the devotional act of sustained observation

For many artists, a passion to record a selected natural object – how it moves, or is moved by, light and circumstances – and to do so repeatedly, forms the substance of their practice.  Consider Georgia O’Keeffe‘s flowers: “When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.”   Claude Monet painted water lilies, haystacks and cathedral facades over and over, always looking deeper and seeing more profoundly.  And how many times did Paul Cézanne return to paint his beloved Mont Sainte-Victoire? The high priestess of education in the creative arts, Corita Kent, would instruct her students to “Look at things until identity, value and description dissolve.”  
This is my idea of devotion.

As I pondered this post introducing the work of Scott Morgan and his page at the artisans’ gallery, I was almost overwhelmed.  Scott’s creative output is enormous, and it covers all manner of activity; he’s a creative director, designer, artist, writer, poet, photographer and film maker…  What to choose as a sampler of his work?  To my mind however, the thread that runs through all his projects – in addition to exquisitely clean, fresh design –  is a sense of quiet awe and devotion.  I finally decided to share photographic images he gathered by standing in the same place and simply recording what was showing up in that moment – and doing it again and again.   Just like O’Keeffe, Monet and Cézanne.
 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 
Scott calls this project One Hundred Days and writes:

The basic premise of the project was simple: Photograph the exact same image; same spot, same angle, same camera, same lens, same proportion of water and sky, for one hundred days. Positioned on a hilltop 800 ft. above the water, facing due south, without the familiar sunrise or sunset poetry of east and west, create a series of images that record the elegant yet minimal transformation of the threshold between two worlds, sea and sky, and the focused ritual of doing it one hundred times over a two year period.

After being landlocked for almost seven years in New Mexico and Toronto, the One Hundred Days project was conceived as a process of my being reacquainted with the vast presence of the Pacific ocean and a return to the fundamental practice of seeing; slow down and be present.  Document the process.

The images purposely contain no reference points. The elevated vantage point removes the waves and sand leaving the surface of the sea, which could be any large body of water. This strips the images of the specifics of place and sets them free to engage the viewer on many levels both real and imagined.

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 

Scott Morgan, One Hundred Days

 
You can see more works from this series here.

At the artisans’ gallery: Scott Morgan – from silence to symphony

Images and quoted text copyright Scott Morgan.


websites:
scottmorganart.com
scottmorganstudio.com
thissimplegrace.com


 

what does the poet see?

Visual language is poetry in its own right, yet when a poet with the capacity to view a painting without bringing the common interpretation of its language to bear, other, deeper and wider dimensions of perception can arise.  Poets sometimes employ another – usually visual – work of art as an entry point to their own creative expression and there’s a name for this form: ekphrasis.  Often the resulting poems convey a deeper symbolism than is obvious; they can open up a surprising new dimension of meaning.  (I wrote more about ekphrasis in this post about Howard Nemerov‘s poem, Vermeer.)

The work of haiku poet Gabriel Rosenstock has been featured on this site several times – he’s almost our unofficial poet-in-residence. (You’ll find links to his other pages below.) Well-known for his collaborative haiga with photographer Ron Rosenstock, Gabriel recently sent me these examples of his ekphrastic haiku. He includes three versions of his haiku – Irish, English and Japanese. (The latter are translations by Mariko Sumikura.)

The artworks are by Marc Chagall and Rene Magritte – details are included at the foot of the post.

 

Chagall-Rosenstock haiku 1

 


 

Chagall-Rosenstock haiku 2

 


 

Magritte-Rosenstock haiku 1

 


 

Magritte-Rosenstock haiku 2

 


 

Magritte-Rosenstock haiku 3

 


 

Magritte-Rosenstock haiku 4

 


 

Magritte-Rosenstock haiku 5

 


From top:
Marc Chagall, Le Violoniste Bleu,1929
Marc Chagall, Cover, Souvenir Program for Ballet Russe, ca 1945
Rene Magritte, Le Mal du Pays (Homesickness), 1940
Rene Magritte, Golconda, 1953
Rene Magritte, L’Inondation (The Flood), 1928
Rene Magritte, The Pleasure Principle, 1937


Books by Gabriel Rosenstock

Blog: roghagabriel.blogspot.ie


disappearing in the haiku moment

a glimpse of a god

rosenstock & rosenstock

being in love with light


 

pop goes the perceiver…

For those of us whose interest in the mechanics of perception and the arising of visual experience runs deep, contemporary Dzogchen teacher Jackson Peterson offers a pithy lay summary. What are the implications for us as ‘artists’? What are we actually attempting to express? Are we furthering the illusion of a solid-state world or are we inquiring into its genesis? What can we express about the ubiquitous “knowing sentience”? And where does this leave us as viewers of both art and the world we feel is so unquestionably ‘real’? Fasten your seat belts!

