Art as meditation

A 91 year old, childhood friend of my deceased father, recently gave me an old photo he had stumbled across. The photo is of my father as a 17 year old high school student. Not long after this photo was taken, my father would be in college, then later, off to serve in the Navy as a communication officer, ultimately serving under Admiral Nimitz in the pacific. In the photo, he looks young and lean. On his face, you can just make out the urgency of the times…..a stern, shadowed and serious look. And, while his personal life had not known great upheavals, his writings as a young man reveal his worry and concern about the events going on in the world. The photo shows a handsome, narrow face, whose cheeks are slightly high, washed by light. On either side of his mouth are characteristic sunken areas, cast in elongated shadows reaching to his chin. Full lips, not smiling nor frowning, yet somehow displaying a resolute seriousness. His eyes looking straight at the camera, slightly squinted; brows even; unwrinkled forehead……overall, an expression of a person comfortable with the moment. He is dressed uncharacteristically casual, in a dark cotton shirt, open at the collar. Shadows on his long neck and throat very prominent. His very carefully parted, thick sandy-colored hair, gleaming on one side from a source of light, perhaps a window or bulb, and in shadow on the other side. Definitely a simple, yet dramatic photo of a young man on the brink of his future in an era of global uncertainty and dire predictions for all. From the condition of the photo, its clear that it had, early on, been overly exposed to light, causing odd shadows and discolored edges, as if it had lain out partially covered for an extended period. The point of this is that this photo now, for me, represents an object of meditation, of sorts. I find myself completely enthralled in looking at it; imagining him in that time. It has faded and aged in ways that are so engaging, actually enhancing the experience of the photo, and giving it an almost painterly quality. The original image is actually improved by these stains; these areas of fading; these slight distortions. They add to the drama of the photo. They somehow increase the weight of the times in which it was taken. When I look at this photo…this piece of art….I find myself temporarily lapsed into its image…..its shadows….its texture…..its story. This photo made such an impact on me, I had it enlarged to a 16 x 20 size. I framed it, and hung it in a place where I will see it many times a day. Like all of my art, I now use it as a point of entry to quiet reflection. Every image has a story. Whether painted, sculpted, carved, inscribed, or photographed. Each image tells a story about the moment, the subject, the person creating it. Art has always been a source of quiet reflection. Museums are usually quiet. People walk slowly through their galleries. They talk in low tones. They sit or stand for periods of time staring at a single piece of art. People have long recognized the contemplative qualities of art. The ability to lose oneself in the image. The amount of time that can pass unnoticed because ones focus and attention is completely, totally absorbed by the image. This is meditation: the act of spending time in quiet reflection. I think that people who love art experience this quality. They may not label it as such. They may not be aware of their enjoyment as meditation, but it fits all of the definitions. Never before in the history of mankind, to our knowledge, have humans experienced such a busy and harried daily existence. Constant distractions from advertising, urban noises, societal pressures. Yet, all around us are the elements needed for deep focus; deep meditation. Quiet reflection. A print, a photo, an original work of art. Search family photos; art books; the internet. Find images that have an immediate impact on you. Don’t think. Just react. Which images please you? Which ones make you “feel” something good, peaceful, satisfied? Keep that image or images in your daily life. It can be a immediate refuge when needed. And, that is the purpose of meditation. That is the purpose of art……to be a refuge…..a place we can go at any moment. Many scientific studies are being done across the world on meditation. The studies focus on what happens to the brain during periods of deep, quiet, reflection. It has been conclusively determined that brains that are often engaged in such activities have more, and higher quality connections between its parts. Using sophisticated instruments, those brains show much more finely-tuned synapses, allowing more direct flow of energy. In other words: we are more finely tuned as biological machines when we find ways to meditate; to quiet the mind; to focus on a single thought. It refines and recalibrates the brain and body. Find your art to recalibrate your brain and body.

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