AESTHETICS AND SYMBOLISM IN ART AND NATURE

In the economy of spiritual means, beauty, which is positive and compassionate, stands in a sense at the antipodes of asceticism, which is negative and implacable; none the less the one always contains something of the other, for both are derived from truth and express truth, though from different points of view.

The pursuit of the disagreeable is justified in so far as it is a form of asceticism. It must not, however, be carried to the point of becoming a cult of ugliness, for that would amount to a denial of one aspect of truth. This question could hardly arise in a civilization still wholly traditional, for in such a civilization ugliness is more or less accidental. Only in the modern world has ugliness become something like a norm or a principle; only here does beauty appear as a speciality, not to say a luxury. Hence the frequent confusion, at all levels, between ugliness and simplicity.

In our times the discerning of forms assumes a quite special importance. Error appears in all the forms which surround us and in which we live. There is a danger of its poisoning our sensibility — even our intellectual sensibility — by introducing into it a kind of false indifference, hardness and triviality.

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True aesthetics(1) is nothing else than the science of forms and its aim must therefore be what is objective and real, not subjectivity as such. Forms, intellections: the whole of traditional art is founded on this correspondence. Moreover, a feeling for form may also play an important part in intellective speculation. The rightness — or the logic — of proportions is a criterion of truth or error in every domain into which formal elements enter.

The reflection of the supra-formal in the formal is not the formless but on the contrary strict form. The supra-formal is incarnated in forms that are both ‘logical’ and ‘generous’ and thus in beauty.(2)

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Ignorant and profane aestheticism, at least in practice, puts the beautiful — or what its sentimental idealism takes to be the beautiful — above the true, and in so doing exposes itself to errors on its own level. But if aestheticism is the unintelligent cult of the beautiful, or more precisely of aesthetic feeling, this in no way implies that a sense of beauty is mere aestheticism. This is not to say that man is limited to a choice between aestheticism and aesthetics, or, in other words, between idolizing of the beautiful and the science of beauty. Love of beauty is a quality which exists apart from its sentimental deviations and its intellectual foundations. Beauty is a reflection of Divine bliss, and since God is Truth, the reflection of His bliss will be that mixture of happiness and truth which is to be found in all beauty.

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Forms allow of a direct and ‘plastic’ assimilation of the truths —or the realities — of the spirit. The geometry of the symbol is steeped in beauty, which in its turn and in its own way is also a symbol. The perfect form is that in which truth is incarnate in the rigour of the symbolical formulation and in the purity and intelligence of the style.

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A man possessing the sense of forms may or may not prefer a magnificent temple to a cottage, but he will always prefer a cottage to a palace in bad taste. A superficial and impassioned aesthete always prefers the magnificent temple, and sometimes even the palace in bad taste, to the cottage.

That is the whole difference between them.

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Beauty mirrors happiness and truth. Without the element of ‘happiness’ there remains only the bare form, geometrical, rhythmical or other; and without the element of ‘truth’ there remains only a wholly subjective enjoyment, or luxury if you will. Beauty stands between abstract form and blind pleasure, or rather combines the two so as to imbue veridical form with pleasure and veridical pleasure with form.

Beauty is a crystallization of some aspect of universal joy; it is something limitless expressed by means of a limit.

Beauty is in one sense always more than it gives, but in another sense it always gives more than it is. In the first sense the essence shows itself as appearance; in the second the appearance communicates the essence.

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Beauty is always beyond compare; no perfect beauty is more beautiful than another perfect beauty. One may prefer this beauty to that, but this is a matter of personal affinity or of complementary relationship and not of pure aesthetics. Human beauty, for instance, can be found in each of the major races, yet normally a man prefers some type of beauty in his own race rather than in another; inversely, qualitative and universal affinities between human types sometimes show themselves to be stronger than racial affinities.

Like every other kind of beauty artistic beauty is objective, and therefore discernible by intelligence, not by ‘taste’. Taste is indeed legitimate, but only to the same extent as individual peculiarities are legitimate, that is, in so far as these peculiarities translate positive aspects of some human norm. Different tastes should be derived from pure aesthetics and should be of equal validity, just as are the different ways in which the eye sees things. Myopia and blindness are certainly not different ways of looking — they are merely defects of vision.

