Sunday, April 17, 2016

Let Go, Reach Out

by Susan Weinberg

“Abstraction allows man to see with his mind what he cannot see physically with his eyes....Abstract art enables the artist to perceive beyond the tangible, to extract the infinite out of the finite. It is the emancipation of the mind. It is an exploration into unknown areas.” -Ashile Gorky

Robyn began our local retreat with this quote by Gorky. We closed our eyes while she read it, absorbing its meaning. We were asked to consider a word that might represent our efforts that day. Two phrases lodged in my mind, sequential in nature, first-let go, then reach out.

Letting go is implicit in abstraction. Representational work requires us to fit the pieces together. There is a "right" way no matter how stylistic it may be, knee bones connect to thigh bones. Abstraction has no such "right" answer, rather it requires us to "let go" and feel the essence.

There are different forms of abstraction employed in different mediums and Meryll opted for poetry as a form that doesn't fill in all the blanks. As she described it, poetry can make a word burst its boundaries. Jewish classical text on wisdom offers a how to manual. Proverbs instructs us on how to behave. Poets come at it a bit differently and Meryll chose to explore abstraction through a poem by Yehuda Amichai titled Jerusalem 1967. (See handouts). We each read a section of this lengthy and rich poem that seemed quite prescient, anticipating the divides we experience today in Israel. The poem takes place on Yom Kippur in 1967, the first Yom Kippur after the war, in the year of Forgetting 5728.  The letters which stand for this year actually mean the word forgetting, but on this first Yom Kippur he is remembering and mourning.

Once his name was Ludvig Pfeuffer.  In Israel he took his Hebrew name Yehuda and added the last name Amichai which means "my people lives".  In the poem he references the Yehudean desert, perhaps a reference to his own interior.

Amichai fought in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 and his experience during war colors his perspective and his poetry.

"What wisdom do we see in this poem?" Meryll asked.  A recognition of a duality, multi-layered, an understanding of interrelationships.  It was observed that he is the artist on the bridge.  Others proposed that as an artist we separate ourself from the rest, we view it as an outsider.

We were meeting in the studio of  Sandra Felomovicius and we shifted to learn more about her work.  Born and raised in Mexico City, both of her grandparents came from Russia and Poland.  Ellis Island was closed in the 1920s when they arrived so they ended up going to Veracruz and gradually moved to the larger cities.  While there was a Sephardic community, Eastern European Jews went to Guadalahara, Monterrey and Mexico City.  Her grandmother came from Alabama and New York, married and stayed in Mexico.  Sandra was the second generation born in Mexico.  She also did a stint in Florence, Italy, but moved to Minnesota when she married and attended MCAD.

Sandra introduced us to  Bamidbar (Numbers 1:1-5:2) . Bamidbar means "in the desert"and 
we are told that to find wisdom we must embrace the desert by bringing an open mind and  letting go of preconceived ideas and beliefs.

Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt says, "Wisdom is all around us – in animals, in nature, in the world and most especially in every single human being. Wisdom is bombarding us at every moment. But we need open minds and open hearts in order to appreciate it, to value it and to take it in. If not, we merely shape what we hear to feed our existing misconceptions rather than develop new understandings.

The key is to make ourselves into deserts – open to the world, allowing the outside to flow into us uninhibitedly.

When our minds and hearts are deserts – freed from personal agenda – then, and only then, will wisdom fill them up."

With that introduction, Sandra led us in an exercise of abstraction.  We each stood before a piece of paper and for a count of five were asked to record a circle, square and triangle without lifting our pen.  We did this several times then moved to our neighbor's paper.  Next we returned to our original page and developed it as we wished.  Many of us discovered crayon resist by combining watercolor and crayon and the results were surprisingly interesting.

At this juncture we broke for a wonderful repast to which each of us had contributed.

Later Rabbi Davis joined us and for his contribution to abstraction offered the niggun, a wordless melody.  He told us a story of a chassid who failed to understand what the Rebbe was teaching until he joined in a niggun.  "What and how does he suddenly understand?" asked the rabbi.  The niggun gave him the space to find the meaning, room to digest. It was suggested that an idea is present before words and focusing too much on the words banishes the idea.  We need to let go before we can find what we seek.

The rabbi quoted from Michael Fishbane in Sacred Attunement who speaks of music as a training in attentive hearing, a cultivation of the spirit.

For our final portion of the day Lynda and Jay revisited our mind maps on wisdom that we had created at the very beginning of our sessions.  Our task was to update it based on what we had learned about wisdom.  Keeping with my theme of letting go, I felt a resistance to mind mapping,  too much of my typical intellectual exercise. Instead of thinking of how words connect, I approached it as less of a thought exercise and more visually.  I looped all of my prior words together like a circulatory system, flowing in and flowing out.  We take in wisdom and we send it out, I added circles to allow for space, to let ideas emerge, to find quiet for wisdom to take root.  Inter-connectivity, space, interrelationship.  That's what I've learned.  Let go, reach out.

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