It is as simple a Way as one might wish for. It consists of allowing the eye to be fully awake to life as it presents itself, uninterruptedly, in its myriad manifestations: the subtle variations in the forms of five little pears on your table, a bird gathering sprigs of grass to build a nest, a woman pushing her baby carriage on a country lane at dusk. (Franck, 1993, p. 19)
In brief Contemplative Art uses arts practices to help induce a contemplative state of consciousness and provide personal insight, so in that way can be thought of as a contemplative practice.
My contemplative art practice began in the late 1980’s with performance, wearable, video art in nature, followed in the 1990s with contemplative environmental art that developed in training with the performance artists Anna Halprin and Suprapto Suryodarmo. I combine insights from that experience and my contemplative and art practices to develop and facilitate contemplative art courses and workshops. Most recently I presented Creativity from the Inside Out: Learning Feelings at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence RI, USA, a similar program at UNSW School of Art and Design, Sydney, Australia, and the workshop Contemplative Art in the Garden, held at the Randwick Organic Community Garden and funded by the Randwick City Council, Sydney. I offer similar workshops, combining contemplation and art practices and am currently developing courses in Contemplative Art. These courses reference the ancient practices of Zen and Tantric Art and explore the works of contemporary contemplative arts such as Agnes Martin, Hilma Klint, Wassily Kandinsky, Alex Grey, and others. In the course contemplative practices are combined with analysis of these artists’ work, focusing on concepts of direct experience, refined somatic awareness and principles from process art. This linking of practice and theory supports the appreciation of reflection in art practice and the ways this enhances the development of authenticity and creativity in art-making and daily life.
These courses focus on direct experience, refined somatic awareness and process art
They combine contemplative practices with analysis of these artists’ work, focusing on concepts of direct experience, refined somatic awareness and principles from process art. Though my understanding, and in brief, is that contemplative art uses arts practices to help induce a contemplative state of consciousness and in that way can be thought of as a contemplative practice. While any art medium and methods can be used, they are not engaged as they might commonly be to create an art ‘product’. Rather, they are employed to sustain and strengthen focus, or in some cases channel the divine as is done in ancient Hindu Tantric Art. The contemplative art I explore and teach is a form of process art, where the focus is on the process of the art-making as opposed to the finished product.
Contemplative art uses arts practices to help induce a contemplative state of consciousness and in that way can be thought of as a contemplative practice.
The Process Art Movement, which began in the 1960s has some similarities to contemplative art and has its roots in Performance Art and the Dada Movement. Jackson Pollock is a famous exponent; his drip paintings highlight central features of process art such as chance occurrence and the process of being fully focused in the moment of moving the paint (or any medium) on the canvas/board/paper. Contemplative Art also has links with the Slow Art Movement (http://www.slowart.com/meaning.htm)
and Zen Drawing ( http://zendrawing.com/index.php/what-is-zen-drawing/ )
and Mindful Drawing (http://www.londonmindful.com/blog/the-art-of-mindful-drawing/)
There are two aspects of this form of contemplative art. Firstly, the deep focus on the art making becomes a contemplative practice and secondly, this contemplative creative practice provides access to subjective or first-person experience and the lessons we may learn there. So the practitioner might use the art-making to sustain focus, or to help them describe what is happening in their first-person experience. It is important to remember that there is no right way of doing this practice; it is about the art-making process, about developing the ability to focus inwardly, to concentrate more deeply and feel what is happening in the internal landscape. It is a contemplative practice like formal sitting meditation, yoga or Ti Chi and like these practices it may also help the practitioner understand their inner workings. Above all else it’s important to enjoy the bodily sensations involved in the making while using them to help sustain focus.
This and all contemplative practices can be very useful in the busy lives we live, where we are encouraged to do more and more, where we suffer information overload and time poverty. The increasing need to multi-task can lead to constant partial attention or CPA and onto chronic stress, anxiety and depression. In contrast contemplative art can be understood as single tasking, which is what links it to the Slow Art movement. Contemplative Art draws awareness back to somatic or bodily experience, for as the Zen master and contemplative photographer John Loori (2004) suggests in this kind of practice the adherent needs to see with their ‘whole body mind’. What he is talking about is a type of contemplative awareness, which he illustrates with a quote from Paul Gauguin, who in attempting to describe his approach to art-making said, “I shut my eyes in order to see” (Gauguin in Loori, 2004, p. 80). Here Gauguin is describing an approach to creativity and art making that needs to start from the inside or the subjective, first-person state of consciousness – as opposed to the objective, rational or third-person state.
Contemplative art draws awareness back to somatic or bodily experience so that we can see with our ‘whole body mind’
Loori suggests that we aren’t often in this state of ‘direct experience’ because we are more frequently in a habitual mode of being; he affirms that “for most of us our habitual way of perceiving is not so simple. Our universe is filled with internal dialogue, analysis, evaluation, classification. We choose knowing over direct experience. Yet, in knowing, we kill reality, or, at least, we make it inaccessible. We live and create out of our ideas, out of the apparent comfort of certainty that they offer” (2004, p. 71)
Similarly the artist and Zen practitioner Frederick Franck (1993) suggests that contemplative art is practiced as a means to find what he calls the ‘artist within’, who can lead us to “where we really live” (Franck, 1993, p. 18). This is done by using his technique of ‘seeing-drawing’ where the act of seeing and the act of drawing become fused, where we learn to see again. Franck describes seeing-drawing as ‘first-hand seeing’. This form of ‘seeing’ is at the heart of contemplative art, which Franck describes as his ‘way of meditation’. Though in this method the eyes aren’t closed, they’re “as wide open as possible” (ibid). Supporting the development of this way of ‘seeing’ is the primary aim in my contemplative art courses.
The Meditative Process Art Method (MPAM)
The MPAM was created by Dr Patricia Morgan a contemplative art research method designed to investigate psychosocial aspects of individual and group experience. It was developed for the Positively Women research project. Outcomes of this project can be seen here:
Media interest in the Positively Women exhibition:
Contemplative Art, a form of Process Art provides access to deeper aspects of ourselves, including the feelings and symbols that reside in our inner landscapes. Read more...