Tuesday, December 24, 2013

REVIEW 2013 ~ Favorite Music, Film & TV

Musically its been a year of rich and rewarding music. the No1 discovery being John Grant's back catalogue. Here he is singing I Hate This Town at the Other Voices festival in Dingle, Ireland.

Whilst we are in Ireland, I'll mention a fab little low budget movie made there ~ What Richard Did. It follows the fluctuating and often contradictory moral responses of the main character Richard after a fight has an unforeseen and tragic consequences for him.


Television ~ BROADCHURCH
In the wake of Scandi-Noir, ITV came up with its own original and equally addictive take on it, Broadchurch. Starring, in my opinion,  two of the best actors currently working on television, David Tennant and Olivia Coleman.

On his second album Blake manages to pull together all the quirkiness and tangential styles that were on his debut and make a record that constantly innovates within its deceptively laid back electro form.

You'd be mistaken if you thought this was Ryan Gosling retreading Drive territory. He's only in it for the first third of the movie, but his character is the sort of karmic origins for all that follows. It explores a broad range of issues, the connections between Fathers and Sons, revenge, hero worship and the darker varieties of unfinished familial business.

Television ~ THE FALL
Cool as a cucumber Gillian Anderson's character comes to dominate this original serial killer drama set in Northern Ireland. Taking the unusual step of showing you who the murderer is right from the start. His very ordinariness and cunning make the shocking macabre nature of his crimes all the more disturbing.

I came so late to this duo that they'd split up. But this year I couldn't get enough of their closely knit edgy harmonies. The country folk of From This Valley, has some wonderful vocal elevations, that soar upwards into the heavens.

Camp, Catty and Compassionate, this film presents Liberace in the sort of  full technicolour he wouldn't have dared do in his day. Micheal Douglas and Matt Damon, give it their all and though they are utterly brilliant. Rob Lowe, as the spooky plastic surgeon, steals every seen he's in.

Television ~ WHAT REMAINS
Whilst on holiday in Whitby, we watched this compelling little series, about the death of a tenant in the attic. Her life seems outwardly so ordinary and unimportant, until more and more of the other tenants involvement with her, and their morally dodgy lives is gradually revealed. So did she actually die accidentally or was it murder after all?


They're now becoming old veterans on the New York art rock underground scene, but they still kick ass like no other. This years album Sacriledge contained a bevvy of golden nuggets, none more so than Buried Alive.

This film was a wonderful surprise, a 3D film that was actually worth doing and seeing in 3D. Its also a fantastic space based nail biting thriller, with emotional, and sometimes philosophical, depth. It also made you appreciate Sandra Bullock's skill as an actress, which is alone a great achievement.

Already on her fourth album, and Laura Marling appears to just keep on getting better and better. The opening suite of songs which run into each other musically, conclude with I Am The Master Hunter, one of many stand out songs from Once I Was An Eagle.

Television ~ RIPPER STREET
After the slightly clunky 'cockernee' of the first series, Ripper Street became a really compelling drama series in its second. Set in the early Victorian days of the police force, it manages to cleverly weave in the roots of modern issues like feminism, prostitution, homosexuality, failing banks, the Irish question, religious cults and corruption without it feeling remotely contrived. Probably my favourite TV drama of 2013, that for some baffling reason the BBC isn't recommissioning.

After a few albums where they searched, often in vain, for fresh territories to explore,suddenly the Arctic Monkeys get their act triumphantly together. AM proves a real return to form, whilst also moving them into a different league musically. Addictive stuff.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

FEATURE 120 ~ Risk by Anais Nin

by Anais Nin

And then the day came
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
it took
to Blossom.

FEATURE 119 ~ Hokusai Says by Roger Keyes

Hokusai Says
by Roger Keyes

Hokusai says, look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice. 
He says keep looking, stay curious. 
e says there is no end to seeing. 
He says look forward to getting old. 
He says keep changing, you just get more who you really are. 
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat yourself as long as it’s interesting. 
He says keep doing what you love. 
He says keep praying. 
He says every one of us is a child, every one of us is ancient, every one of us has a body. 
He says every one of us is frightened. 
He says every one of us has to find a way to live with fear. 
He says everything is alive –shells, buildings, people, fish,mountains, trees. 
Wood is alive. 
Water is alive. 
Everything has its own life. 
Everything lives inside us. 
He says live with the world inside you. 
He says it doesn’t matter if you draw, or write books.
 It doesn’t matter if you saw wood, or catch fish. 
It doesn’t matter if you sit at home and stare at the ants on your verandah or the shadows of the trees and grasses in your garden. 
It matters that you care. 
It matters that you feel. 
It matters that you notice. 
It matters that life lives through you.
 Contentment is Life living through you. 
Joy is life living through you.
 Satisfaction and strength is life living through you.
Peace is life living through you.
He says don’t be afraid. 
Don’t be afraid. 
Look, feel, let life take you by the hand.
 Let life live through you.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

DIARY 121 ~ Boats & Rivers

'The birds don't know which way to go, 
and my friend, neither do I'

So runs the lyric from a Peter Hamill song called The Birds. Its notable, because birds do have a strong instinct for where to go. It causes them to migrate, or find upward air currents that will take them further and faster than flapping wings alone would do. In the sky, says Dogen, 'birds are life', the sky is an inexhaustible resource and our relationship with the world we inhabit, is the same. On the retreat, I wrote about this by using the metaphor of a boat on a river.

12th December 2013

All lives are like rivers, a bubbly spurt of activity at first, getting lost in wide meanderings as if we have all the time in the world, broadening out into wider estuaries and broader stretches of water, ever widening until what is river and what is ocean is completely indiscernible.

Rather than struggle to keep up with its pace, I climb aboard a motor boat. I've come to a bend in the river where its all plain sailing, you let the river take you on, to wherever the delta or mouth is. The mouth where you are eaten. The delta where you fragment into a thousand rivulets, spread out like blue veins on an old hand. To get on board a motor boat here, would seem inappropriate. Silly to not make the most of the journey. To hurry towards another destiny, would be ludicrous for a man of my age.

The 'lust for life' shouldn't be confused with the 'thrust of youth'. Middle aged lust, is for greater authenticity, a more honest integrity, a simpler relationship between ones desires and their fulfillment, uncluttered by the obstacles and encumbrances of ones childhood enthusiasms and naive ambitions. There is a return to the essential root of who you think you are, no longer mediated through ones parents hopes for you, societies demands or expectations of you, or self deluded daydreams. Life is too short for that now. No excess baggage is allowed.

