Another good session last night, this time at Laguna Art Museum--the first of another series of three--with a fine painting by Allison Schulnik. Working with thick, juicy layer of paint, laid on directly from the tube, impasto'ed, applied with heavy brush strokes, gouged and gripped, Schulnik creates fantasy landscapes populated by figures from the spooky dreams of childhood or the scary world of fairy tales. Check out the link to some of her images at Mark Moore Gallery and you'll see what I mean. It was a special pleasure to have several friends and fellow sangha members in attendance--though I always worry a bit that experienced meditators will find my guidance more of a distraction than a help.
I introduced a couple of new elements this time around. First, I encouraged participants to spend a few moments at the start, up-close and personal with the painting, literally nose-to-canvas, to get a feel for the texture of the thing--and also to be able to enjoy the delicious smell of the paint! Then, toward the half-way mark, I tried out a suggestion that Ellie had made, to take a break from the meditation-contemplation cycle and encourage a few minutes of discussion. I think this had two benefits: first, it allowed those not used to sitting with such concentration for a full hour a period of rest and recovery; and second, the perceptions shared by others allowed each of us new avenues of approach for the remainder of the sit. It's a practice I'll make a habit of including in future sessions. It makes things a little more human, a little less severe.
I was especially pleased, in the discussion at the end of the sit, to have a participant who did not like the painting, and whose dislike was not improved by looking at it for an hour. She was upset by it, and wanted to know--to paraphrase a bit--why I had not chosen a more likable piece of art. Which gave me the opportunity to reflect a bit further on the purpose of "One Hour/One Painting"--to drop all the presumptions, expectations and prior judgments we normally bring with us to any painting and take the time to see what's actually there. If we go to a gallery or a museum with those expectations and judgments--"I don't like abstract art/figure painting/landscapes," "My child could to that," and so on--we end up seeing not what's on the wall in front of us, but what we brought in to the gallery. We find ourselves, unknowingly, looking in the mirror and seeing nothing but ourselves.
As is usually the case after a session, the discussion, quiet at first, grew lively and informative. It's always gratifying to know that people have truly enjoyed the experience, have understood what it's all about, and have something of value to take home with them.
(A reminder to interested readers in the Los Angeles area: the next "One Hour/One Painting" session with be at the Barnsdall Municipal Gallery next Thursday, April 4, starting at 6 PM. We'll be sitting with a painting by Gilah Yellin Hirsch. I'd be delighted if you'll join me.)