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In the Realm of the Lotus - An Interview with J.O.Mallander About Art

by Sangharakshita

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... your
usual self, into a quite different kind of world where one might say, one is concerned with values rather than with interests. When I say interests I mean
interests in the, as it were, economic sense. Unless you're a market gardener you are not going to think in terms of making money out of a flower. You
just value the flower for its own sake. So I think beauty is important from that point of view among others.

J.O.M.: Then it's more and more possible, the more selfless people are ...

S: Yes. The more selfless you are the more you appreciate beauty and the more you appreciate beauty the more selfless you become. In fact in the
book you mentioned I quote Kant to the effect that to appreciate natural beauty is a sign of goodness in a man. But of course as I've said quite a few
people nowadays would not agree that beauty had anything to do with art but I don't agree with that at all. It depends of course I suppose very much on
one's definition of art and in that book many, many years ago I tried to work out my own definition of art which some people have found quite useful.
After discussing all sorts of definitions of art and the philosophy of art I say, "Art is the organisation of sensuous impressions into pleasurable formal
relations that express the artist's sensibility and communicates to his audience a sense of values that can transform their lives".

So it's as though one goes up and up, stage by stage, step by step, in a sort of hierarchy of experience. First of all, there come the sensuous impressions,
impressions of sound, impressions of colour, impressions of shape, because art is mostly concerned with sound and with form and colour, it's not
concerned with touch, it's not concerned with smell or with taste except in a very, very subordinate sense. So art begins with sensuous impressions.
Impressions coming to us through the eye and through the ear. So what do we do with these impressions? First of all we organise them. To begin with
they're usually chaotic. We compose, we organise. And what do we organise them into? How do we organise them? We organise them into
pleasurable, formal relations. We...
J.O.M.: Harmonious?


S: Harmonious. Yes, we can say harmonious. In the simplest way we organise into patterns. But that is very simple indeed. Here there enters the
question of composition. There enters the question of form. There's enters the question of what has been called significant form. So it's not just that we
have these pleasurable formal relations. These relations also have a relation to the artist himself, they express what I call the artist's sensibility, his
awareness, his consciousness perhaps of nature or of other people and more than that they communicate to his audience a sense of values. A deep
underlying philosophy and communicate that sense of values in such a way that the lives of the audience can be transformed. So I see art as arranged in
a sort of hierarchy. There is some art that simply organises sensuous impressions into pleasurable formal relations. That's the lowest kind of art. Then
the next kind of art also expresses through those pleasurable formulations the artist's sensibility. Then a still higher form of art communicates through
that the artist's sense of values and in the very highest form of art of all, that sense of values communicated in that way is capable of transforming the
lives of the observers or the readers and so on.

J.O.M.: Could you maybe mention some names here that we can elaborate later on, artists that come to your mind?

S: Well, if I start by say at the very beginning, the organisation of sensuous impressions into pleasurable formal relations, well one can think in terms of
the Moorish tilework. I mention that because I saw many examples of it when I visited Spain, the Alhambra and Granada some couple of years ago. So
this is an example of sensuous impressions organised into pleasurable formal relations. Patterns. Geometrical patterns very often. This kind of art is
very common in Islam.

J.O.M.: Impersonal?

S: Yes. Because of the ban on the representation of living things though that ban was broken by the Persian artists. But in mosques you don't see
representations of figures but you get lots of very beautiful patterns in tilework and calligraphy. So that is, to my way of thinking, the lowest form of
art. But then you get also sort of patterns that express the artist's sensibility in some way. The artist's feeling. It's difficult to give names because artists
may express themselves in these different ways in different works of art or even in different ways within the context of one and the same work of art.
But if I go right up to the top of the list, as it were, straight away, I would say that Michelangelo in his Sistine Chapel painting, in his paintings in the
roof of the Sistine Chapel, expresses a sort of philosophy. We're beginning to realise that Michelangelo was quite a thinker and that he wasn't merely
illustrating the Bible scenes but those scenes had a certain significance for him that transcended perhaps their immediate Christian connection.

He also had the figures of the Sybils, he had the figures of those Igneudos, those youths, framing those illustrations and the figures of the prophets. So
here we get almost a philosophy, a definite outlook upon life which can be very influential and transformative expressed in that particular way through
his art. He's not just making pretty patterns. He's not just expressing his sensibility even. He's expressing his vision, his sense of values and expressing

them in such a way as to transform the life of the onlooker. In music I think probably Beethoven in his late quartets approaches this kind of art. I've
spoken about the pre-Raphaelites. I would say that very often the pre-Raphaelites don't go very far beyond the first two levels. Yes, there are very
beautiful patterns, there are beautiful colours, beautiful formal relations which are very pleasurable and a sensibility is expressed. But despite the
medievalism and despite the moralism there's not really much of a deeper communication of values I would say.

In the case of some of the Renaissance artists the underlying philosophy is neo-Platonic as in Botticelli. And also I think in El Greco who of course is
not Renaissance, he comes later and he's Spanish. But when I saw a couple of years ago many of the great paintings of El Greco in Spain I became
conscious that underlying his work there was a quite profound philosophy of platonic and possibly neo-Platonic.

J.O.M.: Now you have written very much in your autobiography of your different experiences which are very many in variety and some of us might
sometimes wonder that amidst all of this taking place, where are you yourself or maybe more properly, who is the real Sangharakshita? And here in
"The Thousand Petalled Lotus" there is a hint about there being not one Sangharakshita but maybe several aspects of you - Sangharakshita One and
Sangharakshita Two. Could you maybe comment on this possibly?

S: In that passage Sangharakshita One represented the more, as it were, religious minded, even ascetic Sangharakshita and Sangharakshita Two
represented the more aesthetic Sangharakshita who was interested in the arts and literature. Sangharakshita One was the Sangharakshita who wanted to
meditate and realise the truth and Sangharakshita Two was the Sangharakshita who wanted to experience life. And I was reminded of all this quite
recently because when we had the book launch of 'Facing Mount Kanchenjunga' I was signing a copy for a particular woman and she asked me whether
there had been a reconciliation between Sangharakshita One and Sangharakshita Two or whether they were still, as it were, in conflict? So I said, in
effect, that they have been having a fruitful interaction because I think that you can't, well, it's not possible for Sangharakshita One to get rid of
Sangharakshita Two and it isn't possible for Sangharakshita Two to get rid of Sangharakshita One. They have to coexist and there has to be, it seems, a
sort of fruitful tension, or even fruitful conflict between the two as they interact with each other.

J.O.M.: Is that the creative spur so to say?

S: Well, yes and no because if one thinks of creativity in purely aesthetic terms creativity belongs to Sangharakshita Two, not to Sangharakshita One.
So it's as though the tension is not between two different types of creativity but between creativity in the aesthetic sense and something quite different
from creativity, and I was reminded of this sort of conflict recently in connection with the Salman Rushdie controversy. I was reminded of it especially
when I read one of his lectures which he gave after he was condemned to death by the Ayatollah in Iran and he makes the point that there are, as it were,
two absolutes. There is a religious absolute and there is an artistic absolute. The religious absolute takes religious values as being, well, absolute. For

Islam Islamic values are absolute, there cannot be any compromise. ...

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