Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Art as meditation on Buddhist lessons of Dhamma

I have just returned from a meditation retreat at the Birken Forest Monastery where part of my practice was to use my art as a meditation on Dhamma.  I understand from reading Ajahn Sucitto that Dhamma is the Buddha’s teaching that the stress and suffering of life is unavoidably bound up with the human condition; and because this suffering has a cause, that cause can be eliminated; and finally that there is a Path of practices that will lead to the elimination of that stress and suffering.

Certainly the way I create art usually involves a fair amount of stress, and so I decided to try and do a series of drawings during which I did not become attached to the outcome of appearance.  “Does this look acceptable as art? What will someone think of my skill?”  It was very difficult to let this inner voice of judgement go silent.

The first pieces I did, following the Drawing Projects outlined by Mick Maslen and Jack Southern, were surprisingly interesting.  The first task involved drawing with the pencil attached to a three foot stick, and the next one required using two pencils taped together.  It is easy to not get tangled in the hindrances of aversion and doubt when the experience is new.

 However, the next piece became quite as prickly as its subject matter—a twig of dried thistle.  “Art talk” swarmed into my head and I created frustration regarding composition, balance and repetition.

I had less stress with this “lookdrawlookdraw” technique of contour drawing, but then this is my usual way of mark making, and the tendency to revert to old patterns was hard to escape.  The most interesting work in this series was a drawing exploring “one decision-one mark” which makes a drawing that is very controlled and deliberate. I was quite put off by the rigidity, and when a later task asked me to revive a failed drawing, this is the one I chose.  Lots of smudging and eraser work created some openness, and then the addition of the colored apple created the surprise.

Of course the art mediation on Dhamma was not during the drawing experiences, but afterwards, sitting in meditation with the feelings, letting them arise as body sensations, and then letting them go without attachment. In this way, the least successful art works were the most successful objects of concentration.  Feelings arise; they pass away.  Apparently in art as in life, the best response is to relax, have fun and try not to get attached.