Integral Practice, Integral Esotericism - Part Six Alan Kazlev
6-xii. Integral Art
Art and imagination represents a holistic, spatial, intuitive or "right brain" (in the pop new age jargon) perspective that balances the rational-linear, "left brain" thinking of the scientific-empirical mind. This is a polarity that has already been referred to in table 2. Although it should not be limited in this way, because art can be holistic and encompass the entire being as well.
With the Wilberian and post-Wilberian emphasis on theory, we tend to forget that Integral Art has often played a very central role in the Integral Movement. And although Wilber and his followers may have been the first to popularise the term "Integral Art", in keeping with their tendency to prefix any trendy noun with the word "integral", Integral Art goes right back to Sri Aurobindo himself. Although usually thought of as a philosopher and a yogi, Sri Aurobindo considered himself to be primarily a poet by vocation, and encouraged his disciples to take up poetry as well. His greatest written work was not his any of his philosophical or other writings, but his epic poem Savitri, a work in excess of 23,000 lines, which he wrote and re-wrote over many years. At the surface based on a tale from Hindu mythology, Savitri tells of the eponymous heroine's descent into the realm of the Lord of Death in order to free her husband Satyavan and return with him to the world of the living. This theme of descent into the underworld to free a loved one is also a common one in Mesopotamian and Greek mythology, where however some misfortune or hubris inevitably befalls the hero, preventing the success of the mission. In Sri Aurobindo's version, the poem is actually a metaphoric account of his entire teaching and prophetic vision, with the capacity of transforming the reader's inner consciousness. Symbolically, it represents the conquest of ignornace and the attainment of Supramentalisation.
And whilst Sri Aurobindo was a poet, his co-worker The Mother was an artist and musician, who when young was married Henri Morisset, a student of Gustave Moreau. During this time Mirra became a part of the Paris artistic circles, befriending Rodin, Monet, and others. Just as Sri Aurobindo advised his disciples to take up poetry, so did The Mother encourage art and painting in those who came to her; among them Champaklal, Janina Stroka, and Sanjiban Biswa. Another disciple, Sunil Bhattacharya, was asked by The Mother if he could put Savitri to music; this became a life work that he dedicated over thirty years to.
Another devotee of The Mother was Michel Montecrossa, a musician, film director, cyberartist, and futurist, who with her help founder of Mirapuri (a New Age community in Northern Italy) has created a dvd movie based on Savitri.
Integral Art (music) was also developed by the German composer Johannes Wallmann, who began developing the holistic artistic concept of Integral Art in 1982 His works specialise in three-dimensional sound and landscape sound.
William Irwin Thompson is another integral artist, both in the sense of being a poet, his various interests and description of writing and speaking style as "mind-jazz on ancient texts" (ref needed). He also coined a German neologism Wissenskunst (literally, "knowledge-art") to describe his own work, as "the play of knowledge in a world of serious data-processors", in contrast to Wissenschaft, the German word for science.
Larry and Andy Wachowski's Matrix trilogy portrays important spiritual and philosophical insights, drawing from cyberpunk, transhumanism, Christianity, Gnosticism, Buddhism, and philosophical conceptions of the nature of reality. They incorporated a number of Wilberian themes and are fans of Wilber's work.
Within the Wilberian movement, the most important artist is Alex Grey (a member of the Integral Institute), whose work includes performance art, installation art, sculpture, and painting, the latter often depicting aspects of the supernatural world superimposed with aspects of the natural world. , he is also on the board of advisors for the Center for Cognitive Liberty and Ethics. His illustration of Wilber as the bodhisattva Manjushri seems to have been instrumental in Wilber's apotheosis (see TLDI 2-x).
Matthew Dallman has developed his own approach to Integral Art. As he relates in a blog post (later an essay), in 2003 he was asked by Wilber to be the original director of Wilber's Integral University's "art domain", a position he was at the time honoured to accept, in view of Wilber's reputation and status (this was before a lot of the cultic unpleasantness became more widely known; Wilber was still highly respected in the alternative scene). But instead of a project of higher learning and revival of the Humanities, Dallman found the Integral University, and its parent body the Integral Institute, to be a marketing and PR organisation to publicise Wilber's own products. After 16 months of involvement, he broke with Wilber and the Integral Institute, and after fending off Wilber's clumsy attempt to gain legal control and co-ownership of his works, Dallman set up his own music distribution company.
The essays published on his website constitute a number of manifestos and descriptions of Integral Art and Artistry, some dating to his Wilberian and pre-Wilberian days, and inspired by Camille Paglia, Marshall Mcluhan, John Dewey, Norman O. Brown, and W. A. Mathieu. Although his on-line essays show some Wilberian (AQAL) influence, Wilber was never a major influence. Like Bauwens, Dallman shows that Wilber's greatest role in the Integral movement has been much less his own ideas or theoretical vision (which are probably comparable to the insights of other, less well known, integral/integrative theorists like Edward Haskell and Stan Gooch), as being a catalyst to bring together a number of highly talented people, many of which then go their own way following their disillusionment with Wilber's narcissistic personality and quasi-cultic organisation. Several of Dallman's insights have been incorporated in this section; no doubt more could be added as well.
Some themes for an Integral Art might include:
- the holistic aspect - involves both a hermeneutic and a practice that includes heart as well as head, art and poetry as well as science/philosophy/psychology/etc (Vivekananda, Steiner, Aurobindo, Gebser)
- the Integrative aspect - incorporates multiple meanings
- the integral transformative aspect - A practice of personal and cosmic renewal.
- Art as sadhana...
Integral Art is thus transformative, both at the individual and collective level. As Matthew Dallman explains: "At every moment of artistic development, as objects are created by the artists, consciousness can be evoked, illumined, and preserved, for the purposes of cultural and personal renewal." But even more than that, Art can also serve as evolutionary sadhana. In other words, in addition to or as an alternative to cosmic renewal, there is cosmic ascent, the use of the artistic form to help establish a new level of spiritual evolution.
This was very much the case with Sri Aurobindo's epic poem Savitri referred to above. In his own words "I used Savitri as a means of ascension. I began with it on a certain mental level, each time I could reach a higher level I rewrote from that level.."