Process & Art: is the still point the artwork produced or the source that produces it?

 

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Nothing like an interesting koan-like question to start the day. The inspiration for this post started with a reading about yoga and its connection with experiencing a still space in a practice. This reading surfaced a frequently debated question about art: What is more important, the process of making art or the product itself?

In meditation and in yoga practice, the body prepares for a state of non-reactivity. The word samskara (Sanskrit for Subliminal activator, imprints left on consciousness by actions and volitions) represents an impression of things from our past, things that leave a type of "groove" in our conscious and unconsciousness. They are like a dip in a road, a rut of sorts. In mediation one seeks stillness, a cessation of these samskaras, these impressions, if you will. This state is called nirodha. Nirodha is a moment where the body and mind are still. What is really interesting is that in this state of nirodha, the body recognizes it as a place of healing.

So bear with me here for a moment... The debate in art is this: What is more important, the process of making art and all that goes into it or the product in its final state? The expression "hand of the artist" sums up a lot of process. It can mean, literally, the physical impressions of a brush stroke style, or other markers that represent a signature style of a poet, writer, painter, boat builder, surfboard maker, sculptor, musician, on and on.... I will argue that it can also mean the process used by the builder that produces the final act of creativity. The readings, research, inspirations, conversations, the repetitive practice, sketching, pulling a melody from the air, the failures, all represent a complex state of creativity. A communicator must take a lot of information from all types of resources, distill it, become familiar with it, push on it like a bruise and develop a personal language to spit it back out. The moment the artwork is complete and ready for the world, it no longer belongs to the creator.

In essence, what happens in this distillation process, like a good scotch, is a voice. When the creator sits back and finds this thread they tap into stillness. This place of stillness is a sense of trust that their hard-won language and vision will be handled with care. The result is a book, a painting, new song. Whatever the output, one could call this a moment of nirodha. Maybe this is the foundation of the creative process. I know that the Yoga-Sutras are not about this process but I find the similarities too close to ignore. We are all creators that are striving to trust in ourselves and our ability to heal and move on. Inherently, we want to communicate our lessons.

I am coming closer to this intuitively through meditation and yoga and it has been a surprising clarification that I want to explore more. A group of my friends have been debating the question of what is more important, the process of making or the product of making for over 25 years. This is an "art koan" that will be debated and has been debated forever.

What does the label "artist" encompass and mean? In our seeking, research, distillation and finally, voice, is it the art we are sharing or the experience of creation? What does it mean to nurture this vulnerable voice in our culture? Once art moves beyond the creator, it becomes universal. Art that moves people finds the golden thread of human expression and sets out to heal others. It no longer belongs to the artist.

I will open the floor to you. What is more important - the final artwork or the process by which it was created?

~b

 

For Reference:

Patanjali's Yoga-Sutra # 2.46-48 states -->

The postures of meditation should embody steadiness and ease.
This occurs as all effort relaxes and coalescence arises, revealing that the body and the infinite universe are indivisible.
Then one is no longer disturbed by the play of opposites.

Samskara: Subliminal activator, imprints left on consciousness by actions and volition

Nirodha: Stilling, cessation, restriction

Samvega, or my trip to California to get quiet

 

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From June into July 2014, I went to California to do my art. I got quiet.

Right before I left I opened a favorite author's book, "The Wisdom of Yoga" by Stephen Cope and started to read it. I ran into the Buddhist concept of 'Samvega' and it blew my mind. I put the book down and stopped reading it as it was a pretty decent shock to my system. This all happened by page 15 & I needed to process this metaphorical brick wall. Not the most accomplished reading session but I think that discovery will always be a dog-eared moment for what is to come next for me. I went on to pack and left the book behind but brought the concept with me across the states. I needed some percolation to happen. The day after I got the LA, the woman I rented from (now a great friend) showed me the mediation space of the Lake Shrine where I began to feel like making this trip/pilgrimage was right. This place was right and the extreme discomfort I saw myself in was right. Here is why it was like hitting a wall of realization, discomfort and ultimately a soft sigh (content taken from Stephen Cope's book, "The Wisdom of Yoga": 

The Buddhist monk Thanissaro Bhikkhu describes the state of samvega as: "The oppressive sense of shock, dismay, and alienation that come with realizing the futility and meaninglessness of life as it's normally lived: a chastening sense of our own complacency and foolishness in having let ourselves live so blindly: and an anxious sense of urgency in trying to find a way out of the meaningless cycle."

