A Bit of Wisdom for the Artist

From a Very Wise Little Man


“We are not mere mirrors of what is happening outside us, we are rather transformers of the energies of the universe. The art­ist, therefore, must train himself to know ‘things-as-they-are.’ The outer universe must pour through his senses in a larger measure than with ordinary men. But then his mind has to come into play, for he must transform, he must not merely reproduce. 

“Each artist must profess all the faiths and philosophies in the world, and yet none. He must be a rounded being in his inner nature. Yet, because he is going to discover for himself something which was never discovered before, he cannot be identified as the believer exclusively in any one religion or cult. He must be certain of what he is himself and what is the purpose of the world, so that his transformation of the universe may have more than a tempo­rary merit. To create something for eternity he must find serenity among his ideas. Everything that the artist is as an individual is reflected in everything which he creates. 

“Art does not tell us of any one individual’s passion, love, or regret, in this or that particular situation, but it tells us of Passion, and Love, and Regret themselves. We go behind then, in art, from the particular-in-time to the general-in-eternity. However small be the size of the thing the true artist creates, there is in that thing something of the totality of the universe.” 

Now what do you think of all that? It rings [an] echo in my mind of things which Bourdelle used to say. That’s a bit of wisdom which a Hindu gentleman named Jinarajadasa had to give me. He seems a very wise little man. (17-18)

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. Correspondence: 1927–1987. The Collected Works of Joseph Campbell. Ed. Dennis Patrick Slattery and Evans Lansing Smith. Novato, California: New World Library, 2019.

Joseph Campbell

American professor of literature at Sarah Lawrence College who sought to establish mythology as its own science of being. The Hero with a Thousand Faces lays out the archetypal journey of the hero shared by mythologies around the globe, which I called the "monomyth" with reference to what C. G. Jung called the collective unconscious.

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