Beyond the Thinking Mind. Using Art to feel present and real.
24 January 2022 | Mick Timpson
This week’s live online Monday Modern Meditation session was inspired by a particular painting: ‘Rooms By the Sea’ by Edward Hopper in 1951.
I have wanted to write about this painting for many years. I have used it to teach design perception to students or explain to others what is meant by sense of place. For me, it’s like the canvas equivalent of Edward Thomas’ poem Adlestrop!
Ultimately, for me this is a painting of yoga. In other words: Reality
This reality, found everywhere, is just waiting to be known. As Patanjali said, the world exists for the sake of the Self. So we have to use the world as it is as a set of coordinates to go inwards on a journey to know that reality.
The momentary world depicted in the painting is our map for that journey . Hopper’s original title for this painting was, ‘The Jumping off point’. He knew. But so many critics are determined to read Hopper as threatening, despairing and alienating. Here is a usual interpretation from Corry Reynolds.
“The light in many of Hopper’s paintings appears over determined, as much psychological as natural. In “Rooms by the Sea” (1951), one of his strangest paintings, it is especially urgent and borderline surrealistic… Like the proximity of the water, something is alarming about how the light penetrates the room. You might imagine yourself seeing through the eyes of someone in a state of crisis, caught between the ordinariness of the sitting room to the left and the yawning, implacably inhuman space to the right, from which comes a frightening inrush of glaring, transpersonal energy. If that seems an overly dramatic reading, consider this: Hopper’s record book from the time refers to the painting as ‘Rooms by the Sea. Alias the Jumping Off Place.’ He was advised that the second title had ‘malignant overtones.”
However, Hopper said:
“Great art is the outward expression of an inner life in the artist, and this inner life will result in his personal vision of the world.”
Its clear that Hopper knew what he was after. What he was trying to observe, hold and witness as a painter. Every now and then if we are able to fine-tune our senses, change and direct our perspective in a special way we can see things as they really are…The world around us can form a ‘jumping off’ point into a deeper, foundation of reality. To see and know things as they really are. Not as a surface world of things descriptions, words or objects but a world of continuous process, relationships and connections that we are not separate from but instead a fully formed participant which if we choose to, can consciously collaborate and co create with.
But it’s only possible to know this if you understand how to change your perspective and really look.
The painting asks, what is reality, where is it and what is the best way to know it?
It’s an easy thing to look at the painting objectively. We see on the surface, compositionally, the painting is divided into three from left to right. The central sunlight on the wall is the principal motif and yet it is simple and unmarked other than the sunlight. There is a representation of perspective and space. This too is divided into three with the room the viewer is in, the room beyond and then the distant ocean horizon.
We have a feeling for the time of day and perhaps the time of year. We see the materiality of the rooms, their construction and contents. We see there is a door and a window beyond, although this can’t be seen directly. We even have an understanding of the location of the house and how the rooms are arranged inside. We are then invited to notice that the relationship between the rooms and the sea are odd. The threshold of the open door leads us immediately and directly into empty space. There is no boardwalk, steps or balcony to step onto. No transition between outside or inside. We see empty limitless open blue space of the sky and the ocean waves flowing by below. The outside is vast and is just there and it would be a simple matter to just step out into the void.
It’s this strange composition that invites us to look again. To shift perspective and observe what is really happening. The door is held open towards us as if in invitation to look, to see, to glimpse through the opening towards infinity. If only just for a moment we are held fully in place by the depth of the distant view. In the perspective there is a deliberately enriched deepened sense of here and there. An inside and outside- but here they don’t exist is dislocation or isolation, each space relies on the other to be. This simple unifying aspect is the secret. And unlike many other Hopper paintings there is no featured protagonist. Nobody else is there. You are the participant, collaborator and creator of this world. Without you as the observer this moment does not exist. We see it’s all relational. It’s all a process. To know this deeper world we see that nothing is fixed. Everything is two-way, nothing is lost or on it’s own. There is more than just objective space here. There is more than just the objects.
Like all art, Hopper is attempting to convey a different type of ‘information’. Not information that records, measures and defines how something is but instead reveals why. This is information beyond thought and description, outside of words and language. We see our own deeper reality in relationship to the NOW until we see that we are the NOW and that the NOW is a constant never ending flow of conscious undivided wholeness which flows through our very core.
The painting invites us to step into its world. To know, to inhabit the infinite possibilities inside the finite experience of the composed spaces. There are clues everywhere as there are in your own perception too. The answer can be found through the silence, the simplicity, the unconditional composition of spaces, events, held in a continuous never ending nowness, or as Huxley used to say thusness. The objects – the spaces…They are there but we see more. Their simplicity conveys a deeper structure and underlying energy. They are there but not there…
Meditation with eyes open
We are invited to extend our observation. To look beyond; between and through to space where discoveries can be made. But importantly just look…this is meditation with your eyes open. See the painting.
Resist intellectualising like a critic. There is nothing you need to know. This is the reality of the world beyond the thinking mind.
The reductive quality of everything in the space. The simplicity and flatness of the walls, the projecting sunlight are important. We see things directly. We examine directly. The simplicity of the image conveys a depth and proximity that other descriptions and concepts would diminish. Hopper wants us to just to look, to see without further inquiry about what we are seeing. Hopper wants us to just look…Because in the heart of the simple, the mundane everyday, is also the extraordinary and infinite in the shape of stillness and silence.
Don’t search for descriptions, concepts or labels. Just let-go and watch. Observe without attachment. That is what Hopper wants us to do. To see beyond to know a deeper reality inside where we are, what we see, what we feel…
And then realise the infinite possibilities of the moment experience. We are in the room. But we are not of it. There is no me, I or mine there is just is. Not the world, my world or myself. There is just reality and we see it for the first time.
We exist here in this space at this point. That is all we need to know.
And there is silence. Stillness. An embodiment of the moment.
In short we realise there is no painting called Rooms by the Sea. There is no artist, no observer. There is simply NOW! You can listen to Mick below on the beanddo Soundcloud describing the picture with two guided meditations.