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In beauty man ‘realizes’ in a passive way — as to its perception — and outwardly — as to its production — that which he should himself ‘be’ in an active or inward fashion. When man surrounds himself with the ineptitudes of a deviated art how can he still ‘see’ what he should ‘be’? He runs the risk of ‘being’ what he ‘sees’ and assimilating the errors suggested by the erroneous forms among which he lives.

Modern satanism is manifested, in the most external way no doubt, but also in the most directly tangible and intrusive way, in the unintelligible ugliness of forms. ‘Abstract’ minds, which never ‘see’ things, none the less allow themselves to be influenced in their general outlook by the forms around them to which they sometimes, with astonishing superficiality, deny all importance, just as though traditional civilizations did not unanimously proclaim the contrary. In this connection it is appropriate to recall the spiritual aesthetics of some of the great contemplatives, which proves that even in a world of normal forms, the sense of the beautiful may acquire a special spiritual importance.

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From an ascetico-mystical or penitential point of view beauty may appear as something worldly, because such a point of view tends to look at everything with the eye of the will; beauty is then confounded with desire. But from the intellective point of view —which is that of the nature of things and not that of expediency —beauty is spiritual, since in its own way it externalizes Truth and Bliss. That is why the born contemplative cannot see or hear beauty without perceiving in it something of God; and this Divine content allows him the more easily to detach himself from appearances. As for passional man, he sees in beauty the world, seduction, the ego; it distances him from the ‘one thing needful’, at least in the case of natural beauty, though not in the case of the beauty of sacred art, for then the ‘one thing needful’ harnesses the need for beauty in the cause of piety, of fervour and of heaven.

Each of these two points of view should take account of the truth of the other. The perspective of merit cannot prevent truth from imposing itself in principle on every man, even on those who are weak, and it is just this which gives to sacred art its universal validity. The perspective of the intellect, for its part, will not preclude all men — even the strong — from being by nature corruptible. A distinction must be made, not only between contemplatives and passional men, but also between man in so far as he is contemplative and man in so far as he is passional. It may on occasion be useful to slander beauty; but to do so is always a kind of outrage.

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Art should have both a human and a Divine character: human with respect to surrounding nature, which serves as its materia prima, and Divine with respect to the undetermined and unqualified human being, to the bare fact of our psychological existence. In the first case art detaches the human work from nature by reason of the fact that — far from being merely imitated — nature is interpreted and transfigured according to spiritual and technical laws; in the second case the raw human being receives an ideal content which organizes, directs and raises him above himself in accordance with the sufficient reason of our human state. It is these two characteristics which determine art and are the justification for its existence.

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Side by side with their it~trinsic qualities, the forms of art answer a strictly useful purpose. In order that spiritual influences may be able to manifest themselves without encumbrance, they have need of a formal setting which corresponds to them analogically. Without this they cannot radiate, even if they remain always present. It is true that in the soul of a holy man they can shine in spite of everything, but not everyone is a saint, and a sanctuary is constructed to facilitate resonances of the spirit, not to oppose them.(3)

Sacred art is made as a vehicle for spiritual presences, it is made at one and the same time for God, for angels and for man; profane art on the other hand exists only for man and by that very fact betrays him.

Sacred art helps man to find his own centre, that kernel the nature of which is to love God.

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Apart from its function of ‘conserving’ and ‘suggesting’, which concerns both the collectivity and, more directly, certain contemplatives who draw inspiration from its symbolism and breathe its beauty, sacred art belongs to the order of ‘sensible consolations’. Such consolations may draw a man nearer to God or may distance him from God according to the subjective dispositions of the individual, and independently of the objective value of the forms.

If a contemplative ‘can’ turn aside from art as such in so far as he seeks God in the void, he ‘must’ on the other hand reject an art that is individualist and which inevitably offers, on one level or another, false suggestions and a false plenitude.

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In the Middle Ages a religious man could pray in surroundings where everything testified to a homogeneous spirit and to an intelligence supernaturally inspired, he could also pray before a blank wall. He had a choice between the ever truthful language of precious forms and the silence of rough stones. Happily for him he had no other choice.

