Thursday, March 25, 2010

Art Gallery As Zendo

"I try to capture the un explainable thing in nature that makes me feel the world is so big, far beyond my under standing - to understand maybe by trying to put it into form. To find the feeling of infinity on the horizon line or just over the next hill"
-Georgia O'Keeffe

As I was scribbling down this quote in my little note book of haphazard things (like addresses of vegetarian restaurants, passwords, interesting book titles and hotel confirmation numbers) the security guard in Santa Fe's Okeeffe Gallery kindly brought me a printed page of quotes. I couldn't help but notice his passion for his job and his kindness to all us gallery goers. He was there whole heartedly, not just passing the time or enforcing rules to make sure we didn't get our grubby paws on the goods. He shared little details about Okeeffe and her work. He was living an ordinary life in a non-ordinary way. A bodhisattva in a security uniform.

I felt the urge to scribble down this particular quote of Okeeffe's because it speaks to the mystery of this world, something I forget too easily. It is so easy to put on our grey glasses of ho-hum and hum-drum and forget about the mystery of the world, to think we know it all, or can figure it out, or look it up on google, . What about the sky or rock or strangely twisted branch? When we look deeply, we can see beyond the commonness, the mundane, beyond the labels. And that is what we're trying to do when we practice, isn't it? Wake up, see with fresh eyes, have beginners mind?

Great art, I think, can help us see the mystery. Artists like Okeeffe explore the world deeply in a way that inspires and touches us and can wake us up. There is an enlivening energy when you are in the presence of great art. A good gallery has the quality of a zendo, spare and quiet and inviting contemplation. I most often find when I read the commentary by artists there is a spiritual quality in their words, whether they would call it that or not.

Also in the gallery was the work of Susan Rothenberg, huge semi-abstracts, some filled with a calm presence, some filled with chaotic motion. Check them out! They might just inspire you to see your dog or your arm in a whole new way.


  1. Ah yes - waking up to the mystery in everything! How I forget to see it that way :) I wonder myself sometimes if life itself is "the practice" - always presenting us with new landscapes and new ways of seeing and being - becoming aware of/awake to the mystery presenting itself in nature and art, even in our life experiences that feel chaotic and stressful - it's still "the mystery" inviting us in. It seems there's always an invitation to open the door and just see what's there waiting to be discovered...

    Lovely post! Thank you... :)

  2. Wow! I was at the O'Keeffe museum today (am in Santa Fe and was between retreats) and was totally blown away by both artists' displays. There was a quote on one wall that particularly resonated (didn't write it down) - it was O'Keeffe's self-inquiry into her motivation for what she was about to paint. Very vajra in its directness.

  3. I thought of you, Genju as you'd mentioned on your blog that you were at the Chaplaincy program. I actually called Upaya to see if we could come and sit and they said that normally it was open but that they were really full with people doing programs.

    Was the quote that called to you this one: "Before I put brush to canvas, I question, "Is this mine? Is it all intrinsically of myself? Is it influenced by some idea or some photograph of an idea which I have acquired from some man?"

  4. Oh Carole! I wish we could have met up! I'm here until April 2nd. Yes, the place was so packed we has to pass on walking meditation indoors.

    That's the quote! So happy you wrote it down. There was also a store along Palace road that had an incredible display of katsina dolls. They were all like Hopi Bodhisattvas - the compassion doll was particularly powerful.

    Think of what we could do with these as models... cross-cultural representations of compassion!

  5. There's inspiration to be found everywhere in life. Art, photography and the written word definitely wake me up.

  6. Great idea! Love seeing a creative mind work and gain success!!!!!! Hope it continues to grow!


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