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The Eternal Art of Pilgrimage: Finding Meaning from Mecca to the Louvre

At the Mountain of Arafat, I came to know (ʿaraftu) the One you desire, So I was not of the patient ones

- Ibn al-Arabi

I would like to begin with a personal story that I had mentioned before in other posts:

In 2010, I took a trip to Chicago to visit the Art Institute’s new section on Matisse, titled ‘Radical Invention’. While there, I stumbled upon a large biographical work on this early 20th century artist and his philosophical approach to art. Included therein was a dialogue between Matisse and one of his students.

The master and disciple seemed to disagree on the proper way to approach an object of painting, which in this context was a fish. Matisse’s student wanted to make the fish his own by dominating it through his creativity and artistic style. On the other hand, the teacher wanted his disciple to stand aloof as an observer and hearken for that moment when the fish reveals its true reality to the artist within his own self; he wants to him to be a listener, not a voice who speaks on behalf of life.

After a lengthy debate, Matisse sought to inculcate in his student a powerful message that circumvents their relationship as teacher and student. He informed his disciple of Cezanne’s recommendation to any beginning artist: that they should visit the Louvre and stand solemnly at each and every work of art and hearken respectfully until the deceased spirit of the artist speaks through the traces and accepts this wanting seeker as a student. Thenceforth, Cezanne states, the life mission of this beginning artist should be to bring his newly found teacher’s works to life.

Across the rich cultures of Europe, where the Louvre stands as a Mecca of Art, there is another original Mecca in the center of Arabia. In the hearts and minds of those who are currently congregating to it in millions, it is also a sun of importance in a galaxy of meaning. However, the reality of this Mecca is a spiritual museum of heavenly arts, in a galaxy of metaphysical meaning.

The rituals of the Muslim pilgrimage are designed to reassemble the visiting pilgrim as a work of divine art. The pure and naked simplicity of the white clothing that wraps the body of the pilgrim, which must contain no threads, is the initial and necessary stripping away of veils that stand between one’s essence and goal, the divine presence … the center of all beauty and art production.

Afterwards, the counter clockwise circumambulation of the pilgrim around the Ka’ba, the cube at the center of the Mecca of spiritual Art, is akin to the unwinding of one’s suppositions regarding the reality of that heavenly beauty. It proceeds through seven rotations, each of which alludes to a deciphering of the self … of the secret residence where the sudden spontaneity of creativity gazes.