the uniqueness of unnamed seeing

The precision of naming takes away
from the uniqueness of seeing.
– Pierre Bonnard

… a short excerpt from Rupert Spira‘s book, Presence, Vol 1, with paintings by the artists he mentions …

– – –

An artist tries to represent, that is, to re-present, to present again a vision of experience that evokes its reality, to make something that has the power within it to draw the viewer into its own reality.

 

Pierre Bonnard: Nude in a Bathtub

That is what the French painter, Pierre Bonnard, was trying to capture: the timeless moment of perception before thinking has divided the world into a perceiving subject and a perceived object and then further sub-divided the object into ‘ten thousand things.’

And what did that vision look like in Bonnard’s view? It was a world brimming with colour, intensity, harmony and dancing with vitality. It was world in which the edge of the bath or an old wooden floorboard were given the same attention, the same love, as were the curve of a cheek or the gesture of a hand.

 

William Blake: Song of Los

It was the same moment that William Blake wanted to evoke. He was once questioned, “When you see the sun rise do you not see a round disc of fire somewhat like a guinea?” And he replied, “Oh no, no! I see an innumerable company of the heavenly host crying ‘Glory, Glory, Glory is the Lord God Almighty.’”

 

J.M.W. Turner: Sunrise with a Boat between Headlands

Likewise, William Turner who is reported to have been returning home from Hampstead Heath with a painting under his arm late one evening, when a local resident stopped him and asked to see the painting. After looking at it for some time the resident remarked, “Mr. Turner, I have never seen a sun set over Hampstead Heath like that,” to which Turner replied, “No, but don’t you wish you could.”

 

Paul Cezanne: Bend in a Forest Road

The body and mind of the artist is the medium through which nature interprets itself to itself. It is the medium through which nature explores and realises its own identity. As Cézanne said, “I become the subjective consciousness of the landscape and my painting becomes its objective consciousness.”

– Rupert Spira

Presence: The Art of Peace and Happiness – Volume 1


Links to related pages and posts on this site:

rupert spira at the artisans’ gallery

paul cézanne

nature’s eternity – an essay on paul cézanne by rupert spira

blake’s eternal delight

artisans

artisans’ gallery

 


Sources of images:
Pierre Bonnard – Nude in a bathtub
William Blake – Song of Los
J.M.W. Turner – Sunrise, with a Boat between Headlands
Paul Cézanne – Bend in a Forest Road


the Seeing is delighted

I’m delighted too. Imagine my joy at meeting a painter and artisan whose practice is driven by the desire to express “that which is innate within us all” in an offering of beauty – right here in my little hometown, Mullumbimby, NSW, Australia.

Welcome to the artisans’ gallery, Melinda Blair Paterson (drum roll!)


From Melinda’s page:

At the moment my art is an exploration of colour and movement within the simplicity of a circle, starting and finishing with my first love – white. Keeping it slow and simple is how it goes these days, for it is that which is innate within us all that has my full attention, and the seeming ‘stopping’ that catches a glimpse.

 

Melinda Blair Paterson - Sahaja Earth

Melinda Blair Paterson, Sahaja Earth, 1200×1200, acrylic on canvas, 2014

 

The paint is poured onto the canvas, then moved in tandem with the body, like a Sufi dancer spinning into stillness. The paint finds its own path across the surface, delighting the Seeing whichever way it goes. Layers upon layers are created until a maze of colour sits reflecting the viewer. Then for reasons that are never understood, it is time for white, which is poured to cover and reveal a new form. And the Seeing is yet again exponentially delighted.

Visit Melinda’s page to view more examples of her work
and read the entire text:

melinda blair paterson


artisans
artisans’ gallery


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)


 

on beginning a painting – or a new day

Are you a list-maker? I am. I’m not talking about lists of the shopping variety, but those scribbled reminders of creative strategies and footholds that work for me as I meet life day by day, in the studio and … well, everywhere. One of my favourite lists is the one compiled by Frederick Franck, which he called the 10 Commandments – even if you aren’t an artist you can be hugely enriched by considering the ways his instructions apply to the big artwork we’re all busy at – creating a life.

 

Richard Diebenkorn: Ocean Park No. 116

Richard Diebenkorn: Ocean Park No. 116

 

The American painter Richard Diebenkorn was another list-maker. The list he made, below, was found among his papers after his death in 1993. It is a collection of 10 (again!) “guidelines” that he believed were instrumental in driving the creative process: Notes to myself on beginning a painting. Perhaps, like most of us, he made many more lists. But this is the one that has survived, and we can be thankful, for there is much to ponder in this list. As with Franck’s list, we find that the advice we give ourselves for the fostering of our creative work in the studio is equally relevant to the creation of an artful life.

Richard Diebenkorn: Notes to myself on beginning a painting

I find it a challenge to choose which of Diebenkorn’s points resonates most deeply for me. They are all relevant at both an artistic level and a personal level. I’m drawn to all the odd numbers, which probably means I need to look more deeply at the evens. My favourite?  Probably number 1. Which would you choose?

 

Richard Diebenkorn: Berkley No. 19

Richard Diebenkorn: Berkley No. 19

 

A few more ponder-worthy quotes from Diebenkorn:

I’m very old-fashioned. Though I’m interested in most of the new art, painting remains for me a very physical thing, an involvement with a tangible feeling of sensation.

I want painting to be difficult to do. The more obstacles, obstructions, problems… the better.

I seem to have to do it elaborately wrong and with many conceits first. Then maybe I can attack and deflate my pomposity and arrive at something straight and simple.

If what a person makes is completely and profoundly right according to his lights then this work contains the whole man. A work which falls short of this content, is only of passing value and lends itself to arbitrariness and fragmentation.

In a successful painting everything is integral… all the parts belong to the whole. If you remove an aspect or element you are removing its wholeness.

 

Richard Diebenkorn: Ocean Park No. 63

Richard Diebenkorn: Ocean Park No. 63

 


Images sourced from the public domain: © 2013 The Estate of Richard Diebenkorn


Richard Diebenkorn Catalogue Raisonné