Perception is an acquired phenomenon.
– E H Gombrich


 

Understanding our visionary world experience of ordinary perception as being a mental or brain/mind construction arising instantaneously, from moment to moment, is a profound insight. The Source creates visionary experience through a human brain. Having a human brain is the only way to have uniquely human experience.

 

Glass Brain Project visualises brain activity in 3D

 

Perceptions, as neurological, electro-chemical signals, are processed and immediately appear as virtual 3D images like a movie. Along with that arising of a movie-like experience is the arising of a perceiver. It’s not that there exists a pre-existing observer that ‘views’ the various movie-like perceptual images, but rather the ‘perceiver’ perceiving arises with the perceptual vision, as a part of the projection.  The perceiver is imagined.

This is identical to what occurs when we dream at night. The dreamed self-identity is not a pre-existing entity that then ‘views’ the separate dream scenery, rather the perceiver of the dream scenery is equally a simultaneous projection of a subconscious creativity. The ‘perceiver perceiving’ is a mental projection. The same is true in the waking state. There is no actual separate ‘perceiver of perceptions’ other than an imagined one. The ‘me’ is merely a projection of karmic propensities. There is no actual aware entity within that milieu of projected me-thoughts, me-sensations and me-beliefs. What that ‘me’ does or intends is purely determined by karmic or brain conditioning. So free will loses all meaning. There is no ‘me’ entity that chooses or decides anything.

 

Human Connectome Project

 

There is no stable and objective universe ‘out there’. There is only the world and universe manufactured by your brain/mind at any, and every, given moment. There is however a vast and infinite quantum electro-magnetic informational field that moves or waves through the body’s perceptual organs, which becomes the basis for the 3D movie that appears in consciousness. And actually the movie doesn’t appear ‘in’ consciousness, but consciousness appears as the 3D virtual movie along with its artificial ‘viewer’. All events are occurring only within the brain.

 

Human Connectome Project

 

Light is not bright nor colorful. Light is invisible. The brightness and colors we see in our ordinary vision only exist in the brain/mind. Brightness is a brain manufactured phenomena, along with all the objects we seem to see. Again the perceiver of objects, brightness and colors is also a mentally manufactured entity made up of neural conditioning and conceptual designation. There is no actual entity that ‘sees’. When we fall asleep at night that entity disappears and is replaced by a new dreamed entity that also thinks it’s seeing pre-existing dream scenery. It’s constructed to think that, the same as our waking state ‘self’ thinks that it is seeing a pre-existing world.

 

Human Connectome Project

 

Sound only exists in a brain. The universe is silent. Movements of molecules cause the ear drum to vibrate, which creates electro-chemical signals from which the brain creates the inner neurological experience called sound.

We think we smell the fragrance of a flower, but instead no “scent” enters our nostrils, only odorless molecules. The brain then creates the fragrance as a neurological experience from odorless molecules.

Taste is the same. Foods contain no flavours; only brains do.

Sensations of pressure and heat and cold are the same as well.

Seeing that the experience and substance of our dream visionary experiences is identical to our day time ‘waking state’ visionary experience, in that both are both equally 3D brain/mind manufactured projections, is a profound insight. Neither the viewing subject nor the scenery viewed are other than subconscious projections occurring in the brain/mind. There is no real person ‘in there’ having experiences. That whole ‘me’ story is also just a projection of electro-chemical neural activity. The entire notion of being a real individual person, an autonomous self, is pure, brain generated fantasy.

 

Human Connectome Project

 

But a quality of knowing sentience pervades all experience equally. It’s not viewing the dream, but rather the dream or experience is what ‘knowingness’ is. It’s like the reflections that appear in a mirror. The brain and its functioning are also reflections appearing in the mirror of knowingness. But the mirror is never a person with an identity or personal story. That entity is merely a holographic reflection that appears and disappears completely from moment to moment with no continuity. There is no personal self except as an assemblage of neurological signals arising in the holographic, 3D movie that we call ‘our life in the universe’.

By noticing the inherent presence of knowing sentience to be within and AS all experience equally, that ‘noticer’ itself will dissolve into its changeless mirror-like, transparent awareness without border or center.

No one realized anything. No state became stable. That ‘me’ as a seeker just disappeared, dissolved, like a foggy mist that naturally evaporates in the morning sun.

– Jackson Peterson


See Jackson Peterson’s website – The Way of Light

He is also very active on Facebook, which is where I sourced this article. It has received only minor editing. Thank you Jax!


The top image is from the Glass Brain Project.

