What makes a great artist?
One thing you need to do to become a great artist is to develop what theologian Bernard Meland called Appreciative Consciousness. This is the ability to see the beauty in the ordinary.
Mystic poet William Blake captured this state of mind beautifully when he wrote,
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
This ecstatic vision was beautifully rendered in a scene from the great film directed by Alan Ball, American Beauty. In this scene, a young man shows his video of a garbage bag being buffeted by the wind. Nothing could be more ugly or banal than plastic trash on the street; but seen through this person’s eyes, it is an elegant dance that shows the hidden nature of all things.
How does one cultivate Appreciative Consciousness? This requires what in Eastern religions would be called a bhakti marga. This is the path of devotion.
As an artist, your religion is beauty, where beauty is defined as the hidden truth of the universe. The path of devotion for the artist is to commune in every possible moment with yourself and the world around you. In so doing, you are attempting to, as Aldous Huxley put it, open the doors of perception so you can find this hidden beauty that is everywhere.
This search for the heart of things is what leads many artists to turn to drugs. The problem with drugs is that once you get “in” that way, no other way works. Your perceptual apparatus becomes dulled unless you are high. The effect is short lived, and fades over time.
A Bhakti Marga, or the path of devotion, may take longer, be more difficult, and be filled with greater frustration, but the results are realer, longer lasting, and ultimately, more profound and satisfying.
The path of devotion to beauty and truth will lead to deeper perception and insight. The more we stay with a thing, the deeper we get into it. When, through this immersion, you reach revelation, it becomes easy to convey this in your art, and you will be one step closer to greatness.
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