined in Webster as “a supernatural influence which qualifies men to receive and communicate divine truth”. This is stated in the word itself, which implies the presence of a guiding “spirit” distinguished from but nevertheless “within” the agent who is inspired, but is certainly not inspired if “expressing himself”. Before continuing, we must clear the air by showing how the word “inspire” has been scabrously abused by modern authors. We have found it said that “a poet or other artist may let the rain inspire him”.69 Such misuse of words debar the student from ever learning what the ancient writers may have really meant. We say “misuse” because neither is the rain, or anything perceptible to sense, in us; nor is the rain a kind of spirit. The rationalist has a right to disbelieve in inspiration and to leave it out of his account, as he very easily can if he is considering art only from the aesthetic (sensational) point of view, but he has no right to pretend that one can be “inspired” by a sense perception, by which, in fact, one can only be “affected”, and to which one can only “react.” On the other hand, Meister Eckhart’s phrase “inspired by his art” is quite correct, since art is a kind of knowledge, not anything that can be seen, but akin to the soul and prior to the body and the world.70 We can properly say that not only “Love” but “Art” and “Law” are names of the Spirit. Here we are concerned not with the rationalist’s point of view, but only with the sources from which we can learn how the artist’s operation is explained in a tradition that we must understand if we are to understand its products. Here it is always by the Spirit that a man is thought of as inspired (entheos, sc. upo tou erôtos). “The Genius breathed into my heart (enepneuse phresi daimôn) to weave”, Penelope says.71 Hesiod tells us that the Muses “breathed into me a divine voice (enepneusan de moi audên thespin)... and bade me sing the race of the blessed Gods”.72 Christ, “through whom all things were made”, does not bear witness of (express) himself, but says “I do nothing of myself, but as my Father taught me, I speak.”73 Dante writes, I am “one who when Love (Amor, Eros) inspires me (mi spira), attend, and go setting it forth in such wise as He dictates within me.”74 For “there is no real speaking that does not lay hold upon the Truth.”75 And who is it (“What self?”) that speaks the “Truth that cannot be refuted”? Not this man, Soandso, Dante, or Socrates, or “I”, but the Synteresis, the Immanent Spirit, Socrates’ and Plato’s Daimon, he “who lives in every one of us”76 and “cares for nothing but the Truth”.77 It is the “God himself that speaks” when we are not thinking our own thoughts but are His exponents, or priests.

And so as Plato, the father of European wisdom, asks, “Do we not know that as regards the practice of the arts (tên tôn technôn dêmiourgian) the man who has this God for his teacher will be renowned and as it were a beacon light, but one whom Love has not possessed will be obscure?”78 This is with particular reference to the divine originators of archery, medicine, and oracles, music, metalwork, weaving, and piloting, each of whom was “Love’s disciple.” He means, of course, the “cosmic Love” that harmonizes opposite forces, the Love that acts for the sake of what it has and to beget itself, not the profane love that lacks and desires. So the maker of anything, if he is to be called a creator, is at his best the servant of an immanent Genius; he must not be called “a genius”, but “ingenious”; he is not working of or for himself, but by and for another energy, that of the Immanent Eros, Sanctus Spiritus, the source of all “gifts.” “All that is true, by whomsoever it has been said, has its origin in the Spirit.”79

We can now, perhaps, consider, with less danger of misunderstanding, Plato’s longest passage on inspiration. “It is a divine power that moves (theia de dunamis, hê ... kinei)”80 even the rhapsodist or literary critic, insofar as he speaks well, though he is only the exponent of an exponent. The original maker and exponent, if he is to be an imitator of realities and not of mere appearances, “is Godindwelt and possessed (entheos, katechomenos)... an airy, winged and sacred substance (hieron, Skr. brahma); unable ever to indite until he has been born again of the God within him (prin an entheos te genêtai)81 and is out of his own wits (ekphrôn), and his own mind (nous) is no longer in him;82 for every man, so long as he retains that property is powerless to make (poiein) or to incant (chrêsmôdein, Skr. mantrakr) ... The men whom he dements God uses as his ministers (hupêretai) ... but it is the God83 himself (ho theos autos) that speaks, and through them enlightens (phthengetai) us ... The makers are but His exponents (hermênês) according to the way in which they are possessed.”84 It is only when he returns to himself from what is really a sacrificial operation that the maker exercises his own powers of judgement; and then primarily to “try the spirits, whether they be of God”, and secondarily to try his work, whether it agrees with the vision or audition.

The most immediately significant point that emerges from this profound analysis of the nature of inspiration is that of the artist’s priestly or ministerial function. The original intention of intelligible forms was not to entertain us, but literally to “remind” us. The chant is not for the approval of the ear,85 nor the picture for that of the eye (although these senses can be taught to approve the splendor of truth, and can be trusted when they have been trained), but to effect such a transformation of our being as is the purpose of all ritual acts. It is, in fact, the ritual arts that are the most “artistic”, because the most “correct”, as they must be if they are to be effectual.

The heavens declare the glory of God: their interpretation in science or art—and ars sine scientia nihil—is not in order to flatter or merely “interest” us, but “in order that we may follow up the intellections and revolutions of the All, not those revolutions that are in our own heads and were distorted at our birth, but correcting (exorthounta) these by studying the harmonies and revolutions of the All: so that by an assimilation of the knower to the tobeknown (tô katanooumenô to katanooun exomoiôsai),86 the archetypal Nature, and coming to be in that likeness,87 we may attain at last to a part in that ‘life’s best’ that has been appointed by the gods to men for this time being and hereafter.”88

This is what is spoken of in India as a “metrical selfintegration” (candobhir âtimânam samskarana), or “edification of another man” (anyam âtmânam), to be achieved by an imitation (anukarana) of the divine forms (daivyâni silpâni).89 The final reference to a good to be realized here and hereafter brings us back again to the “wholesomeness” of art, defined in terms of its simultaneous application to practical necessities and spiritual meanings, back to that fulfilment of the needs of the body and soul together that is characteristic of the arts of the uncivilized peoples and the “folk” but foreign to our industrial life. For in that life the arts are either for use or for pleasure, but are never spiritually significant and very rarely intelligible. Such an application of the arts as Plato prescribes for his City of God, arts that as he says “will care for the bodies and the souls of your citizens”,90 survives for so long as forms and symbols are employed to express a meaning, for so long as “ornament” means “equipment”,91 and until what were originally imitations of the reality, not the appearance, of things become (as they were already rapidly becoming in Plato’s time) merely “art forms, more and more emptied of significance on their way down to us”92—no longer figures of thought, but only figures of speech.

