Zen 101

Monday, February 11, 2013

Art Practice

With palms together,


Good Morning Everyone,



My easel is empty. I finished the painting I was working on and hung it in our living room, which has become a gallery of sorts. Over the last three days I sold three paintings, a very good thing as I was nearly broke. The three were small paintings and sold for $75.00 each. I find it hard to ask more and my most expensive piece is “only” $250.00. For many today, that is not a lot of money for a painting, for many others (including myself) this is a lot of money. No matter: I continue to paint and occasionally sell something and this process pleases me greatly because I see art as practice and it is so wonderful to see people enjoy my work and be able to afford to buy it for their homes.



I had a short discussion with a retired art professor friend yesterday on Facebook messenger. I wondered in what sort of style he thought my paintings were. I told him I saw my art as “Impressionistic” and wondered what he thought. He told me such labels were essentially meaningless in today’s art world, but that such labels in earlier decades were often applied by critics who used such words to deride an artist’s work. He suggested I not think of my work in some category or style. I told him the only reason I was asking was that others ask me and that I wasn’t at all sure how to respond. I usually say, “I just put paint on a canvas.” He thought that was as good as any answer.



The couple who came over last night to look at my paintings had, of course, questions about the paintings, “What is this?” the man asked. “What did you have in mind here?” he continued. He liked the paintings very much and, I suppose, wanted to understand where I was coming from when I painted them. I am always caught off-guard with such questions because I really don’t know the answers. As I said, I just put paint on a canvas and look to see what happens. I am learning this is not a very satisfactory answer for those who ask, yet it’s the truth of the matter.



I see art practice as rather like Zazen. We initially come to the canvas, like the cushion, with an idea in mind. In art we want to express something, we might have an idea for a piece, or something like that. Approaching the Zendo we might want to become a better person, perhaps less stressed or maybe less angry. Or we come seeking a spiritual path that might lead to some sort of awakening. As I explained to a student yesterday, it’s rather like going through a door. Approaching the door we have a “gaining” idea, once through the door, we sit with no idea. So while motivated to come to the Zendo by some goal we might have in mind, once in the Zendo we practice with no goal. This means we have to leave what we know at the door itself and enter with a “don’t know” mind. This is excellent advice for approaching our work, families, and friends. It’s also good advice for play, study, and, yes, art.

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