“This 3D brain is not a model — it’s a real human brain, firing electric signals as it thinks. “We are not just recording brain activity in real time, but also visualising it for people to experience how the brain functions,” says neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley of the University of California San Francisco, who built the Glass Brain project along with the Swartz Centre at UC San Diego.”

Visit the link to play with the model – it’s a wonder in every sense of the word.

The remaining images are from the gallery at the Human Connectome Project.

“Navigate the brain in a way that was never before possible; fly through major brain pathways, compare essential circuits, zoom into a region to explore the cells that comprise it, and the functions that depend on it.

The Human Connectome Project aims to provide an unparalleled compilation of neural data, an interface to graphically navigate this data and the opportunity to achieve never before realized conclusions about the living human brain.”

You will never think of so-called grey matter in quite the same way again. Or, indeed, your world.

The only thing worth expressing is the inexpressible.
– Frederick Franck


the Face of faces

seeing without shadows


on mindfulness, contentedness and a tin mug

 

The contemplation of things as they are,
without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture,
is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention.

– Francis Bacon, 16-17th century English philosopher

 

Robert Spellman - Two Cups

Robert Spellman – Two Cups, acrylic on canvas

 

On his MoonBlog, painter Robert Spellman speaks of the challenge of contemplating “things as they are”. He points out that Bacon’s words above are a “good description of what meditators sometimes call “non-fabrication”, seeing things without opinion or subjective conceptual overlay”. Yet as all meditators know, this is easier said than done. Spellman observes:

It is one of the maddening things of artistic practice to not know what you are doing. It’s easy enough to come up with a scheme and easy enough to draw conclusions about what has been done, but clarity in the moment of doing is elusive. This, by the way, is why mindfulness practice holds my interest: it turns out to be quite difficult to steady the mind; it’s always on its way elsewhere. I suspect that this flitting quality of the mind is why artistic practice is both useful and surprisingly demanding.

Elsewhere he mentions in more detail how engagement in an art practice is not only useful for taming the monkey-mind, but also that it can lead to a sense of contented completeness:

… artistic practice of the most ordinary sort can lead to a recognition of wholeness, completeness. If you feel complete, you don’t consume so much. If you feel whole it seems natural to be curious about people and things and not so much about your self. This is no small thing if you multiply it by the billions of us on the earth right now. Our needy habits are neither fulfilling nor necessary, and are proving to be catastrophically expensive.

Recently I’ve been revisiting one of my favourite writers – Marion Milner – and I continue to be in awe of her persistent experiments with the processes of her thinking and perceiving. In A Life of One’s Own she sets out to grapple with the question “What do I really want from life?” and discovers that certain ways of attending, of looking, of moving, can bring surprising joy and contentment. Her professional background was in science rather than the arts, although she was a serious painter. To my knowledge she wasn’t a formal meditator, but I think that she and Robert Spellman are riding the same moonbeam when it comes to their diversely gained insights into the workings of perception.

One of her ongoing experiments involved simply sitting with a mundane object – for “it was obvious that I had so often failed to get the most out of whatever I did because my attention was always wandering to something else. So I began to try, and the result was a sense of new possibilities in richness of thought.” She turned her attention to a lump of coal on her hearth:

From having been aware of it simply as something to burn I began to feel its blackness as a quite new sensation, to feel its ‘thingness’ and the thrust of its shape, to feel after its past in forests of giant vegetation, in upheavings of the land passing to eons of stillness, and then the little men tunnelling, the silence and cleanness of forests going to make up London’s noisy filth.

Then I chose a small tin mug. It was an ugly object. Nevertheless I tried to keep my thoughts fixed upon it for fifteen minutes. This time I did not become concerned with its origin but simply let its form imprint itself upon my mind. Slowly I became aware of a quite new knowledge. I seemed to sense what I can only call the ‘physics’ of that mug. Instead of merely seeing its shape and colour I felt what I described to myself as its ‘stresses and strains’, the pressures of its roundness and solidity and the table holding it up. This sense did not come at once and I suppose it might never have come if I had not sat still and waited. But from this few minutes’ exercise on a tin mug I had found a clue which eventually led me to understand what was the significance of many pictures, buildings, statues, which had before been meaningless.

By a simple self-chosen act of keeping my thoughts on one things instead of dozens, I had found a window opening out across a new country of wide horizons and unexplored delights.

She expands this view with a beautiful account of the way her senses were restored from fragmentation to wholeness, bringing deep contentment:

I sat motionless, draining sensation to its depths, wave after wave of delight flowing through every cell in my body. My attention flickered from one delight to the next like a butterfly, effortless, following its pleasure; sometimes it rested on a thought, a verbal comment, but these no longer made a chattering barrier between me and what I saw, they were woven into the texture of my seeing. I no longer strove to be doing something, I was deeply content with what was. At other times my senses had often been in conflict, so that I could either look or listen but not both at once. Now hearing and sight and sense of space were all fused into one whole.

