Monday, April 13, 2015


It was a pleasure to reunite with an old friend, the artist Sam Erenberg, over dinner at a mutual friend's home the other night.  He spent some time bringing me up to date with his work as a painter, and introduced me to a Japanese term I had never before encountered: boketto.  It's one of those words that resists attempts at translation, but the nearest English equivalent is something like "gazing into the sky without thinking."

What a wonderful word!  Not-thinking, of course--to my mind at least--does not mean mindlessness, but rather mindfulness.  Boketto (my computer's annoying auto-correct system, thinking it knows better, keeps wanting me to write "bucket"!) suggests a complete, non-judgmental openness to the experience of looking, opening the mind to the ability to see what's there without the intervention of the always-busy brain.  It's a blissful experience, but the point is not to experience bliss, but simply to experience.

I was particularly enchanted by the term on Saturday, because I had just that morning hosted one of the "One Hour/One Painting" sessions I have been offering in museums and galleries for many years now.  As readers of The Buddha Diaries may already know, these sessions are a blend of the ancient skills of meditation and contemplation.  They're simply about the art of looking.  I make it a point, at the start, to explain that this is not about "thinking."  Indeed, I encourage participants, in so far as they are able, to quiet all brain activity save for its function to receive and store visual information.  Contemplation, with eyes open, requires the mind to gaze steadily at the object without thought or judgment.  Meditation, with eyes closed, allows the mind to practice purely visual memory.

It's a great way to look at art.  Most of us wander through museums and galleries with, honestly, barely a glance at what is on the walls.  We pause here and there, often largely to consult the label and find out who the artist is.  I know.  I'm guilty of this myself.   "One Hour/One Painting" affords us the opportunity to slow down, look, and see what's actually there, rather than what we "think" is there.

So you'll understand why the concept of boketto is an attractive one to me.  We're not actually looking at the sky--though, why not?  We could.  Come to think of it, I have done this, with one of James Turrell's wonderful works that create a room that opens up, above, to a vision of the sky.  Was he thinking of boketto? (At the linked site, scroll down to "Skylight Series" for a very imperfect view of these magical installations.)  But no, in "One Hour/One Painting" we're gazing not at the sky but at a work of art in the same spirit of "not-thinking."  It's a beautiful challenge.  One of these days, I should bring "One Hour/One Painting" to a work of Sam Erenberg's.

1 comment:

stuart said...

if you have the chance go to the Turrel installation in Las Vegas, all Boketto, all the time, floor to ceiling. reservations required but its free. inside the louis vuitton store