Friday, April 10, 2009

Art As Spiritual Practice

"I believe that each one of us has a riddle to solve, the riddle of what it means to be human."  Frederick Franck

For some reason I've been thinking about Frederrick Franck for the last couple of days so I took that as a suggestion for today's blog.  Do you know Franck?  A truly amazing character, a doctor, (if I recall correctly) an artist, a writer and a Zen practitioner.   I own his book:  "The Zen of Seeing:  Seeing/Drawing as meditation."  It is a gorgeous piece of art as well as being full of Dharma.  He hand printed the book and filled it with his tender, delicate sketches.

Franck who died at the age of 96 in 2006 taught courses (and the book I have is like sitting in on his class) on seeing/drawing as a spiritual act.  He talks about how when you sit down to draw you must actually see deeply, that the drawing experience is an opportunity to experience the miracle of what is around us.  

Even if drawing doesn't interest you, when you read Franck, you will want to give it a try.  You may tenderly trace the lines of your toes or a lady bug or a weed in the garden.  You see, he says it isn't about the skill or talent that we believe an artist needs to come here with, it's about the ability to truly see, to slow down and see.  And we each (as we know) have our own quirky way of seeing things.  This accounts for the uniqueness of what we will create.  This is the gift we bring to the world on many levels, (yes I am looking at you when I say that!)

Franck didn't call himself a Buddhist and I like that.  There is something in me that hates labels, that rebels against that drawing and quartering (pardon the bad pun) of things, packaging them up as a known commodity.  In a wonderful article written in the summer 2006 issue of Tricycle (egads I have torn it out of the magazine and keep it in an art file) Franck says Suzuki Roshi told him "Zen is not a religion.  It is the profoundly religious ingredient in the world religions."    He also quotes Suzuki as saying "When you ask, What is Zen?  you are asking, Who am I?  And when you ask Who am I you are asking What is it to be human?"

I love the distinction Franck makes between "looking" and "seeing".  He says:  "Looking and seeing both begin with sense perception, but there the similarity ends.  When I "look" at the world and label its phenomena, I make immediate choices, instant appraisals.  I like or I dislike.  I accept or I reject......  The purpose of looking is to survive, to cope, to manipulate, to discern what enhances or diminishes the "me".   When I see I am suddenly all eyes.  I forget the ME, and am liberated from it and dive into the reality of what confronts me....  It is in order to see, ... more deeply that I draw....  I have learned that what I have not drawn I have never really seen..... I discover that among the ten thousand things there is no ordinary thing."  Got you sharpening your pencil yet?

"The  Zen of Seeing" is filled with wonderful stories of Franck's travels and quotes and Dharma, always Dharma.  He was a wise and talented man.  At the end of her interview with him for the Tricycle piece, writer, Tracy Cochran asks him (and this is the same year he died)  What is really important in the end?  Franck's reply:  "Awakening the heart, without a doubt."  What more is there to say?      p[']]]o0lppppp  Bunny the cat just walked across the keyboard and typed that last comment which provided me with great entertainment.  I guess there was more to say!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this. I've had the same idea and will now check out his book!