I'm coming to see life as this thing I come into alignment with. When you put a boat on a river, take away the paddles, take away the sail, take away the outboard motor, so it will drift with the current of the river. A boat can't help but do that, if we let it alone. We are so used to thinking our lives need steering or better propulsion of some kind. Sure a boat will hit choppy waters, lose momentum, get stuck or even sink, but that is what a boat on a river is like.

Its never going to be plain sailing. in this respect we aren't the Captain of our ship, more the servant of it. The more we try to steer it, to make it go our way, the more turbulence we leave in our wake. The more we cut a swathe through the water with the prow of our boat, the more out of touch with the river we become. Life becomes about setting directions, goals and achievement, imposing the will of our ego upon the river. Rivers are not inexhaustible, they dry up, they break their banks and flood, they stagnate, become dangerous places. If we're not aware, not aligned, we'll see none of this coming. we might just find ourselves beached up somewhere.

DIARY 120 ~ Everything Is Waiting

I've been at Rivendell Retreat Centre,on a weeks meditation retreat entitled Everything Is Waiting. So I've been practising being aware of my body, my breath and sense of place in the world. My mood prior to going was very up and down, feeling quite dissatisfied and somewhat insecure. I didn't fancy leaving secure familiar surroundings and heading off to spend time awkwardly with who knows what. Much of the week I did emotionally oscillate between engagement and an incipient desire to leave. At root of all this was fear. Whenever I feel threatened or frightened, consciously or unconsciously, just feeling out of my depth, stupid, or inadequate there is a desire to outright rejection or summarily dismiss the cause of it. Its an old self justification preserving self-dignity reaction.

The retreat turned out to be challenging, but not in any overtly confrontational way. It subtly stirred the pot and some deeper disquiet in the dregs at the bottom. I had two quite vivid disturbing dreams. In one I was with a couple of other hapless friends, and we had some sort of valuable treasures that we kept in a cardboard box. We were constantly trying to outwit three cowboy gangster types, in greatcoats and wide brimmed hats, who would outsmart us and find us wherever we were. Usually with some sort of bloody slow motion shoot out ( think Tarantino ). It felt violent without actually showing much. The second dream is less distinct in my memory, but it was set in Diss where I used to live, and the main person in it was someone I used to know there. In the dream they were a dodgy antique trader, who was a unhinged psycho killer on the quiet, so again there was tension, and the potential for violence was more implied than shown.

Apart from any benefit to my meditation practice, a retreat is an opportunity to catch up with myself. To tap into these less noticeable currents, and during the silent periods just be more receptive. My psyche was well churned up. So a bit of reflection was called for. At the beginning of the retreat, I said I was looking forward to just stopping. From the Abbey House Repaint over the Summer onward, its been one creative project after another with a deadline to meet, whether this was an exhibition or a special shrine I was making.  Once I did stop it was as though a flock of tatty pigeons and battered old crows started to land on my veranda and peck at a few crumbs.  Birds can be the bearer of  messages, and don't always require you to call in pest control. So lots of niggles and issues drifted in and out, but how I responded depended on how I view them. Many of mine revolved around what to do next with 'Project Artwork'

Since the exhibition, I'd made the priority getting a functioning artwork website the next thing I needed to do. This effort has stalled over photographing work, which is just not happening. I'm rather reliant on someone else's good will, skill and spare time, who is also rather busy. I could just get the site up and running with poorer quality photography, or decide to take a longer term view and be patient. Any serious attempt to sell my work, or get galleries interested in an exhibition, does rely these days on having a decent website.  It could appear to someone as impatient as I, that everything is waiting on the dratted photography being done, but it is and isn't. It depends on adjusting the width of my perspective and priorities.

I've come to the conclusion that at this stage, that any aim to turn my artwork into a new career is being over ambitious and is really out of sequence. It puts undue pressure on me to keep producing finished work rather than allowing time to creatively explore possibilities. Pushing forward the website or developing my artwork, can.however, compete for the scarce resources of time and energy. I can focus on one or the other, but not both. So my main priority for 2014 is to develop a regular art practice and give that as much time as I can. The website will take however long it takes, but hopefully sometime next year it will be launched.

My tendency is to make too big a deal of things, which ends up putting unhelpful pressure on myself. I then become rather freaked when things become apparently stalled. I start to push harder on a closed door, and how I view the rest of my life becomes infected by all of this. Everything is waiting for this one thing to happen. One of the themes of the retreat was the tendency to push for results in practice, and be led by ambition rather than our experience of reality as it is. Experience then becomes a concept or idea about it, and practice about attaining upward progress only.  Paramananda said near the end of the retreat, that our psyche's don't work or respond according to this sort of  linear thinking. Linear progression is anathema to it, and may even positively repel it. That all concepts of progress, attainments and Enlightenment are fantasies that our ego latches onto, that turn us away from reality. Actually we are fed and grow by repeated exposure to ever deeper levels of attention to the moment we are currently in. Everything depends on the patient quality, receptivity, breadth and focus of ones waiting. Desires, cravings, aims and ambitions are forms of aversion, that effectively turn us away from experiencing experience as it actually is. Everything is waiting, once we turn towards the experience as it is, instead of trying to turn our experience into what we want it to be.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

ARTICLE ~ Spiritual Art & Practice ~ 12 Summary Sentences

1    Art is not inherently spiritual.

2    The spiritual effect of art is dependent upon the eye and receptivity of the beholder.

3    Spiritual meaning or effects can sometimes be assigned artificially to art, by our culture.

4    Spiritual subjects or allegories don't automatically mean the art will have a spiritual effect.

5    Any art can be spiritually instructive, beneficial or uplifting, once we're open to it.

6   Spiritual effects come into art through an artist's use of colour, form and expression

7    Artist's become channels for spiritual influences to emerge through them.

8    The spiritual is drawn to art and artists that are sensitive to beauty

9    Spiritually uplifting art may not be beautiful in a traditional sense.

10   The spiritual effects that a work of art may have resist precise definition.

11   An artist cannot consciously create spiritual art.

12   An artist can consciously turn the making of art into a spiritual practice.

ARTICLE ~ Spiritual Art & Practice ~ Conclusion

Everything and nothing to do with me

The purpose in writing this series of articles has been to explore what the relationship between the spiritual and art may be. This has been a personal quest. Having set myself an intention to develop art as a practice, I wanted to be clearer in my own mind about the territory I'm entering. One personal concern was that in the rush for creative practice, my Buddhist practice could get sidelined. As in the past, I've have a tendency to 'drop the bucket in the race to find the next source of water.' So I've wanted to pin down what the potential areas for art as a spiritual practice may be. This has by its very nature drawn me into looking at the whole topic of 'the spiritual' in art, in perhaps more detail than I'd first envisaged. 

