Picturing the Brahman – Advaita Vedanta in a painting

(This is a previously unpublished blog)

I recently discovered this Chinese artist Minyiyao .This particular painting  struck a chord with me :

Extract from his bio reads as follows :

In Min’s works, the language of the technique draws the viewer rather that the image itself. That the technique serves as the primary focus is intriguing. With seemingly wild brushstrokes, he manages to capture light and depth. The random strokes’ play on the canvas unwittingly forming an image that thought did not prior define. He limits himself to a palette of colours that are exceedingly dreary, but which consequentially, serves to highlight this exact use.”

 Coming back to the painting above ,while the inherent austerity of grey coupled with the simplicity of using only one color beckon your attention, on a closer look, I was struck by the beauty of the artist depicting a form within seemingly random strokes. Initially one suspected that the form is actually a smudge after the lighter lines were first drawn. However if one looks more closely at the painting, the lines depicting the form are not distinct and are a continuum of the scribbles around the form. In other words, the artist has applied more pressure at some points to get a heavier line and without any break the same lines continue into a lighter mode around the form. The end result is an intriguing work of art, quite literally a maze, that will take the viewer some time to decipher what is being conveyed and in a flash, realization that it is actually a form of a human head hits you.

To me, it did not stop there. It was not a simple puzzle, which you understand, appreciate and move on. To me it was the simultaneous depiction of form and formlessness that was so appealing. Depiction of the ultimate reality (brahman) and the individual (Jiva). An attempt to show non duality and duality. In other words Advaita in art !

Brahman as we are aware is beyond description. In the entire teaching of Advaita we are only given pointers or indicators to what is Brahman. In his classic Vedanta treatise, Swami Parthasarathy outlines Brahman as :

a) One  b) All Pervading  c) Formless  d) Attribute-less e) Eternal f) Stainless g) Infinite h) Knowledge and i) Bliss.

While I will not expand individually the above pointers already written in words, I see quite a few of these indicative descriptions of Brahman in this painting.

Oneness comes across in the use of a single color and Formlessness is depicted in the lines stroked randomly and aimlessly giving a sense of haze. Not using any colors, that we normally see around us and using grey instead readily communicates the lack of Attributes. We cannot see the end of any one line or stroke, implying that they go all the way to Infinity and finally the upturned head is in a trance like Bliss.

The adage, “a picture is worth a thousand words” comes to mind. While the indescribability of a Brahman continues, sometimes a painting or a work of art makes it so much more easier to grasp and visually experience the essence of what is being said.

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