We have so far made use of Oriental sources only incidentally, and chiefly to remind ourselves that the true philosophy of art is always and everywhere the same. But since we are dealing with the distinction between the arts of flattery and those of ministration, we propose to refer briefly to some of the Indian texts in which the “whole end of the expressive faculty” is discussed. This natural faculty is that of the “Voice”: not the audibly spoken word, but the the organon by which a concept is communicated. The relation of this maternal Voice to the paternal Intellect is that of our feminine “nature” to our masculine “essence”; their begotten child is the Logos of theology and the spoken myth of anthropology. The work of art is expressly the artist’s child, the child of both his natures, human and divine: stillborn if he has not at his command the art of delivery (rhetoric), a bastard if the Voice has been seduced, but a valid concept if born in lawful marriage.

The Voice is at once the daughter, bride, messenger, and instrument of the Intellect.93 Possessed of him, the immanent deity, she brings forth his image (reflection, imitation, similitude, pratirûpa, child).94 She is the power and the glory,95 without whom the Sacrifice itself could not proceed.96 But if he, the divine Intellect, Brahmâ or Prajâpati, “does not precede and direct her, then it is only a gibberish in which she expresses herself”.97 Translated into the terms of the art of government, this means that if the Regnum acts on its own initiative, unadvised by the Sacerdotium, it will not be Law, but only regulations that it promulgates.

The conflict of Apollo with Marsyas the Satyr, to which Plato alludes,98 is the same as that of Prajâpati (the Progenitor) with Death,99 and the same as the contention of the Gandharvas, the gods of Love and Science, with the mundane deities, the sense powers, for the hand of the Voice, the Mother of the Word, the wife of the Sacerdotium.100 This is, in fact, the debate of the Sacerdotium and the Regnum with which we are most familiar in terms of an opposition of sacred and profane, eternal and secular, an opposition that must be present wherever the needs of the soul and the body are not satisfied together.

Now what was chanted and enacted by the Progenitor in his sacrificial contest with Death was “calculated” (samkhyânam)101 and “immortal”, and what by Death “uncalculated” and “mortal”; and that deadly music played by Death is now our secular art of the “parlor” (patnisâlâ), “whatever people sing to the harp, or dance, or do to please themselves (vrthâ)”, or even more literally, “do heretically”, for the words “vrthâ” and “heresy” derive from a common root that means to “choose for oneself”, to “know what one likes and to grasp at it.” Death’s informal and irregular music is disintegrating. On the other hand, the Progenitor “puts himself together”, composes or synthesizes himself, “by means of the meters”; the Sacrificer “perfects himself so as to be metrically constituted”,102 and makes of the measures the wings of his ascension.103 The distinctions made here between a quickening art and one that adds to the sum of our mortality are those that underlie Plato’s katharsis and all true puritanism and fastidiousness. There is no disparagement of the Voice (Sophia) herself, or of music or dancing or any other art as such. Whatever disparagement there is, is not of the instrument; there can be no good use without art.

The contest of the Gandharvas, the high gods of Love and Music (in Plato’s broad sense of that word), is with the unregenerate powers of the soul, whose natural inclination is the pursuit of pleasures. What the Gandharvas offer to the Voice is their sacred science, the thesis of their incantation; what the mundane deities offer is “to please her.” The Gandharvas’ is a holy conversation (brahmodaya), that of the mundane deities an appetizing colloquy (prakâmodaya). Only too often the Voice, the expressive power, is seduced by the mundane deities to lend herself to the representation of whatever may best please them and be most flattering to herself; and it is when she thus prefers the pleasant falsehoods to the splendor of the sometimes bitter truth that the high gods have to fear lest she in turn seduce their legitimate spokesman, the Sacrificer himself; to fear, that is to say, a secularization of the sacred symbols and the hieratic language, the depletion of meaning that we are only too familiar with in the history of art, as it descends from formality to figuration, just as language develops from an original precision to what are ultimately hardly more than blurred emotive values.

It was not for this, as Plato said, that powers of vision and hearing are ours. In language as nearly as may be identical with his, and in terms of the universal philosophy wherever we find it, the Indian texts define the “whole end of the Voice” (krtsnam vâgârtham). We have already called the voice an “organ”, to be taken in the musical as well as the organic sense. It is very evidently not the reason of an organ to play of itself, but to be played upon, just as it is not for the clay to determine the form of the vessel, but to receive it.

“Now there is this divine harp: the human harp is in its likeness ... and just as the harp struck by a skilled player fulfils the whole reason of the harp, so the Voice moved by a skilled speaker fulfils its whole reason.”104 “Skill in any performance is a yoking, as of steeds together”,105 or, in other words, implies a marriage of the master and the means. The product of the marriage of the player, Intellect, with the instrument, the Voice, is Truth (satyam) or Science (vidyâ),106 not that approximate, hypothetical, and statistical truth that we refer to as science, but philosophy in Plato’s sense,107 and that “meaning of the Vedas” by which, if we understand it, “all good” (sakalam bhadram) is attainable, here and hereafter.108

The raison d’être of the Voice is to incarnate in a communicable form the concept of Truth; the formal beauty of the precise expression is that of the splendor veritatis. The player and the instrument are both essential here. We, in our somatic individuality, are the instrument, of which the “strings” or “senses” are to be regulated, so as to be neither slack nor overstrained; we are the organ, the inorganic God within us the organist. We are the organism, He its energy. It is not for us to play our own tunes, but to sing His songs, who is both the Person in the Sun (Apollo) and our own Person (as distinguished from our “personality”). When “those who sing here to the harp sing Him”,109 then all desires are attainable, here and hereafter.

