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Your life-span is only one moment long

Post #1391 • September 15, 2009, 10:56 AM • 23 Comments

Cynthia Thatcher, Disconnect the Dots:

The painting was Georges Seurat's Neo-impressionist work A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, his famous scene of Parisians in a waterside park. As my eye scanned the canvas, jumping from boats to people to clouds, it caught on a tree.

Here were no seamless bands of color, no blended patches of tint as in so many other paintings. The tree was made up of countless specks—a smattering of separate orange, yellow, and blue dots. The boats on the water, the people on the lawn, their faces and clothes—all were a sprinkling of motes, as if the canvas had been caught out in a rain of paint.

Out of the blue, I remembered the ascetic Bahiya, who asked the Buddha to teach him the path leading to happiness. "When seeing," the Buddha said, "just see; when hearing, just hear; when knowing, just know; and when thinking, just think." (Udana 1.10) It was all in how you looked at it. The Bahiya text is deceptively simple. In one sense, it means: Don't daydream. Pay full attention to what you're seeing. But there's more to these words than you might think. Or maybe less.

I did a double take when my meditation teacher, Achan Sobin Namto, explained the deeper meaning of this attention practice. "If we could focus precisely on the present moment...," he once wrote, "the eye would not be able to identify objects coming not the area of perception." Ultimately, he said, following the Bahiya formula meant to see mere color instead of recognizing what you were looking at. It was possible to do this because there was a split-second time lag between (1) sensing the bare image and (2) recognition. (The same applies to perceiving sound, smell, taste, touch, and mental phenomena such as feeling.) If mindfulness were quick enough, you could catch the moment of bare seeing.

Comment

1.

Tim

September 15, 2009, 10:35 AM

Re the last paragraph: Of course. A painter has to see like that, has to get out of objectifying. An arrangement of lines, shapes, color, etc. may represent an ear or a fire hydrant or a tree, but for the painting it's an arrangement of lines, shapes, color, etc. For the viewer, what that arrangement expresses can be gotten by seeing the arrangement, not by identifying objects.

2.

opie

September 15, 2009, 1:57 PM

Tha last ¶ was precisely what the Impressionsists adopted as their method: just look at the basic visual facts as they are.

They saw spots of color, so they painted spots of color. And the wonder is that their pictures are the most realistic, in the sense of bringing the place and the time directly to your eye, that have ever been painted.

3.

Tim

September 15, 2009, 3:01 PM

Opie, my discovery of the Impressionist idea (mainly Monet's, who actually got it from Delacroix, who took a cue from Rubens) of equivalency, that is, for instance, the vibration caused by red placed next to green being the paint equivalent of scintillating light in tree foliage, was/is one of the most rewarding discoveries I've had in painting, because it can be used in so many ways and taken in so many directions.

4.

opie

September 15, 2009, 6:02 PM

For me it was not only color but the very simple idea of small visually separated pieces which effectively keeps the surface alive by combatting the deadly airless surface which oil paint, especially, so often provides.

5.

Tim

September 15, 2009, 6:44 PM

Yes, Delacroix' "flacotage" was what gave the Impressionists their technical means: putting down seperate touches to exploit complimentary contrasts, enlivening the surface like never before. That alone opened so many doors to what was to come.

I was just looking again, however, at photos of the restored Sistine Ceiling, where Michelangelo used complimentary contrasts so forcefully. Ain't nothin new...

6.

Franklin

September 15, 2009, 6:48 PM

The NYT slideshow on the reinstalled Monets at the Modern is worth your time.

7.

Tim

September 15, 2009, 6:52 PM

Thanks, Franklin. I remember when the Moma Water Lilies were displayed so that they simply couldn't be seen.

8.

opie

September 15, 2009, 9:06 PM

As I remember it was in a poorly lighted and usually empty room off to one side of the shrine to Guernica, which always drew reverent crowds.

9.

