Artful Practices for Well-Being

Seraphine Louis. Tree of Paradise. c. 1928 598

Oil on canvas, 6' 4 3/4" x 51 3/4" (194.9 x 130.5 cm). Purchase

I’m Lisa Mazzola and I'm an educator at MoMA.

I'm also a long time student and teacher of yoga and meditation. I want to invite you on a journey of slow looking for cultivating attention and awareness at this painting, Tree of Paradise, by Seraphine Louis.

Slow looking gives us the opportunity to go beyond what we see at first glance, and can be done with all of our senses, not just our eyes.

One of the things I love about my work is that I get to spend time looking at art with others, talking about what we notice and sharing our thoughts and feelings about what we are experiencing.

As our eyes take in visual information over time it sends signals to our brain which triggers thoughts and associations, as well as feelings and physical sensations.

When we spend extended time in front of an artwork, it gives us a chance to focus our attention and create a sense of grounding and awareness.

This process is very similar to what I experience on my yoga mat and when sitting in meditation, moving and sitting with focus and intention cultivating a sense of curiosity and empathy as I navigate the thoughts and sensations of the mind and body that arise without judgment.

I chose this painting because I was immediately drawn to the colors and textures. The imagery evokes a sense of the real and imaginary. Some parts feel very familiar and comforting, but there are also elements that feel more out of the ordinary.

As I guide you through slow looking, I ask, that you remain kind and gentle with yourself throughout the process. Begin by taking a comfortable position.

Whatever position you choose, try to allow the body to be as relaxed as possible. If you notice any tension just pause and bring your awareness there or focus instead on the parts of your body that do feel relaxed.

If settling into stillness is challenging for you, you can cross your arms across your body and give the top of your arm gentle squeeze to help support a sense of calm containment.

Close your eyes or lower your gaze and connect with the rhythm of your breathing. Not altering or changing your breath. Just noticing.

Feeling the sensation of the body filling up as you inhale. And the sensation of the body emptying as you exhale. Flowing with the breath for three rounds.

Now gently open your eyes and allow your gaze to soften as you begin to take in the painting in your field of vision. Allow your eyes to gently move around the painting pausing in places where you are curious.

Connect with any thoughts or sensations that are arising. What words would you use to describe what you see or feel?

Now let's focus on some details. What colors do you see? What did the colors remind you of? What different shades of the colors do you see? In what parts of the painting do you notice them? How do they make you feel?

I'm drawn to the boldness of her color choices like the golden leaves with deep red veins. I'm soothed by the subtlety of the turquoise in the bottom left peeking through the tree's leaves and the more delicate blue of the water passing by. I find the interplay between the two colors energizing.

Now spend some time noticing the background of the painting. What do you see? Think about what it would look like to be inside the painting. What details do you notice now?

Closely explore the leaves on the tree’s trunk. Imagine how it would feel to sit under the tree, alongside the stream. What do you see? Pay attention to any sights, sounds, or sensations that you experience.

Continue to scan the painting focusing on the brushstrokes. What do you notice about how the artist has applied the paint on the canvas? Is it the same throughout, or do you see variations in the amount and the thickness of the paint? Let your gaze move freely as you notice lines, shapes and patterns. Continue to allow your eyes to take in details, taking a moment to pause and connect with your body and your breath. Continuing to allow the thoughts and feelings to come and go without attaching meaning.

Now let's take a few steps backward moving further away from the painting. Stop when you find a perspective that you want to explore. Close your eyes or lower your gaze for a moment.

Now bring your gaze upward again. What do you see? Has your experience with the artwork changed? Do you see things that you didn't notice before? How have the colors, forms and textures changed? What has stayed the same? What thoughts or sensations are you experiencing now? What words would you use to describe the painting from this perspective?

When you're ready, slowly bring yourself back. Take a moment here to connect with your breath one last time. Inhaling and exhaling fully three times. On your last exhale, bring your palms together rubbing them vigorously generating heat and then rest your palms on your heart center or anywhere that feels calm and centering. Take a moment to thank yourself for taking time to look closely at this painting.

I hope you can bring this sense of connection and awareness with you. I invite you to use these same techniques for the work of art or anything else that inspires grounding and a sense of well being.

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