Leaning into Art

“You mentioned in the comment section of a recent post that ‘I’d argue that what is often missing is not a belief in science as much as a belief in art. That is, we don’t lean into art as a means to internal or external resolution (of issues, anxiety, discontent, burnout, whatever).’ This stood out to me as a significant observation and it’s been staying with me since I read it. A couple of questions: What do you mean by ‘belief in art,’ and why is that more important than belief in science’? And further, what exactly is involved in ‘leaning into art’ as you see it?

Leaning into art starts by prioritizing our natural aesthetic sensibilities, consciously applying a fuller spectrum of our senses and perceptive capabilities that the rational mind alone cannot do. Art of all kinds – framed and formal or spontaneous and even unintended – provokes and alights imagination, emotion and intuition, from which we can then tap into a grander reservoir so as to guide how we think, feel and act.

Leaning in is the act of meeting the artist in her or his intent. Oftentimes, we don’t receive an exceptional impact from art only because we didn’t lean far enough into it, didn’t get close enough to it, to find that.

I think in general we don’t believe enough in the value and potential of art to look toward it as a means of resolving issues we struggle with, as if it’s an addendum or divertissement. Like it’s not going to help with the pressing concerns that matter to us or fix our back problem or relational issues (when in fact, it very well might). We look for answers within the same framework as our questions, not realizing that solutions are most often going to come from outside of that framework. And often not in the form of rational information as much as a different way of perceiving the variables in play, a surprise.

We probably can’t just choose to surprise ourselves, but we can choose to lean into the opportunities that present themselves to us each day. Simple, basic choices that are forms of leaning into art: When someone sends you a piece of music or video, don’t immediately listen and watch, but actually pause and go get some headphones so you can pick up the subtle details; when someone sends you a quote or poem that they probably consider to be significant, take the time to read it carefully, perhaps memorize it and recite it; when you’re intrigued by some artistry, however apparently inconsequential, don’t just run off to the next thing but linger, relax your eyes and jaw, and let it seep in through the walls of impatience or analysis; when you’re out walking, consciously turn off circular thoughts by breathing more expansively and openly noticing the environment you’re in through as many senses as you can.

It’s popular these days to call the above examples forms of mindfulness, but I personally don’t see it that way. It’s more the conscientious craftsmanship of a pocket of time to get to mind-emptiness – getting out of one’s head so as to experience more completely all the forms of beauty that organically call to us, whether those are man-made or nature-made. The mindfulness of that is remembering to get the headphones and make the space and time so that you can then forget everything by immersing into the music, like a child does.

Which leads me to your question: “Why is that more important than belief in science?”…

Science is, in many ways, the attempt to make sense of art. Historically, we came upon art as expression so as to gather and “capture” something mysterious, something compelling enough to warrant an attempt to reproduce it and keep it closer more consistently. Science in that process was largely about how to go about that: what tools and processes were needed to paint a cave wall, to conceive and construct instruments that made irrationally enticing sounds, to illuminate the interior of a sacred structure with colored light, to form wood, clay or stone into a recognizable representation of what was originally powerfully significant. It is through science that we are able to travel in a car or plane, to communicate through a phone or computer, to live long and prosper, to sit on a chair with the appropriate light and heat and freedom to take on a worthy endeavor. But the endeavor itself is in the direction that art points to. Science facilitates that endeavor.

I’d contend that the greatest scientists of all time, who certainly merit our attention in considering their methods that led to great surprises from which we continue to benefit – including Einstein, Curie, Galileo, Newton, Copernicus, da Vinci – at some point realized that they were no longer looking at science but were looking at the details of divine art.

“I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world,” ~ Albert Einstein.
“All my life through, the new sights of nature made me rejoice like a child…The older one gets, the more one feels that the present moment must be enjoyed, comparable to a state of grace.” ~ Marie Curie
“Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses – especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

(Apologies for the ads)

Drawing by Leonardo da Vinci

15 Comments Add yours

  1. John says:

    distant thunder presage
    wolf moon arise
    radiant star
    piercing
    roiling clouds
    pregnant
    shivering
    pitter plops
    patter drops
    mountain refuse
    rivulets conjoin
    soaking
    within
    chambers unplumbed
    humid vapors
    condense
    dribbles
    carves walls, stalactite falls
    drip

    drop

    drip

    drop

    drip

    pocked
    stalagmites striving tall
    encrusted
    stained

    dark pools
    resonant
    collecting depth

    lightning smiles
    fissures shocked
    fermenting pockets
    ignite
    plumb recognition
    etch indelibly
    sublime

  2. Carter Brooks says:

    It will not be a surprise that I resonate with this, quite deeply…

  3. anon says:

    Besides the many spirals of interconnecting art and science here, “when you’re intrigued by some artistry, however apparently inconsequential, don’t just run off to the next thing but linger, relax your eyes and jaw, and let it seep in through the walls of impatience or analysis” is perfectly, absolutely represented by the image of that young girl on the Flash Mob photo before you even click on it.
    Then there’s the woman at 3:27 in the middle and another at 4:01 in the video who look like good examples of “didn’t lean far enough into it, didn’t get close enough to it, to find that.”
    But the girl at 4:37 during the glorious finale obviously has the whole thing mastered, literally leaning in with all senses completely open.
    Very instructional in getting your ideas across.

