Seven weeks with Rainer Maria Rilke and Paul Cézanne (November 4 — December 22, 2019)
with Elena Maslova-Levin, artist and scholar
Would you like to fill this holiday season with a deep sense of connection to life’s eternal truths and its infinite beauty?
How would it change the days and moments of your life: every morning, new insights — expressed in prose as magic and precise as poetry, and in paintings as beautiful and majestic as reality itself — opening your heart to the sacred bond between Art and Life, and your eyes, to the sublime beauty of the world? Every day, a space to return to — for contemplation, and reflections, and meaningful conversations in a small group of fellow art lovers? Seven weeks of daily synergistic communion with Art itself…
This deep, contemplative connection to the most important things in life is what this season is meant to be about, isn’t it? And you know that Art always holds space for you to experience this connection, utterly and completely…
But the modern life doesn’t make it easy, between the pressures of your obligations to others and the demands you impose on yourself, between the relentless absurdity of news cycles and the endless, noisy stream of distractions. It is so easy to forget that in order to breath out — to produce, to create, to act — you also need to pause, to connect, to breath in… (this is what inspiration means, after all).
“But how very much of one piece is everything we encounter, how related one thing is to the next, how it gave birth to itself and grows up and is educated in its own nature, and all we basically have to do is to be there, but simply, ardently, the way the earth simply is, consenting to the seasons, light and dark and altogether in space, not asking to rest upon anything other than the net of influences and forces in which the stars feel secure.” — Rainer Maria Rilke “Letters on Cézanne.”
My guess is, you do your best to find and sustain this sense of connection to art and life, to this ever-present source inspiration: art retreats, walks, museum visits, exhibitions, books, perhaps your favorite art websites. But however powerful these experiences are, the flow of daily life finds a way of eroding them…
At least this is what often happens to me. Full disclosure: I am a queen of enslaving myself to heaps of self-imposed obligations, to the bottomless void of my endless to-do lists — and in doing so, losing my sense of connection to what I cherish most, to the ever-present synergistic field of art, beauty and truth.
But three years ago, I allowed myself an hour of silence and freedom, and found myself in the local library, with an almost randomly chosen book in my lap: Rainer Maria Rilke and Ben Shahn. “For the sake of a single verse: From the Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.” It is a single paragraph from Rilke’s autobiographical novel, which Ben Shahn illustrated phrase by phrase, sometimes even word by word.
As I browsed the book, I felt an emerging sense of time-transcendent connection. Once upon a time, in 1907, Rainer Maria Rilke was a young poet lost in Paris, trying to find his path — when he came across Cézanne’s retrospective in the Salon, and this experience shaped his future, defined him as a poet (and opened the space for him to complete his novel, From the Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge.)
And then, a generation later, Ben Shahn found a paperback edition of this novel on a bookstand on the bank of Seine: a young American artist in Paris trying to find his path, disappointed and overwhelmed by all the art manifestos filling the art scene at the time. The book I was holding emerged out of this seemingly random encounter.
And now, on another continent and in another century, I was looking at his drawings in a library in California, reading Rilke’s eternal words, reconnecting with the synergistic field of art, and sensing something new emerging.
Just after I left the library, I had the most powerful visual experience of my life. I saw a world filled with sublime light to the brim, and more magnificent than I had ever seen before.
I am a painter, so no stranger to heightened sense of vision, but this one was really off the charts. At one point, I even tried to pull out my phone to call my husband and check whether the world as we know it had ended, and we were in a new, unknown reality (before the sheer absurdity of using a phone in this new reality hit me).
It was the first time in my life that I felt I truly understood what William Blake meant in his famous sentence:
If the doors of perception were cleansed, every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite.”
This experience made me fully realize the sheer power of synergy between words and paintings, the remarkable effect of reading slowed down and enhanced by pictures.
However powerful Rilke’s words are on their own, something even more majestic can happen when they are combined with pictures within the same mental and sensory space.
And as I was re-reading Rilke’s “Letters on Cézanne” for about a thousandth time that fall, and spending hours and hours searching for reproductions of all the paintings he mentions, it all finally clicked together.
The idea of this program, “The Right Eyes for Christmas” was born.
“One can really see all of Cézanne’s pictures in two or three well-chosen examples <…> But it takes a long, long time. When I remember the puzzlement and insecurity of one’s first confrontation with his work, along with his name, which was just as new. And then for a long time nothing, and suddenly one has the right eyes …” Rainer Maria Rilke. “Letters on Cézanne”
This is what happens if you find a way to sustain the synergistic connection day to day, moment to moment, week after week — as Rilke did in the autumn of 1907, and as I invite you to do now, more than a century later.
