Art and Spiritual Practice: Table of Contents

Athens, Ohio 1975

Table of Contents


The introduction opens the questions that lie at the heart of the book. What is the highest and best use of art? Can art be a form of meditation, of prayer? Does an active engagement with the creative process assist our efforts toward awakening, toward growth of being and consciousness? The introduction invokes three sacred dictums that may point the way toward one’s search for inner evolution through the creative process: Know thyself, As above, so below, Thy will be done.

Chapter I: Knocking on Heaven’s Door

Chapter One explores the discovery of a “path with heart” and outlines the relationship between one’s personal path and the great way of transformation.. It develops the means by which art and creativity may function as a true path. The chapter examines the key elements — explored in greater detail in succeeding chapters — of using art as a genuine spiritual discipline.

Chapter II: On Attention

Like the Zen swordsman in a state of perpetual readiness, an artist prepares through an inward tuning of energy. This chapter asserts that attention is the fundamental requirement of the creative act. It addresses the means through which art and the creative process may assist in the cultivation of conscious attention. The chapter explores the unique challenges offered by different art mediums for the development of attention.

Chapter III: The Way of Self-Knowledge

"Know Thyself.” Socrates words, derived from the Delphic Oracle of ancient Greece, resound with an inner force as clear and direct as their first utterance over twenty-five centuries ago. This chapter details five of the chief means of revealment where art can function as a way toward self-knowledge. It examines the particular quality of self-observation characterized by the witness — the seeing of oneself — and how that differs from ordinary introspection. The work of creativity becomes a challenge and a practice — a means of developing a subtle and sensitive awareness, capable of observing oneself in action.

Chapter IV: The Field of Silence

"It is my belief that creativity arises from stillness.” These were the initial words spoken by Nicholas Hlobeczy in my first photography class in college. The language of art is vibration and impressions that enter us through the senses and through the still clarity of the mind. The chapter examines how impressions enter us more deeply, with greater vividness and force, through receptiveness, maintaining awareness within ourselves and staying in touch with the silence within. The chapter explores the state of active stillness which is likened to a magnet, bringing us into a deeper relationship with the moment and drawing to us the energies and influences we need for our work and development — and for a true response.

Chapter V: Empathy and Projection

The chapter addresses the complex balance in creativity between projection of oneself onto works of art and the need to be receptive, becoming sensitive to one’s materials and remaining open to the guiding voices or visions that may express themselves through one’s work. Both poles of experience, projection and empathy, are vital to the creative act. The chapter offers guidance on understanding the metaphoric and symbolic content of one’s works and discovering the mutual exchange between oneself and the outer world.

Chapter VI: The Alchemy of Craft

Chapter VI explores working with materials — the sheer craft of one’s endeavors — as a direct means of approaching the path towards one's own innate perfection. "Chop wood, carry water," becomes a way of transformation if applied to the making of art. At the heart of craft lies the living exchange between oneself and the materials. Through bringing our works to completion, we work on bringing ourselves to completion. Five key principles of a way of working are explored in depth. The chapter closes with an experimental correlation between the stages of the creative process and the developmental steps of the mystic way, as outlined by Evelyn Underhill.

Chapter VII: The Courage of Being

The chapter raises the questions: what kinds of courage are integral to the creative process, and is courage a necessary ingredient in the spiritual quest? Can we strive toward authentic expression, a commitment from the deepest layers of our being? The chapter explores the impermanence of phenomena, and the teachings of many spiritual masters of “using death as an advisor.” What can the inevitability of our own death teach us? Five types of courage that are essential to the creative process are outlined: the courage to see, making the vow to grow, overcoming adversity, polishing one’s spirit, and cultivating faith, hope, and love.

Chapter VIII: The Science of the Real

The chapter highlights some of the ideas brought by Buddhist teachers on the difference between relative and absolute truth, or art that reflects our habitual tendencies versus that which reflects genuine wisdom. It also addresses the similar ideas espoused by G.I. Gurdjieff on the division of art between subjective and objective expression, and explores the language of vibration found in color, tone, musical chords, and words. It raises questions that are challenging for the contemporary artist. Is art a subjective language or an objective science? Does the language of color, form, and sound as well as myth, metaphor, allegory, and symbol have universal implications? The author views this division of subjective vs objective art as an axis, a continuum, where works of art, and one’s own creative efforts, are located somewhere on a scale between consciousness and unconsciousness.

Chapter IX: Awakening Conscience and Consciousness

"Where there is no conscience, there can be no art,” spoke Alfred Stieglitz. The chapter develops the theme of using art as a means of discovering the long buried voice of conscience and to assist in the awakening of consciousness. It develops new models for creative individuals: the artist as shaman, mountain climber, and higher altitude guide — the artist as bodhisattva. The chapter describes how artists strive to be conversant with the gods and how they wish to taste life fully and deeply. And within the creative process, these things are not contradictory; they deeply inform and guide each other.

Approximately 87 books are cited or used as reference. All chapters close with a three to four page section titled, Creative Practice, consisting of questions for self-examination and explicit tools, exercises, and suggestions to help readers experience the content of the book through their own lives and work.