Art and Dependent Arising

I have to think about my art just as I would think about my meditation practice. It doesn’t seem separate or extraneous to me. And yet I am not in my visual art. You can’t really see a personality in it. It is non-verbal and not tied to an identity. When it comes to my fiction, I aim for both a wide overview and an intense focus on detail, and in that way, know myself and transcend the self at the same time; but in my photovideos, there is no self to see into and no Self that is beyond it all.

What is there in my visual art? As I reflect on it, I can say three things with great clarity.

1.    There is perceived movement between images, but nothing is really moving. It reminds me of Nagarjuna’s discussion of how passages of time give the impression of movement, when, in truth, things change in time even when they remain still. Our minds are like that: thoughts, perceptions, emotions, intentions appear to move but in truth they are shifting configurations. These are still images that only appear to move because they are different treatments (configurations) of the same image placed in a timeline. They are in flux, not motion.

2.    Since these images are in flux, they change in ways that the viewer cannot immediately predict. This is not time-lapse photography where movement is captured in a linear manner, where flowers continue to open, clouds move across the sky, butterflies emerge from cocoons. As the composer of these videos, I choose how to combine the images, determining the duration of the transitions from one to another, and how the sequence will appear. If there is a self in this process, it is the patterning of my selections of images and how they are put together.

3.    These photovideos teach patience. Impatient minds will have difficulty with them at first, and may find them slow and boring, but once the viewer has arrived at the patience to slow down and be with the fluctuating images, they are satisfying. That is how these videos help create calm. The nature of the imagery and how it shifts and morphs fosters concentration. Calm and concentration work together to bring inward collectedness of mind, samadhi.

The art is dependently arisen. The images are things I see through the camera lens that are transformed at the exposure I take them at (I can’t see moving objects at 1/1000 of a second, but a camera can). The camera first interprets the image according to the settings I choose. Later, I select an image which I feel would work for one of these photovideos. Then I experiment with different treatments of the image until I find something that either meets my vision or offers me a more compelling version of the image that I couldn’t have predicted. Putting the  altered images into a timeline and choosing the type of transition for each set of two images is the bulk of the creative work. It is here that I “animate” the photographic images by making them appear to arise out of darkness or slip back into nothingness, turn a different shade of color, slowly expand outward or contract inward, acting much like the mental imagery we experience in meditation.

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