Art as Meditation

The space between art and meditation is a breath away.

When I first began my spiritual practice, which wound its way from yoga to meditation to reiki and beyond, I found the feeling of meditative space familiar and quite easy to get into to.

And with the clarity and perfection of hindsight I can tell you this is because I have always found meditative space in making art. In fact, I actively cultivate it. Let me explain a little further.

Through all my years of practice, learning and focused introspection, aka art school and subsequent years of practice, I’ve come to realize that I have actually crafted my entire art practice around the pursuit of coming into a meditative state. Throughout art school the acceptable word for this was flow.

Its interesting to note that I didn’t meditate until after my MFA was complete. So throughout my art education the word meditation wasn’t even in my vocabulary.

Flow is a term coined by psychology professor Mihalyi Csikzentmihalyi. There are 9 defining features of how Csikzentmihalyi defines Flow — you can read them here. I’m going to give you my working definition instead.

When you’re in flow, or an active meditative space:

You loose sense of time — you could be working for a hour or 5 minutes. You can’t tell the difference.

You loose sense of self — all of the ways you identify yourself disappear; gender, race, societal roles, etc.

You are working on something that gives you immediate feedback — with each and every step you are seeing a transformation.

You have a renewed sense of self upon completion — I’ve always loved this last point. That in order to more fully know yourself you must first loose yourself.

Bow River Suite — installation shot

So to give you can example of how I work to cultivate this quality in my practice, look at the image above. This is from my Bow River Suite that I made at the Banff Centre in Banff, Alberta during an artist residency.

These 32 panel were created from photos of the Bow River taken from the exact same vantage point over the course of a month. I was entranced by the idea that every moment I captured in a photograph would never exist again and that those particular molecules of water would be long gone by the time I made the work — miles and miles away or evaporated up into the air.

Detail — Bow River Suite, gouache on paper, panels are 22" X 30"

After some experimentation, I landed on a simple monochromatic / one colour, linear approach to capturing these images. Essentially, tracing the images with lines.

I like this idea of tracing something as a way to try to capture it; examining it line by line.

The meditative part of these pieces was the shear repetitiveness of painting out the linework. In a darkened studio, I projected the images and then got to work.

Detail of a single panel — Bow River Suite,gouache on paper, 22" X 30"

In every single piece, except maybe the first few, I would have moments of questioning why I was doing this; the tedium of drawings lines and lines and lines setting in. But I would also have these wonderful moments of where I was totally absorbed in the simple act of putting paintbrush to paper and tracing the murky image beneath.

Music blaring and mind soft, I would loose myself.

I invite you to look to see if there are any things in your life that have a similar quality. That at their core feel like meditation, but don’t look like it at all. It could be running, or cooking, or accounting, or cleaning, or sorting, or driving. Like me, it may also be making art.

And if you find something that fits this description, don’t tackle it and go “Ah ha! I am meditating when I…” and then try to squeeze more out of it. Doing this will likely just kill it.

Be soft. Just notice it. Enjoy that you have found it. There is nothing else you need to do it.

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