1. What type of creative work do you do? In what media do you work?
I've worked all across media & disciplines, as need & interest arise. My undergrad degree is in Photography - but even 20 years ago, I was setting up room-sized paintings, photographing them, and then painting on the prints. As a graduate student - 10 years later - I started making installation work that takes Buddhist ideas and manifests them in interactive forms that people can literally enter into. So, for example, for my 10th reunion I offered a literal Indra's Net, where the 1300 people I matriculated with could use string to connect one another's names as they had in fact been related through thousands of meetings and interactions, into a vast & very tangible cat's cradle. Later, I studied Thangka painting in India with a Tibetan teacher. Those studies have translated into scroll paintings based on iconography of ordinary people's hands/mudras. While I love materials and process, I am not interested in identifying with a particular material or style.
2. How long have you been meditating and in what tradition?
I've been meditating for about 20 years, beginning in the Thai forest tradition, with a stint in monastic life, and continuing through Zen and Mahamudra. Again, I am not interested in identifying with a particular school or tradition - I am interested in what works towards liberation, both for myself and for my students, since I am now teaching meditation.
3. Does your meditation practice inform or affect your creative process? If so, how?
Yes, of course. Practice affects everything. I think the clearest connection is the kind of faith-mind that arises through improvisation in the studio, and through sustained contemplative practice. In the last few years, engaging in improvisational movement has been incredible for learning to open to a fully embodied practice with others, in real time. I think my practice life is richer for my art-life, and my art-life is richer for my practice. Meditation helps to see through the ego-based nonsense that is so prevalent in the art world, and art practice helps to see through the spiritual bypassing nonsense that is so prevalent in the "spiritual" world.
4. For you, are meditation and creative practices the same? How do they differ?
Same-same, but different. I think a key difference is that both worlds demand study of tradition and process, but art practice more obviously & sooner demands attention to particular, idiosyncratic form. Art practice wants to know, How do these possibilities manifest in THIS life? Of course, spiritual practice wants to know this, too. Sadly, it's also entirely possible to hide out in pat solutions whether you are an artist or a meditator. Thomas Merton's essay on Integrity, from New Seeds of Contemplation, has been particularly helpful to me in articulating this question of bringing practice to particular life.
5. Are there other ways that you incorporate your spiritual beliefs into your creative or artistic process (e.g., ethical conduct, generosity)?
Sure - I try to. Answering this questionnaire is a way of generosity. I pay attention to where my materials come from, and whom I am dealing with. I try to undertake projects on faith & to remember that the true measure of my work & worth is not to be found among the worldly winds. I try to express my appreciation for the generosity of others, and to support my artist & practitioner friends. And I try to make work that is an expression of the Dhamma as it moves through the world.
6. What specific techniques might help an artist incorporate meditative awareness into the art creation process (e.g., forming an intention prior to creation)?
For me, contemplative practice is about letting go into Being, and Knowing, and creative practice is the same. So, an intention of trust, and of being willing to see & be responsible to whatever arises, without prior demands of goodness, or beauty, or whatever. To be truly engaged in their work, artists and meditators have to be willing to be with what is unlikable, unfashionable, ugly, unsalable, unpopular, and unsayable. If you want to look good & be good all the time, and if you think you can follow some pre-existing format to fame, fortune, and enlightenment, you can kiss the whole thing goodbye, because it won't work.
7. What additional question would you like to answer that I have not asked? Or what question(s) would you recommend revising or deleting?
Does it matter to find & befriend & learn from other people who are engaging with art and meditation at a deep level? You bet your ass, it does! We are odd ducks, there are a lot of us, and we have a lot to offer in terms of bringing Western Buddhisms into life.
Is there something meditator-artists can offer to the larger Buddhist community in the West? For starters, we need to start making contemporary iconography for meditation centers and private homes. Until we start seeing Buddhas that look something like us - black, white, brown, Latina, Asian, fat, skinny, old, young, tattooed, queer, straight, we're going to keep nurturing delusions of the Buddha somewhere else, with a pointy head & Asian manners, and that is NOT the point, friends.
Lisa Gilbert is an artist and a researcher collecting responses from long-term artist-meditators. If you are interested in joining her study, you can contact her through her website.
108 Names of Now