Martin: Untitled #16 (1960)

Somehow we’ve made it to the end of the week, and I don’t know about you but this was a particularly trying one for me, seeking a moment of space within a tightly-packed schedule.

Periods of speedy-busyness, whether physical or mental, make me think of Agnes Martin. She once said that “Art is the concrete representation of our most subtle feelings,” and sometimes when the business of life hits a fever pitch, I find coming back to art a comfortable way of reconnecting with the subtle feelings underneath that topmost layer of business. Conversely, if I’ve found a moment of practice that may have generated some stillness on the surface, art can be a gateway for finding the subtle feelings beneath that stillness.

I love Martin’s later works for how capacious they are; the nuance between tonal shifts in white horizontal lines stacked on differently-shaded white horizontal lines (she was, after all, a Zen Buddhist). But Untitled #16, an early ink drawing of hers made in 1960, at first blush seems more speedy-busy. There’s a block of a grid system of crisscrossing lines. Looking closer, we can see some of the nuance, the subtle body movements of both art and artist: There are dots anchoring the vertical lines, some smudged in the artist’s hand. The vertical lines are few and far between compared to the horizontal, and there’s no evenness of spacing in the horizontal landscape. It’s an orderly mess, a human practice in awareness. And in these irregularities, a sense of space, of breath around the binary, emerges.

Today’s Contemplation: Breathing can feel at times like a binary: You breathe in, there’s a pause at the top, you breathe out, there’s a pause at the end. Begin again. But each breath is its own, human moment. Each breath is different, and each part of the breath is not the exact same. In breathing today, can you give some of your attention to the details of your breath? Where do you feel it most presently in this moment — the tip of the nose? The back of the throat? The pit of the belly? Can you notice the quality without correcting it? Is it shallow or deep? Are the pauses long or short? Can you notice the consistency from one breath to the next?