So it is a given that art can have a spiritual effect, and an artistic process can become a spiritual practice. At the same time both these can become Self serving conceits. They may give ones sense of Self and ones artwork a grander loftier air, and whilst appearing to be not about 'me and mine', in essence are. The spiritual can become a great and commodious cloak to hide all ones self centred motivations beneath. 

Praise and appreciation is good to receive, whether its for an exhibition, for a creative project I've instigated, or for the rituals and shrines I create. I'm acutely aware that the mental state or emotional mood I was in at the time of creating a shrine say, can often be far from exemplary. Certainly not exalted, inspired or uplifted with any spiritual connection. I've found praiseworthy results are frequently created in the teeth of egregious resentments, mostly about the creative task itself.  I don't find it easy to put this truculent negativity to sleep. 

If I'm lucky, engaging with a creative process will itself transform the conditions that caused the negative state to arise. That's not always possible, if creative frustration lies at the root of it. I find it  paradoxical that what maybe communicated through my art is not affected by this, or become a direct visual translation of that mental state.  Something the complete mirror opposite can often emerge in the finished piece. This is perhaps a reflection of how un-integrated I am in this area.  The negative effect is upon the internal process, and not upon the end product.

I do seem able to run creatively on auto-pilot, in the face of unfavourable conditions. The positive effect of a piece on others to inspire awe or emotionally move people, seems to happens regardless of this. I just paint the painting or do the shrine. What happens afterwards seems little or nothing to do with me. However unconscious, the creative process opens up areas of my psyche not exposed by anything else I do.  So is it something I do,  or is it something expressed through me, or is the effect of an artwork entirely in the eyes of the beholder?  Without an objective source as a stimulus for what people feel or sense about an artwork, it must be founded entirely on the subjective perceptual and internal emotional response of each viewer. The artist's self-expression can only be one element in the story. For the spirit of something emerges through an artist, emerges through the artwork and emerges through the attention of a person looking at it. The personal is also universal, and the universal is also personal. This seems to be present at every point in the artistic process and in the finished piece

Artistic ideas can be hard to realise and bring into being, there are difficult births.  At other times ideas almost paint themselves without obstacle or much deliberation.  Solutions can be unearthed slowly and deliberately or pop into ones head fully formed, without precognition or forethought. These ways creative ideas emerge are not unique to me, or to artists, its appears to be how they happen to all sorts of people in all walks of life and activity.  Ideas could be the simple snapping of brain synapses. Though not a random event, it can feel like that they come unbidden into awareness as though something is speaking through us.  Not all cognitive processes dealing with creating solutions appear to be conscious ones. Some brain functions may run quietly in the background. Though its possible to map how the brain functions and the rudiments of how it operates, we're not yet able to fully comprehend how it generates ideas or solutions to problems. It maybe everything to do with me, or not entirely.

We habitually see ourselves as the brains in charge, the controlling agency in all we do. Yet so much of how human beings live is unconscious, it seems hard to sustain this view in all eventualities. Elements do appear as if they are nothing to do with me. We operate far more unknowingly than we're ever likely to know or admit.  Out of our desire to Self-aggrandize we blow our own trumpet far and wide. Buddhism would say that the conditions prompting any thing to arise into our awareness are multi-faceted and have a mutual complexity inbuilt into them. An example is given of a group of sticks propped up against each other for support that together make a stack.  It's never one stick alone that is the determining thing, not just me, not just them, not just events. not entirely Self or entirely Other, not everything nor nothing to do with me.  Whatever I do as an artist though undoubtedly playing its part, is unlikely to be the whole story in how people eventually respond to finished artwork.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

ARTICLE ~ Spiritual Art & Practice ~ The Viewing Process

The content or experience of Art as spiritual.

From the viewers perspective, the specific aesthetic content or experience of a piece of art is what usually marks it out as being 'spiritual'.  Renaissance content consisted of scenes from biblical history, the miracles and martyrdom's of saints, and Greco-Roman classical myths.  This is what many people are referring to when they talk about the spiritual in art. These illustrative paintings of sacred people, stories or theology, may or may not evoke an uplifting response in the viewer, through this imitative expression.  Such content cannot be guaranteed to produce art that will spiritually touch us. It might just as easily produce an inert picture, with an equally inert emotional response. So whatever is there in a work of art that people respond to as being 'spiritual' is more about receptivity, than its representational form.

The way a painting's content is formed by the artist, its colours, shapes and relationships as they run across the canvas, may fleetingly capture a spiritual truth about human life and mortality. This could be as true of non-representational as representational painting, Because a sense for the spiritual emerges through this illustrative content, doesn't mean it intrinsically belongs to it.   

Pictures might also be alluding to concepts or analogies not immediately visible in the artwork. They are spiritual only if one knows how to read them.  This perception of art is a profoundly academic or literary interpretation of spirituality. Its a cognitive response, that may also have an emotive counterpart. But without that emotional response. the visual potency or vibrancy will never fully spiritually suffuse enough to inhabit it. The spiritual effect upon a viewer cannot be predestined by content or prescribed by art critics or even the artist themselves.  It's dependent on the subjective eyes and heart of the beholder.  

Art has spiritual meaning or qualities attributed to it.

From a Buddhist perspective, art that is too worldly or too other worldly in emphasis is bound to be flawed, because this is not how reality truly is. All art has at least the potential to be seen in a spiritual light, or be illuminating.  Spiritual meaning, value or spiritual benefit can always be assigned too it.. This was most likely not part of the artist's original intention, and probably better if it isn't. To be able to perceive for ourselves, we have to be receptive to it, to be able to abandon any prejudices or preferences we might hold, to be more flexible in our perceptions and hold less rigidly to fixed points of view. Whether we see spiritual qualities in art depends mostly on whether our views obscure or highlight them. 

