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#1520 - Monday, August 11, 2003 - Editor: Jerry
Fragility at its most beautiful
Treasures from Japan reveal exquisite reflections on the nature of change, writes Steve Meacham.
Summer is the Australian season, the one which defines us as a nation.
Not so the Japanese. For them, summer is an also-ran. For at least 11 centuries, their poets, philosophers and artists have debated whether spring or autumn is the more exquisite, the most poignant time of year.
Their sensibilities come to the fore most famously at cherry blossom time, those few short weeks when the entire country seems infatuated by the rush to see trees bud and bloom. Every TV news broadcast carries a weather map showing how the "cherry blossom front" is progressing northwards through the Japanese archipelago.
Their national obsession baffles most Westerners. But a new exhibition - Seasons: the Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art - should shed fresh light.
remarkable coup, the Art Gallery of NSW is hosting 94 carefully
selected paintings, ceramics, lacquerwork and textiles - many of
them listed as national Japanese treasures. Together the works
explore something which lies at the core of the Japanese psyche,
a profound love and appreciation of nature as seen through their
sensitivity to ever-changing seasons.
As Australians, we have our summer and winter clothes. But for centuries the Japanese have taken it further. With the approach of each new season, they changed the paintings, hanging scrolls and ceramics in their homes. Their screens, tea utensils, even kimonos, were often decorated with seasonal motifs.
Take that cherry blossom. What a Westerner sees is a spectacle of colour. What a Japanese person sees - according to Jackie Menzies, the gallery's head curator of Asian art - is "the beauty of transience". The appeal lies as much in the fragility of the blooms as their exquisiteness. In less than a fortnight, the cherry blossoms go from bud, to bloom, to fall. At the very moment that they are at their most vivacious, they are days away from death.
"This exhibition is about more than beautiful works of art," says Menzies. "It's about sensitivity to nature. So much of Japanese classical art is about change in the seasons. Even their vocabulary for seasonal change is much bigger than the English vocabulary. We can learn from the cherry blossom cult. We're so used to permanence that we despair about change, whereas there is great beauty in constant change."
It took us many years, she says, but we eventually got the message about "less being more", something the Japanese had discovered centuries earlier.
To illustrate her point, she quotes a story about a shogun who was told about a beautiful field of irises surrounding a teahouse. The shogun announced he would visit the teahouse, but when he arrived the teahouse owner had mown all the irises. Courtiers feared for the life of the teahouse owner. But when the shogun entered the teahouse, he discovered the man had selected his finest iris and placed it in a vase. "And of course, you can see more beauty in that one flower than you are able to appreciate in an entire field," says Menzies. (Fortunately, the shogun saw it that way, too.)
Likewise, she says, in Western art and literature, we generally praise the full moon whereas the Japanese tend to be moved by "the waxing moon, the waning moon, or the moon part hidden by cloud". But the moon in Japanese art also usually signifies the autumn, because autumn in Japan is the driest season, when the atmosphere is at its clearest and the moon is at its most dramatic. "After being in Japan you start to appreciate aspects of our own nature," Menzies says.
Certainly, people who view the exhibition will get used to change. The fragility of the works - particularly the sensitivity of the paintings, silk screens and porcelains to light - means they will be changed halfway through. Until September 21, the displays will focus on spring and summer. From September 26 to October 26, it will be the turn of autumn and winter. A single ticket covers both halves.
Even the simplest scene can be layered with meanings. Chaiki Ajioka, the gallery's curator of Japanese Art, cites one of the later works, a pair of six-fold silk screens called The beggar monk, painted by Shimomura Kanzan in 1915. To the uninitiated it may seem a picturesque but complicated scene, with the right-hand screen showing an impoverished Buddhist gazing at a beautiful sunset (shown on the left hand screen). But Ajioka says a classically educated Japanese would instantly recognise it as a scene from a celebrated noh play, first performed in the 14th and 15th century by actors in masks for the samurai class.
The worshipper is blind and believes, in his state of enlightenment, that the plum blossom petals falling on his hands are a blessing from Buddha. "The delight and happiness on his face makes a strong contrast to his miserable worn clothes," says Ajioka.
