Art As A Spiritual Practice
I am an artist and yoga teacher. My yoga practice keeps my interior world polished, so, as the Upanishads say, as to be ready for lightening when it strikes. Yoga came to me to support the artist, because it was never a chicken or egg question. The artist in me existed long before the yogini.
Art has always been my spiritual practice. Even as a child art cajoled me to surrender willfulness and led me to a deep engagement with mystery. During the time I was drawing, I had to give up having a purpose, yet remain in my body, breathe, and take in the pulse of my environment. If I looked deeply, rather than see the surface, I could catch a ride with stories, colors, shapes that were calling to be manifested. I could interpret and disrupt the boundary between inside and outside.
This experience is common to many who realize the artistic calling. It happens the day they pick up a pencil and are possessed by the desire to capture the essence of a person or to draw fire; to strike a drum and want to string together sounds; to be totally fascinated when yellow meets a splash of blue on watercolor paper. The calling requires learning technique and being disciplined so that when the lightening strikes they are ready. We become soft and receptive and catch meaningful essence rather than be willfully intent and end up holding only the surface of a thing.
Romano Guardini (1885-1986), the respected Italian-German theologian, said the more purposeful we are in life, the less meaning our life has. This is a good concept for artists to remember. The marketplace is endlessly busy, dedicated to purpose when, in fact, we are meant to be purposeless. So it follows, the more purposeful we are as artists the more alienated we are from meaning.
The words of my New York artist friend Costa Moran have always been inspirational. He said the daily work of doing art is the practice, accepting what comes up, letting go of intention. “Let’s see what happens. Whatever work is going to be made, it just comes through you.”
For many of us, it’s tough to affirm that process and not give in to consumerism and the product-oriented culture that is commodifying everything. Making art as a vehicle for discovery — about self, soul, community, environment, country, world — rather than as a means for making money is when art becomes a spiritual practice. The very lucky artists do art as a spiritual practice and make a living at it.
Spirit is derived from the Old French espirit, which comes from the Latin word spiritus (soul courage, vigor, breath), and is related to spirare (to breathe). Just like a yogi breathes into the pose, an artist breathes into his or her work. The work, like the pose, has a pulse.
German-born conceptual artist Joseph Bueys (1921-1986) said, “Even the act of peeling a potato can be a work of art if it is a conscious act.” I agree. Art is making a shrine or altar within the space of your yoga pose; enjoying getting dressed for the day; listening to the sacred and profane forms of philosophical meandering in your mind and letting them go; being present to silence; preparing a canvas for painting; seeing the soul of something in your camera viewfinder; having an a-ha moment while preparing your child’s snack.
Whatever discipline calls us, we can find grace and blessing within it. A meaningful spiritual practice means breathing, finding the pulse around you, allowing yourself the opportunity to experience the miracle of what is. As Rumi says: “Let the beauty we love be what we do.”
Christine Palamidessi is an artist and yoga teacher. Her “Yogi Stupa” installation can be seen during the month of March at Atlantic Works Gallery, 80 Border Street, 3rd floor, East Boston. www.atlanticworks.org.