The Influence of H.P.Blavatsky on Art

Ianthe Hoskins

Commentaries on the work and works of Madame Blavatsky, and eulogies of her personal gifts and qualities will surely continue to be written as long as there are students capable of appreciating her contribution to world thought. It is unlikely that much originality will appear from the pens of these commentators, but if this suggests that they are therefore wasting their time, one should bear in mind that new generations of readers continue to be born whom earlier writers can never reach. For them even the most hackneyed of commentaries and praises may appear new, and here and there some statement or idea, although in fact many times repeated during the past hundred years, may attract the attention of a student and lead him to explore for himself the subject of the remarks.

H.P.B. will stand out in all the ages to come as one who brought the Light and ushered in a new age of Wisdom.

If an anthology were to be compiled under the general title of ‘In Praise of HPB’, a place should surely be given in it to a passage by C. Jinarajadasa in The Golden Book of the Theosophical Society, published in 1925 in commemoration of the Society’s Jubilee. He singles out, among HPB’s many services to the world, ‘the unification which she has given through her writings to the various departments of truth in which men have laboured throughout the ages.’ After developing this theme through half a page, he concludes by saying that ‘in our days, she was the first to build a bridge between religion, science, philosophy and art, and to construct that intellectual edifice in which thousands today live, finding through Theosophy the realization of all their hopes and dreams. HPB will stand out in the ages to come as one who brought the Light and ushered in a new age of Wisdom.’

Is this mere rhetoric ? Religion, science and philosophy - yes; but art? Let us turn to the artistic testament of Wassily Kandinsky, written in 1910 and published two years later under the title Uber das Geistige in der Kunst (‘Concerning the Spiritual in Art’). It was in 1910, according to a memoir by his widow, that, having already begun to move away from representational towards abstract art, Kandinsky ‘painted his first work entirely detached from an object’ and with this launched ‘the epoch of non-objective art’. Much later, he was to write of this art that it ‘creates alongside the real world a new world which has nothing to do externally with reality. It is subordinate internally to cosmic laws.’

In presenting the statement of his new vision of art, Kadinsky suggests a graphic representation of the life of the spirit as a triangle ‘divided horizontally into unequal parts’ and moving ‘slowly, almost invisibly forward and upward.’ Although may be only one man, solitary and misunderstood (he gives the example of Beethoven), stands at the apex, yet ‘where the apex was today, the second segment will be tomorrow.’ Developing this picture of the moving triangle, he refers to the brave scientists of his time who are ‘dedicating their strength to scientific research on obscure problems’ and who ‘overstep the limits of caution and perish in the conquest of the new scientific fortress.’ In a footnote to this passage, he refers among others to Crookes and Flammarion (both of whom we know to have been at one time members of the Theosophical Society) and to scientists who ‘have turned to occult sciences and recognized transcendental phenomena.’

‘The earth will be heaven in the twenty-first century in comparison with what it is now’.

The passage that follows this survey of the contemporary scene is of particular relevance to our theme.

Furthermore, the number is increasing of those men who put no trust in the methods of material science when it deals with questions which have to do with ‘non-matter’, or matter that is not accessible to our senses. Just as art is looking for help from the primitives, so these men are turning to half-forgotten methods. However, these methods are still alive and in use among nations whom we, from the height of our knowledge, have been accustomed to regard with pity and scorn. To such nations belong the people of India, who from time to time confront our scholars with problems which we have either passed without notice or brushed aside. Madame Blavatsky [sic] was the first person, after a life of many years in India, to see a connection between these ‘savages’ and our ‘civilization’. In that moment rose one of the most important spiritual movements, one which numbers of a great many people today, and has even assumed a material form in the Theosophical Society. This Society consists of groups who seek to approach the problem of the spirit by way of inner knowledge. Their methods, in opposition to positivism, derive from an ancient wisdom, which has been formulated with relative precision. The theory of Theosophy which serves as the basis of this movement was set forth by Blavatsky in the form of a catechism in which the pupil receives definite answers to his questions from the theosophical point of view. Theosophy, according to Blavatsky, is synonymous with eternal truth. The new torch-bearer of truth will find the minds of men prepared for his message, a language ready for him in which to clothe the new truths he brings, an organization awaiting his arrival, which will remove the merely mechanical, material obstacles and difficulties from his path.’ And then Blavatsky continues: ‘The earth will be heaven in the twenty-first century in comparison with what it is now’, and with these words ends her book.

Sceptical though we may be regarding the tendency of the theosophists toward theorizing and their excessive anticipation of definite answers in lieu of immense question-marks, it remains a fundamentally spiritual movement. This movement represents a strong agent in the general atmosphere, presaging deliverance to oppressed and gloomy hearts.

Throughout this documentary landmark in the history of modern art, the student of The Secret Doctrine will hear repeated echoes of ideas with which he has been made familiar in Madame Blavatsky’s work: ‘form is the external expression of inner meaning’, the reiterated ‘principle of inner necessity’, ‘the final abstract expression of every art is number’, and Kandinsky’s concluding statement that ‘We have before us an age of conscious creation, and this new spirit in painting is going hand in hand with thought towards an epoch of great spirituality.’

(Note: The quotations from Kandinsky’s testament, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, are taken from the text published by George Wittenborn, Inc., New York, 1947-1970, and is a version of the first English translation by Michael Sadleir.)

The Theosophist 1981

                                          Where was there a human being of such a mixture as this mysterious,

                                          this fascinating, this light-bringing H.P.B.? Where can we find a

                                          personality so remarkable and so dramatic; one which so clearly

                                          presented at its opposite sides the divine and the human? Karma for-

                                          bid that I should do her a feather-weight of injustice, but if there

                                          ever existed a person in history who was a greater conglomeration of

                                          good and bad, light and shadow, wisdom and indiscretion, spiritual

                                          insight and lack of common sense, I cannot recall the name, the cir-

                                          cumstance or the epoch. To have known her was a liberal education,

                                          to have worked with her and enjoyed her intimacy, an experience of

                                          the most precious kind.

                                                                                                   Old Diary Leaves, H.S. Olcott      

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