Rock and Plants: A New Direction in My Practice

Hello,  It’s been a while since I’ve paid any attention to this site.  My most recent posts mainly had to  do with music I produced with my brother which ended up in a CD titled “Dancing With Death”.  Given the title, it is not surprising that thousands of people have been eager to listen to this music (just kidding).  Over the past six months or so, I have found myself trying to make sculptures consisting of found rocks, stones, sticks and other natural materials.  I’ll probably write more about this later, but one of the factors leading to this new interest has been the amazing results of my wife’s succulent growing practice.  Below is an article from SDVoyager, an online magazine that features the work of artists in the San Diego area.  The article describes how our garden has become sort of a  collaborative art installation and includes eight pictures.

Meet Steve and Cherie Wilson of Eureka Gardens

Today we’d like to introduce you to Steve and Cherie Wilson.

Steve and Cherie, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
All throughout our 53 years of marriage, Cherie and I have dabbled in various arts and crafts; primarily as a way to balance out our left-brain oriented jobs (Steve as a college professor and Cherie as a teacher and CEO of various organizations). I played drums in bands most of my life but also experimented with photography, metal sculpture and most recently, painting. Cherie has immersed herself in creating pottery, stained glass and jewelry. Although we sometimes worked in the same mediums and supported each other, we usually worked independently.

Over the past 3 years, however, our creative efforts have become more of a collaborative process, and our garden has become our “art” piece. What might be considered an outdoor art installation, our garden includes pieces of art produced earlier in our lives, items from other artists and newly created pieces, many of which are living. More importantly, our orientation to the creative process has changed to what might be called an “art for art’s sake” perspective; that is, being less concerned about how what we create is viewed by others, but working for the intrinsic rewards of creating something together.

Several things led to this shift in how we practice art. When we retired to California in 2003, I decided to take some painting courses, despite the fact that I was scared to death of the idea of painting. Cherie started taking classes offered by the Vista Gem and Mineral Society and ended up teaching classes for them and began producing jewelry at an astonishing rate. After several years of classes, I was displaying abstract paintings in various shows and galleries around North County, and Cherie was selling her jewelry to friends and neighbors.

In 2007, our son Andy and his wife Jen opened a wine bar in Carlsbad and invited us to display and sell our art in the store. The shop remained open until 2011, and we were quite pleased with the chance to share our art with the public and make enough income to finance our creative pursuits. When the shop was sold, neither of us felt like we wanted to seek out other venues for selling our art and, although we did do some commissioned pieces, most of our art was produced for gifts and as donated pieces for fundraising purposes.

Then in 2014, we decided to downsize to a single story house that was approximately half the size of the house we were living in. After about six months of focusing on the interior renovations, we were ready to tackle the lackluster yard. Despite the fact that the yard mainly consisted of a lot of bad grass and a couple of bushes, we saw it as an empty canvas presenting unlimited potential. With comparatively less wall space inside the new house, I had relegated a large number of my paintings to a storage shed.

So, early on, we made the decision to coat many of these extra canvases with polyurethane and hang them on the outside of the house and the fences that surround it.

At the same time, Cherie started propagating succulents (with the same vigor she had previously poured into jewelry-making) and began planting them in newly established beds around the property. Cherie had established gardens in all of the places we had lived previously, but she was excited by the idea of working with plants that would grow all year round and with minimum water use. The placement of the new plants was designed to enhance or complement the existing artwork.

A new concrete sidewalk was poured surrounding hand-made stepping stones we had embedded with old jewelry remnants and other found objects. Then a friend offered us a bunch of African masks and wooden sculptures that we weatherproofed and placed in the emerging garden/installation. At the time, I was engaged in producing music on my computer and not creating much in the way of visual art, but I was very much enjoying the fruits of Cherie’s green thumb. Then one day I was taking a break from the computer and just walking around the yard and was overtaken by the emerging Gestalt of the garden.

The various succulents reminded me of “primitive” sculptures and seemed a perfect compliment to the African objects we had placed in the garden. Also, most of the paintings hanging in the garden have an “ethnic” or “primitive” quality to them. The beautifully complex succulent sculptures, created by Cherie, seemed to call for simple or more “primitive” forms to compliment them. Suddenly, I sensed some unifying theme to what was evolving in our garden and a vision of how I could contribute. Soon after, I began producing what might be considered ritual objects (totem/fetish-like sculptures) of various sizes that were inspired by the vibrations of the garden and are now scattered throughout.

Most are made of rocks, bamboo, feathers, hemp, and other natural materials. For the first time in my life, I find myself producing art pieces with almost no concern about whether others will appreciate them or not. Each object has a special meaning for me, and many are directly inspired by a particular arrangement of succulents created by Cherie. Rather than thinking of these objects as separate art pieces, I see them as contributions to the garden art installation as a whole. In turn, the placement of Cherie’s plants, in pots and in the ground are inspired by the objects of art, both old and new.

