The artistic process as a spiritual vehicle
|Alchemical ~ Nigredo ~ Albedo ~ Rubedo|
Throughout art history qualities have been attributed to colours. They have been perceived as having magical propensities, as healing talismans, or in the case of alchemy indicate the current state of ones spiritual progress. These all attempted to bring religious, psychological or factual objectivity to the subjective and emotionally based experience of colour perception. These conceptual frameworks that surround the spiritual aesthetics of colour, have informed artists working methods. Artists as stylistically diverse as Mondrian and Kandinsky, found inspiration from theosophical concepts about the archetypal references of specific colours and shapes, that were the foundation for their future very radical abstractions.
|Theosophic Colour States|
Colours possess visual temperature, a vibrant energy and a capacity for shimmering movement or calming stillness. They are; light or dark; warm or cold; they recede or advance towards the viewer; seem to optically expand across a surface or contract inwards. It seems then quite natural for any artist to use colour as a visual echo of the human spirit and any desire to transcend their mortal limitations. Colour, in combination with form and expression, appear to be the essential core of what can turn an aesthetic into a spiritual experience.
The outward expression of an artist's imagination, and the spiritual qualities an art work may communicate to the viewer, do not necessarily correspond in all particulars. Elements sneak in underneath the imaginative disguise put there by the artist. If receptive, an artist can be like a spiritualist medium, and become skilled in allowing disembodied entities to occupy and speak through them. If an artist can get themselves sufficiently out of the way that is. It is possible for the desire for Self-expression to be diverted into a vehicle for Other Power to express itself. Only via this type of subliminal channelling can an artistic process become an interface through which 'the spiritual' is given voice. The artist needs to be a blind instrument, otherwise this 'Other Powered Voice' will be drowned out by the artist's self-conscious awareness. For one can never self-consciously imbue 'spiritual' qualities into art. Though there are many fake mediums around!
There is another way in which 'the spiritual' can enter into the artistic process, and that is by turning that process itself into a spiritual endeavour. Spiritual practice in art, is concerned with the artist's own creative and internal process. Whether the completed artwork is perceived as pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, is, in this respect, a matter of little import. Spiritual practice is concerned with ones state of mind, the form of ones thoughts and emotions during the process of creation.
As a practicing Buddhist, my aim is to be able to apply the Buddha's teachings to what I do. This means usually being aware enough in the moment, to be able bring them to mind and apply them to specific instances in my life. The artistic process is no different from any other human activity. The Eight Worldly Winds are always at play in all forms of human creativity. The desire for Fame, Gain, Pleasure and Praise often being thwarted by Infamy, Loss, Pain and Blame. Our Self craves significance and wants to be appreciated and recognised, as being here, as being an 'artist'. These are universal difficulties, we all want to know that our life will matter and something will live on beyond our death. Whether its our biological or our artistic children, the impulse beneath it is much the same. We can place too much self- identity and self-love into an artwork that even the possibility of it not being liked, can feel as though we are standing nakedly prepared for the final fatal body blow. Nothing seems worse than dying unknown and unloved.
Practically speaking spiritual practice is about being aware of these issues and to bring forth a more helpful perspective. Remembering that the conditions that form our life and art change all the time, so not allowing the momentary ups and downs in ones confidence, to undermine or intoxicate one's sense of purpose. To be more equanimous in the midst of creative achievements or failures. Its more focused on the motivations going on beneath the artistic process, the conditions that might facilitate or impede the process, than a perfectly resolved idea and finished result.
|Vidyavajra ~ A State of Alarm|
I've found that I need to take notice of how I hold the reins of artistic control, getting the balance right between holding them too tightly or too loosely. The qualities and tendencies of my mental and emotional state can stifle or encourage the creative process. It's helpful if I can cultivate abiding in the present moment whilst I work on a piece. To not allow reflections on past or present errors in artistic judgement or anxiety about the future creative direction of a piece, to turn into obstacles. These can then hang around perfuming my mind, and distract me from my sense of purpose. I make a practice of turning errors into hidden intentions, to not see them as mistakes at all. but as a change in the evolving conditions that will form the final piece.
I see one aspect of relaxing the reins of artistic control, as allowing the artwork to speak to me. It will show me what needs to comes next, only when the moment for it has arrived, and not before! Whenever I try to pre-empt or enforce control over the evolutionary direction of an artwork, then the artistic process grinds to a halt in doubt or prevarication. At worst the artwork spins off kilter into muddy incoherence. The habits, doubts and superficiality I may have about the artistic process, have to be constantly countered by creativity and clarity within the process, and remaining committed to it whatever happens.
For me, the process of artistic creation is an ongoing debate between these aspects of my Self and subtler aspects of Other Power. The path of artistic self-expression will eventually reach a turning point and become a way to 'go beyond' self-expression. Not by renouncing all forms of self-expression or by abandoning the making of art, but by gradually transforming the Self-reinforcing underpinning that is beneath the artistic process. I grapple with these sorts of issues by externalising them, giving them a tangible form through a creative medium. Integrating the results of my exploration and struggles, which will hopefully strengthen the foundations of the path that ultimately leads towards resolving or transforming them.