Recently, my wife surprised me with a visit to the Rubin Museum of Art in lower Manhattan. I (a bit shamefully) had never heard of or been to the museum in my almost eight years as a New Yorker, but WOW, what a diamond in the rough.
The exhibits consist of paintings, sculptures, and textiles. And they are beautiful. Most of the artwork is of Hindu and Mahayana Buddhist origin, and depicts the many gods, buddhas, bodhisattvas, and deities present in those traditions. While I’m not one for deity worship (I align more with Theravada Buddhism), the art at the Rubin is a clear example of how powerful religious art can be.
The figures in the paintings and sculptures peer out at the viewer with meaningful hand postures, or mudrās. They beckon to the viewer, meditator, contemplator to join them in their eternal state of presence. The atmosphere in the museum is one of intense peace and reverence.
As I walked through in a meditative state, I thought about this art with such a specific purpose. Why, as a person who does not believe in a specific god or gods, did these images move me? If you’re familiar with Eastern religion you know that there are countless deities all representing different attributes and facets of humanity, of the self. With that in mind, an idea arose. It is the notion that these paintings and sculptures were not only meant as objects of worship. They were and are meant to evoke the Spirit. They serve as visual manifestations of that which we value most. And they remind us of the divine within ourselves.
Interestingly, almost all of the paintings and sculptures are anonymous, which further serves to personalize the experience for the viewer. It is not about the artist, it is about you, the viewer, as if looking into a mirror that reflects a very specific aspect of your soul. It can be helpful to know which deity you’re looking at but ultimately is doesn’t matter. If you allow it, these works have the ability to draw you into complete awareness of yourself. They remind you of your presence; the eternal present that you share in with all beings and non-beings in the universe.
If you live in New York or plan on visiting, I urge you to check out The Rubin. It is a peaceful and introspective journey. They’re also featuring some modernist Indian art until the end of April, some of which is also very moving.
Thoughts? Comments? Wishing you peace and love today.
By Terence Stone
Featured Art: ‘Amitabha Buddha’ (19th century). (Rubin Museum of Art)
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.