As new sculptures are formed, and as plants grow, the garden becomes an ever-changing labor of love that constantly calls for collaborative efforts on our part. We call it “Eureka Gardens” because visitors say that it evokes a playful sense of discovery. Although there is no desire to reap commercial rewards, we, like all artists, are eager to share their efforts with others and hear about how they experience the garden. In addition to several rabbits and many birds who visit daily, we often provide informal tours for neighbors, door to door vendors and delivery people who express an interest in what we are doing.

In the past year and a half, the garden has also provided a backdrop for three fundraisers, two home concerts (one featuring my band Retro G.A.S.), two tours by local garden clubs, a meditation retreat, a shamanic drum circle, and many private parties. Next up is “Show and Tell in the Kinder Garden” an event where participants will bring objects to be displayed in the garden and offer insights as to how it expresses their “inner kindergartener.”

Has it been a smooth road?
Well, collaboration requires letting go of one’s personal vision and compromising; this is especially challenging for artists.

However, we have found that the final product usually turns out to be better than what either of us could have imagined on our own. Also, we are constantly challenged by change. Plants grow, and new art objects present themselves requiring rearranging of the space.

Each day we see new ways of shaping the garden. It has become an art piece that is never finished, thus offering us endless creative inspiration.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Eureka Gardens story. Tell us more about the business.
We sell art but are most proud of simply providing enlightening and meditative experiences when people visit Eureka Gardens.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
Who knows where all of this will go.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 977 Darwin Drive Oceanside CA, 92056
  • Email: 123stevewilson@gmail.com

DRAMA AND THE SILENT RETREAT?

A play about attendees at a Silent Retreat?  What would that look/sound like?  What are the chances of my reading the article below a day before attending a week long Zen retreat conducted in silence?  Reading about art is not the same as experiencing it first hand, but I think you will find this article/ interview of interest.  It is about the playwright Bess Wohl and her play “Small Mouth Sounds”.  Most of my blog posts have to do with the interconnection between the visual or performing arts but I’ve not written much about the dramatic arts.  I haven’t seen the play but I’m guessing my experience of silence over the next week will be affected by this article.
“Play’s silence speaks for itself” LA Times Jan. 11, 2018

A minute of silence onstage feels like an eternity. So imagine what 100 minutes of silence would feel like. That’s exactly what playwright Bess Wohl did when she set out to write “Small Mouth Sounds,” which makes its Los Angeles-area debut at the Broad Stage on Thursday.

Set at a silence retreat in the woods, the play explores the lives of six people as they struggle to connect, and find inner peace, without uttering a word. The play has a few moments of speech, but the only substantial dialogue comes from the person running the retreat — a bodiless voice offstage.

For a writer who admits to relying on witty banter for some of her best work, the play proved a dramatic challenge and a creative triumph for Wohl and director Rachel Chavkin, the latter fresh off the raves she earned on Broadway for her inventive “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812.”

As part of a national tour that will take “Small Mouth Sounds” to Dallas, Miami and Philadelphia, Wohl talked with The Times about her process and explained why silence is sometimes louder than words.

What made you want to write this play?

The idea came when I was on a silence retreat. I had been — I wouldn’t say dragged — but encouraged to come by a close friend. I didn’t realize we were going to be in silence. I thought it was going to be a girls bonding weekend. I brought snacks and wine.

But on the first night of silence I simultaneously realized, “Wow, this might be fertile ground for a play.” I had this impulse based on observing other people and thinking they would be great characters to explore, but I didn’t know anything about them because I hadn’t spoken to them.

So the whole thing became this projection of my fantasy about who they might be. I got really interested in the way we project fantasy on each other all the time, and I was interested in engaging the audience in that process.

Did you do more research?

I went back to a bunch of silence retreats. I went to one with my mom, but we only lasted about halfway through. I just got deeper and deeper into this idea. There was a part of me that really enjoyed the perversity of trying to make a play where people don’t speak, and what that would be like. It was all a great experiment.

I started it in 2012, and there were series of workshops with actors. I wrote a bunch of drafts. My first draft, I couldn’t help myself and all the characters immediately started talking and breaking the rules. Then in the second draft nobody spoke ever, and that felt kind of false. What I ended up finding was balance.

I did a lot of workshopping — putting the play in front of groups of 20 or 30 people, so I could understand what information they needed to follow the plot. There was lots of testing with other people, which was part of the joy of a silent play. You have to see it in bodies and spaces.

What does the script look like?

The beginning is about 12 pages of character descriptions. I felt if I were going to ask actors to play characters that barely spoke, I had to give them enormous backstories to ground them. My hope is that the audience can intuit that there’s a lot going on beneath the surface. After that there’s about 40 pages of stage direction, and there are some monologues in the play. The other piece of perversity is that the character who speaks the most is never seen in the play.

