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The World According to Art
The Yoga of Looking and Listening
BY MAGAZINE EDITOR SUSAN MAIER-MOUL
When I was in my twenties I worked at a bookstore during the day and made paintings at night. For about 4 years, I did this five or six days a week.
After work, I’d walk home 90 minutes through the center of Boston enjoying the architecture and the parks of the Emerald Necklace. I’d go into my studio – a small bedroom in our apartment – and paint for four or five hours.
Sometimes when I was too tired to continue, I’d step into the hall, lie down on the floor throw my arm across my eyes and feel the painting happening in my body, a sensation in which there was no boundary between moving the paint and looking at the emerging painting itself. They were, object and subject, the same action to me.
I’d wait with that feeling until it integrated, too, and I could reconnect with my ordinary life, having something to eat and calling it a day.
My friend Robert, who gives pre-concert talks for the BSO, used to take me to Symphony Hall and get me a seat in the center of the orchestra section.
I was astonished to find I could feel the music on the skin of my face and the fine hair of my forearms. Not just the booming timpani or the mile-high curtains of brass, but many separate sensations of vibration from the string section, intimately quiet to rapidly bowed. I could feel the distinctive reed voices of the bassoon, the clarinets and the oboe.
I’d find myself alternately rapt in watching the techniques that produced my favorite sensation – “That’s the pizzicato,” Robert would whisper, or “That’s called spiccato” – and closing my eyes. The energy of looking would flow back through my nervous system, flow in my whole being. Switching between looking and closing my eyes got more intelligent, more instinctive. At moments, it felt all like one happening.
When I listened this way, all the “should” went out of it. All “the way you’re supposed to do it,” was non-existent. I was completely involved in listening, and my ears were only half the story.
some who see Me/ by the same Light in which I am
Translation interests me for many reasons. One of them is how difficult it is to describe what is going on and what I feel even in my own language and time, to people who are having something remotely like a correlative experience.
When I try to write about it, I repeatedly return to the words experience, feeling, sensation – words that are slippery even though it’s my native tongue, the same language I use to buy groceries and go to the movies, words that have different shades between paragraphs of a single essay. It’s difficult to find other words, and yet the meanings of these few shift about restlessly, doing their best to point at what I’m trying to communicate.
Art is said to have negative capability. Literature is described as writing that conveys meaning through suggestion, association and evocation. I both love and distrust literature: I struggle toward a reliable phenomenology and then forgive myself for wanting to make the thing that I am dealing with something that happens for the person who is reading, rather than something I describe.
For absolutely sure, going to church with Rashunda
Recently I was reading one of our favorite fresh blogs, The New Media Diva. Rashunda Tramble rocks a clean style sheet, and I’d love lingering there just to rest my eyes if it weren’t also so entertaining to read her smart, wide-ranging posts.
She shared a bring-it video last week of a Cooper Temple in Miami. Rashunda wrote, in Wishful thinking: Praising the Lawd in Switzerland that she’s looking for a church “where I can let loose like this.” It made me think of my painting days, when my experience of the subject and object were not so ruthlessly divided.
Some of us like the feeling of doing things with our bodies. Not only moving, but feeling our motion as being a profound embodiment of interaction. Rashunda’s words struck a chord in me, the one that feels “higher power” as the life that’s living everything, including me, and wants like crazy to get with it.
no one is around/ showing us the way home
Visiting MoMA last week I felt synesthesia surge in smooth round waves through my body when I stepped into the expansive, airy galleries of the new Abstract Expressionist exhibit. The feeling was like the one I have on the mat if I’ve been unable to practice for more than a day or two.
In practice, those first movements bring sighs of homecoming, involuntary at first, then with deepening surrender as I “let loose” and breathe.
At MoMA, I felt that homecoming, too. The Ab Ex paintings, part of MoMA’s permanent collection, were many of those I saw in my first visits to New York as a teenager. Those early encounters with art left me sleepless and speechless for days, so foreign and wondrous were they to my rural upbringing, so full of seeing with my whole body.
When I walked into the exhibit last week, what I saw with my eyes I felt with my skin.
And there was no one to tell me “the important thing” about this painting or that one. No one to insist this work was the one the right people talked about, this artist the one who really represented the way things were then. I was swimming in life force, aware of the echoes of my young self responding to art, coming home to her connection with everything her senses saw.
And only half of it was with my eyes.
You can’t, no you can’t, step in the same river twice
In Opera News this month, Brian Kellow writes about a woman he saw “perched on the edge of her seat” night after night bobbing and weaving to Wagner. When he first began to attend opera, he says, he could not imagine how anyone could maintain so much enthusiasm over hundreds of performances, very often of the same opera.
Doesn’t that make you think of practicing yoga?
Kellow writes, “Over the years, I’ve learned that perhaps the most powerful truth is not necessarily the fact of any given situation but what that situation feels like.”
Quotes in the headlines above
you are drunk
and i’m intoxicated
no one is around
showing us the way home
From Ghazal 2309, Translated by Nader Khalili
Rumi, Fountain of Fire
The Prophet said, “There are some who see Me
by the same Light in which I am seeing them.
Our natures are ONE.
Without reference to any strands
of lineage, without reference to texts or traditions,
we drink the Life-Water together.”
From Chinese Art and Greek Art, translated by Coleman Barks
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.