  4. Guy says:

    “Leaning in is the act of meeting the artist in her or his intent.” Art becomes a great conversation between two observers.

    The proposed videos … I like them both but I have an inclination toward the sacred geometry beauties. If nature’s perfection is based on sacred geometry why can’t we do the same, too easy or vanity?

    A good example is Gaudi:

    “Gaudi was fervently devout and believed that to be inspired by nature was to be inspired by God. He wrote, ‘Those who look for the laws of nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator.’ All inspiration was divine, and the most divine inspiration is evident in what was to become Gaudi’s masterpiece — la Sagrada Familia.”

    Gaudi would confirm the saying: “As above so below.” “Prior to building models which acted as the blueprints for the church, he suspended string with small sandbags which pulled the string taut. In effect, Gaudi designs the building upside down, with the string forming the parabolic curves which, when upright, give the building its strength.” http://www.artstudio.org/faith-in-the-art/

    Since the Fibonacci sequence is everywhere in nature, I have a stunning observation from Dr. Luc Montaignier, a Nobel prize winner for his discovery on DNA related to HIV. He said this concerning Corona viruses creating variants: ” Nature has chosen to ‘vary’ using a concept known to artists but not to scientists. These are the harmonic series of numbers such as those of the Fibonacci series. All the variants follow the Fibonacci series but not the vaccines…! ”

    (The Fibonacci sequence is a series of numbers in which each number is the sum of the previous two. It starts with 0 and 1,which equals 1. Then 1 plus 2 equals 3, 2 plus 3 equals 5, and so on. Why are these numbers significant? Simply, they are nature’s numbering system and they give rise to the mystical Phi, what is referred to as the “golden section” or “golden ratio.” It should be noted that the ratio of successive pairs from the Fibonacci series tends toward Phi or 1.618 and out of this ratio comes the golden rectangle and the spiral shape, which is the most widespread shape in the universe. )

  5. A recent observation from Nick Cave that nicely combines aspects of the conversations on the cultivation of character, the universal quest and leaning into art:

    “I think we can look at a piece of art as the transformed or redeemed aspect of an artist, and marvel at the miraculous journey that the work of art has taken to arrive at the better part of the artist’s nature. Perhaps beauty can be measured by the distance it has travelled to come into being.

    That bad people make good art is a cause for hope. To be human is to transgress, of that we can be sure, yet we all have the opportunity for redemption, to rise above the more lamentable parts of our nature, to do good in spite of ourselves, to make beauty from the unbeautiful, and to have the courage to present our better selves to the world.”

    https://www.theredhandfiles.com/should-we-separate-the-artist-from-the-art/

  6. R. says:

    Thank you for this important reminder.
    I think the most beautiful and relevant thing one can offer to an artist is to lean into his/her offerings, spending more time to really understand, truly see or hear and notice the beauty, nuances of what has been (sometimes painfully) created. Letting ourselves be touched more deeply, cry and laugh more profoundly…
    So many of our unresolved issues could find resolutions here. And that’s encouraging and illuminating.

  7. J.R. says:

    Thank you for this beautiful post and each successive brushstroke that composed it. Each one offers another distinct angle of perspective and some stunning glimpses into what one could call the sublime human condition… At the end, your addition of the comment about “bad people making good art” was especially touching.

  8. Sam says:

    This time prior to reading the new blog post, I stopped and listened to myself, I remembered to be ready before reading it. I didn’t rush into it as I have been doing lately, the title wouldn’t let me. I waited until I honestly was ready. I read it aloud and watched the video and was washed clean with emotion and a flood of memories. Then carried on reading aloud and watched the video on sacred geometry. From that I remembered a series of dreams I had many years ago that emphasized geometrical shapes, in a cul-de-sac and the streets and buildings.
    The next morning on my walk I remembered the geometry and didn’t see it in the sage brush or other plants but there was a depth to what I was looking at that I was unfamiliar with.
    This phrase stuck with me:
    “We probably can’t just choose to surprise ourselves, but we can choose to lean into the opportunities that present themselves to us each day.”
    I’m deeply grateful for what you’re doing here, especially at this time.

  9. Grace says:

    Marameng Salamat.

  10. Paul Mc Grane says:

    Thank you so much for this extraordinary post. It is absolutely wonderful and it resonates very deeply with me. I consider it to be extremely profound and essential. For me, it ‘contains multitudes’. Yet, it’s implication and potential has also forced me to step back and reflect on it. And this reflection has lasted longer that I would have liked but I was struck dumb, rendered mute.

    The information contained within and how you have presented and articulated it, is truly invaluable. It is a gift and a Godsend!

    From the opening quote ………. “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life” ……….. for there is always dust, dust is everywhere and dust always gathers. Dust and decay. And every so often, we need a good dusting. For in between the dust to the dust and in between the ashes to the ashes, Life cries out to be engaged with.

    The sight of that brave young girl of tender years, unselfconsciously leaning into the music and “rapt in the wonder of it”.

