“Art is Life”, “Art is Change”, “Art is Essential”. How many cliché art phrases have you heard in your life? Probably enough to convince you that art is not really your thing. How many philosophical commentaries on art have you passed over. Perhaps enough to make you believe that art is something for academics to contemplate. And, if you were to ask an academic, they would likely agree with you. Art has become an exclusive domain. It exists outside of society in a way that reinforces hierarchy and class. Art has, ironically, become the antithesis of what it purports to be. And I think it’s time that changed.
With no written history, it was essential that the adorned objects and regalia carried energy and life
When we lived in more tribal cultures, “art” was not a thing. Objects were adorned with imagery of significance, often spiritual ones, or ones that told stories of lineage or history. The style was both steeped in tradition and personally innovative for the artist. The honour of having the role of “artist” in a tribal culture was one that carried both prestige and responsibility. With no written history, it was essential that the adorned objects and regalia carried energy and life. An intellectual approach had no value to the community. The designs and imagery had to speak to the entire community through feeling and a kind of knowing. It had to speak the universal language.
But art, by its nature, should not, and indeed really cannot, be compartmentalized
Art no longer carries this as a necessity, and so, like so many other human pursuits, we have intellectualized it. We have moved into our minds, forgetting our hearts in an effort to feel safe, controlled and in order to compartmentalize it. But art, by its nature, should not, and indeed really cannot, be compartmentalized. In the spirit of bringing back the heart of art, I would like to introduce the concept of art as meditation.
I am most certain this is not the first time this idea has been introduced. There is a meditative practice for nearly everything. However, I’m interested in the practical side of spiritual growth and I believe art contains the potential to be the perfect bridge between an isolated spiritual practice and an engaged one.
Spirituality, like art, has become separate from our everyday lives. There is the stereotype of the monk in a monastery, giving up all earthly pleasures to follow his spiritual calling. Although this is beginning to change, we still see the connection with our spirit as something that happens in private, something that we can’t do unless we completely close out the physical world and its influences. We understand that the purpose is to meditate with every step we take and with every person we talk to, but the leap can seem too great. The bridges haven’t yet been pointed out. This is where art has potential.
Eventually I began to understand that meditation is not a passive activity at all
I tried to meditate years ago, unsuccessfully. I would get up at 5:00am and sit on the chair in the living room, with coffee in hand, as my head nodded slowly towards my knees and then jerked up abruptly as I woke up. I had no idea what I was supposed to be doing. Sitting in a relaxed position, with my eyes closed was the perfect recipe for sleep. I stopped meditating for years, but continued to find ways to get more connected. Eventually I began to understand that meditation is not a passive activity at all. It requires intense consciousness and presence and this is difficult to attain when you are a “beginner” in the search for yourself. I would like to see more tools out there to bridge the space between being overwhelmed by physical influences and living an engaged life. And although there are no shortcuts on the path to living your truest purpose, I believe we have reached a place where we are ready, as a human race, to move more quickly and to be more specific and precise with our growth.
Here are the 5 reasons that Art Meditation can be a powerful tool of change:
- Your eyes are open. This one is important when you are starting a meditation practice. Closing your eyes has been, for as long as we can remember, the cue to fall asleep. Your body is programmed to respond in the same way it always has unless you find a method to trick it into presence instead of sleep. Art Meditation allows you to practice presence while you are still awake and alert.
- It triggers emotions. Art, by nature, is designed to trigger nearly every human emotion. As such it is a safe place to watch those emotions flow through you and to stay detached from placing blame for how you’re feeling. You’re not going to start crying and ask a painting how it could be so cruel to make you feel loneliness. You understand it as coming from within you as a result of an external trigger. This allows you to stay in ownership of what you’re feeling while you meditate.
- Your body can move. In most places that you view art, you are not completely still. Although this may seem counterintuitive to meditation, I have found that the most beneficial meditations are when I’m calm, but moving slightly as my body requires it. There is nothing that sits still in this world. Everything is in a constant state of flux. In order to function from a high place of consciousness we need to be able to move and be conscious at the same time. It is also almost always the case, that when you are just beginning in your practice you will have tension and blockages in your body. As you meditate and reach a more and more conscious state, it is essential that your body stays in motion as the blockages are “unfrozen” so that they can move on out!
- Art is the universal language. Art does not speak a language (except for perhaps some specific examples like Barbara Kruger, but even these carry an energy). Art is possibly the most universal thing there is. It is a captured moment of someone’s truth and as such, usually carries a purity that makes it easy to be present with. This would be a good place to reinforce that I am not talking about “pretty” art when I talk about art as meditation. Watching Schindler’s List was one of the most profound experiences of my life. I remember being barely able to see the screen as tears flooded down my face, and as I walked outside after the film ended, the entire world looked different. It had shifted my consciousness. Art with this kind of strength does the same thing and it reaches across cultures, accessing the shared human experience.
- Art speaks to you from where you are. Art, like life, gives you what you need when you are ready for it. Meditating with a piece may make you sad one day, and joyful the next. It has long been argued that what the artist intended in the piece, has very little relevance to the significance of the piece. Considering this in light of meditation, it becomes what the viewing/seeker/pilgrim requires it to be. Remember that this is a journey into you. That is the entire purpose of this practice and what the piece becomes, is your own creation. This is a reminder that the physical world around you is perceived by you according to the state of consciousness you are in. Art shows us the many faces of ourselves and reminds us that everything is simply reflecting our current state of consciousness back to us.
Some things to remember when meditating on art:
- Feel, don’t think
- Start by going with no one you know
- Take your time moving from one piece to the next instead of rushing
- Spend more time with pieces that make you feel either uncomfortable or ones that bring you joy
- Allow words to pop into your head, but let them drift back out again
- Remember that this is exercise is only for your highest benefit and ultimate joy. If, at any time, it feels like it’s not serving your highest purpose, walk away
Although this is a short list, it is a place to start. Try these out and then add to the list and tell me what worked for you. My future blog posts on Art Meditation will dive deeper into the practical side of it and hopefully will include some success stories that people have shared with me about Art Meditation. Finding your purpose is an adventurous and sometimes long road and I am so very grateful to be sharing some of my purpose with you. Many blessings as you journey back to yourself.