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As a Baha’i artist, I struggle every day to feed my higher, more spiritual inner nature with the qualities that will make my art flourish.
It isn’t easy, but I’ve learned that the struggle pays off, not only with better art but with a more peaceful self. Quotes like this one from the Baha’i teachings inspire me to focus on that higher nature within:
When man allows the spirit, through his soul, to enlighten his understanding, then does he contain all Creation; because man, being the culmination of all that went before and thus superior to all previous evolutions, contains all the lower world within himself. Illumined by the spirit through the instrumentality of the soul, man’s radiant intelligence makes him the crowning-point of Creation. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, pp. 96-97.
So if we contain the lower world—our animal nature—then we must work to “contain all Creation,” as Abdu’l-Baha put it. Artists who want to be “illumined by the spirit” need to adopt a spiritual practice that includes:
Detachment is as the sun; in whatsoever heart it doth shine it quencheth the fire of covetousness and self. – Baha’u’llah, The Baha’i World, Volume 1, p. 42.
In line with adopting a humble attitude when creating, artists need to practice the attribute of detachment. When we’re not detached we develop a strong urge to control circumstances that may often be beyond us. We also become blind to the possibility of things going haywire. Being detached as artists opens us up to taking healthy risks that expose our work to new possibilities—and when things don’t turn out so great, we’re detached enough to try something else or take a new approach. As artists we need to learn to be detached from our own intentions, and the thoughts/expectations of others. As Baha’u’llah wrote, pleasing God should be our one and only ultimate objective:
Cleanse from your hearts the love of worldly things, from your tongues every remembrance except His remembrance, from your entire being whatsoever may deter you from beholding His face, or may tempt you to follow the promptings of your evil and corrupt inclinations. Let God be your fear, O people, and be ye of them that tread the path of righteousness. – Baha’u’llah, Gleanings from the Writings of Baha’u’llah, p. 275.
Be content with that which hath been ordained by an irrevocable decree, and be of them that endure with patience. – Baha’u’llah, The Summons of the Lord of Hosts, p. 154.
As artists, we naturally acquire patience from the beginning, as we push through hurdles over time to hone our craft. However, as we become more skilled craftsmen and women, patience can be perceived as more of an obstacle than a tool. When we lack patience, we often feed into our own fears and anxieties. Taking our time with a project helps us eliminate mistakes and helps us focus on our growth through the creative process. Anxiously feeling like we should just get on with it, even if it feels like it’s taken us forever to get through something, doesn’t often lead to a positive outcome. Calling on patience through prayer offers us the protection and confirmation we are seeking during the creative process.
Strain every nerve to acquire both inner and outer perfections, for the fruit of the human tree hath ever been and will ever be perfections both within and without. It is not desirable that a man be left without knowledge or skills, for he is then but a barren tree. Then, so much as capacity and capability allow, ye needs must deck the tree of being with fruits such as knowledge, wisdom, spiritual perception and eloquent speech. – Baha’u’llah, from a tablet translated from the Persian.
The Baha’i teachings say that each and every human being has been endowed with great capacity and capability. Baha’u’llah reminded us that we must strive to “acquire perfections” and that this applies to our art, our craft and our occupations. Excellence is a spiritual attribute which can be exhibited in the quality of our work, the effort we put in, and our intentions to create something perfect and beautiful, as subjective as this may be. Excellence requires being humble and detached while also pursuing greatness:
God grant that thou wilt exert thine utmost to acquire perfections, as well as proficiency in a craft. – Ibid.
Arts, crafts and sciences uplift the world of being, and are conducive to its exaltation. Knowledge is as wings to man’s life, and a ladder for his ascent. Its acquisition is incumbent upon everyone. The knowledge of such sciences, however, should be acquired as can profit the peoples of the earth, and not those which begin with words and end with words … In truth, knowledge is a veritable treasure for man, and a source of glory, of bounty, of joy, of exaltation, of cheer and gladness unto him. Happy the man that cleaveth unto it, and woe betide the heedless. – Baha’u’llah, Epistle to the Son of the Wolf, pp. 26-27.
Most importantly, artists should create because it brings them joy. In the passage above, Baha’u’llah reminded us that acquiring arts, crafts and sciences are aspects of acquiring knowledge, and this lifts us and brings us closer to the Creator. This idea that we are lifted by knowledge, that arts and crafts bring us closer to God, should be a source of joy—and an impulse to create. As artists, no matter how successful or little-known we are, we must remember to love what we do, and to do it in the spirit of joy and service to humanity.
To close, these are just some of the main attributes that came to our minds when my friends and I reflected on our creative process as artists. I know that each of us is unique in our approach to creativity, and that there are many attributes that I didn’t cover in this essay, so I’d love to hear from you! What attitudes and attributes do YOU like to call on when you’re in the process of creating art? Feel free to leave a comment or quote in the comments below!