The internet makes it possible to do something which would have been prohibitively expensive otherwise: combine Rilke’s words with the highest-quality reproductions of paintings he was contemplating, all within the same space.
To most important quotes from Rilke’s letters and reproductions of the paintings he was looking at (and then some more…), I added some clarifying notes, contemplative prompts and suggested “seeing practices” to help you integrate the new way of seeing into your moment-to-moment, lived experience.
The result is seven weeks worth of daily eye-opening inspiration (November 4 – December 22, 2019): just five-ten minutes a day to transform your sense of vision and open your heart to the sacred bond between Art and Life.
The program is hosted on Sutra.co, an online platform designed to facilitate deep reflection, contemplation, and meaningful conversations. You can receive the daily letters by email or come to our space on Sutra to participate in the conversation emerging around these letters (or both). Rilke’s letters, paintings, my notes and suggestions, your responses and reflections — it all happens in the same space, and this makes these conversations on Sutra feel like an exchange of letters and insights with Rainer Maria Rilke, across time and space…
This program has been designed to recreate Rilke’s experience of suddenly having “the right eyes”, the experience of vision cleansed and transformed through daily encounters with Cézanne’s paintings that
But it turned out to be much more than that. Because Rilke doesn’t just write about art: he probes into the deepest connections between painting, poetry, and life. He contemplates the universal themes of human condition and artist’s experience in the world. And in doing so, he opens the path for us to follow in his footsteps, creates the space for us to truly connect to one another, and to the higher versions of ourselves, in this darkest (and often noisiest) time of the year.
“… and lays his apples on bed covers which Madame Brémond will surely miss some day, and places a wine bottle among them or whatever he happens to find. And (like van Gogh) makes his “saints” out of such things; and forces them—forces them—to be beautiful, to stand for the whole world and all joy and all glory, and doesn’t know whether he has persuaded them to do it for him.” Rainer Maria Rilke. “Letters on Cézanne”
Staying with this book, diving deep into it, as this program helps you do, is a transformational journey that dissolves all sense of separation and changes you forever.
And it really takes just five-ten minutes a day…
I have split Rilke’s letters (which are sometimes very long) into small chunks, so as to help you create a daily ritual of connection. It also makes it very easy to catch up if you miss a day or two.
Honestly, the last thing I want to do is add another “to-do” to your list, another obligation to yourself. Although it “pays” to follow these letters daily, it is not a “teaching” program: you can resume the process whenever you feel ready, wherever you are: each letter is meaningful and transformational on its own. But throughout these seven weeks, you will have this space to come to for beauty and connection, to get away from the pressures of life, to get the highest-quality nourishment for your spirit.
And, of course, after these seven weeks are over, you have lifetime access to all the materials.
As a bonus, this run of the program also includes three live group meetings (on Zoom), for deeper conversations about some paintings, to share our experiences, and to answer your questions (The calls are preliminarily scheduled for three Saturdays: November 16, November 30, and December 14, 2019, 10AM Pacific time).
Now, if all this resonates with you…
Would you like to participate? Is this program right for you?
“The Right Eyes for Christmas” is right for:
◆ Artists longing for a deeper understanding of Art and its connections to Life
◆ Intellectuals who want to expand and deepen their connection to Art, and integrate it into their lives
◆ People who are in love with the art of painting and with the life of the mind, who appreciate both the beauty of painting and the beauty of written word
◆ Introverts and outsiders longing for meaningful connections and conversations
◆ People who understand the value of daily practices and are willing to commit five minutes a day to get “the right eyes for Christmas”
But the program may not be the right fit for you if you enjoy a purely intuitive, sensory connection to Art and don’t feel comfortable with digging into its more intellectual, philosophical aspects.
The tuition fee for this program is $250, but since it’s holiday season — and since I believe so deeply in its incredible value, and don’t want financial consideration to stop you, it is available by “honour system”, sliding-scale pricing: you, and you alone, can decide which payment option is right and affordable for you at this time. So please choose one of these options to join us on Monday for seven weeks of synergistic communion with Rilke and Cézanne, and Art itself (but please don’t delay, since the program is limited to 30 participants, and 10 spots are already taken (as of Wednesday, October 30):
I am so looking forward to seeing you there! And whether you decide to join us or not, please fill your holiday season with Art and Beauty!