THE PLACE OF ARTISTS
“Now you are going to have a very interesting experience,” said our angel-guide as we rose steeply above the trees.
“It is all interesting,” Janet answered gratefully. “What a wonderful book we shall write in the Garden of Desire! How the hearts of men will burn within them because of the loving-kindness of the Father.”
“Because of His infinite wisdom, too,” I added.
“Yes, that is what I want you to have engraved on your memory for eternity,” our teacher explained. That is the very fulfilment of man’s hidden wishes on earth and contains all his learning, his joy and his purification in Heaven. That is why men on earth should strive to search their own hearts and to root out all that is not pure.”
“Suppose they do not know? “Janet asked.
“They do know, deep within. We angels often teach them while they sleep, calling to the highest that is in them. Besides, is it not taught them in the Holy Book? ‘I am He which searcheth the reins and hearts; and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.’ If they know that the Lord will presently search their hearts and reward them accordingly, is it not logical that they should search their own hearts, purifying every desire, that the reward also may he pure?”
“Yes, it is,” Janet and I agreed, and I added: “To say that Heaven is fulfilment suggests at first that it is all joy, but, of course, it depends on the secret wishes that have to he fulfilled.”
“The secret thoughts, also,” our teacher agreed.
While we spoke together, we had been travelling swiftly, and now we alighted in a long, grassy avenue whose trees stood like sentinels on either side. The first thing that struck me as we began to walk, was the stately beauty of our surroundings. Between the trees we could see broad walks, edged with low shrubs, and a fountain sending up its sparkling spray. There were deep stone walls, too, with here and there tall figures revealing the beauty of the perfect human form. Beside the avenue, a lake rippled and there were several swans gliding placidly. This was the most formal of any of the places we had visited. There was even a building within view, very like a house of earth.
As we continued our way, we saw a number of people. They were young and had a lithe grace much in keeping with their surroundings. Some were standing thoughtfully beside one or other of the stone figures. Others were strolling along the paths, or sitting in conversation on the low walls. Children were running about, playing games or picking flowers. Some were splashing one another in the lake. They were all of great beauty – more lovely than any children we had yet seen, except for the baby angels. Some of the little ones were posing for a group of people who regarded them with the earnest abstraction of the artist, while a man sat playing a haunting air on a violin. In reply to my questioning look the angel said, “This is the place of artists.”
“Painters?” Janet queried. All kinds of artists – those who are musical and those who Dance.”
“Dance!” I cried in surprise.
“Why not?” said our teacher, and then, receiving our thought, “Oh, I see that you think dancing has no permanence? Well, it has, here. See those stone figures? When the lesson is learned, they will return to their dust. Yet, all the while they are needed, they are as permanent as pictures, are they not?
“Yes,” Janet said doubtfully, “but what have they to do with dancing?”
“They are the crystallised thoughts of dancers. True dancing is an expression of some lovely thought-picture or inspiration. The dancer on earth is handicapped by not being able to see himself while he expresses his thought. True, he has mirrors, but these give only flat, fleeting glimpses. Here, at any moment he chooses, he may, by an effort of will, crystallise his thought. When his dance is ended, he has the figure of himself in action for the purpose of study.”
“What a wonderful provision,” I exclaimed. “Truly, the vast resource of Heaven seems to be without end.”
“Do they not spring from the Infinite? Musicians, too, are able to crystallise their lovely mind-pictures.”
“Where are they?” Janet asked. The angel smiled.
“Before your eyes! See the avenue of trees, the fountain, the house yonder? All are expressions of the musician’s thoughts-and the painter’s.”
“Do you mean they created them?” I asked, remembering our lessons in the Garden of Desire. “Then this must he a very high plane?”
“It is not the exalted nature of the plane which inspires creation. This is one of the lower planes. No, it is the creative force within the mind of all artists. This comes into its own, here, so that the beauty of the thought can be seen and studied.”
“Do these surroundings also return to their dust? Yes.”
“Then what is left?”
“The next mind-pictures” our teacher smiled. We must have been looking puzzled, for he suddenly said: “Let us talk to one of the people here. Who shall it be-a painter, dancer, musician-”
A dancer,” I put in quickly. ” That is, of course, if Janet approves.”
“I should like that, too,” she agreed.
