the awakened ear

While the emphasis of this website and blog is on the visual arts, from time to time offerings of other ways folk attempt to express the direct experience of inter-being are included. (Haiku poets Gabriel Rosenstock and Ron C Moss, for example.) This is the first time I have featured writing about the art of listening with the entire constellation of cells called a body – a somatic listening from silence that erases the perceived separation between the hearer and the heard in the same way that the awakened eye erases the gap between the observer and the observed.

I know of no one more capable and qualified than Suprabha Seshan when it comes to speaking and writing of these things. Suprabha is an environmental educator and restoration ecologist living and working at the Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary in the Western Ghat mountains of southern India – a community that has been focused on plant conservation and nature education for 40 years. She is an an Ashoka Fellow and a winner of the Whitley Award, the top prize from the UK for nature conservation. I first met her at Brockwood Park School – she is an alumna of the Krishnamurti Schools – and later, on visits to the Sanctuary, had the delight of witnessing her relationship with her jungle environment. She is clearly a woman in her element!

 

Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary

 

This post is a teaser of sorts – a sampling of excerpts from her article The Music of Everything – which was recently published in EarthLines Magazine. I hope you’ll click through to this page to read the whole piece, and see more of Meena Subramaniam‘s wondrous paintings.

 

Elephant, Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary

 

I sing to elephants. It’s what I do. I sing because I like to, and because I believe my elephant neighbours are comfortable in my singing presence. I sing all the time, and it’s when I sing that I know more precisely how I feel. My own speech never does justice to my thoughts and emotions: always a little clumsy and coarse, somehow inadequate, and inexpressive. It’s different when I sing. My utterances are more in tune with my intentions.

I also sing to the langur across the river, and the whistling thrush when he graces this ridge where I live. I sing to treefrogs in the monsoon. I sing to hornbills when they swoop by, matching their cackles and caws, so they swing their heavy-beaked heads to look at me. I sing to hill mynahs all through the winter, my favourite of all musical pleasures. I sing to crows several times a day. As they increase in number in this once crowless place, signifying changes both local and global, the crows here hold lessons in ecology, as well as in musical discovery. As do the macaques, with their so-called commonplace behaviours, and commonplace sounds.

 

Meena Subramaniam - The Wood Life

 

To live for long years in a place works the body, the vocal chords and the mind in a specific and exact way. Epigenetics is real. We are shaped by our environment, by everything and everyone we touch and are touched by, as well as all the stories and messages passing through. The body receives, remembers and transmits, evokes meaning through its very receptivity and eagerness to relate. The jungle tom-tom beats daily, not as the stereotype of a dark man beating a drum to warn other humans of portentous events, but in the million messages, prompts and invitations that pack any column of air or ground. The land, the forest, this community are all abuzz with vibrations: little sonic ripples, and dances of molecules. The art of listening is to be open to these, to become aware and conscious of the effect of them on your supremely conscious body. For life (tissues, cells, organs, bodies and minds) is suggestible. And moreover, it suggests. Not just now and then, but continually, through touch, movement, speech and song, wave and particle. It is a fact that all living beings are tuned in.

It was in going to the wildest places on the land by twilight, and many times in the night, often by moonlight, when my eyes fell quiet, that my ears opened out and shot through a sonic barrier to confound the rest of me.

To experience directly without recourse to authorized systems of knowledge is to be adrift in the open ocean, no anchor, no bearing, no rescue ship in sight. To listen to the night sounds of the forest is a particularly disorienting experience. The ventriloquists are busy, the eyes are dimmed, and the cranium is resonant with its own music; but the main problem is in accessing any thread of meaning. When I fully experience this lack of meaning, when I am aware of my utter lack of comprehension, when I cannot find a single marker or orientation to direct my mind, I can feel the physical impact of every sound, and also of every thought.

Given time, and a settling down of our ideas and preconceptions, we would perhaps have recourse to that infant wisdom we all came into this physical world with, that rippling openness to all sensory stimuli, that vibrant sea of awareness in which every sound causes a unique impression in our minds. When one is rested in this, as little children are, a different depth of discernment is born, and the more direct it is to one’s own experience, the more subtle the discernment is.


