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Why Make Art?

“Genuine art tells the truth” - Chögyam Trungpa


There are two pathways that I see in this statement:

One is the pathway of developing a clear mind through meditative practices, and making art from that position of seeing things clearly.  This is the pathway of Dharma Art that Trungpa practiced and taught.

The second pathway is engaging in the process of making art for the purpose of gaining more clarity about one’s self or “telling the truth” by uncovering hidden material or feelings.  This method is utilized in art therapy.

In the painting above I worked with the second pathway, using the experience of choosing hues and swirling them together to work through my emotional experience in those moments.  When I started, I felt stressed, tense and confused.  When I finished, I took a look at the mandala and saw a blueprint of my current state.  This helped me develop more understanding about what I was going through, and it helped me move through those difficult moments by expressing the emotion in a focused way.

Lately I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about the relationship between meditation and psychotherapy, like Dr. Jeffrey Rubin’s recent book Meditative Psychotherapy, and so I can’t help but see a connection between meditative arts and therapeutic arts. 

I have had the opportunity to practice both methods, and have seen the benefits and gifts of each.  In practicing Dharma Art with Lanny Harrison, I created short performance pieces that felt much deeper and more genuinely expressive than most of the previous performance I had done.  Rather than feeling like we were “putting on a show”, I felt like we were expressing our genuine emotional experience.  A big part of this practice was sitting and walking meditation to prepare for art making.

In the second pathway, art therapy or creative arts therapy, found that my drawings, music and creations really did reveal new aspects of my experience and of myself.  In some exercises, with Dr. Louise Montello, we were directed to create in a stream of consciousness way, without planning, thinking or judging.  There is a similarity here to a meditative state. From that place, I made art that “told the truth” about how I was feeling, sometimes revealing a difficult emotion that had been kept under the surface.  Most often, I easily recognized what my drawings were trying to tell me.  In some cases I needed the help of the therapist to process and decode the material.  

Do these perspectives contradict?  Can they work together?

As late film critic Gene Siskel asked in his celebrity interviews, 'What do you know for sure?'.  I know for sure that making art feels better, more helpful and more sane than not making art.  So I’m going to keep it up.

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I think that I unite the two approaches when I write. Thanks for your thoughtful post.

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