I was interested in creating these obstacles in both directions. What is it like to hear and not see, and vice versa.

I realized how hard it is for me to personally sit in silence. The play begins in silence. You watch someone in silence for a full minute, which onstage feels like a very long time. So when I watch I go through a whole arc of anticipation and agony. Part of the project is teaching myself to slow down and sit in silence with something I made. As a playwright it’s hard to evaluate your work because the voices in your head are so loud. In part I was trying to quiet those voices.

I always think any kind of change or growth is jagged — but I definitely have moments now when I can access the quiet I didn’t have before. And then a minute later the voices are back.

How did you hook up with Rachel Chavkin to direct?

I got so lucky with Rachel. We had a coffee, and she had read the play and came to the first meeting with such a clear vision of what she wanted the audience to feel by the end of the play. She wanted them to feel as if they had been at a silence retreat. She said they should leave the theater in a different metabolic state than they came in with.

How would you describe the plot?

It’s tricky to put it into one sort of nugget because every time I watch the play, I see it in a different way depending on whatever I’m going through in my life. What’s interesting about a silent play is that the audience brings a lot of perspective. The audience can project their own experiences and ideas onto the characters.

The play is a lot about the question of inner peace. A character asks whether peacefulness is a worthy goal right now given the chaos of the world. He says maybe we shouldn’t be at peace in a world that has so much difficulty.

How do you feel about the cast that will be performing at the Broad Stage?

I have the greatest respect for this company of actors. Part of what’s hard about this play as an actor is that it’s impossible to perform without being fully present, because there’s no dialogue to coast on. You can’t be saying the words while thinking about the hamburger you’re going to eat at the bar afterwards. Being present is all there is.

Do you think the show will play differently in L.A. than in New York?

I’m really excited to see it in Los Angeles. L.A. has a great community of spiritual seekers and yoga practitioners and people who have been on a lot of these retreats. I wanted to make something accessible whether you’d been on a million retreats or had no idea what one was about.

I’m hoping that people in L.A. can see themselves and laugh a little bit and also engage with the ideas.

What’s next for “Small Mouth Sounds”?

This play is going to continue to tour, and that will be really fun to keep sharing it with people around the country. When I first started this play — as my little experiment, will people engage with this, will people fall asleep — I never imagined it would be a multi-city tour. It was such a tiny, weird idea. We had auditions where we just had actors come in and sit in silence and leave.

What’s next for you?

I have a new play that I’ve been working on that tries to look at questions surrounding climate change. I’ve been working on it for years and am figuring out how to tackle it. Hopefully there will still be a planet next season.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

‘Small Mouth Sounds’

Where: The Broad Stage, 1310 11th St., Santa Monica

When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays; ends Jan. 28.

 

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SPIRITUALITY AND ART

Here are two articles that align themselves very well with the focus of Art and Zen Today.  One deals with visual art; the other with music.  I hope you enjoy them.

Meditations on canvas

By Ollie Reed Jr. / Journal Staff Writer
Sunday, November 26th, 2017 at 12:02am
Meditations on canvas

Titus O’Brien, assistant curator of art at the Albuquerque Museum, sits in front of two of the paintings he will highlight during the upcoming program, “The Zen of Abstraction.” Immediately behind O’Brien is Mark Rothko’s “Old Gold Over White.” At right is Kenzo Okada’s “Abstraction No. 7.” Both works are in the museum’s “When Modern Was Contemporary” show. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

 

Rooted in front of the 1957 Mark Tobey abstract titled “Lyric,” Titus O’Brien talked about the influence the Chinese art of calligraphy played in Tobey’s paintings.

Titus O'Brien talks about Mark Tobey's painting "Lyric," an example of the influence Chinese calligraphy played in the artist's workTitus O’Brien talks about Mark Tobey’s painting “Lyric,” an example of the influence Chinese calligraphy played in the artist’s work. O’Brien, an artist and a Zen instructor, will discuss the influence of Asian philosophies and religions on avant-garde painters of the 1940s to the 1960s. (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

“Many of his paintings are much more dense than this,” said O’Brien, assistant curator of art at the Albuquerque Museum. “Here there are no characters, no letters. The energy of the mark making, inspired by calligraphy, is the message. It is radically non-symbolic.”

Tobey’s painting, tempera on board, is among the 50 works in the Albuquerque Museum show “When Modern Was Contemporary,” which continues through Dec. 31.

“Lyric” is an uninhibited shout out of color – pale yellows, whites, squiggles of red, patches of olive green. The effect on O’Brien is to make him pause for a moment, to reflect.

“It’s painted in difficult colors, weird, strange colors, awkward colors,” he said. “I like paintings that resist you. They are sort of like Zen meditation. It’s not so easy to sit still.”