There is, then, a distinction to be drawn between a significant (padârthâbhinaya) and liberating (vimuktida) art, the art of those who in their performances are celebrating God, the Golden Person, in both His natures, immanent and transcendent, and the insignificant art that is “colored by worldly passion” (lokânurañjaka) and “dependent on the moods” (bhâvâsraya). The former is the “highway” (mârga, hodos) art that leads directly to the end of the road, the latter a “pagan” (desî, agrios) and eccentric art that wanders off in all directions, imitating anything and everything.110

If now the orthodox doctrines reported by Plato and the East are not convincing, this is because our sentimental generation, in which the power of the intellect has been so perverted by the power of observation that we can no longer distinguish the reality from the phenomenon, the Person in the Sun from his sightly body, or the untreated from electric light, will not be persuaded “though one rose from the dead.” Yet I hope to have shown, in a way that may be ignored but cannot be refuted, that our use of the term “aesthetic” forbids us also to speak of art as pertaining to the “higher things of life” or the immortal part of us; that the distinction of “fine” from “applied” art, and corresponding manufacture of art in studios and artless industry in factories, takes it for granted that neither the artist nor the artisan shall be a whole man; that our freedom to work or starve is not a responsible freedom but only a legal fiction that conceals an actual servitude; that our hankering after a leisure state, or state of pleasure, to be attained by a multiplication of labor-saving devices, is born of the fact that most of us are doing forced labor, working at jobs to which we could never have been “called” by any other master than the salesman; that the very few, the happy few of us whose work is a vocation, and whose status is relatively secure, like nothing better than our work and can hardly be dragged away from it; that our division of labor, Plato’s “fractioning of human faculty”, makes the workman a part of the machine, unable ever to make or to cooperate responsibly in the making of any whole thing; that in the last analysis the so-called “emancipation of the artist”111 is nothing but his final release from any obligation whatever to the God within him, and his opportunity to imitate himself or any other common clay at its worst; that all wilful self-expression is auto-erotic, narcissistic, and satanic, and the more its essentially paranoiac quality develops, suicidal; that while our invention of innumerable conveniences has made our unnatural manner of living in great cities so endurable that we cannot imagine what it would be like to do without them, yet the fact remains that not even the multimillionaire is rich enough to commission such works of art as are preserved in our museums but were originally made for men of relatively moderate means or, under the patronage of the church, for God and all men, and the fact remains that the multimillionaire can no longer send to the ends of the earth for the products of other courts or the humbler works of the folk, for all these things have been destroyed and their makers reduced to being the providers of raw materials for our factories, wherever our civilizing influence has been felt; and so, in short, that while the operation that we call a “progress” has been very successful, man the patient has succumbed.

Let us, then, admit that the greater part of what is taught in the fine arts departments of our universities, all of the psychologies of art, all the obscurities of modern aesthetics, are only so much verbiage, only a kind of defence that stands in the way of our understanding of the wholesome art, at the same time iconographically true and practically useful, that was once to be had in the marketplace or from any good artist; and that whereas the rhetoric that cares for nothing but the truth is the rule and method of the intellectual arts, our aesthetic is nothing but a false rhetoric, and a flattery of human weakness by which we can account only for the arts that have no other purpose than to please.

The whole intention of our own art may be aesthetic, and we may wish to have it so. But however this may be, we also pretend to a scientific and objective discipline of the history and appreciation of art, in which we take account not only of contemporary or very recent art but also of the whole of art from the beginning until now. It is in this arena that I shall throw down a minimum challenge: put it to you that it is not by our aesthetic, but only by their rhetoric, that we can hope to understand and interpret the arts of other peoples and other ages than our own. I put it to you that our present university courses in this field embody a pathetic fallacy, and are anything but scientific in any sense.

And now, finally, in case you should complain that I have been drawing upon very antiquated sources (and what else could I do, seeing that we are all “so young” and “do not possess a single belief that is ancient and derived from old tradition, nor yet one science that is hoary with age”112) let me conclude with a very modern echo of this ancient wisdom, and say with Thomas Mann that I like to think—yes, I feel sure—that a future is coming in which we shall condemn as black magic, as the brainless, irresponsible product of instinct, all art which is not controlled by the intellect.”113