– Marion Milner, A Life of One’s Own


Have you ever sat with a mundane object – even something you would normally consider “ugly” – for fifteen minutes, with a mind totally empty of narrative? With no interest in its value, its history or its future? With what some meditators call “beginner’s mind”?

If yes – were you surprised at what revealed itself?

If no – please have a go… you wouldn’t want to miss out on those “wide horizons and unexplored delights” would you?


Robert Spellman and Marion Milner are also featured on pages in this site:

Robert Spellman at the artisans’ gallery

Marion Milner: knowing with the whole body


Marion Milner: A Life of One's Own

A Life of One’s Own


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David Bohm and Rouault’s clown


being in love with light

The Ancient Greek word for the literary practice which embeds art into its expression is ekphrasis . It’s derived from the combination of two words: ek, which can mean ‘for the sake of,’ and phradzein, meaning ‘to show, point out, describe.’ The recombined definition then yields ekphrasis, or ‘a process carried out for the sake of description.’ The writer or poet, realising that “A picture is worth a thousand words” (or even a hundred), weaves the artwork, which exists independently within its own visual language, into verbal language – in a sense publishing it afresh. Howard Nemerov‘s poem, Vermeer, is a fine example of an ekphrastic poem.

I don’t know anything about Nemerov’s contemplative inclinations, but this poem suggests to me that he was familiar with the state of unconditioned nondual awareness: how else could he come up with a line like ‘At one for once with sunlight’? Perhaps he was a closet Zen Master. The first line of the poem, ‘Taking what is, and seeing it as it is’ could have come straight from the pages of a Zen manual.

Nemerov’s penetrating mindfulness – and by implication, the painter’s as well – flavours other phrases in the poem: ‘Keeping it simple’, ‘being in love with light’, ‘sunlight falling through/A leaded window’, ‘A woman in blue/ Reading a letter’, ‘a lady weighing gold’, ‘Watching the water in the foreground dream/Reflectively’, ‘taking a view of Delft’…

When reading the words ‘If I could say to you, and make it stick’, I muse whether the poem was conceived as being spoken by a wondering Vermeer to a hearer centuries later. It is centuries later right now, and I am moved to reflect upon Nemerov’s lines, to study the paintings referred to in the poem – ‘A girl in a red hat’, a ‘woman in blue/Reading a letter’, the ‘lady weighing gold’, a ‘view of Delft’, to marvel at the apparent paradoxes of ‘seductive modesty’, of ‘holy mathematic’, of the ‘inexorable domesticated into charm’. And to applaud Nemerov’s aspiration: ‘I think we should be for one moment happy/In the great reckoning of those little rooms/Where the weight of life has been lifted and made light …’

 

Johannes Vermeer: Woman in Blue Reading a Letter

Johannes Vermeer, Woman in Blue Reading a Letter, 1663 – 1664
Rijksmuseum Amsterdam

 

Vermeer
by Howard Nemerov

Taking what is, and seeing it as it is,
Pretending to no heroic stances or gestures,
Keeping it simple; being in love with light
And the marvelous things that light is able to do,
How beautiful! a modesty which is
Seductive extremely, the care of daily things.

At one for once with sunlight falling through
A leaded window, the holy mathematic
Plays out the cat’s cradle of relation
Endlessly; even the inexorable
Domesticates itself and becomes charm.

If I could say to you, and make it stick,
A girl in a red hat, a woman in blue
Reading a letter, the lady weighing gold . . .
If I could say this to you so you saw,
And knew, and agreed that this was how it was
In a lost city across the sea of years,
I think we should be for one moment happy
In the great reckoning of those little rooms
Where the weight of life has been lifted and made light,
Or standing invisible on the shore opposed,
Watching the water in the foreground dream
Reflectively, taking a view of Delft
As it was, under a wide and darkening sky.

 

Johannes Vermeer: Girl with the Red Hat

Johannes Vermeer: Girl with the Red Hat, 1665 – 1666
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

 

Johannes Vermeer: Woman Holding a Balance

Johannes Vermeer: Woman Holding a Balance, 1662 – 1665
National Gallery of Art, Washington DC

 

Johannes Vermeer: View of Delft

Johannes Vermeer: View of Delft, 1660 – 1661
Mauritshuis, The Hague

 


Excellent website devoted to all things Vermeer:

Essential Vermeer


The Collected Poems of Howard Nemerov
(Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1981)