Sunday, December 23, 2012


Today was a pretty perfect day.  Church, lunch, nap and then our annual family Christmas trip to Pappadeauxs.  (Thanks to CLBC for starting that tradition so many years ago with the Christmas gift card!)  Before we went to dinner, though, we stopped at the Blanton museum to see the current exhibit on Tibetan art, including paintings on silk called thankga (pronounced "tank-ah") like the one below.  

I learned a few things.

One, I learned that it is hard to see Eastern art through western eyes.  Mowgli did a great job explaining things (including telling us at every turn that what we were seeing wasn't really all that impressive compared to what is in the monasteries of Tibet) but it was still difficult to know both what we were seeing and how to see it.   The thangka are so complex and layered that it is hard to know where to rest my eyes.  Because the images are so foreign (to me), it's even harder to know how to understand what I see or to know what it means.

My favorite exchange was when I asked a question about one ancient piece and Mowgli said, "Well, that isn't really a relevant question."  I countered, "But it's what I want to know." He thought a minute and said, "Well, I can try to answer it, but if you want a good answer, you need to ask a better question."  He helped me craft a different question and then gave me a terrific answer that satisfied us both.  I will ponder on that idea for a long time though:  if I want a better answer, I need to ask a better question.

Two, I learned about how deep is the human need to create.  The Tibetans who painted these works of art spent years on them, in part because they used brushes made of just a few cat hairs.  They believed that the use of the cat hairs and the silk brought bad karma and so they accepted that the act of painting these thangka would cost them a hundred years of a  hellish incarnation but they did it anyway, in part because they believed that it would help other people and in part, I assume, because they felt compelled to create something of deep meaning and beauty.

We also saw a mandala, or sand painting, being created by a Tibetan monk.  It may take years to finish one of these mandala but once it is finished, it is enjoyed for a week or two and then rubbed out, destroyed.  It's hard for me with my attachment to self and ego to imagine such a thing--I would grieve deeply if I lost something I had devoted my life to making with my own hands.  These artists, however, value the act of creating and not the thing itself; it seems to me that there's something to be learned from that.

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