Art is unlikely to be inherently spiritual

The word 'spiritual' is one of many value judgements placed upon art  It is often short hand for a particularly elevated feeling, a sense of something positive, insightful or divine, an other worldly dimension or sensitivity. The 'spiritual' may place itself in a finished artwork but this is only ascribed to it through the viewer's perceptions.  There is a viewpoint that only certain cultures, periods in art or types of content, have produced spiritual art.  This is untrue. This is largely based on cultural  or aesthetic assumptions of what has or has not spiritual value. Subjective aesthetic experiences often being presented as absolute objective ones. Its impossible to be completely definitive about the spiritual content or otherwise of art. It's probably safe to say, that if you can define it in great detail, then you're probably not talking about spiritual content at all. Its just too subjective an experience for that level of precision.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

ARTICLE ~ Spiritual Art & Practice ~ The Artistic Process

The artistic process as a spiritual vehicle

Art emerges from an idea and the evolving process of its creation.  For an artist, a finished artwork may only be the conclusion of one line of inquiry, and not the end of the artistic investigation they've started. Each completed piece stimulates further questions during its creation. Form, content, and the particular effect an artist is trying to create in a piece, are the central issues in that process. Through the artist's choice of colours, mode of expression, its composition and style, the inhabiting spirit of an artwork is seeded via the artist.  This spirit will generally manifest its true nature once the artist has effectively 'left the room.' 

Alchemical ~ Nigredo ~ Albedo ~ Rubedo

Throughout art history qualities have been attributed to colours. They have been perceived as having magical propensities, as healing talismans, or in the case of alchemy indicate the current state of ones spiritual progress. These all attempted to bring religious, psychological or factual objectivity to the subjective and emotionally based experience of colour perception. These conceptual frameworks that surround the spiritual aesthetics of colour, have informed artists working methods. Artists as stylistically diverse as Mondrian and Kandinsky, found  inspiration from theosophical concepts about the archetypal references of specific colours and shapes, that were the foundation for their future very radical abstractions. 

Theosophic Colour States

Colours possess visual temperature, a vibrant energy and a capacity for shimmering movement or calming stillness. They are; light or dark; warm or cold; they recede or advance towards the viewer; seem to optically expand across a surface or contract inwards. It seems then quite natural for any artist to use colour as a visual echo of the human spirit and any desire to transcend their mortal limitations. Colour, in combination with form and expression, appear to be the essential core of what can turn an aesthetic into a spiritual experience. 

The outward expression of an artist's imagination, and the spiritual qualities an art work may communicate to the viewer, do not necessarily correspond in all particulars. Elements sneak in underneath the imaginative disguise put there by the artist. If receptive, an artist can be like a spiritualist medium, and become skilled in allowing disembodied entities to occupy and speak through them. If an artist can get themselves sufficiently out of the way that is. It is possible for the desire for Self-expression to be diverted into a vehicle for Other Power to express itself. Only via this type of subliminal channelling can an artistic process become an interface through which 'the spiritual' is given voice. The artist needs to be a blind instrument, otherwise this 'Other Powered Voice' will be drowned out by the artist's self-conscious awareness.  For one can never self-consciously imbue 'spiritual' qualities into art. Though there are many fake mediums around!


There is another way in which 'the spiritual' can enter into the artistic process, and that is by turning that process itself into a spiritual endeavour.  Spiritual practice in art, is concerned with the artist's own creative and internal process. Whether the completed artwork is perceived as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, is, in this respect, a matter of little import. Spiritual practice is concerned with ones state of mind, the form of ones thoughts and emotions during the process of creation. 

As a practicing Buddhist, my aim is to be able to apply  the Buddha's teachings to what I do. This means usually being aware enough in the moment, to be able bring them to mind and apply them to specific instances in my life. The artistic process is no different from any other human activity. The Eight Worldly Winds are always at play in all forms of human creativity. The desire for Fame, Gain, Pleasure and Praise often being thwarted by Infamy, Loss, Pain and Blame. Our Self craves significance and wants to be appreciated and recognised, as being here, as being an 'artist'. These are universal difficulties, we all want to know that our life will matter and something will live on beyond our death. Whether its our biological or our artistic children, the impulse beneath it is much the same. We can place too much self- identity and self-love into an artwork that even the possibility of it not being liked, can feel as though we are standing nakedly prepared for the final fatal body blow. Nothing seems worse than dying unknown and unloved. 

Practically speaking spiritual practice is about being aware of these issues and to bring forth a more helpful perspective. Remembering that the conditions that form our life and art change all the time, so not allowing the momentary ups and downs in ones confidence, to undermine or intoxicate one's sense of purpose. To be more equanimous in the midst of creative achievements or failures.  Its more focused on the motivations going on beneath the artistic process, the conditions that might facilitate or impede the process, than a perfectly resolved idea and finished result. 

Vidyavajra ~ A State of Alarm 

I've found that I need to take notice of how I hold the reins of artistic control, getting the balance right between holding them too tightly or too loosely. The qualities and tendencies of my mental and emotional state can stifle or encourage the creative process. It's helpful if I can cultivate abiding in the present moment whilst I work on a piece. To not allow reflections on past or present errors in artistic judgement or anxiety about the future creative direction of a piece, to turn into obstacles. These can then hang around perfuming my mind, and distract me from my sense of purpose.  I make a practice of turning errors into hidden intentions, to not see them as mistakes at all. but as a change in the evolving conditions that will form the final piece. 

I see one aspect of relaxing the reins of artistic control, as allowing the artwork to speak to me. It will show me what needs to comes next, only when the moment for it has arrived, and not before! Whenever I try to pre-empt or enforce control over the evolutionary direction of an artwork, then the artistic process grinds to a halt in doubt or prevarication. At worst the artwork spins off kilter into muddy incoherence. The habits, doubts and superficiality I may have about the artistic process, have to be constantly countered by creativity and clarity within the process, and remaining committed to it whatever happens. 

For me, the process of artistic creation is an ongoing debate between these aspects of my Self and subtler aspects of Other Power. The path of artistic self-expression will eventually reach a turning point and become a way to 'go beyond' self-expression. Not by renouncing all forms of self-expression or by abandoning the making of art, but by gradually transforming the Self-reinforcing underpinning that is beneath the artistic process. I grapple with these sorts of issues by externalising them, giving them a tangible form through a creative medium. Integrating the results of my exploration and struggles, which will hopefully strengthen the foundations of the path that ultimately leads towards resolving or transforming them.     