Weaver Ant

How to hear an ant:

To hear them one has to be prepared to hear nothing, or what appears to be nothing, silence. One has to get past the tinnitus, past your baseline brain sound, past the wordstream, past the big sounds in the environment, past the littler sounds, then the fainter ones, and further, further and further, and still further, softer, quieter, until you go so far out and so far in, past the sound of the mist, past the sound of the sun, past the silence, past the confusions. Did I actually hear that, did that actually make a sound, did I just make it up, am I hearing what I think I’m hearing? Then you will hear the ant.

The Music of Everything


Painting by Meena Subramaniam – The Wood Life, acrylic on canvas

meenart.in


earthlines magazine


education for wholeness


 

David Bohm and Rouault’s clown

Appreciation of contemporary art doesn’t always come easily.  We “know what we like” and often resist the unfamiliar.  It has always been thus – to the educated eyes of French art connoisseurs in the 1860s the new paintings of the Impressionists were ugly beyond belief.  Yet a mix of curiosity and patience, coupled with a willingness to suspend our preferences, inevitably causes a shift in perception.  Physicist David Bohm was a man with a seriously scientific mind; he was tirelessly curious about the dynamics of creativity and thinking.

In the remarkable collection of letters exchanged between Bohm and artist Charles Biederman,  The Bohm–Biederman Correspondence,  Bohm describes an encounter with one of Rouault’s paintings of a clown.  It’s a fascinating and delightfully honest account of the way the painting literally rearranges his perception, revealing a two-way energetic “flow” between the painting and himself.  He begins by confessing that he found Rouault’s paintings difficult to like, but that a deeper engagement caused his perception to “give way to a remarkable new steady vision which I can best describe as seen in a new dimension.”

 

Georges Rouault - Clown, ca 1937

Georges Rouault, Clown ca 1937

 

I should perhaps [mention] here that my first reactions to modern art were almost entirely negative.  However, in some respects, I have changed my mind.

For example, with regard to Rouault, I first felt that his pictures were very discouraging and depressing.  Gradually, I began to see them in a new light.  In particular, last year in London, I saw a picture of his, The Old Clown …

At first, it seemed to be rather a mixed up set of patches of colour.  But gradually, it began to take shape. In particular two patches struck my eye, one in the face of the clown and another outside him, which seemed to complement the first.  My eye began to move back and forth from one patch to the other, a pulsation was established, and suddenly it ceased, to give way to a remarkable new steady vision which I can best describe as seen in a new dimension.  It was not so much that the clown became visible in three dimensions, this was true but only a minor point.

The major point is that there seemed to be a flow or a current in which the whole being of the clown poured outward to reveal itself, all his feelings, thoughts and emotions etc., and a counter-flow in which the outside (including the viewer) was drawn into him, to emerge again in the outward flow.  It was a very striking experience for me, one that I shall always remember.  Whether the artist intended the picture to be seen in this way, I don’t know of course, I would be interested in knowing whether it struck anyone else in this way.

David Bohm
Bohm–Biederman Correspondence, Vol 1: Creativity and Science
Edited by Paavo Pylkkanen


Charles Biederman


Also see:  scientist meets philosopher (David Bohm in dialogue with J Krishnamurti)


David Bohm, Paul Cezanne and Creativity – F David Peat, a close collaborator and friend of David Bohm, shares insights into Bohm’s creative ideas and process.


 

the mark of non-creating

When we trust our creativity we encounter a supreme kind of enjoyment – an amazement at the natural unfolding of life beyond our ordinary way of looking at things.
– Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

Jigme Namgyel (b.1964) is the present Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.  He is also an abstract expressionist painter.  Kongtrul Rinpoche views creativity as “something very large – the essence of everything.”  His training in the arts began at an early age with the practice of calligraphy, music, ritual dance and other traditional Tibetan arts.  After his introduction to Western culture, Rinpoche became increasingly interested in modern art, particularly abstract painting and the work of Picasso and Kandinsky.  He began painting under the guidance of his teacher, Yahne Le Toumelin in the mid 1990’s.

This post introduces a new page on the site –  a talk given by Jigme Namgyel as a companion to his 2008 exhibition Natural Vitality at Tibet House, New York. Gratitude for his kind permission to share his wisdom and inspiration here!
Enjoy these excerpts, and read the entire talk here.

