One City

One City

Why Make Art?

  Recently, one of my artist friends who became involved in meditation and Buddhism described her changing relationship to her art.  “I used to paint from the I, and now that my perception is changing, so is my art.”  She spoke of feeling lost for awhile, of questioning old subjects, having to re-learn how to paint.  As I continue to explore both yoga and meditation, I find my relationship to my writing changing, too, and I wonder if you, fellow bloggers, find the same? 
I think a lot of my writing used to stem from the desire to “bridge” parts of myself.  I wrote as a process of self-discovery, as a way to look into a mirror.  It was as if one part of self was writing to another, schizophrenic as that sounds.  I often had the experience of not fully “getting” what I was writing until later….as if some higher self was writing to a more worldly self. I still have this experience, but less so as I get to know myself better and feel more “in communication” with my whole self in general.  Maybe this stems from contemplative practices, or maybe its just getting older, but I feel more in touch with how I think and feel now in general, and don’t need to journal for pages to catch a glimpse. 


A lot of my writing was also, as my friend phrased it, “from the I.”  There was a lot of “getting things off my chest” of “having my say” and telling “my” story.  All valid things, to possess and honor one’s own voice and story…..but sorta ego-filled, don’t cha think?  Or maybe it depends on intention….


 I find myself contemplating the dialog of writing more now, not just monologue.  I wonder more about audience, and generally think of it more as sharing than venting.  There has to be some active ego in writing or art-making in that you feel confident enough in what you say and make to believe it matters.  But matters for who?  For the author, for release or discovery?  Or for everybody? 

What drives you to write, or create art?  Has it changed since you’ve begun meditating?

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posted February 23, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Hi, Sarah. I was just thinking about this same thing today. I’ve been meditating for a long time now, but I used to put a heavier emphasis on stream-of-consciousness writing – following Natalie Goldberg’s counsel to do nothing but free write for years on end. (By the time I moved to New York five years ago, I packed up something like twelve boxes full of filled-up notebooks and have accumulated more since.)
But, in more recent years, I’ve burned out on that Goldberg-inspired practice and have shifted my emphasis to sitting meditation. While I still do three pages of morning pages every morning (THE ARTIST’S WAY), I’ve found that I can’t go on for screeds in notebooks anymore. This has led to a greater desire to get more work out there before the public eye – terrific though that is.

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posted February 25, 2008 at 12:05 pm

Interesting post. I didn’t start writing until after I learned about meditation so I can’t make a before and after comparison. I can say that I have been feeling this sort of transition as well, but I don’t call myself a “writer.” I don’t force myself to write every day and many “serious” writers would probably scoff at me if I dared considered myself one of them. But I would be doing myself a great disservice to say that I don’t write or that I can’t write at all.
This transition from writing purely for yourself to writing for an audience, I think is one that many consistent writers experience – meditating or not. It’s an interesting question when we ask about our motivations to broadcast ourselves in the form of art. What are we trying to say and to whom are we saying it? This is a question that is always in the back of my mind when I write. Sometimes, the answer for me is, I don’t care – I just want it out of me and on paper! But even then, I’m aware that when I’m feeling like that, I’m not writing for anybody else but me and I don’t intend for this to be broadcasted.
Note: I started reading a book on some lectures a dude gave about the diamond sutra and he said that many people who are enlightened are great writers not because they have what we consider a natural gift for it, but because when you see higher truths of sentient beings and the nature of communication and relationships, you naturally communicate better and more beautifully. Which I thought was interesting, and then I thought, well does that mean that enlightened people only communicate for the benefit of others? This need to write for yourself, does it go away or lessen the closer you get to fully understanding yourself? Would you still feel that burning need to write for catharsis if you didn’t suffer from delusions? Would an enlightened person write a fictional novel?
Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

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posted February 25, 2008 at 5:54 pm

