Visual Art as the Entranceway to the Ancient Caves of Humanity: Alone, Yet in the Embrace of Everything

Since the pandemic began, I’ve had this impulse to look at, or hang on the walls of my home, new pieces of art. Sometimes, they’re pages from an old book or museum calendar or one I created myself; sometimes, a piece from a dealer or a work by someone I love. I take a walk every day, look at whatever seems beautiful, trees, roads, hills, brooks, buildings, animals, and people. And with art this sense of beauty can come inside with me.

 

And there’s something more. Something about aging, relationships, and life itself, or life in a time of great crisis, that eludes understanding yet is motivating this impulse.

 

I’ve written about art before. So have thousands of others. Art is one blessing we can all share. No matter how hard we look at, think, or feel about an artwork, it keeps on evoking something new⎼ or it can. One look, one realization sets the stage for the next.

 

There is an infinite depth to any perception, as any perception takes place in and is influenced by an infinite number of factors, or by the universe itself. It is this infinite depth that art can access. So the English poet William Blake, in his poem Auguries of Innocence, wrote the famous lines: “To see a World in a Grain of Sand. And a Heaven in a Wildflower.”

 

I look at this woodblock print by the Japanese artist Kawase Hasui which hangs on the wall of my bedroom. It is called The Inokashira Benten Shrine in Snow. I love this piece. It is so detailed. It depicts a snowstorm over an old Buddhist Shrine that sits next to a pond that over a hundred years ago stood at the head of the source of Edo’s (now Tokyo’s) drinking water. Each snowflake stands individually by itself, and then floats into the whole. I feel as if I could enter the scene, become another detail in it, or feel the artist as he painted it.

 

Maybe each artwork is a door to a hidden place in ourselves, or the universe, or the artist’s vision. Like C. S. Lewis’ wardrobe doorway to Narnia. Or a window; just like a painting might be framed, a window frames the world for us to view with care and attention. And I feel that if I can mount such windows and doors on my walls, I will never be lonely or bored. An adventure will always be available to me. One minute, the world might be tired or threatening. The next, it shines brightly.

 

Years ago, I bought a piece of Buddhist art, a slice of shale with a Buddha painted on it. It is a reproduction of a painting from a cave in Southeast Asia. When I slow down and let my eyes linger on it alone, focusing on the whole piece; then a detail; then back again, the scene expands, taking on dimensionality. I feel what I see. The Buddha stands there for a moment in 3-d.

 

Art was probably created just for this sort of purpose. When we let go of our focus on ourselves for a moment, our plans, concerns, and beliefs, art can help us see the world in more dimensions. That’s why, throughout the centuries, it was closely tied to religion and spirit. One of the greatest visual works of art ever was The Creation of Man (Human) painted on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome, by Michelangelo….

 

*To read the whole post, please click on this link to The Good Men Project.

 

**Photo is from the cave created by students in our school.

One Gift of the Arts is Help Us See with A Diversity of Eyes

It all started one night after getting totally engrossed in viewing Japanese woodblock prints, particularly the night scenes by Kawase Hasui. Hasui was one of Japan’s most prominent and prolific printmakers who died in 1957. He created landscapes that beautifully merged humans⎼ their homes, boats, shrines, castles, and temples⎼ into the land around them.

 

I was looking through several paintings and when one stood out, I’d wonder why that was so. I’d imagine myself in the depicted scene or sit with the mood the print and my seeing of the print created.

 

One night scene was of the Chuson-ji Temple, in the town of Hiraizumi, Japan. A long series of wide steps leads up through trees to the temple. There is moonlight and a bright star, but no moon. I allowed myself to slow down, stop rushing, and just linger on the scene, to sort of let my eyes feel the steps so I could walk up them and reach the building itself.

 

Then I’d close my eyes and let the scene rest inside me, before opening them again to allow whatever new details I had noticed enter the picture. By touching in this mindful way, we are touched; we feel what we see. The artwork has more dimension. I learned this practice at a retreat organized by psychotherapist Lawrence Leshan, and by The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing as Meditation, by Frederick Franck.

 

After doing this for a few hours, I drove into town to buy groceries. Along the way, the scenery took on a totally new quality. The homes surrounded by trees, the lights amidst the dark, the moon over the hillside⎼ one minute, the scene around me was the physical road and trees. The next, a beautiful portrait of the same.

 

A few days later, in the daytime, a similar experience occurred. As I walked up the rural road where I live, I saw as I might normally see⎼ light breaking through the hillside forest roof and bouncing off the leaves of the trees ⎼ and then as Hasui might paint it. By viewing the art, my eyes were tuned to beauty; I now had two sets of eyes, two ways of seeing.

 

Hasui seemed fascinated with how not just art was a creation, but vision itself. He was almost too prolific. He painted the same scene in different times of day and different seasons. There are at least three renditions of the Chuson-ji Temple, for example⎼ one at night, one on a spring day, another in the snow. But what we see in each painting is one moment; we see each instant as a once in a lifetime event.

 

We can see how everything changes or is change itself. Henri Bergson, a French philosopher, said: “Reality is flowing.  This does not mean that everything moves, changes, and becomes; science and common experience tell us that.  It means movement, becoming, change is everything there is, there is nothing else.  There are no things that move and change and become; everything is movement, is change.”

 

The beautiful red temples Hasui painted were not just an external scene he perceived but an element of the artist, his history and mood, the time of day, the weather and quality of light, the remnants of the past in the present. We are not a being locked in a wall of skin, but one movement in a universe dancing itself into being….

 

**To see the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.