 

Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

 

Art, when it is free of such notions of beauty and ugliness, ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ can be used to express this complete experience of mind. When art evolves from this understanding it provides the possibility for those who see it to also experience the natural and unfabricated nature of their own awareness.

Imagine a life without music, without sculpture, painting, poetry, theater or dance. The purpose of art is to reflect and enjoy the richness of the world – not just what we think is ‘good’ and ‘pleasing’ – but the entirety of human experience. The primordial instinct to express creativity has been part of the human appreciation of life since the cave men. Creativity expresses itself at the very beginning of life – it could be said that our first cry is our very first song. But we really engage our creativity when we begin to play. […]

When we speak of natural creativity and its expression we are not talking about something separate from our own mind and experience.

The energy put into the creation of art reflects our own richness and in turn communicates this richness to others. When we appreciate a beautiful piece of art it is not limited to the piece itself – we experience the process that the artist went through as well; it is a transference of consciousness. Whether we are an artist or a spectator we feel the creative energy. When it has been formalized into a piece, the artist’s energy has not become the piece itself – but the piece is blessed by the creativity of the artist.

We usually think of creativity as ‘belonging’ to the artist. But in a larger sense creative energy is innate and spontaneously present, not fabricated by hammer and nail. It is unborn, with no center or boundary, yet nothing exists outside of it. The mountains, oceans, the sun and moon, the seasons arise spontaneously from it. What has become ‘our life’ – everything we are and everything we have been since we stepped into this world – is spontaneously present. Our genetic make up – the egg and sperm of our parents – arose from and is encompassed by the creative energy of our basic nature. The great Buddhist practitioner Kunchyen Longchenpa said: “The universe is spontaneously present, who could have created it? It is the grand production of its creative energy.” And all appearance is blessed by it. […]

Just remember, this natural energy created the entire universe – a humbling thought that puts our own artistic creations in perspective!

My instruction from Yahne [Le Toumelin] reflects a discipline that integrates the view of meditation and art: She would say: “When you get attached to anything that emerges on the canvas, destroy it!” I would watch her create something beautiful and then paint over it or scrape off the paint. “Destroy, destroy, destroy.” This is not to say that beauty or attachment to beauty is a problem. Destroying them is not an aggressive act, an annihilation of self or a rejection of experience. It enhances creativity. It is a natural wearing away of attachment and becomes a part of the creative process itself – a way to engage bigger mind. The more I do this, the greater the satisfaction. I am not fixated on creating something ‘good’ or ‘pleasing.’ My interest or focus is on the process of creating and connecting to my natural creativity. The main discipline is to let go. […]

When I have exhausted my fixations through the process of destroying I let the painting be. At this point I have reached what I call the ‘mark of non-creating’ – a state of uncontrived creativity where the artist just steps out of his or her own way. When I find that I have arrived at that point I just drop any activity – stop – and leave the painting right there without trying to improve or manipulate it. I never judge my paintings – I always appreciate and spend time with them because I appreciate where they come from. […]

I feel in awe of the whole process – not in a narcissistic way – but of the expression of this primordial creativity.

When it comes to art, the process we engage in is reflected in its expression. If we trust in the basic nature – it is communicated. If we are insecure and self-conscious – it is communicated. Ultimately, because everything arises from the creative nature of primordial mind, there is nothing that is more profound, miraculous or ‘creative’ than anything else. […]

– Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

Continue reading here: on painting

Image and text ©2015 Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel
http://www.kongtruljigme.com


Relevant links:

Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel at the artisans’ gallery

creative energy : the essence of everything

the art of disciplined freedom


Natural Vitality - Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

Natural Vitality:
The Paintings of Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel


 

it’s all about relationship

For a few months – more than I intended as it turned out – I had a trial relationship with Facebook. I set up a page associated with this site, for the sole purpose of nudging readers over to explore its contents. It didn’t take long for the page to gather almost 500 followers, meaning folk who liked the page itself, not just the posts.

Several things happened. I discovered the existence of two separate audiences for my blogs – those who use FB and those who don’t – and noticed how different these audiences are; I learned that putting up good  material on FB (which I endeavoured to do on a daily basis) was no guarantee that anyone would click through to the website – in fact the average was about one per week; I noticed that it became somewhat stressful to ‘feed’ the page and monitor the activity;  and further, I learned that FB was not actually showing the page to its followers in their feeds. Why? Because I wouldn’t give them $ to do so. I grew weary of the constant harping for payment to “optimise” my posts.

