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.....Creation by the Word.... - Sri Aurobindo

Letters on Poetry and Art ->Literature, Art, Beauty and Yoga ->Appreciation of Poetry and the Arts...


Problems of the Painter


Nature and the Human Figure

The Mother had told you once that in your human figures you did not seem to be in contactwith the right Influence and you had said that you felt the contact with an eternal Beauty in Nature but had not the same contact with regard to the human figure.
It will be better then, now that you are practising the Yoga and to be in contact with right Influences only is very important, to avoid dealing with the human face and figure at present. In Yoga what may seem to the mind a detail may yet open the door to things that have strong effects on the consciousness, disturb its harmony or interfere with the sources of inspiration, vision and experience.


Your relation with Nature has been much more psychic than your relation with human beings. You must have met the latter mainly on the vital plane and not come in close contact with the eternal Beauty behind. In Nature you have felt the touch of the eternal and infinite and entered therefore into a truer relation with her.
The influence that comes in the human figure is a force of disharmony and ugliness—a manifestation of ignorance in form.

13 January 1934

Portrait Painting

I would very much like to have instructions from the Mother on portrait painting: drawing, developing the features, finishing the details and bringing out the personality of the sitter.

For that each one must find his own technique. Only for you what you must find is a way to express the psychic instead of the vital. At present it is the vital you bring out. The psychic is the eternal character, the vital brings out only transient movements.

15 July 1935


The failure to bring out the personality is not at all due to any defect in the technique. With any technique the personality can be brought out. But to get it one must come out from one’s own personality, one’s ego with its characteristic and limited look on things, and identify oneself with the person of the sitter— that is how one seizes it and can naturally bring it out in the painting.

14 December 1936


The portrait does not seem to us to be successful. In the externals the long projection of the nose over the lips and the eyes close together modify the type of the face and give it another character.
It is not a question of resemblance or external appearance, but the basis of character is affected. This however would not be so much of an objection—but for the inner expression as it comes out through the mouth and eyes. There is something introduced here from a vital world—undivine—which is not part of the Mother’s vital. It has come in through that Influence of which the Mother spoke—it throws its own shadow and so changes the inner vision of the thing to be done, the face to be portrayed.
There is no such element in your paintings of Nature, which catch very finely the inner truth of what you paint.
It was not with this portrait that we connected what I wrote about the wrong Influence that brought the obstruction and depression.

21 September 1933

Drawing from Nature

I have drawn four faces from my imagination, each with a different character and personality. Drawing from imagination is useless.
I have the idea of drawing the pictures of Nandalal Bose. You can copy Nandalal—but drawing from Nature is best.

23 April 1933


You said that studies of human figures should be done from nature. I would like to ask if this could be done other ways as well—from photographs and paintings, for instance.

They must be done from nature. It is impossible to do it properly from photographs and paintings.

6 September 1935

Mastery of Drawing

May I enlarge your photograph? This will help me in drawing the human figure.
You can try by copying human figures from drawings, not photographs.

12 March 1933


I don’t think I have succeeded in bringing out the resemblance in this sketch.
To get the resemblance, one must concentrate so much as to be identified with what you see—then it comes.

22 June 1933


Again that clumsiness in the drawing. It is due to want of practice, I suppose.
Want of practice and some tamas of the body. It is when the consciousness comes in the body that the skill comes—when you shake off the tamas, there is no clumsiness in you.

17 May 1934



An Artist’s Temperament

I was surprised at Krishnalal’s refusal to do the fresco.
These things are matters of temperament. It is not a question of mastery of technique only as with a craftsman. A craftsman can go on working regularly always for any amount of time. An artist is not the same. He depends on his temperament (whether he is poet, painter or sculptor) and its response to a certain flow of force. If anything in it gets dull or jaded or does not respond, he ceases working—or if anything else goes wrong or is not responsive in him. Copy or original makes no difference to his method—he brings the same temperamental attitude to both.
Of course there are artists whose temperament is so buoyant that they keep the flow at command almost (like Harin with his poems), painting or working every day for hours together. Others cannot—they work sometimes more, sometimes less— sometimes after long intervals etc.

27 September 1934

Uncreative Periods

I have noticed that after doing some pictures, there comes a period when I do not feel like doing any painting, there is no
It is very common with artists, poets and all creators. The usual reason is that the vital gets fatigued and needs some time to recuperate itself and get back the creative effort.
During such periods I have to deal with the impulses of the vital nature. Is it because of this that I cannot concentrate on painting?
It is more likely that the vital, fatigued of the effort, begins to have movements of other kinds which you have then to control.
I feel that I should go to deeper and higher sources of inspiration.
Am I correct in having this feeling?

It is correct. There is a movement to get at deeper and higher sources.

18 March 1935


Sometimes something comes in and my inspiration for writing and painting fails. What is this?
It is an obstruction to the natural action of the mind; that happens often enough. People who do creative work, writing or painting, are often stopped like that for a time—they do not feel the obstruction, only the result which they call a failure of inspiration.

Sri Aurobindo

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The only way to come a little close to him is to love him sincerely and give oneself unreservedly to his work. Thus, each one does his best and contributes as much as he can to that transformation of the world which Sri Aurobindo has predicted.

The Mother
(Vol. 12, pp. 398-99)