Another painting, by Mori Sosen, who spanned the 18th and 19th centuries, features five monkeys playing on a cherry tree. Any Japanese person will immediately grasp the exquisite dilemma, says Ajioka. The ephemeral blossoms are under threat from both the rain and the monkeys. But the monkeys are innocently enjoying themselves, oblivious to the irreparable damage they are causing.
Even kimonos are to be interpreted, often with seasonal themes. Ajioka points to an example from the 18th century which will be displayed in the autumn/winter exhibition. Its long-sleeved design denotes it was to be worn by a young unmarried woman. The bottom half of the kimono tells the story of a 13th-century shogun who disguised himself as a monk to wander undetected across his domain.
Lost in a blizzard he sought refuge in the rude cottage of a poor samurai (indicated on the kimono by his armour outside his hut). The poor man, who did not recognise his visitor, was too poor to afford any fuel. The only thing he possessed were three prize bonsai trees (shown on the kimono by three pots). But rather than let his visitor go cold, he threw them in the hearth and made a fire. Later he was summoned to the shogun's court where he was publicly thanked for his hospitality and his humanity.
Menzies points out that since the kimonos are meant to be read, they suit the flat-chested, thin shape that was typical of young Japanese women. With Japanese women now fuller busted and rounder hipped, the kimonos are more difficult to read. Apparently some traditional Japanese males regret such change.
Seasons: the Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art
·From spring to summer - Saturday until September 21; From autumn to winter - September 26 until October 26. Art Gallery of NSW, The Domain. 10am-5pm daily. Admission $10, $7.
·Various lectures, talks and associated events are planned, including events for school holidays. Inquiries: 92251744, 1800679278, http://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au
Contributed to NDS News by Mary Bianco
klezmer, beer, the fishtank and I AM
Tonight I'm having a party. I have been working and biking and an old gentleman offered me a cigarette sans filter. We discussed the weather and the marvel of good bikes. All the time there was I AM shining and smiling. I just cleaned the fishtank and listened to some old klezmer tunes. Hope I will get that Bonsai for my birthday. I'll have a beer and play some Nick Drake. August 13th I will be 31. Today I heard the sad news of a nine year old girl, tumour, now dead. All the time there is I AM shining and smiling.
I am good for nothing. That's okay.
Rose for the girl
San Francisco School Will Offer Degree in Activism http://www.chronwatch.com/editorial/contentDisplay.asp?aid=3831
San Francisco -- San Francisco's New College of California is
something for the socially conscious this fall that they'd never get
marching in the streets: a college degree in activism.
For $5,500 to $6,000 a semester, the 32-year-old Mission
school is offering bachelor's and master's humanities degrees with a
concentration in ''activism and social change.'' While schools from
Vermont to Santa Cruz boast versions of do-gooding curricula, degrees
in activism are hard to come by.
''Students can shape their own (activist) program at other
said Michael Baer, senior vice president at the American Council on
Education and former provost at Northeastern University. ''But to have
it all together--the theoretical and the practical--under one roof and
labeled as such is somewhat rare.'' ...
''We want people to learn how they can be activist and not
who is angry and against the system,'' said Peter Gabel, president
emeritus of New College, who plans to teach in the activist program. He
is now director of the Institute for Spirituality and Politics. ... '
'We're not training rabble-rousers,'' said Michael McAvoy, a
activist and New College's academic vice president. ''What we want to
do is give people the skills to build sustained social change
There are three things people never get formal training in,
said: how to raise children, how to handle money and ''how to change
New book by Eckart Tolle http://www.globeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20030813.wauth0813/BNStory/Entertainment/
Eckhart Tolle, a spiritual teacher whose fans include Oprah Winfrey and Meg Ryan, has agreed to a one-book deal with Penguin Group USA.
Tolle, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, is author of the best seller The Power of Now.
"Two editors within Penguin independently gave me The Power of Now as a gift," Penguin President Susan Kennedy said in a statement Tuesday.
"When two people give you the same book, something is afoot. I read it, admired it, and, in turn, I have given it to many others."
Financial terms weren't disclosed.