Friday, November 29, 2013

ARTICLE ~ Spiritual Art & Practice ~ Defining Terms

When I say 'spiritual' what do I mean?

For a Buddhist using the word 'spiritual' will have a different connotation than for a Christian, Muslim or Hindu.  Spiritual, is not for Buddhism, another way of saying sensitivity to a godly presence, or soulful inclination towards a divine creator. So what would the Buddhist interpretation of the term 'spiritual' really be pointing towards, if not to that? Here is where I need to chose carefully what words I use. Most English terms expressing a 'sense for something Other' than mundane worldly existence, are so stained through with Christian associations that, without intending to, it could still sound like I'm talking about god. Also, when attempts are made to define god, they can become so loose and broad that anything and everything becomes absorbed into it, like a black hole. So it's a minefield for misinterpretation, but here goes.

Bernini's ~ Ecstasy of St Theresa

When the Moon is full, and the sky a dark blue, the silver white of our nearest satellite shines down upon us like a bright beneficent goddess. For many thousands of years the Moon was only a deity you would point at, ask a favour of, or worship. Godlike deities are usually like this, visible but distant, tangible but intangible. Yet they are said to influence and guide human behaviour, to which you need only to surrender too, however unfathomable their purpose. Theistic interpretation of the word spiritual reflects this. Its about being in ecstasy with the divinity, abandoning ones liberty or freedom of choice, to let god be you guide. Anything spiritual, comes to represent this yearning to be at one with the godhead, to have you soul lifted up, your spirits elevated or transported to a more heavenly angelic realm. 

In Buddhism the Moon is not a god, its just a way to imaginatively visualise the goal of Enlightenment. There's a traditional Zen phrase about 'a finger pointing at the Moon'. So whilst the Moon is Enlightenment, the finger represents the descriptions of Enlightenment and practices that point towards the way to get there. The meaning of the phrase is that the finger is not the Moon ~ the means to the end, not being mistaken for the end ~ the practices alone are not it. So a Buddhist gazing at the Moon is aspiring to become more like a Buddha. They are not asking any deity for help, but they are directing themselves on the path towards the state of Enlightenment. 

In some traditions, this is often couched in terms like Buddha Nature or Other Power, which are criticised within Buddhism as verging too close to deification. They are simply metaphors, ways of talking about Enlightenment as not remote, but present and waiting, as a finger pointing. The idea of Other Power is interesting, in that as our practice deepens the state of Enlightenment as a vaguely intuited Other Power can be perceived as coming to meet us, to give us a leg up. You might be forgiven for thinking that sounds like god, but its more like plants growing towards the rays of the Sun.  The Moon and the reflection of that Moon in a puddle of water are, ultimately speaking, seen as the same.


So 'spiritual' in a Buddhist context, would be any subtle or profound experience that enriches our sense of the Enlightened state. Things that give a heartfelt sense for our final destination as practitioners, reinforce our confidence, trust or faith in the efficacy of our practice, and in the reality of that goal. The full achievement of Enlightenment for all of humanity in complete alignment with the whole universe.

For a Buddhist the experience of something spiritual in art, would be whatever gave us this visionary or passionate glimpse, an emotional uplift or encourage our Sraddha (faith.) in the goal
of Enlightenment. The basic qualities that the word spiritual evokes, are awe and aspiration to achieve that harmonious state of concord. In this Buddhist and Theistic use of the term spiritual bear a passing similarity, both desire to go beyond human and earthly limitations. It would however be a bit glib and superficial to say that we are therefore talking about the same thing. There are concepts and perceptions of how that ultimate goal is achieved, that differ greatly. They are not the same, so don't cobble them into a matching pair of bookends. 

The Prajna Paramita Mantra, expresses this ultimate Buddhist spiritual aspiration through a series of 'going beyonds' till we are Enlightened to reality as it really is.

Gone, Gone, Gone Beyond, Gone Altogether Beyond, Oh What An Awakening, All Hail! 

The spiritual in art provides a sensation in the present moment of what this 'going beyond' might be like. Yet for the artist, the art itself, and the viewer of the art, this spiritually awakening experience will be different. Generally art refines our sensibilities, it prepares us for ever subtler levels of awareness. The spiritual experience of a piece of  art, could either be one instance of momentary transformation, or a gradually developed aesthetic instinct that slowly re-orientates our whole being. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

ARTICLE ~ Spiritual Art & Practice ~ Introduction

Van Gogh
In recent months I've been reading books about artists and their art. Initially I thought this was simply reconnecting with the work of favourite artists in a quasi-nostalgic regression to the enthusiasms of youth. The longer this has gone on the less true this has seemed. Yes, I have been rekindling enthusiasms, but at the same time I've been developing a clearer sense for what their artistic process was like and how that might correlate with mine. Some of these artists are Van Gogh, Mondrian, Van Doesburg, Kurt Schwitters, Paul Klee, Bridget Riley, Frank Stella and Sol Lewitt. They have all either influenced my working methods, style or my sense of aesthetic. As both a Buddhist and an artist, I'm interested in how art and the process of making it could be a spiritual practice and what it is that makes art 'spiritual' anyway.

Quite apart from any practical consequences upon my art and artistic process, their work possesses a joyful life affirming quality for me. This feels like a spiritual affinity. For some of these artists, their artwork was a search for the essential fundamentals of Art, a manifestation of the universal, that had a  psychological or spiritual search for unity underpinning to it. They became more abstract and less representational the deeper this search for the spiritual in the universal went. This made their art grow progressively more weird, out of touch and hence other worldly. Its as if they've come down to us from an alien, if not alienating, realm ~ and hence increasingly difficult for ordinary folk outside of it to easily relate to anymore. Modern Art Aesthetics and Buddhist Metaphysics are both similar in this respect, in that the worlds they describe aren't that easy for the casual observer to comprehend or appreciate.