There is something in our intelligence which wants to live in repose, something in which the conscious and the unconscious meet in a kind of passive activity, and it is to this element that the lofty and easy language of art addresses itself. The language is lofty because of the spiritual symbolism of its forms and the nobility of its style; it is easy because of the aesthetic mode of assimilation. When this function of our spirit, this intuition which stands between the natural and the supernatural and produces incalculable vibrations, is systematically violated and led into error, the consequences will be extremely serious, if not for the individual, at all events for the civilization concerned.

Would a child want its mother to change countenance every day? Would a man want to rearrange his home every day? A sanctuary is like the outstretched arms of a mother and like the intimacy of a home, and the soul and the intelligence must be able to rest in it. Nothing is more monotonous than the illusions of originality found in men who have been inculcated from childhood with an exaggerated respect for ‘creative genius’.

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The multiform beauty of a sanctuary is like the crystallization of a spiritual flux or of a stream of blessings. It is as though invisible and celestial power had fallen into matter — which hardens, divides and scatters — and had transformed it into a shower of precious forms, into a sort of planetary system of symbols, surrounding us and penetrating us from every side. The impact, if one may so call it, is analogous to that of the benediction itself; it is direct and existential; it goes beyond thought and seizes our being in its very substance. There are blessings which are like snow; and others which are like wine; all can be crystallized in sacred art. What is exteriorized in such art is both doctrine and blessing, geometry and the music of Heaven.

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The reproach of ‘naturalism’ cannot properly be levelled merely at a capacity to observe nature; it concerns rather the prejudice which would reduce art simply and solely to the imitation of nature. A more or less exact observation of nature may quite well coincide with art which is traditional, symbolical and sacred, as is proved by the art of the Egypt of the Pharaohs or that of the Far East; it is then the result, not of a passionate and empty naturalism, but of an objectivity which is fundamentally intellectual. The spiritualized realism of Chinese landscape painters has nothing in common with worldly aestheticism.

Disproportions do not make sacred art, any more than correctness of proportion by itself involves the defects of naturalism. Christian art has had an undue contempt for nature and thus no doubt also for a certain aspect of intelligence; consequently the naturalism of late Gothic statuary, and particularly that of the Renaissance, was able to appear superior in the eyes of men who no longer understood the spiritual value of such art as that of Autun, or Vezelay or Moissac. In principle Christian art could have combined a deeper observation of nature with its wholly symbolistic spirituality; and indeed ln certain works it has succeeded in doing so, at least partially and in so far as the symbolism did not require particular proportions.(4) But in fact it was difficult in this art to reconcile perfection of observation with perfection of the symbol, granted the contempt for the body —and for nature in general — which the Christian perspective involves.

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‘Truth’ in art can by no means be reduced to the subjective veracity of the artist; it resides first and foremost in the objective truth of forms, colours and materials. Thus an ignorant and profane art will be far more ‘false’ than a faithful copy of an ancient work, for the copy will at least transmit the objective truth of the original, whereas the invented work will transmit only the psychological ‘truth’ — and thus the error — of its author.

Subjectivism, whether artistic or philosophical, repudiates itself once it objectivizes itself, for to lay claim to truth — or to any other value — is to admit objective criteria.

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Few prejudices are so contradictory and so sterile as the mania for absolute originality, the ambition of an artistic creation seeking to start from zero, as though man also could create ex nihilo. If the attempt is made, what it ends in is the sub-human aberrations of surrealism. It is the case of Lucifer who, while falling, sees his splendour transformed into horror. Artists want to inflict on us types of originality that are wholly improbable, as though they, who are like ourselves and are our contemporaries, could have the right to such excessive singularities. Had they been ancient Atlanteans or beings from another planet we might in principle believe them, but since they are men of modern culture we know them for what they are and we know that their originality can only be an affectation and a false philosophy.

It is by re-establishing links with ancient truth that one would come to understand it and find a new and spiritually legitimate originality. An art that “seeks” is always false. Ancient art never sought for anything; if sometimes it changed, that was as a result of inspiration and not as the result of an effort that could have no motive.