My art has certainly changed as a result of meditation. Firstly, I used to create everything from a place of anxiety, like, “if I don’t write this play then I’m not going to do anything and I might as well just give it all up and work at the post office for the next thirty years because that’s all I’m good for” kind of anxiety. Because of that anxiety there was a huge push/pull of procrastination then forcing myself to work. My process now is much more enjoyable, and it’s something I come to with pleasure, partly because as the “I” has dissipated the anxiety has faded as well. I can let the “idea” of me as an artist who should know what they’re doing go. Also since meditation teaches you to sit with uncomfortable feelings and realize that the intense desire for pleasure is the uprising of your mind, I’m able to stay with the page, or in the rehearsal much more. I’m no longer thinking about another cup of coffe or returning my library books when I’m doing after my writing, or where we should go drinking after rehearsal.
That’s all obvious. I’ve always seen autobiography as a method of expressing kinship rather than a need to tell my story, but I definitely do find myself more interested (and free) to work with characters who are very outside of my experience more now I think than before meditation. I really think it might be because I’ve started to love others more.
I’ve also become concious of mean social criticism in my work, and I try to do it less now. I used to just rip into habits or types of expressions for comedic effect. Now I only do that if I feel as though it’s really advancing the premise of the play or story.
Less schadenfraude, I guess.
Those are my last 20 minutes of the day thoughts, but I feel as though I could write for ages about this subject.

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posted February 26, 2008 at 3:30 pm

My meditation practice started back in 1990 when I became a Buddhist in the Nicheren Daishonin sect. I had moved to Los Angeles at a very critical period of my life— I was going through what Carl Jung would call a “confrontation with the unconscious”.
The Buddhist practice provided a container to hold some of that intensity. I knew I needed something to calm my mind and help ritualize my experience. By the way, I also came pretty close to becoming a Scientologist at this time. The boarding house I lived in was run by a Scientologist and half of the boarders practiced it. As it turned out, my contact in L.A. was a Buddhist and very enthusiastic about introducing me to this method of meditation. So despite having taken the Scientology I.Q. and Personality tests at their Hollywood headquarters, I chose Buddhism, specifically this branch of Japanese origin that involves chanting, “Nam Myoho Renge Kyo”. It was perfect for me and suited my style. The chanting itself is a good meditation method for me. I like the way it encompasses the 5th chakra by exercising the vocal chords. Sometimes when I’m in a “good” chant, I can feel the vibrations swirling around my head.
Anyway, I’m not sure how much the meditation itself affects my artistic output. I’m actually a graphic artist with a preference for portrait painting and comic-style storytelling. After I saw “American Splendor” with Harvey Pekar, I knew that was the perfect art form for me (comics, not film). The combination of writing and drawing is my ultimate match. However, finding the correct mix of the two has been challenging. Currently, I’ve been experimenting with an inner psychodramatic format where I actually have a dialog with different parts of myself. It’s exactly like what you mentioned below in your post:
[I think a lot of my writing used to stem from the desire to “bridge” parts of myself.  I wrote as a process of self-discovery, as a way to look into a mirror.  It was as if one part of self was writing to another, schizophrenic as that sounds.]
And in 1990, I was diagnosed with Dissociative Identity Disorder. I was terrified by the diagnosis and did not want to deal with therapy. Instead, I developed my own method of inner dialog and projection to work with my other identities, specifically the one called KC (the others are McMurphy, Kate and Kyle). Amazingly, this method has proved to be quite effective and very creative. It seems that whenever you solicit the unconscious, whether for artistic inspiration or through meditation, something bubbles up. Well, I wasn’t disappointed that’s for sure. I encountered all sorts of psychic phenomena and strange synchronicities (siddhis) but my knowledge of Jungian analysis kept me grounded (as did the Buddhism).
Another source of inspiration for me is a book I read when I was about 22 or so (1986) called “Edie: An American Biography” by Jean Stein. This is the biography of Edie Sedgwick, one of Andy Warhol’s superstars. The book fascinated me and held me enthralled through multiple back-to-back readings. I realize now it was the style or format that captivated my attention (as much as the touching story of an upper middle-class, charismatic and beautiful woman’s life in the 1960s). It’s written in the multiple narrative voices of people interviewed who knew Sedgwick and her family. This is the format for my psychodrama/blog. I have yet to draw any comic frames to accompany my blog, but that is indeed in the works. It feels like my creative inspiration has been injected anew with a whole different approach to expressing myself. We’ll see how it goes.
Another method I want to mention is Jung’s “active imagination”. This is a psychoanalytic technique whereby an individual engages the unconscious in a dialog or fantasy with the conscious ego. If you’re interested, I highly recommend John Betts Jung Podcast #21 Active Imagination. He goes into detail about the process and its origins. He also mentions how to use it in painting, writing, dance and psychodrama. Good luck with your art!

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