Integrated and engaged

In O’Brien’s view, all works of art should be objects of meditation. But he noted that this is especially so in the works by artists of the avant-garde movement of the 1940s to the 1960s – painters such as Tobey (1890-1976), Kenzo Okada (1902-1982), Mark Rothko (1903-1970) and Jackson Pollock (1912-1956) and the composer and music theorist John Cage (1912-1992). Unlike artists who poured out their souls onto their canvases, O’Brien said Tobey, Okada, Rothko and Pollock, all of whom have works in “When Modern Was Contemporary,” shifted the emphasis in their paintings from their own feelings to the objects depicted in the work.

Clarence Giese and Ingrid Vollnhofer check out Mark Rothko’s “Old Gold Over White,” left, and Kenzo Okada’s “Abstraction No. 7” during a recent visit to the Albuquerque MuseumClarence Giese and Ingrid Vollnhofer check out Mark Rothko’s “Old Gold Over White,” left, and Kenzo Okada’s “Abstraction No. 7” during a recent visit to the Albuquerque Museum.

He said that’s due in part to the fact that these trailblazers were very much influenced by Asian philosophies and religions, especially Zen Buddhism.

“Zen is about your whole body and your whole mind integrated and engaged,” he said. “Many of the artists in this exhibit were looking for ways to expand beyond materialism, consumerism and militarism. These artists are not depicting the world, they are organizing color, line and shape.”

On Saturday morning,O’Brien will lead a brief guided meditation followed by a tour of select works in “When Modern Was Contemporary.”

He is especially well suited to the task. He is an artist, a sculptor and a painter who does abstracts in casein (milk tempera). But he has also studied Zen for three decades and is an instructor in the Japanese Soto Zen tradition. On most days, he meditates in the morning and again in the evening.

“My tradition is just sitting and allowing sensation and thought to arrive and depart without manipulation and engagement,” he said.

And that works just fine for looking at abstract paintings.

‘Here I am’

O’Brien, 50, grew up in Littleton, Colo., and early on was unsure as to what path he would follow.

“I had a grandfather who was a painter and a grandfather who was a biological scientist,” he said. “I wanted to be both. I was drawn to medicine, and I was also interested in anthropology. But the art won out in high school.”

He earned a bachelor of fine arts from the Kansas City Art Institute in 1991 and master of fine arts from the Yale University School of Art in 1993. He was introduced to Zen when composer Cage was a visiting professor in Kansas City in the late 1980s.

Cage was born in Los Angeles and died in Manhattan, but his major influences were East and South Asian cultures. Cage attended D.T. Suzuki’s lectures on Zen Buddhism in the late 1940s and early 1950s and used the ancient Chinese text the “I Ching’ as a tool for creating his musical compositions.

O’Brien attended lectures Cage presented in Kansas City and interacted with the composer during one of those sessions.

“He was saying really interesting stuff about the non-existence of the self,” O’Brien said. “I said, ‘What do you mean I don’t exist? Here I am.’ He said, ‘Yes, exactly. And what is that?’ My brain couldn’t make anything of it.

“He had this Cheshire cat smile and these twinkling eyes. It was a beautiful, transforming experience. I connected with him very strongly. He was a singular and radiant individual. He singled me out, and he started talking to me about Zen.”

While doing graduate work at Yale, O’Brien studied at the New Haven Zen Center. Between 1995 and 2000, he spent time at Zen centers in Rhode Island, Kentucky and Northern California.

“Now, I use the ‘I Ching’ to compose my paintings,” he said.

Organized activity

Just as Cage helped form O’Brien’s zeal for Zen, Tobey’s interest in Eastern religions – he converted to the Bahá’i faith – may have influenced Cage to some degree. The men were friends and Tobey studied piano and music theory with Cage. And there are those who suggest that Tobey’s oriental brushwork and calligraphic strokes prompted Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings.

One of those Pollock paintings, “Number 8, 1949,” is in the show. O’Brien refers to the piece – a roiling, twisted mass of oil, enamel and aluminum paint on canvas – as organized activity.

“All art is a mediation between order and chaos,” he said. “But Pollock was clearly the most chaotic of his generation.”

But that doesn’t mean his work is not Zen.

“Zen tradition is full of rogues, raconteurs and radicals,” he said. “Zen is not just the eternally beatific, monks and monastics.”

Kenzo Okada was born in Yokohama, Japan, and was a realist painter before he moved to New York City in 1950.

“Then he got swept up in the heated, abstract atmosphere,” O’Brien said. Even so, his abstract paintings retain a powerful Japanese sensibility and appreciation of form. His 1953 oil on canvas, “Abstraction No. 7” is part of the exhibit. Large shapes and smaller ones stand out against a desert-sand background.

