Friday, March 14, 2008

Art and Writing, Images and Contemplation

An article in this morning's New York Times, after new snow fell during the night, has put me in a contemplative mood.

The article is a review of "'Anatomy of a Masterpiece: How to Read Chinese Paintings,' a spare, studious show that offers, along with many stimulations, a retreat from worldly tumult — the religious fervor, the courtly pomp, the expressive self-promotion — that fills much of the museum." What struck my eye, as so often, is the intersection of visual and written images.

With a few lines and a little color, the artist depicts a man standing in a pavilion looking out over a quiet landscape. I wonder what is in his mind, and imagine there is pleasure and peace. With a different set of lines, this time drawn according to calligraphic conventions, he creates written characters, windows into his mind. Over the years since the painting was created, various scholars and artists have added their seals to the work, stamping the painting with their approval.

The article cites a15th-century Chinese writer's wish list: “A nice cottage. A clean table. A clear sky with a beautiful moon. A vase of flowers. No cares of the world.” And this drawing reflects that clarity, that simplicity, that focus. Here the characters and the landscape are so visually intimate that written text and drawn trees feel like the same species.

I return to the work by Zarko Radakovic and Nina Pops (their response to a text by Peter Handke featured in the previous post) and feel again the textual beauty of a painting and the painterly quality of text.

And then I remember an exhibition Zarko and I saw twenty-five years ago in Cologne, Germany, and my accompanying thoughts:

Driving rain in the night. This morning delicate clouds veiling the mountains remind me of Tao Yuanming’s poem “Return Home”: The clouds rise aimlessly out of the mountains, / The birds, tired of flight, contemplate their return home, and of Li Zai’s 15th-century drawing after those lines.

For the rest of the Times article, see:


michael morrow said...

As timing becomes more and more apparent, I am increasingly amazed at art's place in my life. I cant seem to get a handle on whether or not it's me showing up, becoming sensitive to beauties existing around me, unseen, unacknowledged behind shades of ignorance; or has beauty only now found its way into my space; spacey eyes?

I see the old artist-man, "the fourth-century scholar-artist Wang Xizhi, father of classical calligraphy and model for living an active life in retreat." The article refers to him as a "connoisseur of reclusion." He stands, robed in translucent white, a young 'person' shadowing him, seeming to await orders for something: comfort, food, binoculars? The old sage appears to marvel at the beauty of landscape, back turned to the person. Instead, he stares off into nature creeping up onto his veranda, into his-self. Meanwhile, he creeps off the veranda, down into nature.

Like a standing tree, falling in the forest and wondering at the distance her fall will reverberate out, life-held expression of movement becoming air-waves, the standing old man seems to wonder at the reverberation his life-expression of movement extend out into nature. Does the majesty of nature include him. It seems the majesty of man includes nature. Does nature appreciate him like he appreciates nature? Has nature longed for his presence like he longs for nature? Is he even capable of any sort of glimpse into nature's feeling for him?

I see nature reverberating out, capturing his attention.
Does the beauty of his preferred solitude, mask, blind, or evaporate the "the city somewhere down there," and magnify "nature everywhere up here," as "he watches mist rise?"

As an important societal icon, this man of sensitivity and wisdom had to have spent time in "the city somewhere down there," in order to appreciate "nature everywhere up here." Like me, were his senses numbed to beauties creeping up into his eyes during his younger days? Did his now-found appreciation come after years of trial and error? Does nature need to be educated in order to appreciate the man?

After living a life of experience and hands-on adventure, my vision is broadening, somehow becoming; hesitating only long enough to write a paper, check the temperature, or put on my jacket. Until recently,challenges had been handled with eyes wide-shut. Suddenly, (yeh right, suddenly) I am finding education, the result hard and long analyzation, letting go of preconcieved notions of "reality," accepting, accepting life-in-the-moment.
I sure enjoy the veranda...this is the place art, writing and contemplation make images happen

Scott Abbott said...

Michael, thoughts as profound and transitory as the paintings. Thank you.