A native of Germany, the 55-year-old Tolle became widely known in 2000 after Ryan recommended The Power of Now to Winfrey, who gave the book a plug in her magazine, O, and praised it again in 2002.
More than 700,000 copies have been sold.
The Power of Now first came out in 1997, from the Canadian-based Namaste Publishing, a company established by Tolle's friend Connie Kellough just to release his book.
"His work is inclusive," Kellough, who represented Tolle in his negotiations with Penguin, told The Associated Press Tuesday.
"He does not affiliate himself with any religion or any tradition. He embraces it all."
Kellough says Tolle's new book, not yet titled, should come out next year.
Krishnamurti/Krishnamurti's Notebook 4th October
4th The train [to Florence] was going very fast, over ninety miles an hour; the towns on the hills were familiar and the lake [Trasimenus] seemed a friend. It was a familiar country, the olive and the cypress and the road that followed the railway. It was raining and the earth was glad of it, for months had passed without rain and now there were new shoots of green and the rivers were running brown, fast and full. The train was following the valleys, shouting at the crossroads, and the workmen labouring along the metalled way stopped and waved as the train slowed down. It was a pleasant cool morning and autumn was turning many leaves brown and yellow; they were ploughing deep for the winter sowing and the hills seemed so friendly, never too high, gentle and old. The train was again running very fast and the drivers of this electric train welcomed us and asked us to come into their cab for we had met several times in several years; before the train started they said we must come and see them; they were as friendly as the rivers and the hills. From their window the country was open and the hills with their towns and the river that we were following seemed to be waiting for the familiar roar of their train. The sun was touching a few of the hills and there was a smile upon the face of the land. As we raced north, the sky was becoming clear and the cypress and the olive against the blue sky were delicate in their splendour. The earth, as ever, was beautiful.
It was deep in the night when meditation was filling the
spaces of the brain and beyond. Meditation is not a conflict, a
war between what is and what should be; there was no control and
so no distraction. There was no contradiction between the thinker
and the thought for neither existed. There was only seeing
without the observer; this seeing came out of emptiness and that
emptiness had no cause. All causation breeds inaction, which is
How strange love is and how respectable it has become, the love of God, the love of the neighbour, the love of the family. How neatly it has been divided, the profane and the sacred; duty and responsibility; obedience and the willingness to die and to deal out death.
The priests talk of it and so do the generals, planning wars; the politicians and the housewife everlastingly complain about it. Jealousy and envy nourish love, and relationship is held in its prison. They have it on the screen and in the magazine and every radio and television blares it out. When death takes away love there is the photo in the frame or the image which memory keeps on revising or it is tightly held in belief. Generation after generation is bred upon this and sorrow goes on without an end.
Continuity of love is pleasure and with it comes always pain but we try to avoid the one and cling to the other. This continuity is the stability and security in relationship, and in relationship there must be no change for relationship is habit and in habit there is security and sorrow. To this unending machinery of pleasure and pain we cling and this thing is called love. To escape from its weariness, there is religion and romanticism. The word changes and becomes modified with each one but romanticism offers a marvellous escape from the fact of pleasure and sorrow. And, of course, the ultimate refuge and hope is God who has become so very respectable and profitable.
But all this isn't love. Love has no continuity; it cannot be carried over to tomorrow; it has no future. What has is memory, and memories are ashes of everything dead and buried. Love has no tomorrow; it cannot be caught in time and made respectable. It is there when time is not. It has no promise, no hope; hope breeds despair. It belongs to no god and so to no thought and feeling. It is not conjured up by the brain. It lives and dies each minute. Is a terrible thing, for love is destruction. It is destruction without tomorrow. Love is destruction.
A man and his wife are having an argument about who should
brew the coffee each morning.
The wife says, "You should do it, because you get up first, and then we don't have to wait as long to get our coffee".
The husband says, " You are in charge of the cooking around here and you should do it, because that is your job, and I can just wait for my coffee."
Wife replies, "No you should do it, and besides it is in the Bible that the man should do the coffee."
Husband replies, " I can't believe that, show me."
So she fetches the Bible, and opens the New Testament and shows him at the top of several pages, that it indeed says ...
Photo by Calla Visage
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