Archive for February 26th, 2013


“Lighting is the meditatively gathering … it is the bestowal of presencing.”

M. Heidegger (Early Greek Thinking)

I am visiting the de Young museum in San Francisco to see an exhibit of 17th century Dutch paintings. The paintings include many by Rembrandt, with the central work being The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Vermeer. As I travel through the labyrinth of rooms containing many beautiful portraits, landscapes and stills I continue to wonder where She is. Finally, I enter a simple room with a single painting. There standing before me is the “Dutch Mona Lisa” a truly stunning painting.

A young woman with head turned towards her left gazes towards me. She parts her lips, while her eyes hold a sense of the expectant. She wears a blue turban with a yellow tassel that falls touching her shoulders. There is a quiet around me unlike that found in the others gallery rooms, where I could hear people discussing paintings. Here some form of sacred silence holds court. Looking around at the faces of the people in the room I see wonderment, adoration and rapture. We are all experiencing that sense of luminous shining that comes with Beauty. This is what art does to us it takes us to a numinous place. It touches our senses, thoughts, memories and imagination.

Nothing is known about the young woman who sat for the painting. This state of the unknown opens the door to imagining. We are predisposed to imagine when things are concealed. The mystery in the painting and about the young woman invites me to dwell here in her presence. According to the German philosopher Heidegger, dwelling is an inherent part of our being-in-the-world. In dwelling we experience the world. Dwelling in the world allows things to presence themselves to us. In this presencing things begin to un-conceal themselves. For things lay hiding, awaiting to appear before us. In Being, we are perpetually in a state of concealing and un-concealing. Heidegger says, “presencing as such is ruled by the lingering-with-one-another of a concealed gathering.” I stand before the Girl and find myself in a state of ‘lingering-with-one-another.’ I am a participant in the presencing process. But what is being gathered? And why is this gathering concealed? Could the gathering involve the collecting of my senses? As I walk into the room, I am bombarded with a cornucopia of light, sound, touch and smell. I see people in the room, but my gaze becomes fixed on the Girl. My awareness is gathered towards the Girl and in this moment we un-conceal to one another, we linger-with. My being becomes intertwined with the un-concealing of the Girl’s gaze. I feel her gaze is reacting to my presence before her. In this moment, both of us have stepped into a reciprocal state of un-concealment. According to Heidegger, in this moment we approach truth.

Heidegger also says, “the [gathering] by itself brings that which appears before us to appearance – to its luminous self-showing.” The gathering and unconcealment establishes my being-in-the-world and allows the Girl’s luminous nature to appear. I can think of no better expression for this painting than “luminous self-showing.” Her beauty (and the genius of Vermeer) shine before me.

But, what of the pearl earing? My gaze is so captured by the Girl’s face that I neglect turning my attention towards the pearl. The pearl remains concealed, but soon it moves into a state of ‘luminous self-showing.’ The Dutch painters were fascinated with the play of light and shadow. In the painting, light flows in from the left illuminating much of the Girl’s face, while her back moves into shadow. The pearl rests at the edge of light and shadow and reveals itself with a silvery glow. My gaze pulls towards this object that falls at the center of the painting. An interesting thing happens with my gaze as I move my eyes to the darkness at the right for the tassel of her turban becomes illuminated! I realize the light flows not from her far right side, but from another direction. I am caught in the playfulness of thought about where the light originates in this work. Heidegger says, “… thinking changes the world. It changes it in the ever darker depth of a riddle, depths which as they grow darker offer promise of a greater brightness.” The painting reminds me that my gaze changes the world. My dwelling as being is participatory and transforming. Before leaving the room I move my position around the portrait. Instantly, I see a new, but still familiar face. My semi-circumambulation reveals new presencing, new shining. So it is in life, as our gaze shifts new opportunities to dwell arise in the world. A ‘greater brightness’ arises in my transformation from concealment to un-concealment.

I give homage to Vermeer and the mysterious Girl with a Pearl Earring and the power of art to transform our being-in-the-world.

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