“Notice the numbered title,” O’Brien said. “You are not supposed to be able to tease out any kind of story. Clearly Okada wants you to view that painting on its own merits. You are approaching these elements in their relationship to each other. He leaves these sort of wonderful negative spaces – landscapes of the mind and heart.”

Floating in space

Okada and Rothko were friends. Did Okada’s Japanese-flavored abstracts influence Rothko? Maybe. Maybe not.

But Rothko’s 1956 oil on canvas, “Old Gold Over White,” might just be the most Zen work in the show. O’Brien describes the painting as hazy rectangles floating in space.

“Do you fall into them, or do they come out and get you?” he said. “The best description of Rothko’s paintings is meditative. They are not promoting any Zen doctrine. They are just inviting you to meditate on them, on your experience with them.

“You can come back to a Rothko painting forever and have different experiences each time. You can say the same of Zen meditation.”

If you go
WHAT: “The Zen of Abstraction.” Art curator and Zen practitioner Titus O’Brien guides visitors through a brief meditation, followed by a tour.
WHEN: 10-11:15 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 2
WHERE: Albuquerque Museum, 2000 Mountain NW
COST: Program is free with regular museum admission of $1-$4.

 

 

 

 

 

A Few Questions (New blog article)

Paint as you like and die happy
– Henry MillierAchieving success and fulfillment as an artist takes more than hard work. It requires the:
* Perception to see your world (inner and outer) as it is
* Discernment to choose a course of action
* Focus to stay the courseThe following questions may help you find this perception, discernment, and focus. Write down your answers in a journal. Some of the challenging questions will ask you to dig deep.
* When are you fully self-expressed and connected as a musician?
+ Identify specific moments. Where were you? Who were you playing with? Who was in the audience? What did the music sound like?
+ How can design more of these experiences?* What artists/performances/recordings most resonate with you at a core level? Art that flips a switch emotionally and/or spiritually.* Does the music you play resonate in the same way?
* If not, what can you change about your practice to connect with your own music on a deeper level?

* Imagine yourself ten years from now playing ideal music under perfect conditions. Where are you? Who is there? What does it sound like? What’s stopping you from doing this right now?

* Choose your audience: Who are the people who will connect and resonate with the music you create? What do they value? What type of experience do the seek? Where do they connect with each other?

* If you never performed again, who would miss you?

* What limiting beliefs get in your way? These biases and narratives may be hard to uncover, because they can be ingrained into our view of the world. A few examples:
+ I’m not naturally talented enough to ______  (a.k.a. “fixed mindset” (https://stevetres.us7.list-manage.com/track/click?u=e48deb90ce850347108686725&id=1c3a55781d&e=ae2503bdd2) )
+ I’ll never be as good as ______, so why bother
+ “Work” is inherently unenjoyable
+ Artists can’t earn a good living without selling out

* In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield outlines strategies for fighting “the resistance”—our biological need to feel safe and secure. This can sabotage our art. How does the resistance interfering with your best work? Some examples:
+ Talking yourself out of a project because of the fear of failure
+ Avoiding listening to recordings/watching film of your performances
+ Stage fright
+ Obsessive perfectionism
+ Procrastinating because you don’t “feel ready”

* Have you defined success and fulfillment for yourself, or are you stuffing your journey into somebody else’s model/expectations?
* If money wasn’t a barrier, what projects would you initiate?
* What’s an exciting project you initiate with little or no cost?

Ignore the resistance and start now.

– ST

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Comments:

 Thanks for sharing this.  It’s funny, looking back at how I began to appreciate art, I took a similar approach. I was drawn to abstract and minimal art because it allowed space for viewer to enter the work without the need for historical contextualization or symbolic analysis.  Rothko and Ad Reinhardt were influential for me.  Have you been to the Rothko chapel?  Definitely worth it if you haven’t.
     Great website. I will look forward to future posts. Hope all is well.
A.
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That was beautifully said.

Thank you for sharing it with us.
D.
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Thanks Steve for posting these articles!

I’d love to go see the exhibit in Albuquerque.
G.

“HOW DOES JESUS SAVE US?” : NEW RELEASE BY WILSON BROS/ SHRINK WRAP

 

 

 

Today’s post consists of an audio and video experience.  The first is Wilson Bros/Shrink Wrap’s newest release “How Does Jesus Save Us?”  Also included is a video where I describe the process of teaming up with my brother to create a music that is related to increasing our awareness of death and dying.  I’d suggest scrolling down to the music first and then viewing the video if you are interested.     

Link to Video Entitled “Some Thoughts on Music and Death”

https://youtu.be/jZqEHGJ9h04

Here are some suggestions for listening:

1) Play the music when you have enough time to mindfully listen without worrying about being distracted by other issues.

2) Use whatever rituals you usually use when preparing  to move out of the  flow of ordinary life.

