This is the third of three posts
presenting and developing my recent slide talk
Contemporary Art as Buddhist Practice
This section is about my own work. Since the narrative
describes two methods, I'll divide the presentation of my work into two posts. So that makes a total of four posts.
In my work, I am playing with the world of appearances
– out there in boundless space –
and within the protected world, also boundless,
of my imagination.
In practice, I follow two basic paths – and many variations -
to this coming together of appearance and significance.
In one, I paint landscape from observation in oils on panel. That moment between the clear and simple appearance of something, the sensation on the eye, and the perception of it as a thing, with a name, can be opened out.
There’s a gap there that can be widened,
and this by the way was Claude Monet’s trick.
This is expressly what he was doing. (1)
Painting according to Monet’s method is like the insight practice of Mindfulness of Phenomena, pure experience of form without naming things. (2)
After a while of this, everything is seen
as transparent and interdependent ;
I am awake in a dream.
And through a regular practice of this
I might begin to see that, as the song goes,
life is but a dream.
Does it always go like this? No, not always.
(1) The Impressionists were furthering the project of the Realists, led by Gustave Courbet and the painters of the Barbizon School. Real subjects like everyday people in everyday situations were important to these painters. Landscape was important. Whatever was natural, just as it is, was important. Equally important was representing them with a sense of reality and immediacy.
Furthermore, in the 1850s, scientific studies had found this gap between the sensation of light on the retina and the appearance in the mind of the image, and then between that mental image and the significance or naming of that image. Monet and other painters were interested in that gap as a moment of bare reality.
Monet once advised another painter: "Do not paint a house, or a bridge or a tree. Paint only a square of blue, a smudge of yellow, an oblong of pink."
(2) As a practice of spiritual insight, the look of the painting matters not a whit. Working the painting into a work of art is another matter that develops in parallel to that of "seeing through the veil" of appearances. Making a work of art depends on knowledge and skill in manipulating materials and colors. It is possible to do both.