  • 1. Quintilian IX.4.117, “Figura? Quae? cum orationis, turn etiam sententiae?” Cf. Plato, Republic 601B.
  • 2. “I cannot fairly give the name of ‘art’ to anything irrational.” Cf. Laws 890D, “Law and art are children of the intellect” (nous). Sensation (aisthêsis) and pleasure (hêdonê) are irrational (alogos, see Timaeus 28A, 47D, 69D). In the Gorgias, the irrational is that which cannot give an account of itself, that which is unreasonable, has no raison d’être. See also Philo, Legum Allegoriarum I.48, “For as grass is the food of irrational beings, so has the sensibly perceptible (to aisthêton) been assigned to the irrational part of the soul.” Aisthêsis is just what the biologist now calls “irritability.”
  • 3. Quoted with approval by Herbert Read, Art and Society (New York, 1937), p. 84, from Alfred North Whitehead, Religion in the Making (New York, 1926).
  • 4. Sum. Theol. III.57.3c (art is an intellectual virtue); I.5.4 ad 1 (beauty pertains to the cognitive, not the appetitive faculty).
  • 5. “Pathology ... 2. The study of the passions or emotions” (The Oxford English Dictionary, 1933, VII, 554). The “psychology of art” is not a science of art but of the way in which we are affected by works of art. An affection (pathêma) is passive; making or doing (poiêma, ergon) is an activity.
  • 6. See Charles Sears Baldwin, Medieval Rhetoric and Poetic (New York, 1928), p. 3. “A real art of speaking which does not lay hold upon the truth does not exist and never will” (Phaedrus 260E; cf. Gorgias 463-465, 513D, 517A, 527C, Laws 937E).
  • 7. See E. F. Rothschild, The Meaning of Unintelligibility in Modern Art (Chicago, 1934), p. 98. “The course of artistic achievement was the change from the visual as a means of comprehending the nonvisual to the visual as an end in itself and the abstract structure of physical forms as the purely artistic transcendence of the visual ... a transcendence utterly alien and unintelligible to the average [sc. normal] man” (F. de W. Bolman, criticizing E. Kahler’s Man the Measure, in Journal of Philosophy, XLI, 1944, 134-135; italics mine).
  • 8. Sum. Theol. I.45.6c, “Artifex autem per verbum in intellectu conceptum et per amorem suae voluntatis ad aliquid relatum, operatur”; I.14.8c, “Artifex operatur per suum intellectum”; I.45.7c “Forma artificiati est ex conceptione artificis.” See also St. Bonaventura, Il Sententiarum I-I.I.I ad 3 and 4, “Agens per intellectum producit per formas.” Informality is ugliness.
  • 9. Gorgias 503E.
  • 10. Symposium 205C.
  • 11. See, for example, Statesman 259E, Phaedrus 260E, Laws 938A. The word tribê literally means “a rubbing”, and is an exact equivalent of our modern expression “a grind.” (Cf. Hippocrates, Fractures 772, “shameful and artless”, and Ruskin’s “industry without art is brutality.”) “For all well-governed peoples there is a work enjoined upon each man which he must perform” (Republic 406C). “Leisure” is the opportunity to do this work without interference (Republic 370C). A “work for leisure” is one requiring undivided attention (Euripides, Andromache 552). Plato’s view of work in no way differs from that of Hesiod, who says that work is no reproach but the best gift of the gods to men (Works and Days 295-296). Whenever Plato disparages the mechanical arts, it is with reference to the kinds of work that provide for the wellbeing of the body only, and do not at the same time provide spiritual food; he does not connect culture with idleness.
  • 12. Republic 342BC. What is made by art is correctly made (Alcibiades 1.108B). It will follow that those who are in possession of and governed by their art and not by their own irrational impulses, which yearn for innovations, will operate in the same way (Republic 349-350, Laws 660B). “Art has fixed ends and ascertained means of operation” (Sum. Theol. IIII.47.4 ad 2, 49.5 ad 2). It is in the same way that an oracle, speaking ex cathedra, is infallible, but not so the man when speaking for himself. This is similarly true in the case of a guru.
  • 13. Republic 369BC, Statesman 279CD, Epinomis 975C.
  • 14. Republic 398A, 401B, 605-607; Laws 656C.
  • 15. Deut. 8:3, Luke 4:4.
  • 16. Republic 376E, 410A-412A, 521E-522A, Laws 673A. Plato always has in view an attainment of the “best” for both the body and the soul, “since for any single kind to be left by itself pure and isolated is not good, nor altogether possible” (Philebus 63B; cf. Republic 409-410). “The one means of salvation from these evils is neither to exercise the soul without the body nor the body without the soul” (Timaeus 88B).
  • 17. Sum. Theol. III.57.3 ad 2 (based on Plato’s view of justice, which assigns to every man the work for which he is naturally fitted). None of the arts pursues its own good, but only the patron’s (Republic 342B, 347A), which lies in the excellence of the product.
  • 18. Timaeus 47DE; cf. Laws 659E, on the chant.
  • 19. Timaeus 80B, echoed in Quintilian IX.117, “docti rationem componendi intelligunt, etiam indocti voluptatem.” Cf. Timaeus 47, 90D.
  • 20. Sâhitya Darpana III.2–3; cf. Coomaraswamy, The Transformation of Nature in Art, 1934, pp. 48-51.
  • 21. Laws 840C.c. On katharsis, see Plato, Sophist 226-227, Phaedrus 243AB, Phaedo 66-67, 82B, Republic 399E; Aristotle, PoeticsKatharsis is a sacrificial purgation and purification “consisting in a separation, as far as that is possible, of the soul from the body”; it is, in other words, a kind of dying, that kind of dying to which the philosopher’s life is dedicated.Phaedo 67DE.
  • 22. Phaedrus 279BC; see also Hermes, Lib. XIII.3, 4, “I have passed forth out of myself”, and Chuangtzu, ch. 2, “Today I buried myself.” Cf. Coomaraswamy, “On Being in One’s Right Mind”, 1942.
  • 23. Republic 389-398.
  • 24. Aristotle, Poetics VI.2.1449b.
  • 25. The aesthetic man is “one who is too weak to stand up against pleasure and pain” (Republic 556c). If we think of impassibility (apatheia), not what we mean by “apathy” but a being superior to the pulls of pleasure and pain; cf. BG II.56) with horror, it is because we should be “unwilling to live without hunger and thirst and the like, if we could not also suffer (paschô, Skr. bâdh) the natural consequences of these passions”, the pleasures of eating and drinking and enjoying fine colors and sounds (Philebus 54E, 55B). Our attitude to pleasures and pains is always passive, if not, indeed, masochistic. Cf. Coomaraswamy, Time and Eternity, 1947, p. 73 and notes.

