Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Artist and the Grammarian

Academic journal article The Journal of Baha'i Studies

The Artist and the Grammarian

Article excerpt

I would like to express my appreciation for the opportunity given to me by the Association for Bahá'í Studies to present the Balyuzi Lecture. After giving a lot of thought to what I might say in this lecture, I decided to make a commentary - rather than offer what you might call a thesis - about two things that have concerned me, that is, the "mystic wayfarer" and the "grammarian." We all have aspects of both of those conditions in each of us: on the one hand, we want to enthusiastically and with great zeal embrace the unknown, wandering a kind of invisible path in the hope of being confirmed in the living of our life; and on the other hand, we place limits on what life can manifest, afraid of going over the edge.

First, however, I want to make mention of my parents Otto Victor and Mary Jane Rogers. Although their cultural background was limited, as was their knowledge of religion, they nevertheless made it possible for me to have an education in art and ultimately to embrace the Teachings of Bahá'u'lláh. My father was a prairie wheat farmer in western Canada and he related to the land as a poet would. He placed a loving hand on nature and he longed for a beautiful return. My mother, on the other hand, labored to achieve order in the unpredictable environment of dry-land farming. They had a good marriage and, so, as a youth, I came to understand that if you married poetry and order you would be in very good hands. Thus when I embraced my gift as an artist, it seemed quite logical because it consisted of striving for order and being poetically intoxicated. That was my beginning and, naturally, when I discovered the Bahá'í Teachings, there was a confirmation of the majesty and beauty - the artistry - of Bahá'u'lláh's Writings. His Revelation impressed me as being all-embracing and of such aesthetic potency, and it also embodied the idea of order, which appealed so much to my mind and my soul. I experienced the Sacred Writings as also embodying the language of art, so I came to understand that art was necessary for the development of higher consciousness. I am not sure that this fact is as fully appreciated as it might be. For example, we think of art as a decorative thing, but not necessarily as a means of education, as a means of elevating consciousness.

As I speak, images of some recent paintings will appear on the two screens before you. I don't intend to speak about them directly, but I thought it would be interesting for you to see them as a backdrop to the thoughts being advanced. There will be altogether four sets, and each set will remain on the screen for fifteen minutes. Now, if you don't like the works, this may seem like a bit of a torture. However, we artists often lament the fact that people go to the gallery and look at the title of a work then glance at the work and walk on. We may be losing our ability to appreciate the static art form, the form that is still.

I am very much moved by some of the statements in the Writings of the Báb where He speaks about motion as one condition of the divine creative act and stillness as another condition of that divine creative act; and then He says that, in reality, motion and stillness are one. This is one of the great beauties of pictorial art, of static art, because such art symbolizes and actually presents you with motion and stillness simultaneously. But you have to spend some time with it and take it in and allow that motion to begin to enter your consciousness, and you must also begin to appreciate its stillness. I sometimes think of the statement of Christ referring to the peace that passes beyond all understanding (Phil. 4:7). The whole nature of pictorial art has to do with the creation of a reality suspended between the material and spiritual realms, with the sense of peace being the inner condition reflective of the attributes of the soul. I am constantly amazed (and no doubt this is true of every discipline; I know it certainly is true of my discipline of painting) that the Revelation of Bahá'u'lláh simply surrounds it, elevates it, and pushes it forward into the future. …

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