3) The music was especially created to be heard through headphones.  Try to avoid earplugs, if possible.

4)  As you listen, focus on your bodily reactions (i.e. sensations, feelings, emotions etc., whether positive or negative) rather than the meaning of what you are hearing.

5)  Try listening to the piece more than once be open to having different experiences with each exposure.  Try dancing/moving while you listen!

Zen Buddhism and Japanese Art: the Inspirational Life of Hakuin Ekaku

 

As you know, most of the posts at Art and Zen Today deal with contemporary art practices.  However, it is helpful to have some understanding of how the various arts have traditionally been connected with various meditative disciplines.  Below is an article that provides a nice look at that connection in Zen.  This article was called to my attention by Jake Roshi, an avid supporter of Art and Zen Today.  If you come across any articles that you think might make a good post on the site, please let me know. Also, we are always looking for “guest editors” so if you have some prose or art work that you think our readers would like, please let me know.
By the way, you may find two previously published articles on Sumi-e painting practice by Beth Moskal Milligan (Esho) to be of interest.  Click on the links below to read these articles.

Zen Buddhism and Japanese Art: the Inspirational Life of Hakuin Ekaku

 Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The holy Buddhist monk Hakuin Ekaku revived the school of Rinzai Buddhism based on taking Zen Buddhism far and wide. Indeed, his upbringing meant that he never lost touch with people at the bottom of the ladder, in terms of wealth. Also, despite Hakuin being outspoken towards other Buddhist sects, he never sought to alter the non-Zen Buddhist ways of people residing in the countryside. Hence, the roots of his early life meant that Hakuin could reach out both culturally and religiously to ordinary people in rural communities.

In other words, many lay people throughout the countryside fused the various aspects of rural Shintoism, Confucianism, and the ways of Buddhism. Hakuin fully understood the rich fusions of ideas that impacted on rural society and the religious – and philosophical dimensions – that remained like a rock during times of hardship.

True to nature, Hakuin declined to serve the most prestigious Buddhist monasteries in Kyoto that impacted greatly on high culture – just like other centers of power including Nara. Instead, Hakuin took the teachings of Rinzai Buddhism to the rural poor and extolled the virtues of Zen Buddhism based on lectures to other classes in society.

Hakuin said, “At the bottom of great doubt lies great awakening. If you doubt fully, you will awaken fully.”

Another saying, close to the heart of Hakuin, was “Contemplation within activity is a million times better than contemplation within stillness.”

In the world of art, calligraphy, and literature related to Zen Buddhism, then Hakuin fused these elements in order to reach out to the masses in multiple ways. Indeed, he wrote with great passion and in haste during the late stages of his life. Similarly, despite Hakuin being deemed one of the greatest Zen Buddhist painters of Japan, he only focused seriously on this area of his life when he was nearing sixty years of age.

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THE ART-MEDITATION CONNECTION

Below I have reprinted an inspiring article sent to me by Jake Roshi.  The article very much supports what Jake has been saying for years; that a mindful commitment to any activity that requires practice can be a “teacher”.  This may include what we traditionally define as “art” but can include any activity (cooking, gardening, accounting etc.) that entails practice with the goal of doing it “artfully”.
Below are links to past articles published in Art and Zen Today that speak directly to this connection between artistic practice and “meditative” practice.  There are many more and I suggest you explore the Archives.
——————————————————————————————–
http://artandzentoday.com/?p=3179   Myths about the nature of “Talent”

http://artandzentoday.com/?p=3121 Art and Mindfulness

http://artandzentoday.com/?p=3121  Improvization in music and Zen.

http://artandzentoday.com/?p=1830  Trumpet practice and Zen  practice  #2

http://artandzentoday.com/?p=1788  Trumpet practice and Zen Practice #1

http://artandzentoday.com/?p=1147 The Art of being present.

http://artandzentoday.com/?p=124  Art, Zen and Creativity

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And now to the article, which was originally printed in The Washington Post.

Why making art is the new meditation

By Maia Gambis August 25, 2015

Photo by iStock

Many of us have heard about the benefits of meditation, but sometimes find it hard to do.  Fewer of us know about the profound benefits of artistic expression. Creating art, however, is another way to access a meditative state of mind and the profound healing it brings. 

“Art is a guarantee to sanity,” said Louise Bourgeois, a French-American artist who died in 2010 at the age of 98. She even went on to add, “…This is the most important thing I have said.” For Bourgeois, art — making art — was a tool for coping with overwhelming emotion. She says she remembers making small sculptures out of bread crumbs at the dinner table when she was a little girl – as a way of dealing with her dominating father. Art was more than an escape – it kept her sane.

