Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Artist Mind

I’m reading Mark Epstein’s Psychotherapy Without the Self: A Buddhist Perspective. The chapter entitled “Meditation as Art, Art as Meditation: Thoughts on the Relationship of Nonintention to the Creative Process” may seem to prop up past movements as new (abstract expressionism), but I think its points are entirely relevant to studio time today.

Here’s the low down:

The process of making of art involves a shift in consciousness, one in which the “self” gets out of the way, leaving room for a jumble of feelings and thoughts, both pleasant and unpleasant. This shift involves being present to the mind, but not taking control of it (like what occurs during meditation). This means the artist has to let go of the idea of what art is.

Artists in the 50s, many who attended D.T. Suzuki’s lectures at Columbia University, keyed into this concept of going beyond intellection and abstraction. For example, John Cage drew on chance to write music; Philip Guston aired his figurative demons at night in his studio; Agnes Martin created a personal vocabulary of markings.

Is this an awareness that is useful for today? I think so. It is the process of controlled letting go that I think makes the most meaningful art. This doesn’t mean we have to spend our days making circles with ink.

To quote Agnes Martin:

“The artist’s own mind will be all the help he needs. There will be moving ahead and discoveries made every day. There will be great disappointments and failures in trying to express them. An artist is one who can fail and fail and still go on.”

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