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The ‘sincerity’ to which certain artists lay claim is far too empty of content and too arbitrary to be able to link up with any truth, unless we are to call ‘truth’ a state of psychological fact without horizons, which, it has to be said, is an abuse of language that is not uncommon. The pretentious pseudo-sincerity of the ‘creators’, far from starting from primordial innocence — or from the healthy spontaneity of a barbarian — is, in fact, only a reaction from complications and stresses unknown to the primitive. It might be called a perverted veracity, for it is contrary, not only to objective truth, but also to the natural modesty and good sense of a virtuous man. What is normal is that a human being should seek his centre of inspiration beyond himself, beyond his sterility as a poor sinner: this will force him into making ceaseless corrections and a continuous adjustment in the face of an external norm, in short into changes which will compensate for his ignorance and lack of universality. A normal artist touches up his work, not because he is dishonest, but because he takes account of his own imperfection; a good man corrects himself wherever he can. The work of an artist is not a training in spontaneity — talent is not something that is acquired — but a humble and instructed search, either assiduous or joyously carefree, for perfection of form and expression according to sacred prototypes which are both heavenly and collective in their inspiration. Such inspiration in no wise excludes the inspiration of the individual but gives it its range of action and at the same time guarantees its spiritual value. The artist effaces and forgets himself; all the better if genius gives him wings. But before all else his work retraces that of the soul which transforms itself in conformity with a Divine model.

Few things are so falsely dramatic, and so ridiculously out of proportion in their principles and in their results, as the strange moralism of those who make artistic ‘research’ into a sort of religion at once icy and passionate.

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We must never lose sight of the fact that as soon as art ceases to be a pure and simple ideography — which is perfectly within its rights, for how should the decorative element of art be banned when it is everywhere in nature? — it has a mission from which nothing can make it deviate. This mission is to transmit spiritual values, whether these are saving truths or cosmic qualities, including human virtues.

Art which is deliberately individualistic and founded on the prejudice of genius does not exteriorize either transcendent ideas or profound virtues: it objectivizes only individual fact. This may be accidentally qualitative, but there is every chance that, in the absence of prototypes and traditional principles, it will not be so.

Art in the most general sense is vocational activity which conforms to an essentially normal — and therefore normative —function.

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Poetry should express with sincerity a beauty of the soul; one might also say: “with beauty, sincerity”. It would serve no purpose to make so obvious a point but for the fact that in our days definitions of art have become increasingly falsified, either through the abuse of attributing to one art the characteristics of another, or by introducing into a definition of one art, or of all art, perfectly arbitrary elements such as a pre-occupation with its date; as though the value or lack of value of a work of art could depend on the knowledge of whether it is modern or ancient, or on one s believing it to be ancient if it is modern or vice versa.

Contemporary poetry is mostly lacking in beauty and sincerity; it is lacking in beauty for the simple reason that the souls of the poets — or rather of those who fabricate what takes the place of poetry — are devoid of it, and it is lacking in sincerity on account of the artificial and paltry searching for unusual expressions which excludes all spontaneity. It is no longer a question of poetry but of a sort of cold and lifeless work ofjewellery made up of false gems, or of a meticulous elaboration which is at the very antipodes of what is beautiful and true. Since the muse no longer gives anything, because it is rejected a priori, — for the last thing which a man of to-day would accept is to appear naïve, — vibrations are provoked in the soul and it is cut into fragments.(5)

Whatever the caprice of the moment, it is illogical to cultivate a non-poetical poetry and to define poetry in terms of its own absence.

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Metaphysical or mystical poets such as Dante and some of the troubadours, and also the Sufi poets, expressed spiritual realities through the beauty of their souls. It is a matter of spiritual endowment far more than a question of method, for it is not given to every man sincerely to formulate truths which are beyond the range of ordinary humanity. Even if the concern was only to introduce a symbolical terminology into a poem, it would still be necessary to be a true poet in order to succeed without betrayal. Whatever one may think of the symbolistic intention of the Vita Nttova or the Khamr~7ya/l (the ‘Song of Wine’ by Omar ibn al-Färidh) or the quatrains of Omar Khayyam, it is not possible knowingly to deny the poetical quality of such works, and it is this quality which, from an artistic point of view, justifies the intention in question; moreover the same symbiosis of poetry and symbolism is to be found in prototypes of Divine inspiration such as the ‘Song of Songs’.

