The Zuni have used clay figures for thousands of years. Buddhists; mandalas. A clinical psychologists may suggest a candle. Christians may use the cross.
Cultures from around the globe and throughout history have used objects as points of focus for beginning meditative or spiritual journeys. These objects sometimes end-up gaining there own religious or sacred value, but not always. Frequently, these objects are classified as art. In fact, even a quick walk through the Museum of Fine Arts shows that the vast majority of the art on display was probably originally created as objects of contemplation. So how come most of the art that is produced by our culture is not designed to be contemplated or even thought about at all? (Advertising makes the bulk of visual material produced by our culture. However, ads like “Drink Coca-Cola” are usually not interpreted for the Zen koans that they could be …)
What are the objects in our society that exist for long, quiet contemplation? Whatever they are, they are few and far between. Even worse, people seem to have abandoned the desire to spend time with art for its meditative qualities. When was the last time you asked someone what they did today and they replied, “Oh, I looked at a painting”?
The notion of purposely creating work that is quiet, meditative and can give the viewer a path to a different consciousness seems to have all but disappeared. The reasons for this include the fact that people spend less time with art now and much more time with decoration, the fact that art education has all but vanished, but mostly it is a change in human philosophy that no longer has a reverence for the pursuit of anything except the hyper-material.
So what does it mean that in today’s world, MIT has an entire Student Loan Art Collection where MIT students can borrow important artworks and hang them in their living spaces for the academic year? This is incredible! Encouraging students to live with and take long looks at original pieces of artwork? Who would do this? MIT’s Student Loan Art Collection is important to everyone, not just MIT students, because it represents a completely different philosophy; an older, wiser philosophy.
The most recent acquisitions to MIT’s Student Loan Art Collection are on display at the MIT LIST Visual Arts Center until Nov. 21 and everyone should go see the work. True, you will only be able to look at the work for a fleeting few moments, but it may inspire you to seek out your objects for contemplation for your walls. Even better, it may inspire to just go back and stare at one of the pieces of art that you already own and just look at it. For a long time.
"Recent Gifts to the Student Loan Art Collection" is on view at The Dean’s Gallery, in the MIT Sloan School of Management, 50 Memorial Drive, Building E52, Cambridge, MA.
All images are courtesy of Google and the author.