Art therapy has a healing effect for a variety of ailments, including depression, trauma and illness. and is effective across age, gender or ethnicity. In a recent study of cancer patients, an art therapy intervention — in conjunction with conventional treatments like chemotherapy and radiation — not only diminished symptoms typically associated with cancer such as pain, fatigue and anxiety, but also enhanced life expectancy. The study, its authors said, was based on the belief that “the creative process involved in the making of art is healing and life-enhancing. It is used to help patients, or their families, increase awareness of self, cope with symptoms, and adapt to stressful and traumatic experiences.” 

Art is not only healing for individuals suffering from severe illness. Here are four reasons why creative activity is such a potent recipe for psychological well-being:

1. Art is a vehicle for meditation and self-connection

Most of us can understand that art provides an escape to a sometimes harsh reality, but where does art’s healing potential come from? It impacts the state of our minds: Enjoying emotional stability is largely about taking responsibility for how we feel.

Research has shown the power of meditation and the science behind it. One of the reasons it is so powerful is that it fosters acceptance. Creating art is a type of meditation, an  active training of the mind that increase awareness and emphasizes acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment and relaxation of body and mind.

Art, like meditation, allows us to create space between our often negative, anxious thoughts and connect with our true selves – as opposed to with the fleeting or false sense of identity we sometimes have when we are caught up in our thoughts and emotions. Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher, writes: “Identification with thoughts and the emotions that go with those thoughts creates a false mind-made sense of self, conditioned by the past… This false self is never happy or fulfilled for long. Its normal state is one of unease, fear, insufficiency, and non-fulfillment.” Creating art is about reaching a state of consciousness and breaking free from the constant debilitating chatter of the mind.

Similarly to meditation, art can help us tap into a deeper and more quiet part of ourselves. We enter into a state of flow and present-moment awareness. “All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness,” Tolle writes. Artists experience that creative activity has the potential to tap into a space of true consciousness of being, void of interpretation. In this space, there can be a sense of having no physical parameters; no body, or form to separate one from the other. 

3. Art allows for true self-expression

The process of making art overrides the need for verbal communication. Creativity is its own language and enables humans to connect with one another — and themselves — on a non-verbal level. In therapy it can be an effective way of saying the unspeakable as is shown through the use of creative therapies with children. This also explains how we can be moved to the core when looking at a work of art, or even listening to music, without necessarily knowing the specifics about its origin. Art exists within its own non-verbal parameter and thus frees us up for unadulterated self-expression.

4. Art helps us become steady and centered

As a plus, it is interesting to note that Bourgeois, when asked to comment on her extensive body of work spanning her entire lifetime, says what impresses her most  “is how constant [I] have been.” Perhaps we need to redefine what we consider to be a storybook happy ending. Happiness may be less a matter of experiencing sharp highs (often followed by deep lows), and more a matter of nurturing a space that provides stability and a constant connection to our true selves.

 

An Incantation to Time’s Disintegration of Memory: The Art of Gwyn Henry

 

Sudie by Gwyn Henry

I often feature artistists whose work seems to exemplify the perspectives on  art and spirtiual practices that I have developed over the years on this site.  As I have pointed out in previous posts, art practice can often be meditative in nature but it also seems to inevitable bring up “issues” which, if faced fully, can be transformitive.  A good example of this, I think, can be found in the work of Gwyn Henry of Excondido CA.  This post consists of a video, a series of images and a short statement  by Gwyn.  My suggestion is that you watch her short video first and then scroll down to see the still images and her account of how her work has evolved.       http://choctaw44.wixsite.com/gwynart

 

 

 Click on link to see Video by Gwyn Henry:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vIKNnFjtKac&feature=youtu.be

 

“An Incantation to Time’s Disintegration of Memory”

                         by Gwyn Henry

When I acquired software that allowed my computer to communicate with an old-school VCR player, I was eager to put my parents’ vintage home movie footage into my film editing application for viewing. The footage was in VHS cassette format, and had been stored for over half a century. Once the frames began to move in front of me, I suddenly became aware of, and shocked by, the way those cherished images of my childhood, were decomposing. They had become a chaos of fragments, like shards from a broken mirror…. a disembodied head here, an arm there, torsos flitting briefly across the sceene. What images were still discernable held striations, static, their colors fading fast, and large sections were already and simply gone.

This disintegration struck me as a profound metaphor for what happens to human memories. In the same way one might discover, years after a loved one dies, calling their face to mind has become strangely impossible; or we have forgotten the ending of one of our life’s important narratives; or have confused one long-ago friend with another…

 

Watching my childhood flicker and sputter before me, it was as if the most fundamental connections to other humans… my parents, grandparents, brother, sister, aunts, uncles, cousins… were literally, before my eyes, saying good by, breaking up & vanishing. More than a few times I reached to touch the screen, as if to stay them, as if I could hold them in my hand to keep them from leaving.