    It is very clear from Republic 606 that the enjoyment of an emotional storm is just what Plato does not mean by a katharsis; such an indulgence merely fosters the very feelings that we are trying to suppress. A perfect parallel is found in the Milinda Pañho (Mil, p. 76); it is asked, of tears shed for the death of a mother or shed for love of the Truth, which can be called a “cure” (bhesajjam)—i.e. for man’s mortality—and it is pointed out that the former are fevered, the latter cool, and that it is what cools that cures.

  • 26. JUB III.30.2 and 39.2; BU III.7.34; CU VIII.13; Svet. Up. V.14. Cf. Phaedo 65-69.
  • 27. Statesman 288C.
  • 28. Philebus 67B.
  • 29. Republic 399-404; cf. Laws 656E, 660, 797-799.
  • 30. Laws 659E; see also note 86, below.
  • 31. Republic 399E; cf. Dante, Paradiso 1.13-21.
  • 32. Aristotle, Physics II.2.194a 20, hê technê mimeitai tên phusin—both employing suitable means toward a known end.
  • 33. Art is iconography, the making of images or copies of some model (paradeigma), whether visible (presented) or invisible (contemplated); see Plato, Republic 373B, 377E, 392397, 402, Laws 667-669, Statesman 306D, Cratylus 439A, Timaeus 28AB, 52BC, Sophist 234C, 236C; Aristotle, Poetics I.12. In the same way, Indian works of art are called counterfeits or commensurations (anukrti, tadâkâratâ, pratikrti, pratibimba, pratimâna), and likeness (sârûpya, sâdrsya) is demanded. This does not mean that it is a likeness in all respects that is needed to evoke the original, but an equality as to the whichness (tosouton, hoson) and whatness (toiouton, hoion)—or form (idea) and force (dunamis)—of the archetype. It is this “real equality” or “adequacy” (auto to ison) that is the truth and the beauty of the work (Laws 667-668, Timaeus 28AB, Phaedo 74-75). We have shown elsewhere that the Indian sâdrsya does not imply an illusion but only a real equivalence. It is clear from Timaeus 2829 that by “equality” and “likeness” Plato also means a real kinship (sungeneia) and analogy (analogia), and that it is these qualities that make it possible for an image to “interpret” or “deduce” (exêgeomai, cf. Skr. ânî) its archetype. For example, words are eidôla of things (Sophist 234C), “true names”’ are not correct by accident (Cratylus 387D, 439A), the body is an eidôlon of the soul (Laws 959B), and these images are at the same time like and yet unlike their referents. In other words, what Plato means by “imitation” and by “art” is an “adequate symbolism”; cf. distinction of image from duplicate, Cratylus 432.
  • 34. “The mathematician’s patterns, like the painter’s or the poet’s, must be beautiful” (G. H. Hardy, A Mathematician’s Apology, Cambridge, 1940, p. 85); cf. Coomaraswamy, Why Exhibit Works of Art?, 1943, ch. 9.
  • 35. Philebus 51C. For beauty by participation, see Phaedo 100D; cf. Republic 476; St. Augustine, Confessions X.34; Dionysius, De divinis nominibus IV.5.
  • 36. Laws 657AB, 665C, 700C.
  • 37. Laws 670E; Sum. Theol. I.91.3, III.57.3 ad 2.
  • 38. Cicero, Pro quinctio XXV.78.
  • 39. Republic 395C; cf. 395401, esp. 401BC, 605607, and Laws 656C.
  • 40. Republic 400A, 598B; cf. Timaeus 29C.
  • 41. Republic 500E.
  • 42. Plotinus, Enneads V.9.II, like Plato, Timaeus 28AB.
  • 43. Exod. 25:40.
  • 44. AB VI.27.
  • 45. SA VIII.9.
  • 46. SB VII.2.1.4; cf. III.3.3.16, XIV.1.2.26, and TS V.5.4.4. Whenever the Sacrificers are at a loss, they are required to contemplate (cetayadhvam), and the required form thus seen becomes their model. Cf. Philo, Moses II.74-76.
  • 47. Republic 377, 402, Laws 667-668, Timaeus 28AB, Phaedrus 243AB (on hamartia peri muthologian), Republic 382BC (misuse of words is a symptom of sickness in the soul).
  • 48. See Republic 601, for example. Porphyry tells us that Plotinus refused to have his portrait painted, objecting, “Must I consent to leave, as a desirable spectacle for posterity, an image of an image?” Cf. Asterius, bishop of Amasea, ca. A.D. 340: “Paint not Christ: for the one humility of his incarnation suffices him” (Migne, Patrologia graeca XI.167). The real basis of the Semitic objection to graven images, and of all other iconoclasm, is not an objection to art (adequate symbolism), but an objection to a realism that implies an essentially idolatrous worship of nature. The figuration of the Ark according to the pattern that was seen upon the mount (Exod. 25:40) is not “that kind of imagery with reference to which the prohibition was given” (Tertullian, Contra Marcionem II.22).
  • 49. Timaeus 28AB; cf. note 34, above. The symbols that are rightly sanctioned by a hieratic art are not conventionally but naturally correct (orthotêta phusei parechomena, Laws 657A). One distinguishes, accordingly, between le symbolisme qui sait and le symbolisme qui cherche. It is the former that the iconographer can and must understand, but he will hardly be able to do so unless he is himself accustomed to thinking in these precise terms.
  • 50. The realities are seen “by the eye of the soul” (Republic 533D), “the soul alone and by itself” (Theaetetus 186A, 187A), “gazing ever on what is authentic” (pros to kata tauta echon blepôn aei, Timaeus 28A; cf. pros ton theon blepein, Phaedrus 253A), and thus “by inwit (intuition) of what really is” (peri to on ontôs ennoiais, Philebus 59D). Just so in India, it is only when the senses have been withdrawn from their objects, only when the eye has been turned round (aâvrtta caksus), and with the eye of Gnosis (jñâna caksus), that the reality can be apprehended.
  • 51. The contemplative actus primus (theôria, Skr. dhî, dhyâna) and operative actus secundus (apergasia, Skr. karma) of the Scholastic philosophers.
  • 52. “One man is able to beget the productions of art, but the ability to judge of their utility (ôphelia) or harmfulness to their users belongs to another” (Phaedrus 274E). The two men are united in the whole man and complete connoisseur, as they are in the Divine Architect whose “judgments” are recorded in Gen. 1:25 and 31.
  • 53. Laws 667; for a need as first and last cause, see Republic 369BC. As to “wholesomeness”, cf. Richard Bernheimer, in Art: A Bryn Mawr Symposium (Bryn Mawr, 1940), pp. 28-29: “There should be a deep ethical purpose in all of art, of which the classical aesthetic was fully aware ... To have forgotten this purpose before the mirage of absolute patterns and designs is perhaps the fundamental fallacy of the abstract movement in art.” The modern abstractionist forgets that the Neolithic formalist was not an interior decorator but a metaphysical man who had to live by his wits.

