How do Art and Meditation Relate to Each Other?

I’m about to move an exchange on this topic from another thread from which it has diverged. I’m wondering to what extent the discussion can be brought back to the EBTs…


Khemarato Bhikkhu could you explain for readers the benefit of having an artistic background in developing mindfulness of feeling.


But to answer your question: I assume that having an artistic background might make mindfulness of feeling more difficult, just as having an intellectual background makes mindfulness of thinking more difficult.

Mindfulness is to simply be aware: “That’s just a thought… That’s just a pleasant emotion… That’s just a painful feeling…” without getting caught up in the features or signs or details or storytelling or reacting.

As an artist, your first instinct is to romanticize feelings. To make a big deal of them, to identify with them, analyze them, luxuriate in them. Just as an academic’s first instinct is to romanticize ideas. To make a big deal of them, to identify with them, analyze them, luxuriate in them.

As a meditator, your task is simply to observe feelings. Know them as they arise, know them as they apply, and know them as they cease. And as a meditator, your task is simply to observe the mind. Know where it arises, know where it applies, and know where it ceases.


I notice your writing is very logically expressed, which makes it easy for the reader to understand, and it reminds me of Ven. Analayo’s work. If you haven’t already done so, he would be a good author to study for that reason, for example his “Satipatthana”.


This characterizes a vulgar form of art. On the other hand, the higher craft of a realistic painter necessitates they do not get involved with the subject, so as to observe it clearly. I hasten to add that this cannot be done without practice.

“Mindfulness holds the hindrances in check by keeping the mind at the level of what is sensed. It rivets awareness on the given, preventing the mind from embellishing the datum with ideas born of greed, aversion, and delusion. Then, with this lucent awareness as a guide, the mind can proceed to comprehend the object as it is, without being led astray.”—"The Noble Eightfold Path", Bikkhu Bodhi


Well, it’s worth unpacking exactly what it is that they are clearly observing and how.

They’re observing the play of the light, the way that shadows fall on a subject’s curves, the texture of its surfaces, what it would feel like to run your hand along it…

“Higher craft” demands a kind of perfectionism — a fastidious attention to the features, signs, and details.

So while they aren’t swept away by the emotions, these “higher” artists still are captivated by the sensuality, that is to say, the nuances of the experience.

But, in reality, it’s just “seeing.”

When you truly see that, that all sights whatsoever, subtle or blatant, gross or refined, pleasant or unpleasant, near or far, past, present or future, that all sights are just “sights” then you grow dispassionate with sights.

So, the proof is in the pudding. Are you growing more interested in experiencing and creating certain sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings and concepts? Or less?


Well at another level the artist is not enjoying so much the texture, but what it evokes in the artist. The texture means something much more than just that texture ever would. It might mean love, for example. Then this becomes the reason why they became attached! If you are able to get at that rogue meaning which is evoked, and see it clearly for it is (or the fallacy of it), the feelings collapse! Reality, ensues… And the sensation becomes just a sensation, which is perceived in the sensation.


What is being talked about above is samatha. In vipassana there is another stage before the contemplation of the general characteristics (dispassion due to recognition of impermanence), being the investigation of the individual or specific characteristics of the object:

“In the samatha practice, you dwell on the concentration that is being developed, but there is no exploration or penetration into the phenomena. So the mind superficially observes the objects without much investigation or understanding of their true nature.

To work with investigation of the dhamma (enlightenment factor), you must penetrate into the phenomena.”


“When the natural characteristics are observed you are engaged with the object. The Satipatthana vipassana meditation system is geared towards giving priority to the natural characteristics of phenomena.” —“ The Seven Factors of Enlightenment”, Ven. Dhammajiva

This approach is a development of the first tetrad exercise ‘sensitive to the whole body’, and its extension to the inducing of rapture in the second tetrad.

DN33 and Van Gogh.

Not perceiving form internally, someone sees visions externally that are blue, with blue color, blue hue, and blue tint. They’re like a flax flower that’s blue, with blue color, blue hue, and blue tint. Or a cloth from Bāraṇasī that’s smoothed on both sides, blue, with blue color, blue hue, and blue tint. Mastering them, they perceive: ‘I know and see.’ This is the fifth dimension of mastery.


Exploring fact and fictions!

  • Damien Hurst

Ignorance is bliss and using nibbida.

‘Moving pictures’ and impermanent phenomena which looks continuous. Compound phenomena which look like one object.

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Perhaps one could contemplate visual artistic representations thus:

“Suppose, bhikkhus, an artist or a painter, using dye or lac or turmeric or indigo or crimson, would create the figure of a man or a woman complete in all its features on a well-polished plank or wall or canvas. So too, when the uninstructed worldling produces anything, it is only form that he produces; only feeling that he produces; only perception that he produces; only volitional formations that he produces; only consciousness that he produces.

11“What do you think, bhikkhus, is form permanent or impermanent?”—“Impermanent, venerable sir.”…—“Therefore … Seeing thus … He understands: ‘… there is no more for this state of being.’” (SN 22:100)


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I think of art as a means of communicating a particular mood, or state of mind. So presumably the artist is more “in touch” with their state of mind, and therefore able to communicate it to an audience.
This brings to mind the third frame of reference in satipatthana, though I guess the artist would want to explore mind states more deeply, rather than just noticing them.


I’m not seeing the relevance of moving images to art in general. For example paintings and sculptures are static images, not moving pictures. Obviously some art forms do involve movement, but not all of them.
Or was your point about the impermanence of the effect of art on the audience? For example a painting or piece of music evokes a response, but the response is fleeting?

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Yes, noticing it’s fleeting nature. We have yet to produce permanent changes, before stream entry.

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OK. I still enjoy and appreciate these “fleeting pleasures”, whether it’s a work of art, or a beautiful sunset, or the sky at night.
Though I would much rather go for a walk on the beach than visit an art gallery, or listen to music, or whatever.
Yesterday a friend and I sat by the sea, and we watched a seal sniffing round some lobster pots. Fantastic!

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Now here’s a work of art!

Do you see the paint :art: , or do you see the sun setting?!