Saturday, September 12, 2009
Consciousness, Creativity, and Closing the Gap
I'm starting to understand the process of creativity a little better, now that I'm approaching it from the advaita angle. In the advaitan approach, there is no separation between the artist, the medium, and the artwork. This is the terrain of nondualism, so from the outset there is an awareness of the process being an uninterrupted flow of energy. How is this experienced? How does the advaitan artist experience the creative process?
It's very simple, really. There is no break between being and doing. The miniscule gap that the artist experiences while applying paint to canvas or chisel to stone altogether disappears. It's similar to the way in which water flows into the sea. Even though the location of the water determines what we call it (brook, river, ocean), it's never anything except water in constant motion. Likewise, the creative energy flows from its source through the artist to the artwork and has its various labels along the way, but the energy itself is unchanging and unbroken.
There's a good reason why the gap between artist and artwork needs to be completely closed up. It's in this sliver of a gap where ego slips in, and then the creative process is stained. In advaitan art, there can be no ego involvement. As soon as ego finds its way into the process, there is the stain of duality. And as soon as there is duality, the art becomes self-conscious, trendy, and something else. A commodity, an ornament, a status symbol, but not Art. See, there's art, and then there's Art. Art with a little "a" is produced self-consciously, meaning that the doer is aware of the doing, and therefore separated from it. In advaitan art, there is a seamless process of creativity, and the sense of "I" or "mine" is lost, in some cases permanently. I haven't yet been able to permanently lose myself; the 'self-amnesia', or forgetting of oneself, lasts only as long as the process of making the art. Alas, as soon as the creating ends, the "I" creeps back in and observes the artwork as a separate entity. It's a drag when this happens, and there's not much for me to do at that point except maybe write in my blog. But the artist who permanently loses her sense of a separate self is an awakened, enlightened being, and thus continually at one with the creative flow.
While water is flowing from a mountain top to the ocean, it's not stressing out about the outer form it embodies. It doesn't have a meltdown, so to speak, about whether it is snow, rivulet, brook, river, waterfall, and so on. It's just water. What we choose to call it is of no consequence to the water itself. Likewise, the artist isn't concerned with the form of the artwork, or its value, its critical worth, its gallery placement, or whether it fits into post-neo-deconstructivist theory. The advaitan artist is concerned only with closing the gap between himself and his process, and beyond that it's up to the viewer and the critic to make distinctions in style, influence, and market value.
When I'm particularly absorbed in the creative process, I lose awareness of myself as someone to attend to. Instead there is an awareness of an energy flowing through me that requires no explanation, no assistance, no tending to. I am conscious of consciousness, and compelled to do only one thing: stay out of the way. Just keep working, don't analyze, try to ignore thoughts, and keep plugging away at the process at hand. At the moment I'm cutting up the Koran with an x-acto blade letter by letter, and reassembling it into the Book of Revelation. Pretty rote stuff. But there are a lot of aesthetic decisions to be made as I work, so I can't just put it on autopilot. I'm present insofar as I decide where the line of type is going to be placed on the paper, but my ego involvement is minimal. That's when everything's going well. When things go badly, it's because I've thought too much, and my ego has slipped through the gap. My flat files are filled with paintings and drawings that were done by my ego. Boring stuff.
I hear actors talk about losing themselves in the role they're playing. Ironically, when there is no trace of the actor, that's when she gives a brilliant performance. It's the same with visual art. Closing the gap and losing oneself is what creativity is all about. When the artist disappears, pure creativity radiates, and consciousness unfolds into more consciousness.
Above: Gate, acrylic on paper, 2008. Painted by pure consciousness, with some help from my ego.