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May 7, 2009

two paths to abstraction

1. At first, artists depict the world as they think it actually is. They even show heaven and other eternal and transcendent scenes in terms of their own times, places, and styles. Then they realize that they have a manner, a method, and a style of representation; and many such styles are possible. They learn to imitate art from distant places and times, which requires a certain sympathy or compassion. Their ability to represent the world as depicted by others reduces their attachment to their own style, which begins to seem arbitrary. For example, it seems arbitrary that the center of a flat piece of art should always appear to recede into the distance, and that one side of each object should be visible. Why not show all the sides at once, as in cubism? Gradually, artists' enthusiasm for any form of representative art diminishes. One important option becomes renunciation, in the form of minimalism and abstraction. Showing the world in any style means embodiment; but the mind can transcend the body. True art then becomes not the naive representation of the world, nor a sentimental imitation of someone else's naive style, but just a field of color on a canvas. That seems the way to make the artist's arbitrary will and narrow prejudices disappear, and beauty appear.

2. The Buddha's "Karaniya Metta Sutta," translated by the Amaravati Sangha:

Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.

The image is Ad Rheinhart, "Abstract Painting" (1951-2). (Rheinhart, influenced by Zen through his friend Thomas Merton, sought to make painting as “a free, unmanipulated, unmanipulatable, useless, unmarketable, irreducible, unphotographable, unreproducible, inexplicable icon.”)

May 7, 2009 10:22 AM | category: philosophy | Comments


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