Sunday, July 18, 2010

Art As Spiritual Experience

I have spent the last two days at an art/collage workshop with Nick Bantock, a lovely, sensitive soul who plumbs the depth of his experience in an effort to offer serious practice and direction to artists. He has spent years developing his process, pacing his studio, conducting dialogues with himself and approaching his personal truth with pastel, paint and bits of paper. It would appear that it has been a richly textured journey and he has emerged as a wise and generous guide who shares his gifts with compassion and a twinkle in his eye.

Bantock spent the weekend encouraging us to go deeper, sounding a lot like a Zen monk at many of the twists and turns along the way, playing "Born to Be Wild" and The Clash to try and stupify our inner control freaks and coax out our Johnny Rotten. He reminded us that art doesn't come from the head, it comes from somewhere deep inside. It's about a gut feeling. Our authentic, intuitive self will lead the way, if we let it. It's the old "the mind makes a good servant but not a very good master" idea. Ultimately we are not in control. Sound like the Dharma? You bet.

And he reminded us that the art that truly engages and hooks the viewer speaks from a deep inner core that is at once personal and universal. If we can be deeply authentic in our creations it will speak to others. Look at the art you love, the art that speaks across the chasms of time and culture, what is the binding thread? Someone has reached deep into their gut and scooped out a little bit of their insides for us? How could we not be touched by such offerings?

Bantock skillfully led us through a progression of exercises that showed us how to disengage the mind. Create your own country. What's the population, the weather, the landscape? When we went round the circle we could see how we were skimming the surface; boring, nice,predictable, yawn. He suggested we go for detail, quirky ones. He suggested perhaps we needed some shadows to flesh out the landscape, a trickster or two. He showed us what we were up to, surfing the flat, slick, surface of our little kingdoms. We were awakening to the invitation to go deeper, to find the poignant, touching places in our countries, the ones that speak to the vulnerabilities and joys of being human.

He pulled the final trick from his shock of grey hair when he cunningly cut us loose to create our own works from scratch. I got caught on the "making pretty art" hook. Too much conscious design going on here, too polite, Bantock observed. It doesn't reflect the person I see in front of me. I got it. I understood it in my head. My poor little ego was writhing and smarting but that was fine. I didn't come here for the good housekeeping seal of approval. If I wanted an easy-bake oven I would have ordered one on ebay. Bantock moved in with his scalpel and chalk dust. It was just what the surgeon ordered. If he told me my work was lovely and fine, would I be motivated to stretch? I would go home and keep on doing what I'm doing.

So I have a delicious invitation with my name on it, that I will open tomorrow and the day after, and the day after that. It is an invitation to go deeper; an invitation to open the cage that holds the golden bird of a deeper, more authentic self. Sit a while, have a cup of tea. Breath deeply from the hara. Have patience and faith. Oh, and don't forget the paint and the brush, and perhaps a few bits of paper.


  1. Oh, I can't wait! What a great experience - go deeper, churn up that bedrock of silt and muck. I'm so with you on this!

    Btw, you're a BAD influence! I went out and bought some watercolour paint today... and canvas.... Not sure if I should play Elton John's Bitch is Back or BTO's TCB... ;-)

  2. Maybe you should play them both at once, backwards. I think that's what I'll do tomorrow morning, (after I play God Save The Queen by The Sex Pistols. Happy Painting!

  3. I would like to work with him, and see his studio. Thanks for the recommendation.

  4. Sounds like a fabulous workshop! You might find the SoulCollage process helpful for diving deeper a support to your painting/collage work, your mediation practice and opening to your well of inner knowing. Let me know if you are curious about this sometime.

    gentle steps,

  5. Bantock is the real deal...his work speaks of...luscious, raucous, mystical, delirious...

    How excellent that you allowed space to get away to your own version of:

    'As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm.


    It is not as wide as you think.'

    It will be so wondrous to see the next magnificence rising from your depths.

  6. I have always loved Nick Bantock (have most of his books)! You are so fortunate to have taken a workshop with him. I found your blog, via our wonderful friend Donna Iona/ merci33's blog. Searching for our authentic self continues, can take years. I'm an old retired festival artist and I'm still searching :O)

  7. I deeply love, love, love this post and your wonderful collage! The whole theme of coming the authentic Self speaks to me deeply. And I am especially drawn to the eyes in the collage "seeing through" in the middle of it all... They draw me in, wanting to know what is being seen, what wisdom they may have to offer. I am hooked! Thanks for offering this wonderful wisdom from your experience that is so universal. And I love your use of words and phrases too, for me that adds another depth of wisdom... I used to do collage work, and you have inspired me to create one again! :)

  8. Leslie - He is giving up his studio but a large exhibition of his work is going to Denver. Maybe a little art related holiday?

    Laura - yes, to integrate art and practice and meditation. I like the name soul collage. I will have to check it out!

    Merci 33 - you are always an inspiration and I guess in a way it was my version of a leap, given his work is so different from mine. It was the curiousity of working with a master.

    Eva - Thank-you so much for the reminder that it can take years for the authentic self to materialize on and off the paper. This is such a good reminder as I work with the "wanting and frustration"

    MeANderi - Thanks as always for your encouraging words! And yes to playing with images and creating collage. I look forward to seeing them attached to your posts! (some sister, mother images in there, wolves and demons?)

  9. I really enjoyed your post. I am going to read it again and think some more about not always taking the easy way but tapping a bit deeper into intuition! thank you

  10. Thanks for visiting. Yes it requires some attention to it and I find its not always easy, but when I work from that place there is something deeply satisfying about it.