What Is Art And How Do We Create It?
Updated: Feb 18, 2022
How artistic creation is grounded in an empty, pre-reflective state of mindlessness.
What does it mean to call oneself an artist?
By definition, an artist is a person who paints, draws, or makes sculptures, either as a profession or a hobby. Yet as we all know, the label "artist" (like the word "art") extends itself to an endless variety of media. Someone who sews, or edits videos into creative compositions, is no less an artist than the traditional oil painter. Like all words, the term "art" is fluid and can be applied to a whole range of creative endeavours.
Creation. That is the word that holds all artists together.
An artist is a person who creates. But unlike the carpenter or the builder, the artist does not necessarily create a product with utility in mind. A piece of art is not created as a means to an end, although of course many artists do create art as a means to an income.
The purest form of art is a reflection of the artist, an outpouring from the spirit or personality of the one who creates.
But what is essential to this outpouring is a fullness of spirit, accompanied by an emptiness of mind. The act of creation is perhaps best understood using concepts taken from Zen Buddhism: in order to be able to receive water, a jug must contain within it some emptiness, otherwise it will overflow. Trying to pour water into a jug that is already full will only result in a spillage.
As Lao Tzu said, "We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want."
For the artist to create a truly genuine and authentic work which pours out from the essence of their personality, it is necessary that they empty their minds (and egos) in order to make room for the spontaneous and pre-reflective act of artistic creation.
Art is an achievement of the physical body, unimpeded by the weight of the mind to mediate between the non-physical realm of the spiritual personality and the physical realm of everyday human life.
Artistic creation is an act of liberation. The artist seeks to actualise the authentic personality, the self which is often suppressed or shut down in our daily life.
For the artist who seeks a state of mindless and unrestrained creativity, there is much to overcome: nothing less than the fullness of their own mind. Imperfection, failure, rejection - these are just some of the fears which hold us back from unlocking our full potential.
It is only when the mind has been silenced that the body is free to create. Painting is pre-reflective self-expression. When the mind stops to reflect, the spontaneous moment of creation is lost.
And so, it turns out that to be artist is so much more than to create, for the act of creation is demanding and requires a deep and honest confrontation within. And yet, once independence from the mind is gained and a bodily connection with what is can be achieved, then the work of the artist is nothing more than inspired effortless action.
No wonder, then, that so few of us are brave enough to call ourselves "artists".
What is the goal of the artist? How do we create art? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!