Sometimes it is said that the Eastern civilizations are dead, and are producing no more poetry. To the extent that this is true they are in the right; it is better to confess to being dead than to feign life.

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Architecture, painting and sculpture are objective and static. These arts above all express forms, and their universality lies in the objective symbolism of these forms. Poetry, music and dance are subjective and dynamic. These arts first and foremost express essences, and their universality lies in the subjective reality of these essences.

Music distinguishes essences as such and does not, like poetry, distinguish their degrees of manifestation. Music can express the quality of ‘fire’ without being able to specify — since it is not objective — whether it is question of visible fire, of passion, of fervour or the flame of mystic love, or of the universal fire — of angelic essence — from which all these expressions are derived. Music expresses all this at one and the same time when it gives voice to the spirit of fire, and it is for this reason that some hear the voice of passion and others the corresponding spiritual function angelic or Divine. Music is capable of presenting countless combinations and modes of these essences by means of secondary differentiations and characteristics of melody and rhythm. It should be added that rhythm is more essential than melody, since it represents the principial or masculine determination of musical language, whereas melody is its expansive and feminine substance.

The angelic essences have been compared to streams of pure water, of wine, of milk, of honey and of fire; they correspond to so many melodies, so many musical categories.

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A building, whether it be a temple, a palace or a house, represents the universe — or a given world or microcosm — seen in conformity with a particular traditional perspective. Thus it also represents the ‘mystical body’, the caste or the family, according to the particular case.

Dress exteriorizes either the spiritual or social function, or the soul: and these two aspects may be combined. Clothing is opposed to nakedness as the soui is opposed to the body, or as the spiritual function — the priestly function for example — is opposed to animal nature. When clothing is combined with nakedness — as in the case of the Hindus, for example, — then the latter appears in its qualitative and sacred aspect.

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Byzantine, Romanesque and primitive Gothic arts are theologies: they proclaim God, or rather ‘realize’ Him on a certain level.

The pseudo-Christian art inaugurated by the neo-paganism of the Renaissance seeks and realizes only man. The mysteries it should suggest are suffocated in a hubbub of superficiality and impotence, inevitable features of individualism; in any case it inflicts very great harm on society, above all by its ignorant hypocrisy. How should it be otherwise, seeing that this art is only disguised paganism and takes no account in its formal language of the contemplative chastity and the immaterial beauty of the spirit of the Gospels? How can one unreservedly call ‘sacred’ an art which, forgetful of the quasi-sacramental character of holy images and forgetful, too, of the traditional rules of the craft, holds up to the veneration of the faithful carnal and showy copies of nature and even portraits of concubines painted by libertines? In the ancient Church, and in the Eastern Churches even down to our own times, icon painters prepared themselves for their work by fasting, by prayer and by sacraments; to the inspiration which had fixed the immutable type of the image they added their own humble and pious inspirations; and they scrupulously respected the symbolism — always susceptible of an endless series of precious nuances — of the forms and colours. They drew their creative joy, not from inventing pretentious novelties, but from a loving recreation of the revealed prototypes, and this resulted in a spiritual and artistic perfection such as no individual genius could ever attain.

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The Renaissanct still retained certain qualities of intelligence and grandeur, whereas the Baroque style could hardly express anything but the spiritual penury and the hollow and miserable turgidity of its period.

Late Gothic statuary has all the characteristics of a dense and unintelligent bourgeois art; the Renaissance was in a strong position in setting against it the noble and intelligent art of a Donatello or a Cellini. But none the less, taken as a whole, the misdeeds of Gothic art are a small matter beside those of the profane, passionate and pompous art of the Renaissance. No doubt bad taste and incapacity are to be met with everywhere, but tradition neutralizes them and reduces them to a minimum that is always tolerable.

