The Zen of Seeing: Seeing/Drawing
1973. Vintage Books, New York. ISBN 0394-71968-9
In that first lecture I asked the rhetorical question WHO IS MAN, THE ARTIST? and answered it by saying: HE IS THE UNSPOILED CORE OF EVERYMAN, BEFORE HE IS CHOKED BY SCHOOLING, TRAINING, CONDITIONING UNTIL THE ARTIST-WITHIN SHRIVELS UP AND IS FORGOTTEN.
Suddenly I noticed that the strangers' faces in front of me began to look less strange. I was making contact, and encouraged by this rapport, I forgot my carefully hatched lecture and started to talk freely about seeing, about drawing as "The Way of Seeing", about something I called SEEING/DRAWING (I coined that on the spot), and about this SEEING/DRAWING as a way of meditation, a way of getting into intimate touch with the visible world around us, and through it … with ourselves.
Onlookers we are, spectators … "Subjects" we are, that look at "objects". Quickly we stick labels on all that is, labels that stick once and for all. By these labels we recognize everything but no longer SEE anything. We know the labels on all the bottles, but never taste the wine.
WHEN A MAN NO LONGER EXPERIENCES, THE ORGANS OF HIS INNER LIFE WITHER AWAY. ALONE OR IN HERDS HE GOES ON BINGES OF VIOLENCE AND DESTRUCTION.
The purpose of "looking" is to survive, to cope, to manipulate, to discern what is useful, agreeable, or threatening to the Me, what enhances or what diminishes the Me. This is what we are trained to do from our first day.
What really happens when seeing and drawing become SEEING/DRAWING is that awareness and attention become constant and undivided, become contemplation. SEEING/DRAWING is not a self-indulgence, a "pleasant hobby", but a discipline of awareness, of UNWAVERING ATTENTION to a world which is fully alive.
For the "Me", as subject, takes itself as being absolutely real, and relegates You, the object, at best to some relative reality, as a mere accompaniment to its glorious solo. You, as object, are to be manipulated, courted when needed or desired, then discarded. "I am, you ain't, they ain't" is the credo of the Me, as it looks at the world without ever seeing it, without living in it, standing forever poised against it, fighting it. Forever doomed to be out of touch with it, as it is out of touch with what the Self really is.
… the Zen experience is the overcoming of the hallucination that the Me is the valid center of observation of the universe. It is a momentary, radical turnabout, A DIRECT PERCEPTION OF AND INSIGHT INTO THE PRESENCE, INTO THE TRANSIENCY, THE FINITUDE THAT I SHARE WITH ALL BEINGS.
… meditation in the sense it is used in this book is far from a concentrated pondering of a word, a concept, or an idea. It is a discipline of pointed mindfulness as such, persevered in to the point where the in-sight breaks through.
Seeing into one's "own nature", far from being self-analysis - as if one were an object - is the perception, the experience, of Nature as it manifests itself in me, outside me. This seeing-into is at the same time the leap out of the isolation of Me into the community of beings and things, in the absolute present, the Absolute Presence.
… if I were on an uninhabited island, devoid of animals, trees, and plants, I would draw the sand and the rocks all day with a ballpoint and be quite happy. For I would unlearn all I ever thought I knew about rocks and grains of sand: SEEING/DRAWING is the art of un-learning about things.
While drawing grasses I learn nothing "about" grass, but wake up to the wonder of this grass and its growing, to the wonder that there is grass at all.
Drawing the naked body shows up every incompetence, every sloppiness, but especially every infantilism, vulgarity, lovelessness, callousness, of the person who draws.
The good drawings I do are hardly mine. Only the bad ones are mine for they are the ones where I can't let go, am caught in the Me-cramp.
If a drawing succeeds, be happy but don't congratulate yourself. If it is a miss, don't grieve over it but take a new sheet of paper. If someone praises a drawing, ask yourself what is being admired. Your drawing? Or the boats? Or the Moulin Rouge?
When drawing a face, any face, it is as if curtain after curtain, mask after mask, falls away … until a final mask remains, one that can no longer be removed, reduced. By the time the drawing is finished I know a great deal about that face, for no face can hide itself very long. But although nothing escapes the eye, all is forgiven beforehand. The eye does not judge, moralize, criticize. It accepts the masks in gratitude as it does the long bamboo being long, the goldenrod being yellow.
In sketching, the intellect chooses prominent features that characterize an "object". In SEEING/DRAWING there is no choosing: I become one with what is seen.
I have been told that I smile when I draw a smiling face and frown while I draw a stern one. No wonder, for I become that face, often feel that I am looking at the man who draws through its eyes.
The energetic executive smile, the preacher's pious frown, the doctor's paternal smirk, the sweet-seventeen pout of the fading beauty - these are the top-layer masks that vanish at the first touch of relaxation, pain or a double martini. Each "Me" is a succession of masks. At the moment of death, with the "Me", the last mask vanishes: "At last, with his dead face, he looks like a man, " said Kenkobo, an ancient Zen master.
When, years ago I first discovered Zen writings, I did not find them strange. On the contrary, they confirmed and clarified my most intimate intuitions about life. It was like discovering a strange country, and in this strange place one happened to know the roads and hills and ponds. It was home.
Where Zen speaks of "Buddha", it does not point at the historical personage to be adored, followed, or imitated, but at the inmost specifically human nature of man, at the True Self, at the True-Man-Without-Label, awakened. There is no Buddha to be found anywhere else.
This declaration of independence from words, from holy jargon, is probably one of Zen's greatest attractions in a time when words - which at best can only express part of the truth - are manipulated by political and commercial propaganda to the point where they have lost all meaning. Where Zen uses words it does so in the awareness that they are like fingers pointing at the moon, not to be mistaken for the moon itself.
Some flakes were now falling around my feet. A few melted as they hit the ground. Others stayed intact. Then I heard the falling of the snow, with the softest hissing sound. I stood transfixed, listening … and knew what can never be expressed: that the natural is the supernatural, and that I am the eye that hears and the ear that sees, that what is outside happens in me, that outside and inside are unseparated.
This True-Man-Without-Label, this True Self, can only be GLIMPSED and EXPERIENCED - or, if not experienced, denied or ridiculed.
SEEING/DRAWING is, beyond
words and beyond silence, the artist's response to being alive. Insofar as it
has anything to transmit, it transmits a quality of awareness. It is beyond
words, beyond silence - for the True Self cannot be expressed by either the
use of words or of silence.