According to Wikipedia (how did I live before Wikipedia?) one of the definitions of “Mindfulness” (a current buzzword among Seekers of Enlightenment) is “an attentive awareness of the reality of things, especially of the present moment.” It’s generally used to describe the practice of watching one’s breath, returning back to refocus on it whenever the mind wanders away. I’ve read entire books on mindfulness and still don’t know what they’re talking about.
|De Chirico in Stamford, Franklin Street|
Most of us go through life without actually “seeing” our surroundings. We’re engrossed in getting from Place A to Place B. The great thing about being an artist is that we see more and better than normal people. Our lives are enriched by mindfulness; even the loss of vision in old age can become an asset. Monet painted some of his greatest works when he was almost blind; his inability to see detail aided his Impressionism. Frances Bacon’s phantasmagoric distortions look a lot like what I see out of my left eye, the one that has a “wrinkle on the retina” that causes all sorts of unreal twists and turns in my vision. Maybe Bacon was not an abstractionist after all. Maybe he had wrinkles in both retinas and was only painting what he saw. Fortunately, I can use my “good eye” to compensate when I’m painting, but the bad eye is much more interesting from an artistic point of view. El Greco supposedly had astigmatism that led to his elongated figures. Perhaps he distorted deliberately for emotional impact, or maybe, that was what he actually saw. An artist can always turn a lemon into lemonade.
|The Claw at work on Canal Street|
Mindfulness keeps us aware of our surroundings. We see more; we see better but you don’t have to be an artist to be mindful. Just to give you an example: several years ago, I took a (writer) friend to see my studio on Canal Street. On our way to Curley’s Diner afterward for a cup of coffee, my friend suddenly pulled his car into Rubino’s Metal Recycling Yard and got out. I followed, curious to see what had attracted him. He stood there, all excited, pointing up in the air: “Look at that claw! Look at that claw!” and sure enough, there was that 50’ crane with those giant metal jaws holding entire cars and refrigerators in its mouth. Literally, tens of thousands of people have driven past it over the years, barely noticing it. But, if you were “mindful” you would see one of the most spectacular sights in Stamford, right out of a horror movie: Godzilla or King Kong.
I’ve been recently stooping (literally) to picking up squashed beer cans from the side of the road. I don’t pick up every can I find, only the “beautiful” ones. What makes a beat- up tin can beautiful? I can’t tell you in words, but I know it when I see it.