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The first thing that strikes one in a traditional masterpiece is its intelligence: an intelligence which surprises both by its complexity and by its power of synthesis, and intelligence which envelops, penetrates and uplifts.

Humanly speaking some artists of the Renaissance are great, but with a greatness which becomes small in the face of the greatness of the sacred. In sacred art genius is as it were hidden; what is dominant is an impersonal, vast and mysterious intelligence. A sacred work of art has a fragrance of infinity, an imprint of the absolute. In it individual talent is disciplined; it is intermingled with the creative function of the tradition as a whole; this cannot be replaced, far less can it be surpassed, by human resources.

The Sainte Chapelle: a shimmer of rubies and sapphires set in gold. No individual genius could improvise its splendours.(6) One might think that they had sprung from the lily and the gentian.

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Latin Christianity has never been able to eradicate completely the paganism of antiquity. After having smouldered for centuries beneath the spiritual and artistic marvels of medieval civilization, it broke out and appeared in a heavier and more brutal form. It took its revenge by destroying, on the intellectual level as well as on the artistic(7) and other levels, the normal expressions of the Christian genius.

The Renaissance, an imperialism of bourgeois and bankers, was on the level of forms an intrinsic heresy.

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Hindu art has in it both something of the heavy motion of the sea and at the same time something of the exuberance of virgin forest; it is sumptuous, sensual and rhythmical; intimately linked with dancing, it seems to originate in the cosmic dance of the Gods. In certain respects the Tamil style is heavier and more static than that of the Aryan Hindus of northern India. Islamic art is abstract, but also poetical and gracious; it is woven out of sobriety and splendour. The style of the Maghreb is perhaps more virile than are the Turkish and Persian styles; but these — and especially the latter — are by way of compensation more varied. Within the field of Chinese art, which is rich, powerful and full of the unexpected and the mysterious, the Japanese style represents a tendency towards soberness and elegance. The Tibetan style is midway between that of the Chinese and the Hindus and is heavy, sombre, at times rough and often fierce; the Burmese and Siamese style is delicate, lively and precious.

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Islamic art allies the joyous profusion of vegetation with the pure and abstract severity of crystals: a prayer niche adorned with arabesques owes something to a garden and to snowflakes. This mixture of qualities is already to be met with in the Koran where the geometry of the ideas is as it were hidden under the blaze of forms.

Islam, being possessed by the idea of Unity, if one may so put it, has also an aspect of the simplicity of the desert, of whiteness and of austerity, which, in its art, alternates with the crystalline joy of ornamentation. The cradle of the Arabs is a landscape of deserts and oases. Moslem art shows in a very transparent way how art should repeat nature — understood in the widest possible sense — in its creative modes without copying it in its results.

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When the arts are enumerated the art of dress is too often forgotten though it none the less has an importance as great, or almost as great, as architecture. Doubtless no civilization has ever produced summits in every field. Thus the Arab genius, made up of virility and resignation, has produced a masculine dress of unsurpassed nobility and sobriety, whereas it has neglected feminine dress, which is destined in Islam, not to express the ‘eternal feminine’ as does Hindu dress, but to hide woman’s seductive charms. The Hindu genius, which in a certain sense divinizes the ‘wife-mother’, has on the other hand created a feminine dress unsurpassable in its beauty, its dignity and its femininity. One of the most expressive and one of the least-known forms of dress is that of the Red Indians, with its rippling fringes and its ornaments of a wholly primordial symbolism; here man appears in all the solar glory of the hero, and woman in the proud modesty of her impersonal function.

The art of dress of every civilization, and even of every people, embraces many varying forms in time and space, but the spirit always remains the same, though it does not always reach the same heights of direct expression and immediate intelligibility.

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There are two aspects to every symbol: the first of these adequately reflects the Divine function and so constitutes the sufficient reason for the symbolism; the other consists simply of the reflection as such and is therefore contingent. The first of these aspects is the content, while the second is the mode of its manifestation. When we say ‘femininity’, we have no need to consider the possible modes of expression of the feminine principle; it is not the species, race or individual that matters, only the feminine quality. It is the same with every symbolism: thus the sun on the one hand presents a content, which is its luminosity, its caloricity, its central position and its immutability in relation to the planets; and on the other hand it presents a mode of manifestation, namely its matter, its density and its spatial limitation. It is clearly the qualities of the sun and not its limitations which manifest something of God.