 

Yet even as I experienced this human aversion to the way Nature imposes a time limit on the stuff of this world, I must admit to finding Beauty within that disintegration and vanishment. The nascent Images of my life, preserved by this outmoded technology, reveal an eloquence that speaks to many things: the fading of the history of our lives as it exists in memory, the temporary nature of our lives, the physical decay of the tapes themselves, and just as much, the conceptual worlds of technologies that come and go with the quickness of ephemera: Today’s high-cachet iphone is tomorrow’s rubbish.

Immersed in making video art at the time, I created and produced a “video poem” from the home movie footage, presenting the images as art as well as artifact. The video poem was intended to be an abstraction, or embodiment, of the essential qualities of my discovery of the connection between the loss of memory, and the loss of the vintage tapes. An attempt to show the way I experienced it. It is titled, AN INCANTATION TO

 

TIME’S DISINTEGRATION OF MEMORY.

A few years later, I revisited the video poem, which resulted in me excising single frames, “stills”, from it (perhaps, unknowingly, another attempt to keep the images from disappearing!). After adding more digital effects, then printing and framing them, to my surprise they became icon-like in their stillness, images frozen for contemplation. Like icons, they offer entry to the world of the subject (my family and my childhood).. a world where discovery and revelation can be found and explored.

I have determined that not only traditional religious icons can lead to revelation. A single human life also encompasses its own world of personal iconic images which, if entered, offers a path to deeper knowledge and understanding of that individual world. Those images can allow us to see and feel even more keenly what we have lived.

—Gwyn

NOTE:

Some of the images carry a visual conversation between my inked traces, and the landscape of the image. I found this process to be meditative, and evocative of feelings and impressions that were often beyond words. Each ended with a sense of a completed entirety….something had been brought full circle. –g,

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1) “wow, I felt it as a dissolution of the Self…
thank you for this Steve”  A.

2)

Thanks for that Steve… I don’t often take the time to ponder and reflect regarding where I have been and where I am going as a result of where I have been… Yet, when I do, very much like Gwyn, I am apt to walk through doors which have been closed for years or perhaps doors that I never even stood in front of before – Deep stuff, my man!!! again, thanks for sharing.  S.
3)

I know Gwyn.
Jon

 

ART FROM THE HEART: BETH TALKS ABOUT HER SUMI-E AND ZEN PRACTICES

Beth (Esho) is no stranger to the pages of Art and Zen Today.  Three years ago we published Beth’s article “BETH MOSKAL MILLIGAN ON SUMI-E PAINTING AND ZEN PRACTICES”  where she wrote about her studies with Sumi-e master Takashi Ijichi and Zen practice with Jake Roshi. ( http://artandzentoday.com/?p=3243 ).  The short talk from the Shuso Hossen , captured in the video below, expands upon this earlier article.  Pay attention to the points that Beth makes in the video; I think they are very consistent with my musical responses to the Shuso Koan as seen in a video posted earlier (   http://artandzentoday.com/?p=4678)

To see Beth’s “Art From the Heart” talk at the Shuso Hossen, please click below:

https://youtu.be/VJ4aP_xNhyA

Scroll Down to see other performances at the Shuso Hossen Ceremony.

 

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Shuso Hossen Ceremony: Eric Kuniholm Reads Short Story “Ziggy”.

Today’s posting is a video of Eric Kuniholm reading a short story called “Ziggy”.  It is a part of a novel that Eric is writing that is about dog detectives.  Eric has been associated with theVistaZenCenterfor 20 years and brings his Zen insights to his writings.  You can see this video  at the link below:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2DzjK6b9hk

 

Recent posts on the Art and Zen Today site have involved segments from my Shuso Hossen Ceremony in March of 2016.  The last post was a video of the last of my musical performance during the ceremony. Last I looked, the count of those viewing the video was unusually low. So, if you haven’t already, you may want to view this one as it is really the most straightforward response to the Shuso Koan of all my performances.  (See this video , titled “Art and the Four Vows” at:

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cr_1080EtN8

 

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JAKE ROSHI AND MANOJ DISCUSS THE SHUSO HOSSEN CEREMONY

Last week’s post was the beginning of a series having to do with my Shuso Hossen Ceremony held on March 5th.  Since the format of the Ceremony was a bit nontraditional, Jake Roshi wanted us to sit down and “process” the event.  I brought a series of questions to the meeting that had been sent to me by Judy after the Ceremony.  I used her questions as sort of a jumping off point for our conversation.  I video taped my discussion with Roshi and the video below is one segment of our conversation, prompted by some of Judy’s  questions.  I will likely release more parts of our discussion in the future.  Warning: this video will have more meaning for viewers who attended the Ceremony. To see earlier posts regarding my Shuso Hossen Ceremony, use the Search Categories to the right or type in “Shuso Hossen” in the Search Window.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QmKaRF4lLg0

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