When the emphasis is on the metonymic, it is not only the mode of appreciation that is different, but the process of creation as well. When Indian artists carve these sacred figures, they proceed by accessing spiritual states of mind in which there is no separation between the creator and the created object. Western artists use symbolic thinking and maintain the separation between self and object. For Pygmalion it took a divine intervention to make the statue come alive, but for Indian artists art works are actual embodiments of the forces associated with a deity…I visited the Dilwara Temple in Mount Abu, a Jain temple which contained the white marble figures of deities called Jinas. Each morning the Jinas were bathed in milk and honey and now I understood why the monks performed this ceremony.

Denise Green, from Metonymy in Contemporary Art: A New Paradigm


Buddhist tangka painters wait until the very end to paint the Buddha’s eyes, and the actual gesture is done as part of a sacred ritual. It is in that moment of quickening that the tangka becomes embodied and can now serve as a personal spiritual aid for meditation.

What is the Western equivalent to the daily bath of milk and honey, or to the eye-painting moment that annoints–or simply acknowledges–the life force that exists in a created entity? Something happens in the creative expression of every cultural tradition that is of an energetic nature. Just ask anyone who has been deeply moved by an object of art, be it western or otherwise. The descriptions of that visceral response usually identify with an exchange of energy, a connection between the viewer and the viewed.

Perhaps the energetic embodiment of an art object in our culture happens outside of ritual, outside of a tradition that names it and identifies it. Perhaps our western fixation on the meme of the individual prevents us from identifying with a process that does happen at a personal level but is also part of a larger, more inclusive experience.