And this manifestation is adequate, for a symbol is basically nothing other than the Reality it symbolizes, in so far as that Reality is limited by the particular existential level in which it ‘incarnates’. This must needs be so, for nothing is absolutely outside God; were it otherwise there would be things that were absolutely limited, absolutely imperfect, absolutely ‘other than God’ — a supposition that is metaphysically absurd. To say that the sun is God is false in so far as it implies that ‘God is the sun’; but it is equally false to pretend that the sun is only an incandescent mass and absolutely nothing else, for this would be to cut it off from its Divine Cause; it would be to deny that the effect is always something of the Cause. It is superfluous to introduce into the definition of symbolism reservations which, though they pay tribute to the absolute transcendence of the Divine Principle, are none the less foreign to a purely intellectual contemplation of things.

Apart from that, there exist simple metaphors: these are pseudo-symbols, that is to say, images which all told are ill-chosen. An image which does not touch the essence of what it seeks to express is not a symbol but an allegory.

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When we speak of forms in the widest sense we ought also to include colours, which equally belong to the ‘formal’ order while being independent qualities in relation to tangible forms. Religions are divergent forms that are none the less analogous —there is no analogy without divergence — but they also comprise secondary forms which, following the same visual symbolism, may be described as so many ‘colours of the spirit’. Affective and combative spiritual positions are ‘red’; contemplation and quietude are ‘blue’; joy is ‘yellow’; pure truth is ‘white’; the inexpressible is ‘black’. Colours also have, of course, many other meanings according to the degree of reality or the category of things envisaged. Let us now consider colours in their own nature and in their immediate language. Red has intensity and violence; blue has depth and goodness.(8) The eyes can move and lose themselves in blue, but not in red, which rises before us like a wall of fire. Yellow has both intensity and depth, but in a ‘light’ mode; it possesses a certain ‘transcendent’ quality in relation to the ‘heavy’ colours and marks, as it were, an emergence towards whiteness. When mixed with blue, it gives to the contemplativity associated with this colour a quality of ‘hope’, of saving joy, and a liberation out of the enveloping quietude of contemplation. Red excites, awakens and ‘exteriorizes’, blue gathers and ‘interiorizes’ and yellow rejoices and ‘delivers’. Red is aggressive and acts externally; the radiance of blue is deep and welcoming and turns inwards; that of yellow is ‘liberating’ and spreads in all directions. The mixture of self-collectedness (blue) with joy (yellow) is hope (green). Hope is opposed to passion (red) because it lives, not in the present like passion, but in the future; it is also opposed to passion in its two aspects of introspection and of joy.

Purple is too ‘heavy’, since it is composed of two heavy colours, one hot and the other cold. Orange on the other hand is too ‘hot’, because it is composed of two hot colours, one heavy and the other light. Green is neither too heavy nor too hot, being composed of a heavy colour and a light colour, one cold and the other hot; it is the only happy mixture. In purple the mingled elements are too different; in orange the two elements are too much alike; green, on the contrary, unites opposites which are situated on different planes and cannot be in conflict; it therefore manifests equilibrium. Purple on the other hand expresses overloading, fatigue and languor, and orange ‘overheating’, the joyous excitement of desire and not a transparent joy like yellow.

Again, if orange is seduction, purple will be regret and green will be pardon. In the triad of secondary colours it is green which is at the summit and which liberates; in the triad of primary colours it is yellow which holds this place.

Green, because it combines two colours which are in opposition in two different respects, has, ‘by definition’ as it were, an ambiguity which gives it a character of ‘surprise’ and strangeness’; it has two dimensions, — whence its mystery, —whereas its opposite colour, red, is simple, indivisible and instantaneous. Green is hope, promise, happy expectation and good news; it has an aspect of unexpectedness, of gaiety and frolic; it possesses neither the violent action of red nor the closed and inwardly unlimited collectedness of blue, nor yet does it have the open, simple and radiant joy of yellow.