The reason I wanted to write about this concept was not only because of the impact that it had on me as I was reading it, but also because I see this happening in our culture, among my friends, situations and people I read about. I think there is an evolution in the human mind happening right now that is part of advancing to another state. I see a growing community affected by the following "symptoms" of samvega:

  • A puzzling failure of previous sources of satisfaction
  • A heightened concern with authenticity
  • A deepening pull toward an intuited interior world
  • A sense of urgency about realizing deeply hidden gifts and talents
  • A global and diffuse sense of internal disorganization - equal parts psychological and spiritual
  • A deeply felt internal imperative to stop business as usual - or to "get quiet"
  • A call to explore a path that might give transcendent meaning to the enigmas of life

The person that left their corporate job to start a micro-brewary because they wanted to create a product of quality and share it with others. The person that wants to make jewelry in a light-filled studio and uphold a sense of authenticity they feel is missing in the mass-market offerings. The person that opens a pop-up store that becomes successful because their customers sense their desire to create a better product, a better brand. These are examples of samvega without having to get into the texts of Patanjali's "Yoga-Sutras". There are a myriad of examples all around us every day that point to this undercurrent of change that is taking place.

Over many nights that I sat in quiet with nature in Topanga, CA, I came to realize that it was time to let go of the control that I thought I had over the future, be okay with the now and viscerally understand the past is where it should be, in the past. I am certain this is a lesson I will grapple with forever but there was a sense of calm, of peace, that came with it. In the end, there is an excitement that comes from this place, in addition to solace, that everything will be okay. With these moments of stillness we find a type of faith - when things do strike us, and they will, we will be better equipped to handle them. In this quiet space, we get to connect to our authentic selves and it opens that thread of faith so that we can follow our own true path.

Samvega opens our intuition up for self-directed reorganization that allows us to become better participants of this life. It is a step in pointing us in the direction of authenticity and hopefully less madness.

~b

The book --> "The Wisdom of Yoga, A Seeker's Guide to Extraordinary Living" by Stephen Cope

In Pacific Palisades, west Los Angeles area, The Lake Shrine Temple is a beautiful place to sit still, no matter your belief system

 

Detachment & Surrender are Not Dirty Words, Anymore

 

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I was in the car driving through the beautiful Ojai, California area with a friend recently and I was explaining what happened a long time ago when I got laid off from a very well paying job. I often spent 17 hour days working through crazy deadlines as part of defining what websites should be, their interactions and what a company's presence was online. And when I lost that job simply because the client I was assigned to stopped their work on their website due to economic times, I lost my identity. My friend used the word detached to describe my reactions to this whole moment and it caught in my throat. I never thought of it that way.  I did detach. Bigtime. Severely. In ways that still affect my ability to work for others. If you identify with your job as your usefulness, your contribution, and that is stripped away, who are you? 

As we drove through the mountains, I told her that at the time I really had to reevaluate my place in the world as I identified myself with my work. I came up short and I have been chasing that idea of wholeness ever since. That event brought me to my knees and looking back on that lesson I have realized it was the beginning of learning to surrender. Though, until recently, surrender is not a word that I have even worked into my vocabulary. 

I never really climbed back aboard that "work til you drop / take one for the team" train too often since. I work more efficiently and I define my output as part of the quality that I want to own. I redefined my sense of self and I moved it to the work that I produce and not the job that I am in. Now that I am updating and shifting the balance in my life to creating more art and really trying to find the "whole", I am finding that detachment and surrender aren't such dirty words to me anymore. 

In those months after losing that job I quickly got another job. It was one of prestige in my industry and on paper, a beautiful experience. But I have been looking beyond ever since. I guess looking for some shiny object that does not exist. In Buddhism, the idea of desire and its cause of so much suffering is front and center. Sometimes you just have to run into a brick wall to snap you out of continuous cycles. Buddhists call it samsara, Catholics call it purgatory, but no matter what religion, it is the same. I am slowly eroding this ever present desire for more. A desire to have something else. A need to fulfill a perceived brokenness. A way to fill a hole that never seems to fill. And through this erosion, I am finding a sense of detachment. Not a cold or inhuman place, but an opening into being able to receive more input. It becomes like reeds in the wind on the marsh - you ride it and the effect of the winds are less destructive.

This place of detachment is like a deep breath of acceptance because at the end of the day, it is our reaction to the craziness of life that defines us, not what happens to us. I may even offer the word surrender...

~b