Self-Taught Art in Krishna Consciousness

An Introduction

In July 1966, after regularly reading versions of Bhagavad-gita and the Upanishads, Satsvarupa dasa Goswami attended an evening class in New York City given by Srila Prabhupada. This marked the beginning of a life-long relationship with his spiritual master. During that year of 1966, he would sometimes return to his apartment after being with Srila Prabhupada and, filled with happiness remembering him, paint large indoor murals.

It was not until 1994 that Satsvarupa dasa Goswami began painting and drawing again (beyond the sketches that would often accompany his writings). Thus, like Grandma Moses, he truly embraced the world of painting in the latter half of his life. For Satsvarupa dasa Goswami, painting is a comforting, enjoyable response and celebration of Krishna conscious life. His painting portrays a flow that comes out of his mental and spiritual states.

Satsvarupa dasa Goswami’s art falls under the umbrella of self-taught art (and its various forms such as Naive art and Outsider or Visionary art) and is a raw, direct approach to painting. These artists have a unique place partly because they remind us there is more to art than the painstaking attempt to capture the world realistically. They urge us to remember we are all artists, and as we grow, the creative impetus within us often fades. And they invite us to share in a generous world anyone can understand, even a child. (For example, the sensuality of Michelangelo’s «Resurrection» can distract attention from the subject, and paintings of that nature are often understood only by people of academically trained discernment.)

Art done to recover the magic of childlike intuition has a healing power. It is widely used in various painting workshops all over the world, benefiting thousands of people by enabling them to break free from the intimidation imposed on them by judgmental teachers. This assists not only an artist’s approach to art, but a response to life itself. As a prolific writer, painting offers Satsvarupa dasa Goswami an opportunity to serve his creative drive. It compliments his writing practice, allowing the same kind of release, purification, and discovery of new ideas. Sometimes he will be stuck one way to express himself in words, and painting can release that and offer opportunity to discover a new freedom and confidence.

Chris Murray of Govinda Gallery in Washington, DC, held an exhibition of Satsvarupa dasa Goswami’s paintings and sculpture during November/ December 2001. His work was deeply welcomed by everyone who attended the opening. The spontaneity, brilliant color, deep feeling, and devotional imagery of his paintings were appreciated.

Jessica Dawson of The Washington Post wrote a review of the exhibition on November 29, 2001. She writes, «The suite of paintings and sculpture by this self-taught artist at Govinda Gallery is the work of a devout Hare Krishna. . . . Satsvarupa’s art promotes Krishna consciousness.» She describes some of the art: «A hunched figure, head in hands, consults a text that promises relief: ‘Don’t despair. [Krishna] will free you from false ego and misery.’ . . . These Krishna exercises are played out in bright colors on big canvases or pieces of paper.» And she describes the work as «awfully exuberant».

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