Essentially, most people have a simple uncomplicated desire to bring beauty into their world and hence appreciate when they see this in Art. Lets be honest, much of the world we are surrounded by is ugly. There is much about human life, and indeed some art, that is undoubtedly vulgar, grubby and wretched. Artists can show us these unpalatable, cruel and soiled aspects of life, and I wouldn't for one moment wish to censor or denigrate that. It is an important function for art to reflect all aspects of the world to us. The world is a place of suffering, one we frequently want to avert our gaze away from. Artists needs to be able to show us what the world is really like at its worst, as well as its best. These days the bias is towards the worst, and can be all we are presented with. We are encouraged to cultivate skepticism, cynicism, apathy, to view the world nihilistically. Because there is no hope, no beauty, no possibility of transcendence proffered, there is nowhere for our 'soul' to soar too. Something to inspire or aspire to in an elevating positive way is rare. Any artist who makes beautiful art can be seen as naive, fatally romantic and their work as a flawed escapism from the real brutality of life. A positive outlook or refined sense of aesthetic is out of fashion and not a position that an artist with any contemporary relevance should hold for long.  It is, however, also true that the singular pursuit of beauty as an end in itself, will, at least in part, be founded upon the pursuit of an idealised vision of a pain free, perfectible heaven on earth ~ basically an eternalistic world view.

Le Witt

What we are being presented with here is a false opposition between a nihilistic and eternalistic art aesthetic. Each one pointing out the perceptual flaws in the others worldview. In  truth, each has its own spiritual value, but each can also be misleading because of their partiality, and hence the incompleteness of their worldly perspective. If we form a more spiritual perspective on art, we don't have to buy into this dichotomy. There are aspects that can be of spiritual value wthin nihilistic and eternalistic art perspectives, though one has to be wary of them, and of our own bias towards one or the other. Ask ourselves ~ What does this artwork tell me about life and the world I live in? ~ What might it help me better understand? ~ Is it blind or insightful in any way? ~ Does it move me or encourage an enquiring or empathic response? ~ Does it point towards anything that is above or beyond existence? ~ Does it feed mine or other peoples greed, hatred or delusion?

Sunday, November 17, 2013

DIARY 119 ~ Following the Thread of Creativity

I have come somewhat late in life to the flabbergasting conclusion that I am an artist and always have been. Denying this, has no doubt been one cause of the recurring demon of meaninglessness that has dogged my adulthood. My struggles to understand the latter ultimately did lead me to Buddhism. I'd like to be able to say that Buddhism completely resolved the whole issue. It has certainly explained, contextualised, stabilised and proved beneficial to me on many levels. Yet,there's always been this nagging feeling that, good though this was, there was another thing I needed to be doing.

On the ultimate level of the Unconditioned this desire for self-expression has to be seen through and gone beyond, yet on the relative level of the Conditioned, one can't go beyond anything before it has first been gone through.  So there are no short cuts to the transcendental, without first fully understanding the nature of mundane reality as it actually is. For a while my practice of the Buddha's Dharma did become a part of the problem, because it created a 'legitimating smokescreen' behind which to suppress these 'Self-ish' artistic impulses. Providing this had the necessary 'spiritual gloss' over it, no one, least of all myself, was going to challenge it.

Art and spiritual practice do bear some similarities, in that they are both creative endeavours with a sense for making manifest something beyond one's immediate experience. However, I've come to understand that its quite misleading to believe that the stream of artistic creativity can simply be redirected to flow into the dharmic river. The best one could hope for is to be able to put ones creative talents at the service of the Dharma in some way, to see the selfless giving of it as a form of Kalyana Mitrata ( spiritual friendship ).

I've been fortunate to work for Windhorse, a Buddhist company, where I've been able to do that to a degree that even I would not have envisaged five years ago. Yet this alone has proved not to be sufficient. The desire for creative self-expression kept abruptly poking its head through this selfless practice, and dragging those old depressive demons out with it. A lot of uncertainty and doubt then unrolls like a carpet and lays itself out to bask in the burning heat of unhelpful attention.

Something has been a bit awry or unfocused, within my spiritual practice for quite a while. Sources of inspiration in the course of time inevitably dry up or lose their touchstone quality, meditation practice can become a bit stale or starts to dwindle from time to time, this is what can happen in the spiritual life. In my experience ,a cloak of meaninglessness rests itself like a deadening blanket over everything I'm doing. This sense of everything being robbed of meaning and purpose, indicates something is lacking or being overlooked in my spiritual life. There's usually a need to review,reformulate and re-vision what I'm trying to do within it.

Its as though what I've previously been doing has gone terminally out of fashion. Suddenly I'm the only one still wearing flared jeans in a room where everyone else is dressed in drainpipes. Sometimes this volte-face happens imperceptibly and gradually, at other times it is sudden and rudely abrupt. Things change either with or without my knowing, depending on my general level of awareness. This realisation of the need to adapt to them, or how I should adapt to them, seems always to lag behind. Spiritual practice has always been for me a bit like unraveling knitting. I keep pulling on this woolen thread until it either comes to an end, it breaks, reaches a knot or becomes so irrevocably tangled up I can no longer find my way forward. This appears to be where I'm at the moment, scrabbling about in the twilight feeling for a new thread to pick up and follow.

Friday, November 08, 2013

FEATURE 118 ~ Cafe De Unie ~ J.J.P.Oud

The Drawing ~ In 1925

The Building ~ Today

QUOTATION MARKS 44 ~ Theo Van Doesburg

' Life is in continual motion. We perceive life externally and internally. art expresses our perception of life, not only the external perception but above all the internal. The more this perception fixes itself on the external the more superficial art is, the more this perception directs itself to the internal, the deeper, more spiritual and more abstract art will be.

Because the subject of art is eternally changing life, its means of expression is necessarily constantly changing. This continual change is the movement or evolution of art. Art is continually in movement because life commands it to be so and whenever it happens to us, such as now, that we do not understand the art of this time, it is not because art stands still, but because we do not move together with art. We stood still and art went past us. '


Thursday, November 07, 2013

QUOTATION MARKS 43 ~ John Ruskin

"Hundreds of people can talk,
for one who can think.

But thousands of people can think,
for one who can see"


Friday, November 01, 2013

ARTICLE ~ Mondrian & Theosophy

I finished reading an art book this week ~ Mondrian by  John Milner. Well researched and illustrated with plenty of colour plates ( I mean, what is the point of B&W photos of paintings?) it gave a glimpse into aspects of his approach to painting that aren't always given much emphasis ~ the spiritual philosophy behind them. Mondrian is probably the clearest example in modernism to demonstrate how a artist progresses from a representational to an abstract painter. There is a consistent integrity of intention behind Mondrian's artwork, that's fascinating to see unfold.

