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  • Citation: Hsieh, Su-Lien (2010) Buddhist meditation as art practice: art practice as Buddhist meditation. Doctoral thesis, Northumbria University.

    This version was downloaded from Northumbria Research Link: http://nrl.northumbria.ac.uk/1942/

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  • Buddhist Meditation as Art Practice:

    Art Practice as Buddhist Meditation

    Su-Lien Hsieh

    PhD

    2010

  • Buddhist Meditation as Art Practice:

    Art Practice as Buddhist Meditation

    Su-Lien Hsieh

    A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the

    University of Northumbria at Newcastle for the degree of

    Doctor of Philosophy

    Research undertaken in the School of Fine Art

    March 2010

  • I

    Abstract

    This thesis explores the impact of meditation on art practice. Its basic hypothesis is

    that Buddhist meditation can expand creative capacity by enabling the practitioner to

    transcend the limits of everyday sense experience and consciousness. Artists engaging in

    meditation develop a closer, more aware relationship with their emptiness mind (kongxin),

    freeing them from preconceptions and contexts that limit their artistic creation.

    Because this practice-led research focuses on how to expand ones freedom as an

    artist, I use two models to explore studio practice, then compare and contrast them with my

    own prior approach. A year-by-year methodology is followed, as artistic practice develops

    over time. The first model is studio practice in the UK, the second is Buddhist meditation

    before artistic activity. The research took place over three years, each representing a

    distinct area. Accordingly, in area 1 (the first year), I compared studio art practice in the UK

    with post-meditation art practice; in area 2 (the second year), I compared studio art practice

    in the UK with prostration practice at Bodh-gaya, India plus meditation before act activity; in

    area 3 (the third year), I compared studio art practice in the UK with entering a month-long

    meditation retreat in Taiwan before practicing art.

    By Buddhist meditation I refer more specifically to insight meditation, which K. Sri

    Dhammananda has described as follows:

    Buddha offers four objects of meditation for consideration: body, feeling,

    thoughts, and mental states. The basis of the Satipatthana (Pli, refers to a

    foundation for a presence of mindfulness) practice is to use these four

    objects for the development of concentration, mindfulness, and insight or

    understanding of our-self and the world around you. Satipatthana offers the

    most simple, direct, and effective method for training the mind to meet daily

    tasks and problems and to achieve the highest aim: liberation. (K. Sri

  • II

    Dhammananda 1987:59)

    In my own current meditation practice before art practice, I sit in a lotus position and focus

    on breathing in and breathing out, so that my mind achieves a state of emptiness and calm

    and my body becomes relaxed yet fully energized and free. When embarking on artistic

    activity after meditation, the practice of art then emerges automatically from this enhanced

    body/mind awareness. For an artist from an Eastern culture, this post-meditation art seems

    to differ from the practices of Western art, even those that seek to eliminate intention (e.g.

    Pollock), in that the artists action seem to genuinely escape cogito: that is, break free of

    the rational dimensions of creating art. In my training and development as a studio artist, I

    applied cogito all the time, but this frequently generated body/mind conflict, which became

    most apparent after leaving the studio at the end of the day: I always felt exhausted, and

    what was worse, the art that I created was somehow limited. However, my experience was

    that Buddhist meditation, when applied before undertaking art practice, establishes

    body/mind harmony and empties the mind. For this artist at least, this discovery seemed to

    free my art as it emerged from emptiness through the agency of my energized hand. It was

    this, admittedly highly personal, experience that led me to undertake the research that

    informs this thesis.

  • III

    Acknowledgements

    I would like to thank my academic principal supervisor, Chris Dorsett for participating

    in the group discussions on doctoral fine arts research for three years. I would also like to

    thank my academic second supervisor Prof. Mary Mellor, for her enlightening guidance

    throughout my doctoral study, for her professional and scholarly suggestions during our

    discussions, and for her great patience in correcting and refining this dissertation.

    I am deeply grateful to my Buddhist Master Chen-Huang Cheng () for his

    compassion and enlightening instruction on many aspects of Buddhist meditation practice.

    I wish to thank Thomas E. Smith, Ph.D. for proofreading this dissertation and

    translating the text of the short exhibition article in the Appendix from Chinese to English.

    I wish also to thank the monk Choge Tizeng Rinpoche (the Dalai Lamas Master), Prof.

    Cheng-Hwa Tsang (), Sheng-Chin Lin (), Ph.D., and Mr. Guang-Hao Hang (

    ) ( for providing help and encouragement at crucial times during my study).

    I received much assistance from the Jamchen Lhakhang Monastery in Nepal, The

    Tibetan Monastery in India, and the Ci-Yun Monastery in Taiwan. For this beneficial

    assistance, I am extremely grateful, since without it none of my experimental work would

    have been realized.

    Special thanks go to my colleagues, John Lavell, Andrew McNiven, Christina Kolaiti,

    Jolande Bosch, Hiroho Oshima, Hadi Shobeirinejad, Michael Johnson, and all those who

    studied with me, making my time enjoyable, and providing many valuable insights.

    Special thanks go also to my friends Su-Shiang Lin (), Zhao-Xuan Zhou (

    ), Ta-Rong Shi () , Miao-Hua Lin (), Yi-Shann Shi () , Roang-Gui

    Sha (), Da-Wei Xu (), Paoling Huang (), Mei-Lien Jin(,

    Meng-Yao Ma (), Tan Ya-Ting (), Lucia Tang (), and Christopher

    Medico for their support, assistance and encouragement during my student days.

    I reserve my deepest thanks for my parents, brother and sister for their support during

    this study. It is to them that I dedicate this dissertation.

  • IV

    Buddhist Meditation as Art Practice:

    Art Practice as Buddhist Meditation

    Directory

    Abstract ................................................................................................................ I

    Acknowledgements ........................................................................................... III

    Chapter 1 ............................................................................................................. 1

    Introduction to research motivation .................................................................. 1

    1.1 Background, aim, and questions .............................................................................. 1

    1.2 Methodology ............................................................................................................ 1

    1.3 The plan of the present work .................................................................................... 6

    Chapter 2 ........................................................................................................... 16

    2.1 Introduction ............................................................................................................ 16

    2.2 The lotus ................................................................................................................. 16

    2.3 The relationship between the lotus and the circle .................................................. 18

    2.4 Day-to-day studio art practice ................................................................................ 23

    2.5 The methodology of Buddhist meditation practice ................................................ 28

    2.6 The physical aspect of Buddhist meditation .......................................................... 32

    2.7 Meditation practice as art practice ......................................................................... 33

    2.8 Overcoming intuition ............................................................................................. 34

    2.9 Comparing with other artists: abstract expressionists, performance artists ........... 36

    2.10 Comparing with other artists: Stuart Herring ....................................................... 46

  • V

    2.11

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