    The indivisibility of beauty and use is affirmed in Xenophon, Memorabilia III.8.8, “that the same house is both beautiful and useful was a lesson in the art of building houses as they ought to be” (cf. IV.6.9). “Omnis enim artifex intendit producere opus pulcrum et utile et stabile ... Scientia reddit opus pulcrum, voluntas reddit utile, perseverantia reddit stabile.” (St. Bonaventura, De reductione artium ad theologiam 13; tr. de Vinck: “Every maker intends to produce a beautiful, useful, and enduring object ... Knowledge makes a work beautiful, the will makes it useful, and perseverance makes it enduring.”) So for St. Augustine, the stylus is “et in suo genere pulcher, et ad usum nostrum accommodatus” (De vera religione 39). Philo defines art as “a system of concepts coordinated towards some useful end” (Congr. 141). Only those whose notion of utility is solely with reference to bodily needs, or on the other hand, the pseudomystics who despise the body rather than use it, vaunt the “uselessness” of art: so Gautier, “ll n’y a de vraiment beau que ce qui ne peut servir à rien; tout ce qui est utile est laid” (quoted by Dorothy Richardson, “Saintsbury and Art for Art’s Sake in England”, PMLA, XLIX, 1944, 245), and Paul Valéry (see Coomaraswamy, Why Exhibit Works of Art? 1943, p. 95). Gautier’s cynical “tout ce qui est utile est laid” adequately illustrates Ruskin’s “industry without art is brutality”; a more scathing judgment of the modern world in which utilities are really ugly could hardly be imagined. As H. J. Massingham said, “The combination of use and beauty is part of what used to be called ‘the natural law’ and is indispensable for selfpreservation”, and it is because of the neglect of this principle that civilization “is perishing” (This Plot of Earth, London, 1944, p. 176). The modern world is dying of its own squalor just because its concept of practical utility is limited to that which “can be used directly for the destruction of human life or for accentuating the present inequalities in the distribution of wealth” (Hardy, A Mathematician’s Apology, p. 120, note), and it is only under these unprecedented conditions that it could have been propounded by the escapists that the useful and the beautiful are opposites.