We walked on through the beautiful avenue, and presently came to a paved square where a girl was sitting in rapt contemplation of a statue. It represented a dancer in action, and I saw that the features were the same as her own. She rose at our approach and greeted us with a smile. “My name is Bernice.”
“This is Bernard and Janet,” our angel said. She turned to us, and then to him, and it was with joy that I realised he was visible here.
“May I introduce my angel? ” she asked surprisingly.
“We shall be honoured,” I answered.
She turned towards the trees and we saw an angel rise and come toward us. He was tall, graceful, and very fair; his flaxen hair bound round the forehead with a blue cord. His flowing robe was white, girded at the waist with blue.
Silently he exchanged a bow with our angel, his eyes gleaming. Then approaching us, he clasped us each on the shoulders, saying:
“Greetings! Have you come for material for your hook?
“How did you know?” Janet asked in astonishment.
“We angels do know” was all he said to that, but his smile was tender.
“We would so much like to know the part this Place of Artists has in the Father’s plan,” I ventured.
“Your teacher has already explained to you about the crystallised thought-picture, I see,” he replied, looking at us searchingly. “As to its part in the Great Plan, it must be understood that all artists with creative ability – those who make pictures, compose or play music, or dance or write – have a big responsibility during their life on earth. They have the power to express, you see, and so it is essential, if they are to give beauty and goodness to the world, that they have pure minds.”
The angel paused and silently invited us to sit down. When we had all found comfortable seats, I asked: “Suppose an artist did not have a pure mind, but painted a beautiful picture? Would not that he giving beauty and goodness to the world?
“No, there is more in it than that ” The angel seemed pleased at my question, as though he had been expecting it, “Every picture has a ‘soul,’ you see. By this, I mean a ‘TWIN,’ more subtle in form and therefore invisible to earth-eyes. However, this subtle form can be perceived by the souls of men and they absorb into themselves something of its nature. Hence, if an artist with an impure mind – by ‘impure’ I mean not wholly good – offers a picture to the world, its ‘soul-twin ‘ has upon it the impression of the ugliness of sin. He offers a beautiful picture for the eyes of men, but an ugly impression for the souls of men. It is these ‘soul-twins’ – whether of artists, musicians, dancers or writers – which are kept in the House of Records.”
“What is that?” asked Janet, looking round for the house we had glimpsed on arrival.
“Oh, not that ” said our new teacher. “It is a place where the record of every soul-picture is kept, but it is only visible at the will of the angels here. Those artists who come from earth must first of all review their records. Then they see the deep impression that their secret thoughts have made, for these have been vitalised by their creative power. That is what I meant by the responsibility of such a gift”
“There were many sad pictures for me to see on arrival,” Bernice said. “In my long life I sometimes forgot the noble quality of my art, and I used it basely.”
“Did von say your long life!” Janet asked. “You are only a girl!”
“I was 90 years old when I passed through death’s door,” she smiled. “Here, according to the loving provision of the lather, we renew our youth. After I had been shown how to help in washing away the ugly pictures, I was very happy.”
“How is it done? ” I asked.
“By learning and practising my art so that I may offer it in the service of my fellows, Later, I shall have the honour of taking part in the lesson-plays which are given in various parts of Heaven’s realm. But not yet.”
“First, I must wait until the ugliness I have left in the world has died quite away.”
“Will that be long? “Janet asked.
“Not long! The years pass swiftly, and soon all those I knew will have followed me through death’s door. I am happy, now. Would you like me to dance for you?”
Before we could reply – for she must have known our answer – she leapt up, taking a position in the centre of the paved square. Instantly a rapt expression crept into her. face She look a deep breath… and then began to move in a rippling, slow motion.
To our delight we could see the soul-picture as she danced, so that we could follow all the beautiful conceptions of her mind. She chose as her subject one of the scenes from a Bible-play which would later be performed for the children. As she danced, some of the little ones left their games, joining in with a graceful simplicity that entranced us.
“Those were little dancers of earth, too,” murmured our angel guide. “These innocent little ones have the freedom of many planes and often visit here to dance with, or pose for, the artists.”
When the dance ended, we thanked Bernice and wished her goodbye. The last we saw of her was her still figure poised before the statue in exact imitation of its pose.
“It is thus I will end my dance before the crib,” she said happily. “Yes, I am chosen to take a small part in the greatest play of all!”