The Fragrance of Eternity
Since the advent of literacy, it is no longer necessary to paint the life and stories of Jesus all over the interior of our churches as they did in Romanesque times. Since the advent of photography it is no longer necessary to record history and events or even portraits on canvas. Since Jung and others have exposed the world of archetypes and we began to understand them, one could argue that the use of art for these purposes is no longer as valid as it was. Nor is it so relevant to articulate our unconscious world in artistic forms as a means of expressing them, because as we begin to understand a quality such as, for instance, kingship, or motherhood, we don’t feel the need to formulate them externally in images. Though we may still use abstract art to play with the fact that things aren’t only what they seem to be, today there is a new challenge for drawing and painting.
The first aspect of this new challenge is not to work for results. As we’ve seen, results in the conventional sense are no longer needed. So we have to ask ourselves what, today, is the purpose and function of art. I believe it is again, and in a new way, becoming a sacred activity, i.e. an outward and visible form of an inner and invisible grace.
For example, if instead of looking at an object “out there in the world” or a scene “in here in my head”, we allow ourselves to have a feeling response to what is arising in front of us; if we let our commenting and analysing fall away to the point where only seeing exists, then what is arising in front of us draws itself, through us as a silent agent, and that drawing is the actual practice of the dance of life – that “Life” which arises in and as all forms of the phenomenal world – you – me – a daisy – an elephant – a mountain – a bird song or the wind. Jacob Boehme puts it most beautifully in his dialogue Of the Super Sensual Life when he says “When thou standest still from the thinking of self, and the willing of self; when both the intellect and the will are quiet…. Then the eternal hearing, seeing and speaking will be revealed in thee; and so God heareth and seeth through thee, being now the organ of His Spirit. “ Shelley in his “Hymn of Apollo” expresses the same insight very clearly when he states,
“I am the eye with which the Universe/Beholds itself and knows itself divine; “ Practiced in this way, painting and drawing can become a way for intuiting the unity that underlies the diversities of life – with persistence, to the point of realisation that we are That which arises as ourselves and all forms of Nature.
This realization is at the heart of the healing process as we begin to release our separateness.
By letting our gaze fall on what we are drawing – instead of “I here” looking at “it out there” – we begin to see with the eye of our being; it is our Being which sees the Being of what we are drawing. Cecil Collins used to say “You don’t see with your eyes – they are merely windows; you see with the heart” And in his book The Living Tree, John Lane says, “…it’s only when I really feel the tree, when I experience the tree in the heart, that everything starts to work out harmoniously. The branches draw themselves. The colours sing. The picture paints itself.”
Drawing in this way we soon realise that silence is not a quality that is experienced through the ears; silence is what some new age scientists call the vacuum – it is huge, full of potential and alive, in fact, limitless. It is the sub-stratum of our lives. It is, I feel, the recognition of That, which we call beauty or love. I feel the first and main function of, and reason for drawing today is to find that quality, then practice it. In the Maitri Upanishad this is expressed clearly when it says: “There is something beyond our mind which abides in silence within our mind. It is the supreme mystery beyond thought. Let one’s mind and one’s subtle body rest upon that and not rest on anything else.”
More specifically in relation to painting Cézanne wrote to a friend, “The painter’s only aspiration must be to silence; he must stifle within himself the voices of prejudice, he must forget, always forget, establish silence, be a perfect echo, then the landscape will inscribe itself on his sensitive tablet. In order to record it on the canvas, to externalize it, his craft will have to be appealed to, but a respectful craft which must be ready only to obey, to translate unconsciously, so well does it know its language: the text it is deciphering, the two parallel texts; nature as seen, natures as felt, the one that is there…. (he pointed to the green and blue plain), the one that is here…. (he tapped his forehead), both of which must merge in order to endure, to live a life half human, half Devine, the life of art, listen to me… the Life of God.”
Once we are not hooked on producing a “good” piece of work and have lost the fear of not producing a good piece of work, we can begin to feel the life of the pencil point on the paper or the living silence of a brush releasing its load of ink onto a page. We can feel what it is like for the brush, what it is like for the ink and what it is like for the paper – each part of the dance of the forms upon the silence of Being. So we can begin to understand and practice our primary function, which is for God or Consciousness or the Vacuum, depending on what language we use, to experience itself. Which according to Danah Zohar, the physicist, is what it needs to do, to get the feedback for its own Evolution in the manifest world.
So what is Art? What is Life? A fair definition of Art could be when a created, visible form carries within it the atmosphere of its invisible life; what Cézanne called the “Fragrance of its Eternity”.
What is the most important thing we humans can take as our contribution or the striking of a new “do” (as in Do Re Me) into this 21st century? I think Oscar Ichazo has put it pretty well when he defined love as the “Recognition of the same consciousness in the other as there is in oneself.”
If we could avail ourselves of this reality in our experience and realize the truth of it, really feeling it as opposed to thinking it, of recognising it as a ‘good’ idea, we would actually not be able to brutalize each other, as we are doing pretty well all over the planet.
This consciousness has been spoken of throughout the ages by philosophers, saints and sages, and most of us think it sounds great, if a bit idealistic, even romantic, but, what’s really exciting in our age is that science in Quantum Physics is discovering what those ‘great ones’ have been saying all along. A man called David Bohm, explained in a book called the Holographic Universe that, at the sub quantum level, what he calls location ceases to exist. All points in space become equal to all other points in space, and that it is meaningless to talk of anything being separate from anything else. Physicists call this property ‘Non - locality’.
This non-locality is virtually impossible to communicate and has been called Brahman, Atman, Param Atman, Nirvana, the void, unconditioned consciousness, awareness, existence and many others, including the label we put on it of God.
In our busy lives this non- local aspect is easily blotted out by all the immediate and local phenomena that surround us, with what Plato, in his Republic, calls the “Prison den of Sight”.
It seems to me that what Plato calls the Prison den of Sight, Shakespeare calls the Play, in the sense that “all the world’s a stage”. And I have come to feel that the most important function of art is to uncover the meaning of this.
With life drawing we can explore this, by beginning to feel into the atmosphere of the pose, and rather than blotting it our with focusing only on the local, the particular or the specific, with a desire to get it right, make it accurate, we can use the local and the particular to find our way back to the whole, the ground, the atmosphere, the hidden and unveil it. Unveil what is hidden which is, that we are part of each other, because the consciousness in me is the same as in you – i.e., Humanity is one. A Unity, while the diversity that appears to be our life is a play, a story or as Plato said a Prison Den, depending on which way we look at it – which is rivetingly exciting in relation to the Quantum Particle, which can be weighed or measured but not both at the same time; it depends on how it is looked at. So it is with us we can look at “This Mystery” as a play or a Prison den – it is in fact both – it simply depends on how we observe it.
So with drawing we can limit ourselves to the observation of the outer form alone and get it accurate and labelled, or we can feel into the atmosphere and let the form support that, thereby letting it carry the meaning, the atmosphere and fragrance of the whole.
Slowly we come to see how drawing serves our lives; it draws us back Home into the heart, and we begin to see our activities and gestures like the marks in a drawing danced by the silence of our true being, and drawing us home into our reality as human “beings”.
(Meriel Hoare has studied at the Slade School of Art in London and with Oscar Kokoshka in his School of Seeing in Salzburg. She has been sharing her way of working for over 20 years, and is currently offering two drawing workshops at the following locations: META Center, 214 W. 29th St., 16th Fl., NYC on Oct 14 & 15, and at Unison Arts Ctr., 68 Mountain Rest Rd., New Paltz, NY Oct 28 & 29.)