Thursday, July 31, 2008

This Week's Reading

I read Daisetz Suzuki's Zen and Japanese Culture in 1985. I was trying to understand what I had seen at the Ryoanji Zen garden in Kyoto. At the time, I believe I found it quite impenetrable. It's still challenging, but I think I've made progress. For several years after that, I read books on Japan, both fiction and nonfiction, and I think I absorbed quite a lot which stays with me now. I am thinking of revisiting this project, so I reread this book.

Considering that Suzuki wrote the book in the 1930s, during the rise of Japanese ultra-nationalism, and revised it in 1957, during the end of the Americanization and democratization of Japan, the book is interesting for a lot of things it doesn't say about Japanese warrior culture. He does have a great deal about Zen and swordsmanship. Consider:
What makes Swordsmanship come closer to Zen than any other art that has developed in Japan is that it involves the problem of death in the most immediately threatening manner. If the man makes one false movement he is doomed forever, and he has no time for conceptualization or calculated acts. Everything he does must come right out of his inner mechanism, which is not under the control of consciousness. [p. 182]
Suzuki here does not explicitly treat Zen gardens as part of the Zen culture. I think this is because he has quite a long discussion of Zen love of nature. The differentiation that westerners make between nature and gardens doesn't seem to exist in Zen. Who made the natural setting? is not a question for the Zen or Japanese mind. Maybe.

Here are quotes from the book:
What differentiates Zen from the arts is this: While the artists have to resort to the canvas and brush or mechanical instruments or some other mediums to express themselves, Zen has no need of things external, except "the body" in which the Zen-man is so to speak embodied. ... The Zen-man transforms his own life into a work of creation, which exists, as Christians might say, in the mind of God. [page 17]

...the experience of mere oneness is not enough for the real appreciation of Nature. This no doubt gives a philosophical foundation to the sentimentalism of the Nature-loving Japanese, who are thus helped to enter deeply into the secrets of their own aesthetic consciousness. [p. 354]
There's much more in this book, and in the many others of this author. A fascination with Buddhism has from time to time been fashionable in American and western thought. Suzuki discussed this trend as it applied to Thoreau and Emerson in the 19th century, and participated in the interest of westerners in the first 2/3 of the 20th century. I wonder if it will come around again soon.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Kent Lake

Martindale Beach and the working farm.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

One more Art Fair trip

Before it closed at 6:00 yesterday evening, we walked up to the Art Fair one more time. Besides all the judged fairs, a variety of free-lance vendors of all sorts of goods show up and rent private spaces. On the porch and front yard of a house near the South University fair, a man from Mali named Ibrahim was selling a wide selection of African masks and other African tribal arts.

This mask, he explained, is called a Justice Mask. A person wears it when being sworn in at court, the way a westerner swears on a Bible. The spirit of the mask enforces the oath. The mask is from Gabon, made by the tribe called Fang or Kwele´.

Len hung it with our other African masks.

Friday, July 18, 2008

What we bought at the Art Fair

Our Art Fair purchases included two ceramic items. We were very impressed by this booth of potter Adam Spector:

We selected this plate:

For several years, we've been very fond of the pottery made by Marvin Blackmore, who works in a style that he has developed based on his Native American heritage. The pot on the left is the one we bought this year. The others are from earlier art fairs. The close ups show the incredible detail in his work. To get a better idea of the intricacy of these pots, click on the photos for an enlarged version.

Art Fair Booths

For more of my adventures at the Ann Arbor Art Fair this week, see: Art Fair Dolls and Art Fair Food.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Mona Lisa Web Gleanings

I love when people try to redraw the Mona Lisa. These examples came up on a web search.

A long time ago at the Louvre

Artist Gary Kelley painted his version of a crowd at the Louvre for the book The Stolen Smile by J. Patrick Lewis. The popularity of Mona Lisa dates to before the high-profile theft in 1911, the subject of the book.

Bonus: a Mexican Mona Lisa painted on black velvet.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Bob at the Louvre

iPhone photo from another friend named Bob -- Mona Lisa watching over the free 14 July day at the Louvre.

(For earlier views of Mona in the Louvre see "Mona Lisa in the Louvre Museum"
and Mona Lisa in Paris.)

Monday, July 14, 2008

Bob's New Book

Mona Lisa: emblem of immaturity.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Mona Lisa Animation

To see Mona Lisa make faces, click here: The interactive Mona Lisa - Mona Lips-synch - Exhibition Images in Paris - Cité des Sciences, France

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

From the Farmers Market to my Garden

At the Farmers Market this morning, I bought two flats of flowers to replace the pansies. Among the tulips in spring, the pansies were very nice, but they were really becoming leggy and not very pretty any more. I hope the new plants will be happy in this spot. The colored ones are called celosia. I'm not sure about the whitish-green ones.

Monday, July 07, 2008

Bird Behavior

On one of my walks in Toronto last week, I wandered into a big park near the University of Toronto. A large equestrian statue was providing a perch for a hawk -- from the head of the rider, the hawk had a great view of an open space in the middle of some trees. The din of songbirds warning and complaining was very high. Finally, the hawk flew down, and several other birds dive-bombed it. I didn't see any actual hunting on the part of the hawk.

On another day, I drove past the busy tourist areas on the waterfront, and past the industrial port, until I came to a little park with a view back towards the big skyscrapers and the immensely high tower. The water's edge was scummed with oil, but gulls and swans were happily using the beach. The only other humans at the park seemed to be walking dozens of dogs.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

War Rugs

At the Textile Museum of Canada, I saw an exhibit called "Battleground: War Rugs from Afghanistan." The documentation explained that hand-made Afghan tribal rugs with motifs from modern warfare began to appear during the Soviet invasion in the 1970s. A repeated bird motif might become a border of planes and tanks. A realistic kalishnikov might appear in a place of honor. A traditional mountain scene or a battle between the hero Rustam and a snake might include a helicopter.

Before the Soviet era, families of weavers belonged to a group and lived in the same place for generations, and their rugs were identified by their location of origin. All has changed. Invasion, resistance, displacement of people, emigration, modern communication such as TV, flight to cities, and constant war has dominated the lives of the people of Afghanistan. The rugs in the exhibit, I learned, could not be traced or associated with a clear location, a tribe, or a distinct political point of view. English words that appear in the rugs may not even be understood by the weavers.

To my eyes, these rugs express the same sense of beauty and color as the older rugs with patterns of "elephants' feet" and flowers, but the sense of violence and even violation is chilling.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A few images from the Royal Ontario Museum

As I wrote, we had a wonderful visit to the Royal Ontario Museum, which is just a block or so from our hotel. I plan to go back there today again. The first two photos are from the extensive Chinese collection.

Here is one Indian pot from the anthropology section.