1

September 15, 2009, 9:44 PM

all those paintings were in atlanta at the high before they returned to NY. franklin, like you at the venetian exhibit, i hit this show 4 times.

the large triptych looked amazing. it was on a wall in a room that was just big enough to let it breathe a little and not too much like where it had hung previously in NY. in atlanta it felt intimate.

10.

1

September 15, 2009, 10:11 PM

at the new moma the last place i saw the monet triptych hung was in a large common area pass through. it was kinda of all alone in a wide open area. after pulling up some pictures of it on flickr it seems to be in a different spot from where i had seen it last. the wall and room size seem similar to the way the high had it set-up.

11.

Chris Rywalt

September 16, 2009, 12:05 PM

At $20 a head to get in, how soon before MoMA's paid off the cost of the paintings? Damn. I think it's just part of getting old, but things have gotten expensive, haven't they? Ordering Chinese delivery costs, like, $30 a pop.

Maybe I should've invested in gold.

12.

Tim

September 16, 2009, 12:11 PM

Or, Cris, you could move out of that part of the world.

You and Franklin want to keep an eye on that gold bubble.

13.

Tim

September 16, 2009, 12:14 PM

I mean Chris. Apologies.

14.

Chris Rywalt

September 16, 2009, 1:20 PM

People talk a lot about cost of living, but personally, I don't see it. Gas costs about the same anywhere in America. Milk, eggs, bread, water, it's all pretty much the same. About the only thing more expensive around here is real estate, and we bought our house pretty cheaply. Real estate taxes are cheaper elsewhere, true.

But that makes it sound like I'm defending a rational choice. I'm not, really. It's entirely emotional. I like it here and don't want to move anywhere else. I've never lived anywhere else and I haven't visited too much of the world, but from what little I've seen, I'm okay staying here.

15.

Tim

September 16, 2009, 1:32 PM

Well, Chris, nobody I know around here pays $30 a pop for Chinese delivery. Try about $20 (tip incl.) for two. And entrance to the finest museums (the Kimbell, for example) is free, though others have $7 to $10 entrance fees with a night a week free, and it's so much easier to get to them. There is a major difference between here and there in taxes, except property taxes are soaring here.

The thing is that once the new wears off, it's gonna be love/hate anywhere you go, especially if it's a city.

16.

Chris Rywalt

September 16, 2009, 1:54 PM

I'm actually happy here by and large. The only thing I really hate are landscapers. A small army of gas-powered motors destroying the afternoon: I wish we could outlaw them.

17.

Chris Rywalt

September 16, 2009, 2:01 PM

Incidentally, $30 is for two adults, two children with hearty appetites. Still, it wasn't all that long ago that $30 was dinner for the four of us at Outback. Yes, I like Outback. Take away my Effete Snob membership card.

18.

1

September 16, 2009, 8:22 PM

just read this quote from uber-collector dean valentine whose collection is on view at the hammer museum in LA through oct 8,

"i think taste is the enemy of art. it's really valuable in, say, fashion or in decorating your house, but it gets in the way of being able to see things in art".

taken from profile (w/pics) "not to be missed: second nature" on 1stdibs. well he did not have to worry about the enemy based on that show.

19.

Tim

September 16, 2009, 9:14 PM

1, correct; developing taste = "being able to see things in art."

20.

Tim

September 16, 2009, 9:20 PM

But I bet I know what Valentine meant by taste: Personal predilections, which one gets past in the course of developing taste.

21.

opie

September 17, 2009, 9:54 AM

"Taste is the enemy of art" has been around for a hundred years. People who say it generally think "taste" means liking things that are pretty or decorative etc and by saying this elevate themselves above the plebeians.

It is unfortunate that the word gets narrowed like this because it means that it must be sometimes redefined in conversation.

22.

Tim

September 17, 2009, 4:15 PM

Perhaps if a debate emerges again there could be some kind of time limit so that the exchange couldn't devolve into an exercise in pointless (except to score points and keep from being scored upon in the course of beating an argument into the mud) adversarialism.

23.

Tim

September 17, 2009, 4:19 PM

Apologies. #22 was meant for "Seek elsewhere".

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