Contemplative Art

Art-making is a contemplative practice that affects us internally, through our thoughts and emotions, as well as externally, through the creation of object and images that can serve as sources of inspiration and healing. Contemplative art may be loosely divided into two (non-exclusive) categories:

1) Process Emphasis: the process of making artwork is what is paramount; the work that results from the practice is not important. One might consider these contemplative practices to be simply “exercises;” they can be especially freeing for those who feel they lack adequate artistic talent or skill, since the point of the practice is not to make “good” art, but simply to observe the mind while engaging in the creative process.

2) Product Emphasis: the practitioner intends to create a specific type of object–which may be directly related to other contemplative practices. For example, painting a religious icon, weaving a prayer shawl, stringing a rosary, or hand-binding a journal may done with mindful intention. The practice has a desired result: to produce a particular image or object.

In both cases, despite the emphasis on process or product, the intention of the practitioner is the same: to engage in the creative process with contemplative awareness.

Using a Scrapbook or Sketchbook as an aid to Contemplation

This is a brief description of a two-part practice. In the first part, we’ll create a collection of personally meaningful images. In the second, our scrapbook will be used as a reference while we engage in open-ended and self-reflective creative work.

1) Begin by stimulating your imagination and your senses by spending some time browsing and collecting images and ideas that you find emotionally stirring. Try looking through personal photographs, books, magazines or newspapers. Spend time outdoors, just watching and listening. Bring a camera and take photographs of sights that move you. Anything, no matter how silly or insignificant you think it may seem to others, is fair game. Your collection is for you alone, so be honest with yourself as you accumulate your images. Save your images in a scrapbook, or carry a sketchbook to collect your ideas.

This collection will serve as your “inspiration guide,” and you can refer to it when you need a little push. Feel free to add and remove items from it as you wish; it can represent an ever-evolving record of what is interesting and significant to you.

2) Collect your preferred art-making materials–which could be as simple as a pen and paper–and sit silently to relax and focus your mind. Gently breathe in and gently breathe out. After a few minutes, refer to your scrapbook. Browse it quietly for a few minutes, lingering over the images you’ve collected. You may find that a question or response arises naturally in your mind.

As you begin working with your materials, whether you are drawing, sculpting in clay, or building a paper collage, see if you can maintain an awareness of not just what you are making and the process of creating it, but also how you are feeling and what you are thinking about. If a thought or inspiration arose for you at the beginning of the session, is it still present? You may wish to move more slowly than usual, or pause and close your eyes.

You might notice how your mind moves from idea to idea: you may begin your project with an initial intention or inspiration, like making an image about your childhood, or a subject you saw on the news. But after some time has passed, you may be thinking about a someone you used to know, or a favorite song. The mind naturally jumps from topic to topic, so try to be aware of how your ideas change while you work. And, if at any point you want to refer back to your scrapbook, please do so.