Artists are natural investigators of the truth – they invest their lives in uncovering mysteries, questioning traditions and expressing their creative path to what is true.
Through their investigation of spiritual reality, artists use their own unique voice to bring to the forefront their view of the world, their truth. By withdrawing from traditions and rejecting dogmatic practices, artists make work that becomes the frontier of new and creative exploration. The work of artists and their search for truth often exposes our shared lived experience and reminds us, as the Baha’i teachings say, that we are one:
… every individual member of humankind is exhorted and commanded to set aside superstitious beliefs, traditions and blind imitation of ancestral forms in religion and investigate reality for himself. Inasmuch as the fundamental reality is one, all religions and nations of the world will become one through investigation of reality. – Abdu’l-Baha, The Promulgation of Universal Peace
Artists provide us with a source of inspiration and guidance
Whether it’s personal or historical or universal, the purpose of art is to tell a story. These stories make us think, inspire us and guide us to action. They reflect the good and bad, and also offer alternative solutions and ways of being. They shed light on the now, and often portray how the world was in the past or should be in the future. Artists help us reflect on the world, consider our options, and put our efforts into those that benefit humanity:
What you could do, and should do, is to use your stories to become a source of inspiration and guidance for those who read them. With such a means at your disposal you can spread the spirit and teachings of the Cause; you can show the evils that exist in society, as well as the way they can be remedied. If you possess a real talent in writing you should consider it as given by God and exert your efforts to use it for the betterment of society. – Shoghi Effendi, letter to an individual Baha’i, 30 November 1932.
The purpose of art: to elicit a response that leads to action
The work of artists does more than simply entertain us – it moves us. It raises our awareness and enlightens us on issues prevalent in society. By using their voices through various modes of creation, artists have the ability to articulate a message in ways that rational thought or mere facts often can’t. Art also has the potential to elicit a response and inspire wide-spread action. The arts remind us of our inherent potential, nobility, and agency to act.
Just as they do in music, the Baha’i teachings encourage all artists to bring their art to the highest stage of development. Each time an artist produces work, they evolve and learn from their experience, and grow even closer to becoming masters of their craft:
The art of music must be brought to the highest stage of development, for this is one of the most wonderful arts and in this glorious age of the Lord of Unity it is highly essential to gain its mastery. However, one must endeavour to attain the degree of artistic perfection and not be like those who leave matters unfinished. – Abdu’l-Baha, from a tablet to an individual Baha’i.
Art educates the future
The Baha’i teachings say that the promotion of arts education in children is one of the greatest services one can offer, because it ensures that future generations continue their exploration of divine reality, and receive divine confirmations:
Among the greatest of all great services is the education of children, and promotion of the various sciences, crafts, and arts. Praised be God, ye are now exerting strenuous efforts toward this end. The more ye persevere in this most important task, the more will ye witness the confirmations of God, to such a degree that ye yourselves will be astonished. – Ibid.
We’re all called to be artists
Most artists live simple lives, not motivated to create for the money or notoriety or lack thereof. Baha’u’llah tells us that the “best of men are those that earn a livelihood by their calling.” Each individual is charged with the responsibility to engage in an occupation, as the Baha’i writings describe such work as rising to the rank of worship. What better way to live this short, fragile life, than to pursue our calling:
The best of men are they that earn a livelihood by their calling and spend upon themselves and upon their kindred for the love of God, the Lord of all worlds. – Baha’u’llah, The Hidden Words
It is enjoined upon every one of you to engage in some form of occupation, such as crafts, trades and the like. We have graciously exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship unto God, the True One. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah
We live in unstable times. Society grows more confused and hopeless as the state of the world declines. Artists, inspired by divine reality, play a huge part in bringing to life the newly revitalized world that Baha’u’llah calls on us to establish. The future of humanity at large relies on artists of all backgrounds to produce art that animates the spirit, promotes the welfare of humanity, and gives expression to the vision of a peaceful, unified future world enshrined in the Baha’i teachings. How are you using art to uplift your community?