The Role of the Artist

During our pilgrimage in India last May, we visited several ashrams, and had the chance to meet a some very interesting swamis.
In Uttarkashi, we visited Swami Janardananda, who has been doing, among other projects, educational activities with the young people in his surroundings.
After school, children and teenagers can walk up the hill to his small ashram, and are invited to do yoga postures, meditation, or chanting on a voluntary basis. With this comes spiritual teachings from the ancient yogic tradition, that foster strength and peace of mind, along with a strong sense of community.

When Swami Janardananda started this initiative some 30 years ago, ignorance, violence and alcoholism were rampant among the population. After children started coming to the ashram, they brought home new insights and practices, inspiring their siblings and parents. Now the children of these children come, and will in turn influence another generation.




Children walk up the hill to the ashram after school




At a time when India is developing at an incredibly fast pace, this is vital work, and quite an inspiring story. During a few minutes of casual conversation, I asked Swami Janardananda a question that often is on my mind:

What is the role of the artist in society?

He thought for a moment, then answered: “Express, not exhibit. Everything is divine. If it comes from the heart, it will be divine.”

(I understood “not exhibit” to be meaning not to show off rather than not exhibit art in venues).

A simple yet deep and wide-meaning answer. I appreciate the openness it leaves, because it is impossible to define the artist’s role: to create is an impulse, not a duty. It has to remain free. And connected to the heart.

What a way to go about our daily work, not only an artist’s work, but everyone’s work.




There was also some good advice given freely by the roadside.

Photo credits
Anya Sluchak: Swami Janardanada
Louise Jalbert: Mother and Child Climbing Stairs to the Ashram
Karsten Verse and Julia Noelle: Lady by the Road Sign