Véronique Antoine Andersen: the revelation of a work of art thanks to deep vision

- through Sophie Solere

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Art historian, follower of Tibetan Buddhism, Véronique Antoine Andersen teaches us in her latest book to approach a work by preparing for it thanks to a ritual that opens the eye. Inspired by Vipassana, the author makes us discover how art is revealed through attention.

Throughout your book, in your approach to the art, you seem very inspired by Vipassana. How did you discover Buddhism?

As an art history student, I went to an exhibition on Okusaï which, at the time, had a great impact in France. Fascinated by this world that I did not know, I decided to do my master's degree on the thirty-six views of Mount Fuji by Okusaï. I immersed myself in the history of Japan, I discovered Zen Buddhism and I immediately felt a great familiarity with this way of thinking. So I wanted to deepen this teaching with the book Zen spirit, new spirit by Shunryu Suzuki; it was a real revelation. A form of recognition, because, suddenly, all that I lived inside, I saw it translated outside in these pages. I then started doing Vipassana retreats, including a month-long one in Nepal with Lama Zopa Rinpoche, then in his center in Paris. Thanks to this practice, I learned to apprehend things as they are, began to grasp how my mind worked and I very quickly felt better equipped to dismantle the processes that carried me away every day. And above all, I learned to see.

So Buddhism has greatly influenced your career as an art historian?

Enormously ! It is a source approach. I worked at the Musée en herbe (a museum for children) at the Pompidou Center and at the Halle Saint-Pierre; I was doing mediation for the collections. In this concern for transmission, I wondered: how to show? Because we realize that today, people no longer know how to see. The attention crisis of which the neurosciences speak is a proven fact. It therefore impacts visitors who are in a continuous movement. However, one cannot claim that the work reveals itself in forty seconds. Looking is learning. But how to give the public who does not want a visit-conference or an audio guide, a tool that can help them to enter into a work of art with all its diversity? To answer this question, I created “the gaze ceremony” which comes in two protocols: “the camera” and the “silent dialogue”, inspired by my experience of Vipassana retreats.

How is this a “ceremony of the gaze”?

I am referring to the tea ceremony in Japan. The visitor first passes through a garden designed in a conscious way to relieve themselves of their worries in order to have their mind free before entering the tea room. Thanks to this passage, he can best appreciate what is given to him to live.

“My numerous Vipassana retreats made me discover that my polluted mind was an obstacle to observing the world. Faced with a work, for it to be discovered, we must step aside and distance ourselves from all our preconceived ideas. »

The ideal would be to enter a museum with the same approach: depositing his daily life on the threshold to enter the temporality of the museum, where a certain slowness is required. This airlock is necessary to be available and to receive what is proposed with the totality of our being, our spirit and our body. The notion of in-between has been lost; we jump from one thing to another without pausing. But a museum is not an ordinary place, it is timeless. The mind and the body need to take time to experience this transition to this other universe, where we must be there, fully present in what we do and observe. This seems obvious except that this simplicity often turns out to be of enormous complexity, because our mind is elsewhere. But if we follow the protocol of the gazing ceremony, it reveals to us that we derive great satisfaction from experiencing things fully. The museum is a place of attention.

Do you speak of the body as a vehicle for visitation in the same way that we speak of the body as a vehicle for meditation? Could it be through him that art, like the sacred, can be revealed?

Buddhism teaches it wonderfully: the state of the body influences our ability to perceive. So take care of this vehicle. For this, before the visit, I recommend physical exercises and especially deep breathing to relax. It's the only way to open up to what's in front of us. One opens up to attention in this way. The body is a vector of perception. It is essential not to remain motionless in front of a work, but to apprehend it from several points of view so that it reveals itself. And the body participates in this relationship. It is the same in the face of every situation in our life: vary the points of view to learn to see with the eyes of intuition, of attention.

You quote the phrase of the Zen master Suzuki Roshi: “When I look at a work of art, I look at a work of art”. What does it mean to you?

This phrase invites us to be present in what we do. Because it is only on this condition that the work can reveal itself. My many Vipassana retreats made me discover that my polluted mind was an obstacle to observing the world. Faced with a work, for it to be discovered, we must step aside and distance ourselves from all our preconceived ideas. Judgment (I like/I don't like) is an immeasurable obstacle to observing the world. It's about developing your mental space to be able to let yourself be dazzled. It is then that the museum becomes a place of training in wonder and presence.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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