In the late 19th Century Mondrian was a little known, but distinctive, Dutch landscape painter. With a strongly developed penchant for flattened perspectives and considered picture planes. Apart from these personal aesthetic explorations, Mondrian's experiments with Symbolism, Pointillism and Cubism were also fed by a distinct philosophical intention. Mondrian's thinking fell under the influence of Theosophy, a movement based on the works of Madame Blavatsky and Annie Besant, and even joined the Theosophical Society in 1909.

Theosophy was influential in late nineteenth century artistic and literary circles, seeking to define the universal myths, themes and virtues common to all religions.  In the aftermath of Nietsche saying 'God was Dead' there was an urge to salvage something from the wreckage,still of spiritual value to humanity. This desire to find the universality within all religions meant it often ignored significant differences, or whatever contradicted this viewpoint, and frequently made quite generalised or unsubstantiated assertions. It also catagorised their own distinct understanding of archetypal symbolism, which predates Jung's definitions by quite a few decades.

 Colours such as Red were associated with Earth, Blue with Spirituality, Yellow with the Intellect. Oval shapes were said to represent the 'cosmic egg' out of which all things were to be born. Square shapes symbolised immortality, perhaps linked with Pythagoras's idea that they stood for the soul. Downward triangle shapes indicate an unenlightened state, and upward pointing triangles an enlightened state. Knowing this information you begin to see how these ideas influenced the future direction of Mondrian's work

Artistically it was in vogue and had ardent followers. The Theosophical impulse to reveal these universal elements in Art, became an overarching principle in Mondrian's painting. In order to uncover these hidden qualities Mondrian stripped his art down to the barest essentials. For him revealing the universal meant an art that was less expressive of self. He began by trying to isolate fundamental structures directly observed from nature, such as trees or the ocean. When he moved to Paris, he applied the same process to the city-scape. The grids and rectangles that define Mondrian's artistic aesthetic, have their routes in this search for universal rhythm and counterpoint.

 Whilst he eventually abandoned the Theosophical aesthetic as too limiting, it nonetheless left its distinct marks upon his future Neo-plasticism philosophy, and his work.  The centrality of square forms, the positioning of colour planes, the rhythm repetition and direction of lines, open ended overlapping, or rooted, gave each painting a distinct emotional liveliness and tone.  He moved over the decades from a style of painting that was directly imitative of nature, to one that was only suggestive of nature, to an art that was none of these things, but had an expressive lifeaffirming purity of energy that was all its own. He wrote:~

" The abstract, like the mathematical ~ is actually expressed in and through all things....The truly modern artist consciously perceives the abstraction of the emotion of beauty: he consciously recognises aesthetic emotion as cosmic, universal. This conscious recognition results in an abstract plastic ~ limits him to the purely universal."

Friday, October 25, 2013

DIARY 119 ~ What is practice and am I still doing it?

Once I launched myself on 'the spiritual life' I thought it would be clear exactly what I needed to do. This hasn't always proved itself to be true, because I've often found it hard to discern what I'm consciously practicing. What we commonly refer to as 'practice' is a rather loose, if not elastic, term, that can easily accommodate everything. The terms 'the spiritual life', 'practice' or 'the path' are rather carelessly used as a ready made shorthand. The assumption is that everyone knows what you mean by them.  Actually they're rather vague cover all terms. This lack of precision over what is or is not practice, is because the subjective content of practice cannot be really prescribed in detail.

The Buddha's discourses present us with methods, practices that can be used like medical prescriptions. If you keep taking these pills, things will eventually get better. He talks largely about the objective practices to do ~ meditation, ethics and wisdom ~ and the ultimate objective ~ Enlightenment.  He rarely talks or refers to his own or other peoples subjective experiences.  But what he does say, is that you don't have to take his word for it, that if in the light of your experience something doesn't work for you, then don't continue doing it. Objective practices have always to subjectively prove themselves. We are to consider as being practices, whatever is conducive to increased wisdom and compassion.

So what we talk about as practice usually has these two aspects ~ the subjective and the objective. These are the active content of 'the spiritual life', 'practice' or 'the path. These are the means for self-transformation, and ultimately self transcendence.  Whatever aspect of practice we are focusing on needs to be informed by an overarching vision of what its all in aid of ~ an ultimate objective.  Yet however we visualise this state of Enlightenment, what it is likely to be like, will be very subjective and personal, and from an ultimate perspective always a misconceived state.

Day to day, what form my practice decides to take arises from the raw subjective content, and that content is me, and the people and circumstances that I find myself with.  It's often convenient in Buddhist practice, to use those traditional objective forms of practice such as meditations and devotional rituals as the sole means of describing it. Necessary as these tools of 'the spiritual life' are, the real spade work is working with what is dug up by them, what arises out of the increased amplification of awareness. This deep soil, once unearthed requires analysis, reflection and refining. The diligent application of will often required for this, can become the real cutting edge of practice. Whatever comes up is all grist to the mill; the stones need removing, the soil needs tilling, riddling, aerating and mulching for new seeds to be sown, for the vision to flourish. I'll resist taking this gardening metaphor further, lest metaphysical speculations about the nature and relationship of the gardener to their garden mean I disappear completely up the backside of my flimsy metaphor.  But you perhaps get the picture.

Over my time of  being involved in Buddhism, my conceptions of practice, and what I'm actively doing in 'the spiritual life' have shifted and adapted. From being a hard line,rather harsh and unforgivingly disciplined daily meditator. I've become someone who finds meditating on a regular basis not only physically difficult, but psychologically obstacle ridden with resistances. This is largely a consequence of my past subjective mode of practicing those objective practices. I've had numerous, and frequently short lived attempts at re-engaging with meditation. Regrettably I've come to the conclusion that the volitional fire has gone out or its only on a pilot light. I keep hoping it will reignite itself, but as yet its no show. I'm beginning to believe that though this has its circumstantial conditioning factors, the actual problem may be that I am obstructing or enfeebling my own vision in some way. It may be that I'm looking for it in an out dated way, or perhaps seeking for it in the wrong direction. I've yet to get my head clear about where being an artist and my artwork fit into this Buddhist's vision

On a day to day basis, if I view my practice only from the perspective of traditional meditation practices, then I'm not practicing. Without a meditative compass it can be difficult to be precise about what exactly I am doing that is a daily practice. Though I can say that my practice is everyday life, how would I know if that was so? What the nature of my practice is, therefore turns into an ongoing internal debate. That I keep asking this question could either be seen as confirmation that its alive and kicking or that its dead but the bodies not yet been found so an autopsy hasn't been done to establish the date,time and mode of death.