In short, I realised that the cyber-world of blogging is much more satisfying to me.  While I will always value my FB friends and continue to use my personal timeline as a noticeboard for the things that are important to me, I am making the return to the deeper and more rewarding blogosphere.


Sean Scully‘s video is a good example of the kind of post that I’d have shared on the now-retired FB page. It’s an apt one for my post today, because he too realises that creativity and painting (and life) is all about relationship. But there’s so much more. Whether you appreciate his work or not, his observations are worth consideration. I love the way he speaks of his obsession with “repairing the world”, and how he wants his work to express “a kind of subjective universality” rather than “telling stories.” How knowledge + craft = freedom. These notions are in alignment with all that this site, and yours truly, values.

 

 


If you landed on this page via an email notification or social media link, it probably won’t be obvious that the site has had a complete overhaul – including a new theme. The ‘home’ page is now a portal that makes the enormous amount of material in the archives more readily accessible:
theawakenedeye.com
Feedback is most welcome!


Relevant reading: how painting can help to change the world, actually


 

your body is a space that sees

The title of this body of work by Lia Halloran – Your Body is a Space That Sees – goes like an arrow to the heart of what this website and blog is about: centerless perception and the closure of the gap between the observer and the observed. I was alerted to Halloran’s work by Maria Popova at brainpickings, however in spite of an extensive trawl of cyberspace, I have failed to find any commentary, from her or anyone else, on the reasoning behind her choice of these words to title her work. I can only assume she has arrived at the truth of this statement via her unique field of experience in science and the visual arts. Perhaps she’s a closet mystic as well. In any event the work is too beautiful not to be shared, and if you happen to live in the Wilmington area you can see it for yourself in ‘real’ rather than virtual space. (Details below.)


Lia Halloran, Horsehead Nebula
 
Your Body is a Space That Sees is series of cyanotype prints that sources historical imagery and narratives to trace contributions of women in astronomy since antiquity. The of series of large scale cyanotype prints will interpret a fragmented history and represent a female-centric astronomical catalog of craters, comets, galaxies and nebula drawing from narrative, imagery and historical accounts of Hypatia of Alexandria, Caroline Herschel, Helen Sawyer Hogg, and a group of women at Harvard in the late 1800’s known as Pickering’s Harem or the Harvard Computers.
 
Lia Halloran, Cyanotype print
 
Cyanotypes are printed from painted negatives that are based on the objects and narratives that were connected to these early astronomers. This process mimics early astronomical glass plates moving between transparent surfaces to a photograph without the use of a camera. The video below shows the process – and as Halloran comments, “Cyanotype printing done using our nearest star outside the studio in sunny Los Angeles, California.”
 

 
From craters to constellations, the images fuse a piercing intensity with an enigmatic subtlety that, like the universe itself, draw us into a beguiling mystery the full meaning of which remains enticingly beyond our reach.

 

Lia Halloran, Magallenic Cloud
 
This project is supported by the National Endowment of the Arts Art Works for Visual Arts. The series of photo/painting pieces will be accompanied by an exhibition catalog with written contributions about the night sky from women in literature, poetry and physics. Research of source imagery will include the extensive glass plate collection at the Harvard College Observatory (HCO).

 

Lia Halloran, Leavitt Crater
 
Lia Halloran lives and works in Los Angeles, CA, and currently serves as Assistant Professor of Art as the Director of the Painting and Drawing Department at Chapman University in Orange, CA, where she teaches painting as well as courses that explore the intersection of art and science. See more of her immensely beautiful and thoughtful work at the intersection of art, science, and human life on her site.


This post has been cobbled together from Lia Halloran’s website and brainpickings – gratitude!

All images copyright Lia Halloran. See more work from this series at this page on her website.

Find information about cyanotype photographic printing at Wikipedia.


Exhibit Dates:
Mar 25, 2017 – Jun 26, 2017
Location:
The Delaware Contemporary
200 South Madison Street | Wilmington, DE 19801
Constance S. & Robert J. Hennessy Project Space