A Contemplative Studio Practice (III)


Currently there is much conversation surrounding the topic of contemplative practice. It has seeped into the arts and can be found in discussions about contemplative studio practice. This is a good thing, but at the same time – a little bit of knowledge can be dangerous. The word meditation is often on the tip of everyone’s tongue in one form or another; the visual arts are not outside of the conversation. Many are now exploring this reality – many in the arts are thinking they have a contemplative studio practice or are making work based on contemplative practice and it is not so.

There are many artists that have been working with the concept of contemplation as medium – but they have a spiritual practice. That is the foundation of the work. The Bauhaus, Ginsberg, Cunningham, Cage, Monk, Martin, O’Keeffe, Hsieh, Kimsooja and Abramovic.If one does their homework – they will find that not only is a contemplative practice a medium of the work, more importantly it is part of the artist’s life – it is not just a tool for production.

The following qualities are embodied in an artist’s contemplative studio practice.

  1. The artist is a practioner. Meaning they are not only reading a philosophy – they are engaging in the ritual practice of meditation – be it a Zen tradition,Tibetan, American, Native American,Yoruban,etc.
  2. The artist is using the qualities of that practice in the material and technique of the work.
  3. The artist is using the qualities of the practice in the process of making the work.
  4. The work is itself contemplative

The parts of the whole work can be viewed as:

  1. Perception
  2. Discipline
  3. Spiritual practice
  4. Studio practice
  5. Technique (and material) used in making the work
  6. Process of making work
  7. Manifestation of work

Contemplation becomes the conceptualization of the work, this is followed by process which ends in the manifestation of the contemplation. The manifestation of that work, be it object or experience (installation, performance), is a contemplation itself.

  1. Contemplation to conceptualization
  2. Contemplation of materiality, technique, process
  3. Manifestation of contemplation: Object/experience

Two separate places hold the contemplative studio practice

  1. Place for process of manifestation
  2. Place for materialization of manifestation

This is a different view of  the standard studio practice environment that has been with us for centuries.

  1. The contemplative studio practice space (process of manifestation)

The contemplative studio practice space is one where the actual making of the object/experience does not take place.

Here, I am separating the act of contemplating and conceptualizing from making or manifesting. This is not denying the contemplation and conceptualization as process. What is offered here is that the two processes be thought of as different actions: contemplation of the work  and making of the work as a separate actions.

Both of these actions entail two different forms of perception. It is important to understand that these categorizations are based in a relative understanding and do not deny the seamlessness of the art making process in the absolute.

1.  A perception based on spaciousness

  1. A perception based on the concrete

There must be two spaces one for each of the above. Spaciousness relates here to discursive thought and to clear knowing. Agnes Martin’s phrase “rubbishy thoughts” refers to discursive thinking in art making which is counterproductive to a contemplative studio practice.

Concrete perception (an oxymoron) points to the action that captures the contemplation which is used as a medium and as the object/action itself; the outcome being the work.

This leaves the contemplative studio practice to occur in a pristine space, clean, clear, without obstruction to the mind. Works that have been completed are installed in the space. No materials of any kind are in the area. The contemplative studio practice takes place in the white cube.

There should be something to write with – pencil or pen for journaling – a journal and or sketch book. (No computer, IPhone etc.). A chair and/or meditation cushion for sitting and relative silence.

This leaves the contemplative studio practice to occur in a space that is not supporting the roots of discursive thought.

The space where the work is made is of equal importance; however, it is not the same place as that of the contemplation to conceptualization of the work. The place of making holds the energy of the contemplative practice manifesting. In this scenario, the room/space of energy production is separate.

As contemplation is the root process for the making of the work; techniques/media differ. In this case, the initial contemplation is a medium by which the work is made without the focus on the energy of the body – the making of the work is then unobstructed.

The work in a contemplative studio practice forms from meditative process and manifests as a meditative process.

If these attributes are not involved in the artists studio practice it is not a contemplative studio practice.

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