  • 54. Laws 668C, 669AB, 670E.
  • 55. Laws 860C.
  • 56. Philebus 61BD.
  • 57. Republic 376E, 410-412, 521E-522A.
  • 58. Republic 519-520, 539E, Laws 644, and 803 in conjunction with 807. Cf. BG III.I25; also Coomaraswamy, “Lîlâ”, 1941, and “Play and Seriousness”, 1942.
  • 59. Deut. 8:3, Luke 4:4, John 6:58.
  • 60. R. R. Schmidt, Dawn of the Human Mind (Der Geist der Forzeit), tr. R.A.S. Macalister (London, 1936), p. 167.
  • 61. Republic 495E; cf. 522B, 611D, Theaetetus 173AB. That “industry without art is brutality” is hardly flattering to those whose admiration of the industrial system is equal to their interest in it. Aristotle defines as “slaves” those who have nothing but their bodies to offer (Politics I.5.1254b 18). It is on the work of such “slaves”, or literally “prostitutes”, that the industrial system of production for profit ultimately rests. Their political freedom does not make of assembly line workers and other “base mechanics” what Plato means by “free men.”
  • 62. Republic 395B, 500D. Cf. Philo, De opificio mundi 78.
  • 63. Republic 433B, 443C.
  • 64. Republic 370C; cf. 347E, 374BC, 406C. Paul Shorey had the naïveté to see in Plato’s conception of a vocational society an anticipation of Adam Smith’s division of labor; see The Republic, tr. and ed. P. Shorey (LCL, 1935), I, 150151, note b. Actually, no two conceptions could be more contrary. In Plato’s division of labor it is taken for granted not that the artist is a special kind of man but that every man is a special kind of artist; his specialization is for the good of all concerned, producer and consumer alike. Adam Smith’s division benefits no one but the manufacturer and salesman. Plato, who detested any “fractioning of human faculty” (Republic 395B), could hardly have seen in our division of labor a type of justice. Modern research has rediscovered that “workers are not governed primarily by economic motives” (see Stuart Chase, “What Makes the Worker Like to Work?” Reader’s Digest, February 1941, p. 19).
  • 65. Chuangtzu, as quoted by Arthur Waley, Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China (London, 1939), p. 62. It is not true to say that “the artist is a mercenary living by the sale of his own works” (F. J. Mather, Concerning Beauty, Princeton, 1935, p. 240). He is not working in order to make money but accepts money (or its equivalent) in order to be able to go on working at his living—and I say “working at his living” because the man is what he does.
  • 66. “A man attains perfection by devotion to his own work ... by his own work praising Him who wove this all ... Whoever does the work appointed by his own nature incurs no sin” (BG XVIII.45-46).
  • 67. Republic 395C. See Aristotle on “leisure”, Nicomachean Ethics X.7.5-7.1177b.
  • 68. Republic 377E, Symposium 196E.
  • 69. H. J. Rose, A Handbook of Greek Mythology (2d ed., London, 1933), p. 11. Clement Greenberg (in The Nation, April 19, 1941, p. 481) tells us that the “modern painter derives his inspiration from the very physical materials he works with.” Both critics forget the customary distinction of spirit from matter. What their statements actually mean is that the modern artist may be excited, but is not inspired.
  • 70. Eckhart, Evans ed., II, 211; cf. Laws 892BC.
  • 71. Homer, Odyssey XIX.138
  • 72. Theogony 31-32.
  • 73. John 8:28; cf. 5:19 and 30, 7:16 and 18 (“He that speaketh from himself seeketh his own glory”). A column in Parnassus, XIII (May 1941), 189, comments on the female nude as Maillol’s “exclusive inspiration.” That is mere hot air; Renoir was not afraid to call a spade a spade when he said with what brush he painted.
  • 74. Purgatorio XXIV.52-54.
  • 75. Phaedrus 260E; Symposium 201C (on the irrefutable truth).
  • 76. Timaeus 69C, 90A.
  • 77. Hippias Major 288D.
  • 78. Symposium 197A.
  • 79. Ambrose on I Cor. 12:3, cited in Sum. Theol. III.109.1. Note that “a quocumque dicatur” contradicts the claim that it is only Christian truth that is “revealed.”
  • 80. Ion 533D. For the passage on inspiration, see Ion 533D-536D. Plato’s doctrine of inspiration is not “mechanical” but “dynamic”; in a later theology it became a matter for debate in which of these two ways the Spirit actuates the interpreter.
  • 81. Ion 533E, 534B. gignomai here is used in the radical sense of “coming into a new state of being.” Cf. Phaedrus 279B, kalô genesthai tandothen, “May I be born in beauty inwardly”, i.e., born of the immanent deity (d’ en hêmin theiô, Timaeus 90D), authentic and divine beauty (auto to theion kalon, Symposium 211E:). The New Testament equivalents are “in the Spirit” and “born again of the Spirit.”
  • 82. Ion 534B. “The madness that comes of God is superior to the sanity which is of human origin” (Phaedrus 244D, 245A). Cf. Timaeus 71D-72B, Laws 719C; and MU VI.34.7, “When one attains to mindlessness, that is the last step.” The subject needs a longer explanation; briefly, the supralogical is superior to the logical, the logical to the illogical.
  • 83. “The God” is the Immanent Spirit, Daimon, Eros. “He is a maker (poiêtês) so really wise (sophos) that he is the cause of making in others” (Symposium 196E). The voice is “enigmatic” (Timaeus 72B), and poetry, therefore, “naturally enigmatic” (Alcibiades II 147B), so that in “revelation” (scripture, Skr. sruti, “what was heard”) we see “through a glass darkly” (en ainigmati, I Cor. 13:12). Because divination is of a Truth that cannot (with human faculties) be seen directly (Skr. sâksât), the soothsayer must speak in symbols (whether verbal or visual), which are reflections of the Truth; it is for us to understand and use the symbols as supports of contemplation and with a view to “recollection.” It is because the symbols are things seen “through a glass” that contemplation is “speculation.”
  • 84. See Ion 534, 535. Related passages have been cited in notes 8284, above. The last words refer to the diversity of the gifts of the spirit; see I Cor. 12:411.
  • 85. “What we call ‘chants’ ... are evidently in reality ‘incantations’ seriously designated to produce in souls that harmony of which we have been speaking” (Laws 659E; cf. 665C, 656E, 660B, 668-669, 812C, Republic 399, 424). Such incantations are called mantras in Sanskrit.
  • 86. Timaeus 90D. The whole purpose of contemplation and yoga is to reach that state of being in which there is no longer any distinction of knower from known, or being from knowing. It is just from this point of view that while all the arts are imitative, it matters so much what is imitated, a reality or an effect, for we become like what we think most about. “One comes to be of just such stuff as that on which the mind is set” (MU VI.34).
  • 87. “To become like God (homoiôsis theô), so far as that is possible, is to ‘escape’” (Theaetetus 176B; phugê here = lusis = Skr. moksa). “But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image ... looking not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen ... the things which ... are eternal” (II Cor. 3:18, 4:18). “This likeness begins now again to be formed in us” (St. Augustine, De spiritu et littera 37). Cf. Coomaraswamy, “The Traditional Conception of Ideal Portraiture”, in Why Exhibit Works of Art?, 1943.
  • 88. Timaeus 90D.
  • 89. AB VI.27
  • 90. Republic 409-410.
  • 91. See Coomaraswamy, “Ornament.”
  • 92. Walter Andrae, Die ionische Säule (Berlin, 1933), p. 65. The same scholar writes, with reference to pottery, especially that of the Stone Age and with reference to Assyrian glazing, “Ceramic art in the service of Wisdom, the wisdom that activates knowledge to the level of the spiritual, indeed the divine, as science does to earthbound things of all kinds. Service is here a voluntary, entirely selfsacrificing and entirely conscious dedication of the personality ... as it is and should be in true divine worship. Only this service is worthy of art, of ceramic art. To make the primordial truth intelligible, to make the unheard audible, to enunciate the primordial word, to illustrate the primordial image—such is the task of art, or it is not art.” (“Keramik im Dienste der Weisheit”, Berichte der deutschen keramischen Gesellschaft, XVII, 12 [1936], 623.) Cf. Timaeus 28AB.
  • 93. SB VIII, 1.2.8; AB V.23; TS II.5.II.5; JUB I.33.4 (karoty eva vâcâ... gamayati manasa). Vâc is the Muse, and as the Muses are the daughters of Zeus, so is Vâc the daughter of the Progenitor, of Intellect (Manas, nous)—i.e., intellectus vel spiritus, “the habit of First Principles.” As Sarasvatî she bears the lute and is seated on the Sunbird as vehicle.
  • 94. “This the ‘Beatitude’ (ânanda) of Brahmâ, that by means of Intellect (Manas, nous), his highest form, he betakes himself to ‘the Woman’ (Vâc); a son like himself is born of her” (BU IV.1.6). The son is Agni, brhad uktha, the Logos.
  • 95. RV X.31.2 (sreyânsam daksam manasâ jagrbhyât); BD II.84. The governing authority is always masculine, the power feminine.
  • 96. AB V.33, etc. Srî as brahmavâdinî is “Theologia.”
  • 97. SB III.2.4.11; cf. “the Asura’s gibberish” (SB III.2.1.23). It is because of the dual possibility of an application of the Voice to the statement of truth or falsehood that she is called the “doublefaced”—i.e., “twotongued” (SB III.2.4.16). These two possibilities correspond to Plato’s distinction of the Uranian from the Pandemic (Pandêmos) and disordered (ataktos) Aphrodite, one the mother of the Uranian or Cosmic Eros, the other, the “Queen of Various Song” (Polumnia) and mother of the Pandemic Eros (Symposium 180DE, 187E, Laws 840E).
  • 98. Republic 399E.
  • 99. JB II.69, 70, and 73.
  • 100. JB III.2.4.16 and 1622; cf. III.2.1.1923.
  • 101. Samkhyânam is “reckoning” or “calculation” and corresponds in more senses than one to Plato’s logismos. We have seen that accuracy (orthotês, integritas) is the first requirement for good art, and that this amounts to saying that art is essentially iconography, to be distinguished by its logic from merely emotional and instinctive expression. It is precisely the precision of “classical” and “canonical” art that modern feeling most resents; we demand organic forms adapted to an “in-feeling” (Einfühlung) rather than the measured forms that require “insight” (Einsehen).

