Man is mind. He is an unconscious artist, dwelling in the midst of an endless variety of mental pictures. His time is spent in photographing things around him, and in taking impressions from his thoughts and ideas. The great palaces of art, like the Louvre of Paris and the Uffizi and Pitti of Florence, contain a vast number of galleries and corridors where pictures are hung, high and low; but mental art museums are incomparably more extensive and varied. Finished productions from the hand of the most gifted artist are crude and clumsy of execution when compared with the expert delineations of the imaging faculty of the mind—or rather the man.
What a profusion of immaterial works of art, each surrounded with a carved frame of accessories, each with its high light and low light, sunshine and shadow, and all without any sensuous limitations of length, breadth, or space! Thought is the artist; and it is ever executing real but intangible masterpieces with marvelous facility, giving them all its own peculiar tone and finish, and putting its initials upon them. The ego is the owner, custodian, and sole visitor of its galleries, and is always inspecting its art treasures. These are arranged not only on walls, but are packed away in drawers and compartments for prospective use and reference. But in the twinkling of an eye they can be snatched from their seclusion, placed upon an easel, and lighted up with the sunshine of consciousness. New and original designs for the gallery are constantly being outlined, and filled in with color from the native pigments of imaginations and ideals.
The bewildering array of statues in the halls of the Vatican are not comparable in number and perfection to those hosts of living figures that are ranged in the mental corridors. The busy chisel of the unknown sculptor is ever carving animated statues with exquisite pose and finish, and placing them on pedestals where they are convenient for inspection. These are more enduring than marble because they are formed of a less perishable material.
The power of thought as a creator has, until recently, received but slight recognition. It has generally been left to care for itself, to roam at its own sweet will, and to sketch at random. It is true that pictures, unbidden, and sometimes very unwelcome, flash themselves upon the living canvas; but there is nothing to compel us to sit and gaze upon them. They soon dissolve if we turn our eyes towards a higher order of art, or stand face to face with the ideal.
The pure and matchless art of the devout monk Fra Angelico, by which he was able to depict angelic beings with such beauty and delicacy, was the natural outcome of the spiritual atmosphere of lore, joy, and harmony in which his consciousness made its abode. He created the world in which he lived, and the base and false had no place in it. Tennyson thus sings of an inner ideal art:—
O shapes and hues that please me well!
O silent faces of the Great and Wise,
My gods, with whom I dwell.
Any one of a thousand acquaintances can only be recognized and identified by comparison with the portrait of him that is already hanging—perhaps for years—in our invisible gallery. A single mental photograph lying undisturbed for twenty years in the "dark room" is suddenly called for, snatched from its hiding-place, and found to exactly correspond with its material duplicate now presented. But personal portraits form but an infinitesimal part of the varied innumerable shapes that make up the resources of the immaterial palace of art. Still beyond the domain of the more sensuous pictures of external objects there is a deeper skill and vision which produces and dwells among moral and spiritual entities. Its keen, penetrating glance is focused upon delineations of love, faith, purity, and goodness, and include glimpses of the Great Reality. "The pure in heart shall see God." Thought, the imaging artist, is perpetually designing and executing new works, and consciousness is untiring in the inspection of its stock on hand. It, however, lingers longest in those corridors where its loves and affinities are most profusely represented.
Down in its gloomy basement there is a great illusive network of hidden passage-ways, the walls of which are covered with unseemly outlines, and the arches and ceilings with indistinct and smoky frescoes of hate, envy, lust, and selfishness. The bats and vampires of evil imaginings are flying to and fro, and the atmosphere is clammy and morbid. But for a delusive earthy gravitation the mistaken consciousness would not explore these deeps, much less remain to inspect and analyze their contents. There are also in this basement more inviting doors, opening into corridors that seem flooded with rosy light, which shines out at the entrances, making their figures appear artistically beautiful. But upon a closer and an internal inspection, the forms are found to be hollow, repulsive, and to crumble at the touch. Every niche is occupied by some suggestive and fascinating statue which enchants the senses and invites intimacy, but a more thorough acquaintance reveals its deceitful and ugly features.
Other unlooked-for portals admit the unsuspecting consciousness into dark, damp corridors hung with pictures of disease and deformity. Pale and ghastly forms abound, and lenses of fear and expectation are ingeniously placed so as to multiply them. The Pale Horse, with his Rider, occupies the most conspicuous position in the collection. On every hand are found brushes, pigments, and fresh canvases for the production of new and more complicated abnormal designs. The very atmosphere is offensive and charged with miasma and mortality.
0 Consciousness! grasp the hand of Idealism, and leave this false and unwholesome domain, and ascend to the sunlit apartments of the Real. Behold what harmonious and delightful scenes, done in enduring colors, here meet the gaze! Every statue is erect and graceful in pose, pure in form, and divine in expression. The realm of shadows has been exchanged for the kingdom of realities. To linger here is to gain the artistic ability to execute more and better, and thus beautiful forms are multiplied.
Mount still higher to the Supreme Ideal. In the most lofty sanctum to which the Consciousness can aspire, stands a figure of typical perfection. Love, purity, peace, and beauty are eloquent in every feature, and from it is radiated a celestial halo, soft and harmonious. Thought, the artist, has carved this statue during the highest flights of its inspiration, and left it upon its pedestal as its supreme effort. No other sculptor has aided in its execution, for each subjective artist designs and executes only its own. This is the Christ within, and no external power can remove or disturb it.
Linger in this Presence, Consciousness, for it will at length transform thee into its own glorious likeness. Come up often from the lower and baser domains; sit in the silence, and be at home in the divine auditorium of your nature.