Just Open Your Eyes

pastel morning, photograph

“But the ‘truth’ itself is simply there. This reminds us what the Zen Buddhists keep saying – that as these moments is reflected and revealed a reality of the universe that does not depend merely on our own subjectivity, but is as though we only had our eyes closed and suddenly we open them and there it is, as simple as can be. The new reality has a kind of immutable, eternal quality.”

– Rollo May, The Courage to Create

There is a funny paradox I often experience in artmaking – on the one hand I feel as though I am creating something new and on the other hand I feel I am simply discovering something already there. With photography this can be an even more frequent experience because, at some level, the subject of our photograph is already there. But clearly there is more to photography than snapping away at things in front of us.

I’ve heard other artists describe how they feel they are a channel or vehicle through which art happens, that it is when they get their ego out of the way that the creativity “happens”. This is often given external form in the guise of the Muse. Yet we obviously can’t just sit back and wait for the Muse to visit us, or wait for the moment of creativity to happen. We must create the opportunity and the right conditions.

I’ve started reading a fascinating book called The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life by John Daido Loori. Loori was a scientist who became a professional photographer and then a Zen monk!  An interesting part of his story is that he was introduced to Zen through Minor White, whose methods of teaching photography involved meditation, contemplation and ritual. Loori established the Zen Arts Center in NY where students learn about Zen using the arts.

I’m intrigued by the use of such practices to facilitate achieving the state where we can suddenly open our eyes to see what has been there all along. There’s art to be found there.

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5 responses to “Just Open Your Eyes

  1. “pastel morning” has a pointillist feeling about it. It’s evocative.

    In my post this morning I included a brief about Cajal’s “Butterflies of the Soul” and the wonders found on slides put under the earliest microscopes–a world otherwise hidden. I mention also the quote that “all artists are scientists”, which I believe is true. The tug of Zen makes sense, when viewed as a way of “seeing” into the unseen.

  2. A very beautiful scene. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard photographers, and artist’s in general, talk about going into a zen-like meditative state when they are focused on creating. It would be interesting to read.

  3. This is a gorgeous image Bob. The color palette and fog help set a very tranquil mood.

    I agree that a certain aspect of photography is taking elements that already exist. However, there is a lot of interpretation and context that we as photographers have the the power of changing. How many times has a person been shown an image of something they walk by everyday without noticing? Our power to use exposure, lens choice, perspective, and post processing to impart our emotion – that does not already exist with a scene – is then what creates the art.

  4. what an interesting concept– either creating something new or discovering something already there– very thought provocative idea to think about– I do think that meditation helps us to notice the smaller details around us– especially the daily details we tend to take for granted or overlook– in the moment as the zen monks exist.

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