    A good example of this can be cited in LarsIvar Ringbom’s “Entstehung und Entwicklung der Spiralornamentik”, in Acta Archaeologica, IV (1933), 151–200. Ringbom demonstrates first the extraordinary perfection of early spiral ornament and shows how even its most complicated forms must have been produced with the aid of simple tools. But he resents this “measured” perfection, as of something “known and deliberately made, the work of the intellect rather than a psychic expression” (“sie ist bewusst und willkürlich gemacht, mehr Verstandesarbeit als seelischer Ausdruck”) and admires the later “forms of freer growth, approximating more to those of Nature.” These organic (“organischgewachsen”) forms are the “psychological expression of man’s instinctive powers, that drive him more and more to representation and figuration.” Ringbom could hardly have better described the kind of art that Plato would have called unworthy of free men; the free man is not “driven by forces of instinct.” What Plato admired was precisely not the organic and figurative art that was coming into fashion in his time, but the formal and canonical art of Egypt that remained constant for what he thought had been ten thousand years, for there it had been possible “for those modes that are by nature correct to be canonized and held forever sacred” (Laws 656-657; cf. 798AB, 799A). There “art ... was not for the delectation ... of the senses” (Earl Baldwin Smith, Egyptian Architecture, New York, 1938, p. 27).

  • 102. AÂ III.2.6, sa candobhir âtmânam samâdadhât; AB VI.27, candomayam ... âtmânam samskurute.
  • 103. For what Plato means by wings, see Phaedrus 246-256 and Ion 534B. “It is as a bird that the Sacrificer reaches the world of heaven” (PB V.3.5). Phaedrus 247BC corresponds to PB XIV.1.1213, “Those who reach the top of the great tree, how do they fare thereafter? Those who have wings fly forth, those that are wingless fall down”; the former are the “wise”, the latter the “foolish” (cf. Phaedrus 249C, “It is only the philosopher’s discriminating mind that is winged”). For the Gandharva (Eros) as a winged “maker” and as such the archetype of human poets, see RV X.177.2 and JUB III.36. For “metrical wings”, see PB X.4.5 and XIX.11.8; JUB III.13.10; AV VIII.9.12. The meters are “birds” (TS VI.1.6.1; PB XIX.11.8).
  • 104. SA VIII.10.
  • 105. BG II.50, yogah karmasu kausalam. If yoga is also the “renunciation” (samnyâsa) of works (BG V.1 and VI.2), this is only another way of saying the same thing, since this renunciation is essentially the abandonment of the notion “I am the doer” and a reference of the works to their real author whose skill is infallible: “The Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (John 14:10).
  • 106. SA VII.5 and 7; cf. Phaedo 61AB.
  • 107. What is meant by vidyâ as opposed to avidyâ is explicit in Phaedrus 247C–E, “All true knowledge is concerned with what is colorless, formless and intangible (Skr. avarna, arûpa, agrahya)” “not such knowledge as has a beginning and varies as it is associated with one or another of the things that we now call realities, but that which is really real (Skr. satyasya satyam).” Cf. CU VII.16.1 and 17.1, with commentary; also Philebus 58A.
  • 108. SA XIV.2.
  • 109. CU 1.7.67. Cf. Coomaraswamy, “The Sunkiss”, 1940, p. 49, n. 11.
  • 110. For all the statements in this paragraph, see CU 1.69; Sâhitya Darpana 1.4-6; and Dasarûpa 1.12-14.
  • 111. See John D. Wild, Plato’s Theory of Man (Cambridge, Mass., 1946), p. 84.
  • 112. Timaeus 22BC.
  • 113. In The Nation (December 10, 1938). Cf. Socrates’ dictum at the head of this chapter.