A Story that Inspires My Artistic Work

Zhou Yixiu

PureInsight | October 31, 2005

[PureInsight.org] I used to seek solace and escape from reality through my art. I used to use my art to build up my confidence and put together a private reverie of dreams. Because of my job as an art teacher and because I have changed a lot through my cultivation practice, I now hope that art will be able to play a more active role in my life. It shouldn't just be a way for me to release my personal feelings. Now that I think of those mind-blowing masterpieces of art, I know that they are not just representations of an old art form. Instead, they represent the noble morality of humankind at a historic period. I find that the value of art lies in elevating the soul.

I once asked my students what they expected from art class. The majority of them told me that they expected it to be relaxing and fun. They didn't want to be assigned a lot of homework or have the possibility of failing the art class. Naturally, some of them expected to learn some theories and techniques of art. What should I teach them in a weekly art class that lasts only 50 minutes?

I thought of a cartoon adapted from The Dream of a Ridiculous Man, a novel written by Fyodor Dostoevsky. The following is a brief summary of the story:

A man was angry and pessimistic about the world because he saw too much malice in human nature. One day he decided to end his life with a gun. That day when he was on his way home, feeling disgusted with the human world, a little girl wearing nothing but a wretched little dress soaked with rain ran up to him and took him by the elbow.

"She was not weeping, but was spasmodically crying out some words which could not utter properly, because she was shivering and shuddering all over. She was in terror about something, and kept crying, 'Mommy, mommy!'" "There was that note in her voice which in frightened children means despair. I know that sound. Though she did not articulate the words, I understood that her mother was dying, or that something of the sort was happening to them, and that she had run out to call someone, to find something to help her mother. I did not go with her; on the contrary, I had an impulse to drive her away. I told her first to go to a policeman. But clasping her hands, she ran beside me sobbing and gasping, and would not leave me. Then I stamped my foot and shouted at her. She called out 'Sir! Sir! . . .' but suddenly abandoned me and rushed headlong across the road. Some other passerby appeared there, and she evidently flew from me to him." [1]

He returned home, sat in front of the desk and took out the handgun, but he kept thinking of the injured and disappointed look on the little girl's face when he pushed her to the ground. The feeling of guilt made him feel all the more confused.

Suddenly he fell asleep. In his dream he pulled the trigger and then he felt a being carrying his soul through many unknown worlds and into an area deep into the universe. Finally he saw a blue planet resembling the Earth. His companion brought him to the planet and left him on a beach.

"I suddenly, quite without noticing how, found myself on this other earth, in the bright light of a sunny day, fair as paradise. I believe I was standing on one of the islands that make up on our globe the Greek archipelago, or on the coast of the mainland facing that archipelago. Oh, everything was exactly as it is with us, only everything seemed to have a festive radiance, the splendor of some great, holy triumph attained at last. The caressing sea, green as emerald, splashed softly upon the shore and kissed it with manifest, almost conscious love. The tall, lovely trees stood in all the glory of their blossom, and their innumerable leaves greeted me, I am certain, with their soft, caressing rustle and seemed to articulate words of love. The grass glowed with bright and fragrant flowers. Birds were flying in flocks in the air, and perched fearlessly on my shoulders and arms and joyfully struck me with their darling, fluttering wings. And at last I saw and knew the people of this happy land. That came to me of themselves, they surrounded me, kissed me. The children of the sun, the children of their sun - oh, how beautiful they were! Never had I seen on our own earth such beauty in humankind. Only perhaps in our children, in their earliest years, one might find, some remote faint reflection of this beauty. The eyes of these happy people shone with a clear brightness. Their faces were radiant with the light of reason and fullness of a serenity that comes of perfect understanding, but those faces were gay; in their words and voices there was a note of childlike joy. Oh, from the first moment, from the first glance at them, I understood it all! It was the earth untarnished by the Fall; on it lived people who had not sinned. They lived just in such a paradise as that in which, according to all the legends of mankind, our first parents lived before they sinned; the only difference was that all this earth was the same paradise. These people, laughing joyfully, thronged round me and caressed me; they took me home with them, and each of them tried to reassure me. Oh, they asked me no questions, but they seemed, I fancied, to know everything without asking, and they wanted to make haste to smooth away the signs of suffering from my face."

