Art – Van Eyck

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Detail from “Portrait of Giovanni Arnolfini and his wife,” by the Master of Northern Renaissance Jan Van Eyck (Bruges, d.1441), painted in 1434.

Van Eyck, known for his illustrated manuscripts, portraits and of course the Ghent Altarpiece (dated 1432), brought life into the scenery and the people he painted like no one before him. He helped define a new trend in art where painting became the medium of grandeur or “the art of arts” as it became known, rather than tapestry or architecture.

He defied the Church (then divided between Rome and Avignon) in many ways, especially for portraying religious figures with human feelings. Yet, he was adored by the nobility (especially the Duke of Burgundy) and the common man who in the aftermath of the great plague, saw renewal and hope in his art, most particularly for his use of light.

Painting on display at the National Gallery, London.

Silent for one day

Now that parts of the world are getting immersed in their self-created whirlwind of consumerism and loud celebrations, silence may be welcome. It will not make the other parts of the world any richer or happier or less violent, but it may just may, make you aware of where you stand and bring some serenity along with it.

For one day, just for one day, stay in silence. Silence your gestures and your words and your thoughts. For one day simply remain.

Your body will dance softly as though clouds were beneath your feet. You will smell the aromas that words always cover, and see the colours that thoughts hinder. On that day, anything you cook will taste like a smile, and the water drops on your skin will turn into pearls.

Silence.

You will finally breathe at the pace of your own heart. You will be still for one day and the universe will whirl around you. From that immense emptiness, things that were entangled in your heart and mind will open up, and you will see bright ideas settling on your canvas like a thousand stars.

You will understand then, that there is no need for prayers, that there is no need for rituals. Silence —and anger will dissipate into forgiveness, fears and wants will follow, and only kindness will remain.

And when you gently go back into the world, an irrepressible soft smile will be drawn on your lips. That is serenity. Cherish it.

Kenza.

Slowing down

Yes. Slowing down. Going at a lower pace.

Looking, really looking around us.

And feeling also. Feeling the wind and immensity of the sky upon opening a window. Feeling the emotions, like a dress we smooth discreetly as we stand up.

Walking without running.

Taking in the taste and texture and colors of each dish when eating, and doing the same when cooking.

Listening to the other person, speaking with precision, pondering each word and adding comas.

Slowling down.

It is not to stop time; rather, it is to live it fully.

Kenza.

Art – Cycladic figure

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Marble head of a figure from the Cycladic culture dated 2’700-2’500 BC.

In all probability, it is the head of a woman given that most figures of this kind were of women. Little is known of the Cycladic culture that strived during the Bronze Age in the Aegean Sea, nor of the meaning of the statues. It seems there are as many experts who say they were related to a cult, as they are who say they were not.

For us, almost 5’000 years after they were made, they are stunning for their simplicity and quiet elegance.

One may understand perhaps where contemporary sculptors such as Constantin Brâncusi, Jean Arp and even Henry Moore, may have gotten some inspiration for their clean lines and sculptures free of frills.

Figure in marble, H: 23.5 cm – via the Met, NY.

Humility

Humility is one of the foundations for achieving peaceful and respectful social relations. The truth is that it has not been mankind’s forte since it came out of the cave; to the contrary, we would not have had so many wars.

What I have observed recently though, is that very few people even mention the word anymore. One has to read old texts of philosophy and wisdom to find references to it.

Today, instead of humility, people talk about loving oneself as a path to happiness. The same way, being humble is seldom taught to children any more, while boosting one’s self-esteem is seen as the sine qua non to success in life. I find it unsettling.

Ego ad infinitum

There is a very thin line between self-worth and arrogance, and perhaps an even thinner one between loving oneself and egotism. Humility however can prevent one from encroaching upon the other.

In my view, humility is a way to step away from oneself, because by being humble, one recognizes his own fallibility. As a result, through “constructive doubt,” as Bertrand Russell once called it, one becomes open-minded, considers the position of others with respect, and hence acts with compassion avoiding the infliction of harm.

Bernard de Clairvaux, the French Abbot better known as Saint Bernard, came to the same conclusion eight centuries earlier when he said, “humility engenders compassion.”

Imagine a world where everyone loves oneself more than others, where they believe their self-worth is such that they can actually achieve anything. Given the current literature on “self-improvement” you may see these as positive qualities. For me, they are simple ego boosters, soothing an artificial sense of self.

Take the same attitude and multiply it, mix it with nationalism and religion and what do you get? – almost always conflict, and most often, violent conflict. Or take a step back and think of harassment at work or on the street, of a despotic parent, or of abuse of authority at a border crossing.

A drop in the ocean

The moment you realize that you are just a “drop in the ocean,” to quote Rumi, you can finally let go of that ego that binds you. Every drop is needed to make an ocean. And when you contemplate the ocean, no drop is larger than another one because they all form one ocean.

Being humble does not mean being less worthy, because the very notion of “worth” becomes irrelevant, and that, you see, is most liberating and does lead to the tranquillity of the heart.

Thank you for reading.

Kenza.


References:
– For Bertrand Russell’s writings on critical thinking, see “Philosophy” (1927), “Portraits From Memory” (1956) and “The Problems of Philosophy” (1973). All of Bertrand Russell’s writings are available on the Internet via the Bertrand Russell Society.
– For Bernard de Clairvaux, see “The twelve degrees of humility and pride,” written in 1127.

Kisetsu – 季節

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Kisetsu (季節) is an important concept in Japanese culture. It literally means “a certain time of the year” or more commonly “season.”

In Japan, seasons are an integral part of life and the change of seasons is reflected in the arts, poetry and everyday activities.

At home, the change of season is traditionally respected by replacing items of decoration. In old times and even today, it is common to change the main hanging scroll in the common area to reflect the season. The scroll, known as kakejiku (掛軸), may have cherry or plum blossoms in Spring, and persimmons or fall foliage in Autumn.

Changing the scroll brings about harmony with nature and highlights the impermanence of things, both key concepts in Shinto and Buddhist thoughts.

“All beyond recall
Cherry blossoms have scattered,
So that my garden,
Once the home of joyful spring,
Looks now like an empty house.”

Ki no Tsurayuki, Japanese poet, Xth. C.

The same can be done in our homes by changing an item of decoration such as a painting or objects on tables, putting away some carpets in the warmer months while spreading earth colored pashminas on the sofa in winter.

The idea is to harmonize the home with nature, all the while eliminating clutter and giving a sense of freshness and renewal several times a year. One benefit is that the items that are set aside will be all the more appreciated once back in display. There is no need to have all our objects out all the time.

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At home, as the cold days are approaching, I have replaced some items on the walls. To be frank, I have very few and have placed a red colored painting more prominently, while taking away two simple Chinese fans. Two Persian wool carpets that were kept away, are now fully opened. Of course, the pashminas are handier. The ginger plant on the balcony is now inside the kitchen looking at the sun through the window, just like our cat Bluu.

This is a simple idea that will not only create harmony within a home but also with nature even if one lives in an urban environment.

Thank you for reading and please share your thoughts and any similar ideas. I would love to hear from you!

Kenza.

Illustrations:
“Maple viewing at Kai’anji Temple” by Shibuya Zeshin (Japan, 1807-1891), hanging scroll (ink and color on silk) – via The Met, NY.
“La vaca roja” by Juan Ezcurdia (Mexico, 2017).