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Where does the creative inspiration that produces great art come from?
As a young aspiring artist and a Baha’i, I’ve often wondered about where inspiration originates. Drawing from life experiences, relationships, conversations, and curiosities were common practice amongst the artists I listened too and my peers, but what about the Divine?
Being born into a Baha’i family with creative inclinations, I learned that we inherited these gifts, not only from our ancestors, but also through a divine source. The Baha’i teachings say that this divine source endows us all with inner gifts, which can act as a source of inspiration, guidance and protection during the creative process:
Wherefore, O loved ones of God! Make ye a mighty effort till you yourselves betoken this advancement and all these confirmations, and become focal centres of God’s blessings, daysprings of the light of His unity, promoters of the gifts and graces of civilized life. Be ye in that land vanguards of the perfections of humankind; carry forward the various branches of knowledge, be active and progressive in the field of inventions and the arts. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 129.
Now the new age is here and creation is reborn. Humanity hath taken on new life. The autumn hath gone by, and the reviving spring is here. All things are now made new. Arts and industries have been reborn, there are new discoveries in science, and there are new inventions; even the details of human affairs, such as dress and personal effects—even weapons—all these have likewise been renewed. The laws and procedures of every government have been revised. Renewal is the order of the day.
And all this newness hath its source in the fresh outpourings of wondrous grace and favour from the Lord of the Kingdom, which have renewed the world. – Ibid., pp. 252-253.
But outside the doors of my family home, the world couldn’t have looked more different. Society today has become all too familiar with the notion of a starving, struggling artist; observing them as they go through great physical and emotional turmoil to come up with their next big idea or creation. Artists have grown accustomed to the practice of isolating themselves, often burrowing deeper and deeper into the depths of depression and sadness, until an epiphany or revelation strikes them. Justifiably, so much of an artist’s work has become about protecting their ideas as creating them. Concerning themselves more and more with trademarks, patents and copyrights, artists are constantly in a battle for recognition, and fighting for credit where credit is due is often the only means of survival for some. The ensuing battles can be fierce.
But, I wondered, what if all this stress and pressure could be lifted? The concept of inspiration and the divine became increasingly intriguing to me, as the forces and dichotomized notions of the origins of inspiration grew stronger from all sides. I became curious about my own Faith’s proofs of the existence of a divine source of inspiration in the creative process, what it looks like to draw on their energy during the creative process, and how this impacts the relationship between the artist and their final work.
It’s a beautiful gift—and often for artists quite the journey—to find a creative and sustainable career path doing something you’re gifted in and passionate about. In the following passage, Baha’u’llah encouraged us to put our whole trust in God when searching for our true calling. Baha’u’llah also confirmed the existence of an unknowable spirit, God, in protecting and guiding our journey. He assured us that if we put our whole trust in God, we will undoubtedly receive His favors. With this simple act, artists can remove themselves and their egos from the equation, and merely act as channels of creative energy, guided and protected by a heavenly source. To this point, Baha’u’llah offered this counsel:
Concerning the means of livelihood, thou shouldst, while placing thy whole trust in God, engage in some occupation. He will assuredly send down upon thee from the heaven of His favour that which is destined for thee. He is in truth the God of might and power. – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 267.
The Baha’i teachings also say that artists have the power to use their souls as channels, and that these channels have the potential to perceive divine realities that ultimately translate inspiration into art. Abdu’l-Baha described this power as the work of the Holy Spirit, God:
By the power of the Holy Spirit, working through his soul, man is able to perceive the Divine Reality of things. All great works of art and science are witnesses to this power of the Spirit. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 85
To prepare and enable our souls to serve as channels for the Holy Spirit, the Baha’i teachings encourage artists to employ the potent power of prayer in their creative process. From a Baha’i perspective, artists can pray for guidance, detachment and patience in awaiting confirmation and inspiration. As I began to study this process more deeply, I found many passages in the Baha’i writings that speak to the divine power of prayer for artists.
In the following passage, Abdu’l-Baha advised us of the power of prayer and meditation when calling on the Holy Spirit in the creative process. He shared how the artist can uncover divine mysteries that offer inspiration when they immerse themselves in the spiritual world of prayer and remove themselves as individuals from the equation. In removing oneself, artists can free themselves from the chains; burdens and limitations placed upon them, and can allow the divine to serve as a guide. This helps artists to humbly detach themselves and their peers from the outcome, leaving room for reflection, consultation, action and prayer:
Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries. In that state man abstracts himself; in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves. To illustrate this, think of man as endowed with two kinds of sight; when the power of insight is being used the outward power of vision does not see. This faculty of meditation frees man from the animal nature, discerns the reality of things, puts man in touch with God. This faculty brings forth from the invisible plane the sciences and arts. Through the meditative faculty inventions are made possible, colossal undertakings are carried out; through it governments can run smoothly. Through this faculty man enters into the very kingdom of God. – Ibid., p. 175.
In the following passage, Baha’u’llah lifted the artist from the prevalent notions of pain and anguish they so commonly experience in the creative process. He also encouraged those who examine art to remove their focus from the artist, and to view their creation as work by the divine:
In this Day the sun of craftsmanship shineth above the horizon of the occident and the river of arts is flowing out of the sea of that region. One must speak with fairness and appreciate such bounty … – Tablets of Baha’u’llah, pp. 38-39.
From a Baha’i perspective, the power not only rests in the hands of artist to create, but also to acknowledge the Creator as the ultimate divine source of inspiration. Abdu’l-Baha encouraged artists to acquire their skills as an offering of service to humanity, to highlight the glory of the Divine, giving thanks and praise:
Although to acquire the sciences and arts is the greatest glory of mankind, this is so only on condition that man’s river flow into the mighty sea, and draw from God’s ancient source His inspiration. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 110.
Artists have the power to translate inner vision into outer vision, by bringing to life the invisible through their creative work. Adopting the approach of the Baha’i teachings, relying on confirmation when we pursue our true calling, drawing on inspiration through meditation and prayer, using our gifts as creative channels for the divine, practicing detachment, and offering our artistic skills as service and praise, could not be more needed and applicable in today’s art world, both for the well-being of the artist and the society we all live in, which requires the inspiration of true art to survive.