He was overcome with shock. People there treated each other with selfless love. There was no such concept as hatred or deceit. It was a harmonious world where man lived harmoniously with nature. When a life passes away, he died carrying everyone's affection and then a new life is born and showered with blessings. Everything is balanced, peaceful, radiant and beautiful.

"When they looked at me with their sweet eyes full of love, when I felt that in their presence my heart, too, became as innocent and just as theirs, the feeling of the fullness of life took my breath away, and I worshipped them in silence."

Thus he began to lead a harmonious life in this beautiful world until one day he ruined the beautiful world with a jest.

In the cartoon adapted from the novel, the man wore a mask to scare a young maiden in sleep. The maiden was frightened and confused because there was no such a thing as a mask or deceit in this world. After a few moments, the maiden suddenly understood the game and found it amusing. She grabbed the mask from the man's hand and wore the mask to scare and deceive everyone. The game caused a roaring sensation.

"I only know that I was the cause of their sin and downfall. Like a vile trichina, like a germ of the plague infecting whole kingdoms, so I contaminated all this earth, so happy and sinless before my coming. They learnt to lie, grew fond of lying, and discovered the charm of falsehood. Oh, at first perhaps it began innocently, with a jest, coquetry, with amorous play, perhaps indeed with a germ, but that germ of falsity made its way into their hearts and pleased them. Then sensuality was soon begotten, sensuality begot jealousy, jealousy - cruelty . . . Oh, I don't know, I don't remember; but soon, very soon the first blood was shed. They marveled and were horrified, and began to be split up and divided."

People no longer trusted each other, were thoughtful of each other, or were willing to give. Walls of defense began to build up between people. They began to resent and attack each other. Acts of vengeance grew increasingly frequent. Meanwhile, people became materialistic and indulged themselves in sensual pleasures.

"I stretched out my hands to them in despair, blaming, cursing and despising myself. I told them that all this was my doing, mine alone; that it was I had brought them corruption, contamination and falsity. I besought them to crucify me. I taught them how to make a cross. I could not kill myself, I had not the strength, but I wanted to suffer at their hands. I yearned for suffering, I longed that my blood should be drained to the last drop in these agonies. But they only laughed at me, and began at last to look upon me as crazy. They justified me, they declared that they had only got what they wanted themselves, and that all that now was could not have been otherwise. At last they declared to me that I was becoming dangerous and that they should lock me up in a madhouse if I did not hold my tongue. Then such grief took possession of my soul that my heart was wrung, and I felt as though I were dying; and then . . . then I awoke."

He woke up in the same chair in front of the desk with a gun in his hand, but he remembered every detail of the dream. He put down the gun and no longer wished to be dead. He was ecstatic because the truth was revealed to him in his dream.

He realized that humankind could choose to live in a harmonious and beautiful world, which is the original state of this world! It is because people have forsaken kindness and sincerity and forgotten about forgiveness and tolerance that the world has become what it is now. People have become so selfish that they no longer believe that humans could live in a paradise.

From then on, he started a new life. He gave up the idea of killing himself. Instead, he started preaching to people based on inspirations from the dream. He preached that one should love one another as much as oneself. He even loved those who laughed at him because he had experienced everything in the dream.

This is a very inspiring story to me because I, too, believe such a paradise is attainable. Art and reality may appear to be two different things. But at least one can attain a beautiful realm and noble characters by pursuing beautiful, orthodox art. Art is capable of touching the hearts of people and inspiring kind thoughts in people. Humans are supposed to be kind in nature and to pursue beautiful things. I hope that all the students in the school will be inspired by orthodox art and take a more active role in their lives.

[1] The Dream of a Ridiculous Man by Fyodor Dostoevsky

Translated from: http://www.zhengjian.org/zj/articles/2003/11/14/24494.html

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