Art and meditation

Drawing and mindfulness bring beauty to the ordinary… Here is how art and meditation fit together.

Since I was about 16, I enjoyed sitting within a landscape to draw it. However, I would often spend more time searching for the most picturesque view than I actually spent drawing. I was so keen to produce a perfect picture to please my audience that I didn’t understand a beautiful drawing does not come from the object but from the heart and mind of the artist.

It is probable that anyone can draw an apple. It is possible that some can draw it perfectly in the style of a botanical drawing. For an artist to move you, however, it takes total immersion and complete surrender to create an image of an apple that evokes the summers of your childhood, the warmth of harvesting in an orchard heady with the scent of ripening fruit. Russet and gold, plucked with a remaining stalk and a clinging leaf, falling into a generous basket brimming with sweet goodness. The painting of an apple sitting on a napkin casting a long shadow from the late afternoon sun might even make your mouth water.

This level of concentration comes when the artist is able to look at the apple as if he has never seen one before: to take in every tone, every curve, shadow and highlight and describe it using pencil, pastel, paint or collage. The artist must suspend all previous understanding on the color, texture and shape of apples and simply draw what is seen.

While drawing, the artist may experience thoughts about the apple. He may wonder where it grew, what kind of landscape the tree stood in, what kind of person harvested it and how it arrived at the place where it now sits. If he picked the apple himself, he will experience the emotions and memories that the activity involved; emotions that do not evolve into words, emotions that can only be expressed by the movement of his hand and the manipulation of the materials. The result may be a work of art that we can call beautiful and it will be a beauty that each one of us experiences within, a beauty that doesn’t need words to express.

A lifetime of drawing has revealed that drawing is similar to meditation. When I read about the practice of “mindfulness,” I feel as if I am reading about the practice of drawing. Many of my students agree that they experience many of the same benefits through drawing as they do through meditating. To draw well the artist has to be completely ‘in the moment,’ to exclude all thoughts of the past and the future, to only be concerned with ‘the now.’

I always found meditation to be very difficult. The act of concentrating on my breathing or staring at a single point in an attempt to count to ten to the exclusion of all other thoughts was more than I could manage. I was a failure! But these days I find it easy to slip into a state of sub-consciousness to quiet my mind. This is a technique

I have learned through drawing rather than attending meditation classes. Apart from the obvious benefits to my mental health, I have also become more relaxed about my drawing practice and realized that it is better to bring out the beauty in ordinary things than it is to seek out beauty for its own sake. Ommmmm.

A professional artist and author of A Week in Hoi An, Bridget March specializes in urban landscapes and aims to reveal the hidden treasures of city life and small town cultures through her illustrations. Bridget offers art classes and sketching tours in Ho chi Minh city. For more of Bridget’s work, visit bridgetmarch.co.uk 

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