Red represents the present moment. Green, its opposite, represents duration with its two dimensions of past and future, the future being represented by yellow and the past by blue. Seen spatially blue is space and yellow is the shining centre which reveals itself and liberates, and which displays a new dimension of infinity. It is the sky transpierced by the sun.

The opposition between red and green marks a direct antinomy. The opposition between blue and yellow, on the other hand, is harmonious, their relationship being complementary. In the same way blue and red on the one hand, and red and yellow on the other, are harmoniously opposed; in the first case because one is cold and the other hot, and in the second case because one is heavy and the other light. The opposition between blue and red expresses royal dignity, compounded of rigour and generosity; the opposition between red and yellow expresses joyous intensity compounded of voluptuous pleasure and happiness. The pair red and green expresses divergent opposition; but on the spiritual level these colours also symbolize love and knowledge, which are in fact divergent as attitudes, their transcendent synthesis being symbolized by white.

In the same order of ideas blue and yellow respectively symbolize contemplation and grace, which are the two necessary poles of knowledge. But whereas white can be said to represent the transcendent synthesis of the opposition between red and green, the synthesis of blue and yellow is a direct one, namely green, which is a mixture, not an integration. As for white and black, these represent respectively what is ‘above colour’ and what has ‘no colour’; they are in opposition like light and darkness or like Being and nothingness. On the other hand, red is opposed to white as passion is opposed to purity, and it is opposed to black as life is opposed to death. Red and green are also earthly life and resurrection.

Green and red can have a maleficent meaning in so far as they are opposed to white by their violence; red in a passionate manner and green in a perfidious or venomous manner. Yellow and black are also susceptible of such a meaning, yellow in so far as it contradicts blue, as the seduction of false paradises contradicts the collectedness of piety; and black in so far as it denies white, as ignorance denies wisdom, or as guilt excludes innocence.

Blue and white cannot have a maleficent meaning properly so called; blue because its radiation is in a certain sense spherical or circular and so contemplative, and white because it is absolutely neutral, transcendent and primordial. On the other hand, they may have a more or less negative meaning; white is then emptiness and outwardness which is opposed both to the qualitative plenitude of colours and also to the secrecy of black, to spiritual inwardness; in this last case it is the profane aspect of day which is in opposition to the sacred aspect of night. Blue is cold which is opposed to heat, or water (quantity) which is opposed to fire (quality), and so to blood which is also hot and qualitative.

The beneficent aspect of colours — and of the elements — is always essential, direct and unconditional; their maleficent aspect is accidental, indirect and conditional, for it exists only by opposition and negation.

1 This word is used in its ordinary present-day meaning; it is not used to designate theories of sensory knowledge.

2 This is why every ‘descent from Heaven’, every Avatara, has perfect beauty. It is said of the Buddhas that they save not only by doctrine but also in a more direct and plastic’ way by their superhuman beauty. The name Shunyamurti (Manifestation of the Void) applied to a Buddha is full of significance.

3 It will be said that angels are at ease in a stable. But a stable, precisely, is not a baroque or surrealist church.

4 This is not a reference to the disproportions, motivated simply by regard for perspective, in Byzantine cupolas or in the facades of some cathedrals.

5 The same remarks are valid in relation to contemporary music; it is no longer music but something else. At the opposite extreme from the ‘vibratory’ or ‘acoustic’ arts we have come across inverse but in reality complementary. tendencies namely attempts at ‘dynamic’, or even ‘vegetative’, architecture.

6 Pierre de Montereau drew these splendours from the tradition, giving to it an interpretation that was extraordinarily serene, joyous and transparent.

7 We are here referring to the full development of the Renaissance style, as found in Michelangelo, Titian or Correggio, not to the painting of the Quattrocento, which is often virginal and tender and is in any case still Christian.

8 The sky is blue and so is the mantle of the Virgin, Mater miserieordiae. Christ is clad in white and red; sanctity and life, purity and love. Certain Vishnuite schools distinguish between a love that is ‘red’ and a love that is ‘blue’, the former no doubt corresponding to an activity and the latter to a passivity.