Practice always has.its conscious and unconscious elements, the developing and the inculcated.  For myself practice has been led by the desire ' to know my own walking' to quote Dogen. which has its self- knowledge and self-transcendence aspects. In this, integrity has been an important principle, my self guiding compass. Still, I can easily get caught in feelings of falling short in my practice. This is a tricky one to call, because darker negative facets of my self view could be obscuring my objectivity. I can also tend towards the simplistic and doctrinaire. Viewed from the perspective of becoming Enlightened, whatever level of practice I'm doing is inadequate. Practice will always seem that way if assessed solely from an elevated viewpoint. What seems more important to me now, is that whatever I am doing contributes to making me a kinder and wiser person, about myself, about others and about worldly reality. Perhaps this can be my only real guide.


Thursday, October 24, 2013


In essence this just says it all for me.

" I construct lines and colour combinations on a flat surface
 in order to express general beauty 
with the utmost awareness."


Sunday, October 20, 2013

FEATURE 117 ~ Frank Stella

A bit of an old rave from the grave, but early Frank Stella had a huge influence on me while at Art College.  I'm just rediscovering the delights of his early work. The later work appeared to me to be a rather contrived volte face, if not reaction to the power and success of his love of squares and colour contrasts indicating depth. They positively fizz off the canvas, such is his evident delight in exploring all the possibilities. I get the same life affirming feeling from Bridget Riley's colour work too.

Sunday, October 13, 2013


Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach. Irrational thoughts should be followed absolutely and logically'

'The total of all past work exerts its influence on the new work. The new work combines the reality of the old and destroys the idea in which it was conceived. It cannot be understood except in the context of the other work'

'For each work of art that becomes physical there are many variations that do not'

There are many side effects that the artist cannot imagine. These may be used as ideas for new works'

'The artist would select the basic form and rules that would govern the solution of the problem. After that the fewer decisions made in the course of completing the work the better. This eliminates the arbitrary, the capricious, and the subjective as much as possible'

'Once the idea of the piece is established in the artist's mind and the final form is decided, the process is carried out blindly'

'In terms of idea the artist is free even to surprise himself. Ideas are discovered by intuition'

'The idea becomes the machine that makes the art'


Find out more on - www.artsy.net/artist/sol-lewitt

DIARY 118 ~ New Work & an Old Work Causes Offence

Now the exhibition is up and running (already half way through its run)  I've sold one piece from the exhibition and got one commission. As I approached this thinking I'd not sell much from this space these are a welcome bonus. The show looks very good in the Cambridge Buddhist Centre's albeit limited hanging space. I'm getting lots of appreciation which is gratifying to hear. So on the level of raising my artistic profile, in the Sangha at least, it has done its job.

I can now begin focusing on developing new ideas, of which I have more than there is currently time available to start. Last weekend I began work on a new piece in gouache which is going well, so far. I've also begun doing some exploratory drawings for my commission, which I think may be enough of a basis to start work on soon. The commission is to make something for someone's shrine, and as they are into Pranjaparamita, I'm using phrases or words from the Heart Sutra as the basis for creating tonal areas and patterns. So far only in fine black, but I got some coloured fine-liners yesterday so I can mess around with those. I'm imagining text/tone sandwiched in-between layers of gouache.Quite excited by what's coming out of it so far.

My weekly work schedule at Windhorse is in the process of changing. Still doing one day in the Kitchen, but with the addition of 21/2 days in Reception from next week. The final element, which is some data entry for the new Retail Website is being held up at the moment, but may kick off the middle of this coming week

In the meantime I've been putting in some time on the Windhorse Archive and Scrapbook Blog, and finally finishing the Warehouse Mandala, by stenciling a flower made up of Flames at each of eleven door exit/entrance. The stencil didn't turn out quite as bold as I would have liked, but it is good enough. It also means I can tick another completed project off my list. Ironically some elements of the first part, the Lotus Border installed in 2010 have worn away, which I alternate between liking the idea of, and wanting to restore. But the latter would be to fly in the face of its inevitable impermanence, and turn me into a neurotic artistic conservator. So I'm leaving well alone.

There was one unexpected consequence to my exhibition going up. Two days after the Private View, someone came to see me to ask me to remove a painting that they found offensive. It's actualy my oldest completed work, dating back to 1993. Its a piece called Static-Stasis-Statice. Its made up of photocopied newspaper cuttings, and is ostensibly about our desire to capture on camera the essence of a life or a lived experience, but how photography can never do this. In fact nothing ever can. The central photograph only shows a row of people. I chose it because it captures the moment before they are to be executed. Its of a notorious act of ethnic cleansing by the Nazi's during the war. Understandably the circumstances are obviously both emotionally and morally loaded. The photo was taken one assumes by one of the perpetrators of the massacre. The Statice in the title were respectfully placed over these photos as a sort of momento mori. For even these so called 'everlasting flowers' have decayed over the years.

Personally, I don't believe we should sanitise our exposure to reality. Nor that a judgement should be made solely on the basis that someone may or may not be offended. Offence, from a Buddhist perspective is a form of aversion, of not wanting to be presented with some unpalatable aspect of reality. Artists can deliberately set out to offend, and in many cases with no outcome other than offence as justification.I can only take responsibility for what my intention was in making the artwork. Someone's reaction of offence is largely their responsibility. Whether I set out to cause offence, or unwittingly cause offence is mine. There being differing consequences based on the degree of skilfullness or unskillness I used in the making of that piece. I didn't feel my motives were particularly unethical, nor that one persons offence alone warranted the removal of the piece. In the end I left it up to the Buddhist Centre to decide. Their concerns were no doubt more focused on the potential for offence and how this might impact on the reputation of the Buddhist Centre, so they asked me to remove it.


Though I was irritated for a day or two, this was simply my pride and ego feeling wounded by the un-justness of it. But in the end I decided to put this to bed, by remembering to hold a Dharmic perspective. In essence, by not allowing myself to be further blown about by the Worldly Winds of ~ Praise/Blame ~Pleasure/Pain ~ Gain/Loss ~ Fame/Infamy. From which point of view, whether this picture hung in an exhibition or not, or whether someone was offended or not by it, are actually not very important at all.