Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Although I am not a practicing Buddhist, the philosophy and spiritual growth offered by Buddhism is very similar to my own beliefs and theories about my art. My studio practice is my spiritual practice. The Buddhist's "empty" mind is the same goal as my desire for an art without ego.

I have been reading a great book, Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art, Jacquelynn Bass and Mary Jane Jacob, editors. Jacob writes:
In the space of art dwells the "mind of don't know." The "empty" mind is the creative mind....The process of art-making in which the artist does not know the outcome, what the work of art will look like, or even be, is a process with shifts and changes, one of simultaneously seeing and finding a new way....In art, as in Buddhism, creative potential resides in that nothing place, that nowhere of emptiness; an open space without attachment to outcome, with an aim to guide the process but the goal (the answer) kept at bay...for as long as usefully possible.

The artist's way of working is a daily routine, a daily confrontation with beauty and fear, harmony and suffering. It is "a life's path...a way of being -- that is integral and ongoing," observes Jacob. She continues:
Practice is about trying, developing, cultivating, improving. Practice connotes repetition: to practice, to perfect. Practice becomes the rituals of life, continual acts of doing. And sustaining a practice -- not just surviving in the business of art, but living in the space of art -- means to know that the process is of greater value than the product, that the making...exceeds the thing made, that the experience outweighs the material form.

Painting is simply a practice of showing up, laying on the paint, and allowing the painting to manifest, trusting that whatever appears at the end is meaningful:
Art-making is above all a process of inquiry. It takes skill and knowledge, valuing one's intuition, and knowing that intuition is much more than a hunch, a fluke, or luck, that it is the surfacing of an inner knowledge we may not have known we possessed. To launch into and carry out a process without a stated outcome is to allow that process of inquiry to unfold; to trust that the right way will arise; to wait, perservering through a blank open space, looking for guideposts, listening with a level of perception that enables us to move in ways we would not have found outside this process.

This deep awareness of the processes of art -- of self in process -- is key to creation....it is always determined by the actual process of making and the depth of awareness one brings to bear during that process. This awareness is what moves beyond the known for the self, for the viewer, and potentially for the society or the culture at large. The work of art derives its "presence" from this heightened awareness -- from the artist's presence of mind. Buddhism's call to be present in the moment is also the artist's call.

(The above quotes are taken from pages 164-167 in Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art)

1 comment:

Rebecca Crowell said...

Wow--I have to get this book! like you, I am not a practicing Buddhist but have sensed similarities between its practice and art making...I read a book awhile back, Nothing Special: Living Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck, and found myself substituting "painting" in my mind when she would speak about practice or sitting...and whatever wise thing she was writing about seemed to apply equally well to meditation and making art. There are no doubt limits to the parallels one can draw, but intriguing connections for sure.