In May I was part of an afternoon of art and poetry centered on the theme of art practice and spiritual practice. The afternoon came about after one of those meandering conversations that takes place repeatedly and over many years. I’ve been thinking and practicing with the connection between art and spiritual practice with a small group of artists I continue to study with in Italy, with my Zen teacher, poet Norman Fisher, and with other artists who are part of the Everyday Zen Sangha including sculptor Marshall Elliott and painter Eva Bovenzi.
We were delighted that more than fifty people braved the Memorial Day traffic to join us for an afternoon of looking, listening and contemplating art, poetry and the interesting parallels between contemplative practice and art making. We enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion with the group and hope this sets the stage for further conversations.
True to my love of list making, I contributed the following observations on this topic as reflected on my own experience over the last decade or so. I could write an essay about each of these, and perhaps someday I will. But for now, here they are in no particular order.
Spiritual practice and art practice . . .
- Both pursue questions or instincts that the rational mind cannot immediately grasp.
- Both benefit from an understanding of lineage and a respect for what has come before.
- Both are full of techniques that guide the practitioner in her discovery of the work and life she was meant to make.
- Both are based on a foundation of solo inquiry and communal celebration and support.
- The studio, like all places of worship has its rituals.
- At the heart of both art and spiritual practice is an aspiration for revelation: to see more deeply, listen more expansively, and speak more honestly.
- Central to both practices is humility about control, and an openness to what comes next.
- Both recognize the need for quiet places of retreat for the purpose of focusing the mind and opening the heart.
- Both maintain a complicated and sometimes fraught relationship to the marketplace that requires careful, soul-searching and attention.