By ANNA SCOLA, April 2019
In Leo Tolstoy’s book, What is Art, he defines art as an expression of a feeling or experience in such a way that the audience to whom the art is directed can share that feeling or experience. Maria Schechter, an educator, painter, and independent curator, seeks to translate her cultural and sensory sensibilities to that of the viewer’s.
Early in her career, Maria studied in a Buddhist Monastery and discovered an intrinsic parallel between Buddhism and art. Pursuing this, Maria founded What Is Art/ What is Sound, an international non-profit arts organization developed as a cross-cultural and multi-disciplined project to examine the evolution of art and society through technology and tradition.
Anna Scola: You have an intricate relationship with a vast number of cultures. Tell me about your childhood.
Maria Schechter: My birth father is Mexican. I visited Mexico several times as a child. I believe it’s this travel and experience that paved my path towards world cultures. My mother is Irish. I spent most of my time with my grandparents and ultimately they had the greatest impact on my life as an artist. My great-grandfather was Béla Ohmann, a prolific sculptor who was one of Hitler’s degenerate artists. His work can be seen throughout Buda and Pest as relief on buildings, free-standing sculptures, and fountains.
Anna Scola: Do you see the influences of your travels central to your work?
Maria Schechter: I grew up in a home where we found answers to our own questions. If I had a question about a country and it’s culture, I would go to the country to find the answer myself. I loved all the stories and history each country holds. It certainly has had an effect on how I view the world, people, art, and elements of each culture. I created a body of work entitled: The Painted Lady, referencing San Francisco’s painted ladies (architecture) as well as the many painted references made in other countries like the Notre-Dame de Paris is referred to as a lady. In my body of work, you will find collaged images of architecture and various words or phrases in other languages. I paint in oils, collage, and gold-leaf.
Anna Scola: You have an extensive body of works that is related to music including the live paintings that you did at the Velvet Elvis in Seattle. In seeking inspiration from music, are you listening in to the lyrics or reacting to the abstract sounds and what is your process of translation?
Maria Schechter: I most enjoy listening to jazz or classical, such as Peter Phillips: The Tallis Scholars. There are pieces of music that transport me right back to the country, place, and time. The music I listen to while painting or channeling brings me closer to the energetic feeling of what some call God. When I see a painting I made 20 or 30 years ago, I know exactly where it was that I painted it, what I was listening to at the time, and what was going on around me while it was being created. I don’t listen to music—I feel it, and those feelings mix with color and texture and composition and then I am done. I feel music is at the top of the pyramid in the arts. It is so magical it has soothed those dying and even acted as a catalyst for war.
Anna Scola: What relations have you found between a practice of art inspired by music and that of Buddhism?
Maria Schechter: I feel that art-making is a sacred practice just as is the practice of Buddhism. The relationship between both is sound. In Buddhism, we do a lot of chanting, which is a bit like a prayer in sound, like the sound of OM. This mantra is considered to have high spiritual and creative power, but it is universal. This is the same for painting, music, and Buddhism. I feel it as one practice. When I sing with friends in Kirtan (a genre of religious performance arts), I feel a type of out of body experience and/or a type of high. When I am painting, I feel that I have left my ‘mind-body’ and I feel a deep sense of meditation.
I also play the didgeridoo. I used to play in subway stations in New York. It was also like a sound prayer. When you travel down to Times Square, there is a triangular location directly in the middle of the center of Times Square. This is where all lines cross paths across the island. There is a grate in the ground, and the wind pushes through these metal squares and creates an on-going sound of someone playing the didgeridoo. It will vibrate your entire body, just as when you play the didge, you feel this energy vibrating inside of you. It’s one of the many magical parts of the city. Go find it and stand on top of it. You feel what I mean.
Anna Scola: Can you speak a little about your PhD work?
Maria Schechter: My work is more focused on Tolstoy’s perspective of a shared experience, using a methodology to directly map and document the intersection of art and culture to leading artists around the world. I see artists as their own culture. Each artist is as unique as his or her own style and their work changes the fabric of a city landscape in a New York second. My PhD work was initiated by working with Deepak Chopra and taking his seminar class, which lead to further my work in Culture Mapping.
Maria Schechter is the founder of Cultured Social