Monday, November 22, 2021
The more we see something the better we see it, each time taking new details and variations in the overall state. Visually educated to more specific knowledge of something builds sensitivity to impressions at more subtle levels. Looking builds visual understanding. The larger meaning of seeing always includes the depths, insight goes beneath the surface. When we feel someone “really sees” us they “get” us to use the current term. It can’t happen without a certain level of attention. Feeling that level of attention is feeling visible and known to the world, having a witness to our being. Rupert Sheldrake thought the act of attention created a connection that could be felt which he describes in his book “The Sense of Being Stared At”. We give the most attention to is what we most care about, and care and attention makes anything flourish. Plants are said to grow better with proximity, touching or talking to them. It’s not just the water and sunshine but the attention itself. To really see is an act of love. The I Ching is certainly not the only ancient text that says something to the effect, “If you want to know what a person loves, look where they direct their attention.” This is where the overlap between love and fear is most evident. Fear is the thing that grabs attention away from what we love for as long as the sense of threat persists, a fact exploited by commercial media to manipulate our emotions and attention. Recently, I heard a man on the radio lamenting how beset with notifications people are now, how hard it can be to give full attention to anything. Art is quiet and undemanding. What we seek out shows us something that expresses us in some way Art is a pleasurable way to extend personal understanding of feeling since that’s where you find it boiled down to its essence. Portraits can reveal essential qualities in complex and often conflicted expressions. Looking into the eyes of a Rembrandt self-portrait shows an understanding of the human dilemma that speaks directly to the heart. There is tremendous depth and variation in centuries of portraiture available for developing sensitivity to facial expression. Mindful attention is fully present. To be fully present with someone feels good to everyone involved. Thanksgiving is a perfect opportunity to practice mindful attention to people in person and appreciate our connections to others.
Friday, October 22, 2021
What’s brought us and our planet to such crisis today is a habit of thinking that only concentrates on parts of a situation, fixing symptoms and flare-ups, and not the whole inter-related organism of being. Seeing the web extending from us in all directions, what we depend on and what depends on us, we’d be less inclined to damage what would be experienced as part of us. Neuroscientist Jill Bolte Taylor described one of the effects of the stroke in her left hemisphere as losing the sense of a clear boundary between herself and everything around her. Without the naming and separating function, things lose their individual identity and become part of an inclusive continuity. The dependence on verbal knowledge has led to the habit of separating things. Nobel winning scientist David Bohm, reflecting on the revelations of quantum physics, thought that the dominance of words did violence to experience by unnaturally dividing things, which led to more sense of separation from others and in the self. People often treat words as real things that should be defended, creating a misplaced antagonism toward fellow humans because of what they call them. Every category and label becomes a barrier toward the place where we understand each other. Not seeing the whole picture leaves us blinkered to the implications for other areas, the interrelationships that are part of every experience. This ignorance creates damage, hardship, and reactivity. Treating just the symptoms can create other symptoms. Breakthroughs in medicine are usually about better pictures for seeing what is wrong. Examining our psychology, art offers pictures about the feelings of being human. It’s available to everyone as a way of looking inward and prompting related insights. Separate objects in a picture are joined as part of a particular vision that is there in its entirety. Einstein said he saw his ideas in his mind. Understanding relationships requires imagery. Looking at art is a way to heal the division that has grown from generations of dependency on words and the division that comes with them. So much could be accomplished if people were working together. So much energy is lost in jockeying for power, competing with others to have more. The competitive mindset may have been useful up to a point, but as civilians coming back from outer space have come to realize, we only have this one small planet that we share. Our different perspectives offer more choices and possibilities for solving the serious problems that we face together. Pushing capacities is what gives an individual the best brain chemistry. Endorphins for learning, dopamine for new territory and the joy of involvement in a task. Putting the many ideas of the group mind in service to the world body is a collective effort that could revolutionize the way we live together. Art is a link to our common humanity. The feeling of understanding when a work opens something inside pushes through the isolation. It’s a first step to feeling like part of humanity, caretakers of our common world.
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Philosopher Susanne Langer stood alone in her emphasis on the correspondence between art and human psychology. She felt there could be no better way to understand the human psyche than what is revealed through art. The variation, nuance and emotional range available in art enables a person to identify qualities of feeling far beyond verbal description. Literature needs to conjure mental images to capture depth of feeling as is reflected in Booker Prize winning Richard Flanagan line, “Words were and are inadequate to all that we felt, all that we knew, all that I have lost. Words were part of it, but they were also cages in search of a bird.” When Carl Jung wrote “Image is psyche” he was recognizing that only images can touch the mind with feeling. That words are a tool for gaining distance and a sense of mastery over something and useful in that way, paring down the fullness to what suits our current purposes. But to understand the life of feeling in all its contradictions, images can contain and clarify emotions as a whole. Langer’s book, “Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling” describes how much of our thinking is led by feelings as representations of overall judgments. Feelings indicate what matters most and shade attitudes and overviews. Art is able to examine and express feeling more accurately and specifically, a representation of the whole. In all of her books she describes how the structure and movement in each of the arts resonate with inner structures of feeling. Her essential idea, that the mind starts with feelings was later confirmed by neurologists. Antonio Damasio stated bluntly that feeling leads thinking, makes the determination of what is important to think about. Feelings are guided by personal significance. The art your eyes are led to helps you see the feelings you may not have noticed that uncover values and anxieties we may be unaware of that point to the worldview that organizes opinions. Everything we see reflects something about us. Unlike a mirror or camera that passively reflects what’s in front of it, our eyes are directed by our purposes, are actively scanning for personal and hardwired priorities. For humans, the mental life has goals and challenges with their attendant stresses and time constraints. It takes the inner awareness of our entire situation to guide progress through linear time. Looking for art that rings true gets to the center, opens a deeper personal reality. Langer was pointing the way. Brain science confirms the connection. The modern world needs comprehensive big picture thinking. Looking at art is a pleasurable way to build sensitivity to the whole and learn more about our minds.