What is Artistic Meditation?
My master’s degree is in Creative Studies with a focus on Artistic Meditation. I studied the process of meditation during the visual art process as a method of stress reduction and professional growth. My research focused on the nature of the creative process, yoga, meditation, flow theory, and the daily art movement.
I spent two years researching yoga and common forms of meditation in an effort to partner the artistic process and meditation. I began a daily art practice that served as a form of moving meditation. The experience was my stress reduction and a way to level up my artistic skills on a professional level. I painted every day for 30 minutes to an hour for 6 months.
The artistic process has a naturally meditative quality to it. Through this process of daily art-making I became a better artist and a better educator. Art Therapist Lisa Ray Garlock’s research discusses the spiritual relationships that art and creativity have. Her work involved the therapeutic creation of watercolor-painted circles for pain management after hand surgery. She was able to get lost in moments of creativity (flow theory) and, in turn, shift her focus from her pain (Garlock, 2013).
New vehicles of mindfulness have grown in popularity over the years via adult coloring books, meditation apps, and at-work wellness programs. Garlock used art as her mindful focus. There is clinical evidence that mindfulness practices support “reducing stress, decreasing depression and anxiety, improving quality of life, enhancing well-being, improving immune function, and lowering blood pressure” (Rappaport, 2014, ).
What is Meditation?
Meditation is the intentional practice of managing a state of intense focus for the goal of self-improvement (Horan, 2009). Often people believe they cannot meditate because they can’t “think of nothing.” Traditional seated meditation is not just about emptying the mind and thinking of nothing but rather focusing on a single topic.
Those that meditate regularly will admit that there are moments of distraction, but the point is to notice the distraction and return to your focal point. Rather than trying to think of nothing, how about thinking of one thing? Your breath, the smell of flowers while you sit on your deck, or how the paint flows out of your watercolor brush as you paint those flowers?
Meditation can be focusing on an activity we love as we move through life.
The peace and focus of an avid runner is on the road, while a daily yoga practitioner finds peace moving through poses on her mat. Mindfulness meditation is simply being in the present moment and can decrease anxiety as you do what you love - in stillness or during movement (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1985).
When I create art, I find relaxation. Ellen Langer (2005) wrote about the way art-making trains our mind to be more present, increase our awareness and “help us move from excessive mindlessness to a more mindful life.”
She believed a consistent mindfulness practice, we could begin to see when mindless behavior was creeping into our lives and stop it.
For Artistic Meditation to be at its best, the key is to make art often enough that you CAN relax. It has to be a consistent practice, or the anxiety over "doing it wrong" can get in the way. The art process or creative play time is the point rather than some idea of what you are “supposed” to be creating. The by-product of this consistent art-making is that you learn to let it go, and your skills improve. Anxiety over what you make will lessen.
I practice seated meditation every day and I meditate through the creative process in different ways including painting, writing, and creating new recipes. My artistic meditation technique relies on breathing exercises, an artistic moving state, and remembering to relax and enjoy the process. Just have fun playing! I find Zentangle Art, Mixed Media Art, and the flow of abstract watercolor designs to be the best methods for visual art creative play.
Garlock, L. R. (2013). Meditation Painting and Pain Management: A Self Study. International Journal Of User-Driven Healthcare, 3(3), 1. doi:10.4018/ijudh. 2013070101
Horan, Roy (2009). The eclipse of listening. The Neuropsychological Connection Between Creativity and Meditation, 21(2-3), 199-222.
Kabat-Zinn, J., Lipworth, L., & Burney, R. (1985). The clinical use of mindfulness meditation for the self-regulation of chronic pain. Journal Of Behavioral Medicine, 8(2), 163-190. doi:10.1007/BF00845519
Langer, E. (2005). On becoming an artist: Reinventing yourself through mindful creativity. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
Rappaport, L. (2014). Mindfulness and the Arts Therapies: Theory and Practice. Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publisher.