    The extraordinary, educational, mind expanding scientific, geometric and natural beauty of the Sacred Geometry. Surely a brilliant example of how the beauties, wonders and mysteries of the Universe are indeed infinite.

    The fact that Art has healing and restorative qualities is incredibly important and as you mention, too often overlooked .……

    “I think in general we don’t believe enough in the value and potential of art to look toward it as a means of resolving issues we struggle with …..… Like it’s not going to help with the pressing concerns that matter to us or fix our back problem or relational issues when in fact, it very well might.” ………..

    As highlighted in the “Can Art be Medicine?” video – one that is very moving, enlightening and ultimately reassuring.

    And yet, I fear that, too often I take Art for granted ……. to my great shame. But why so? How can this be? Art is all around us. We are constantly surrounded with Art. All kinds of Art. From the man-made to the natural, from the monumental to the minuscule, from the extravagant to the exquisite. Is it that I am not paying close enough attention? That I have not leaned in far enough? But not doing so can only be a source of discontent.

    It is as if my senses do not work properly. Or perhaps it is that my senses are not paying attention to my heart and soul. The arteries from the heart to my various senses have been blocked with the distractions and detritus of everyday life. This plaque of neglect must be cleansed. I need to provide ears to the eyes and eyes to the ears to better respond to the heart. For it is the heart that knows and it is to the heart and soul, that the senses must listen.

    I believe there are those, both ancient and modern, who consider the heart to be at the ‘center’ of our beings. That it sends more signals to the brain than vice versa. That it is the primary organ. A conversation for another time, perhaps ….. but I like this idea. To believe that, of the two, the heart is the more knowing one …….. because it already is “the more loving one”.

    But of course, leaning in to art requires work. It requires dedicated, precise and regular application so as to strengthen that lean, that muscle, that connection. To lean suggests there may be support. And if we learn to lean well, we can be supported well. And with this post, you have provided a wonderful blueprint for going about this.

    “……….. prioritizing our natural aesthetic sensibilities, consciously applying a fuller spectrum of our senses and perceptive capabilities that the rational mind alone cannot do ………….”

    Perhaps we can also employ some of the qualities highlighted in your post, “Poised Patience” and the essay “Respect and Gratitude”:

    “ ………… prepared, accepting, content ………. breathe with impeccable posture …… be enthusiastically attentive, engage our rituals, train our intent ……… creating opportunity through quality of presence.”

    Leaning into art can also inspire confidence. It allows me to give myself permission to engage with something deeper. To wade more fully into these waters. To listen and pay attention to the inner voice. To trust the instinct and the intuition. To find that elusive itch that can’t be scratched. To attempt to satisfy that yearning.

    “we can then tap into a grander reservoir so as to guide how we think, feel and act.”

    And for me there is also something else at play here, something that runs through it. The suggestion that by leaning into art, we are also attempting to lean into something greater, something more mysterious, something sacred ……. something divine.

    “Historically, we came upon art as expression so as to gather and “capture” something mysterious, something compelling enough to warrant an attempt to reproduce it and keep it closer more consistently.”

    This mysterious connection to Life and the Universe.

    And by leaning into art and then by trying to lean in even further, we can perhaps access a portal to new levels. Levels that are both higher and deeper. Perhaps we can lean through and beyond the Art to what came before the Art. To what inspired the Art. The initial impulse. To that distant echo of some ancient voice. To that uncanny and inexplicable sense of being shepherded and guided by an unseen entity, waiting to take our hand.

    And even the finest minds (or should I say, hearts) will struggle to attempt translate and explain these mysteries to the mere mortal. It may be too big and unknowable to make sense of ……… but maybe that doesn’t matter. If we can get close to that feeling, that sensibility. To be comfortable with it and make a companion of it, to allow it to be our friend and partner, then maybe that’s all we need. It might just be enough to work with. Not everything needs to be explained, we just have to know that it exists and that it is our ally.

    “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
    than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    If I may, I’d like to echo your metaphor that reads: “We enter each day, and each situation, as if we are walking into a restaurant ……… there are many unknown stories already well underway all around us”. And also to echo aspects of your essay “Building a Sanctuary” ………..

    Perhaps our time here on earth is not unlike joining an age old trail. As old as life itself and one which will last as long as we roam the earth. But we are only pilgrims on this trail. Each traveling toward their own personal Holy place. And I would like to think, that if we can strengthen that bond to art, to the deeper Life force. If we can listen to the musical magic like that young girl. If we can access our sacred geometric DNA. If we can heal ourselves and others. Then perhaps, rather than trudging though a dusty arid wasteland, we can instead, dance our way through a lush vibrant wonderland. Hopefully contributing to the greater good of our fellow pilgrims and those who come after us. And then, inevitably, when our time comes to bid farewell to this well worn path, we can do so, relieved in the knowledge that we have pilgrimed well.

    At the risk of repeating myself too much, I would like to acknowledge once more, how extraordinarily amazing this Blog is. It is a fantastic resource and it is difficult to imagine that something of this brilliance and depth exists elsewhere. The nature of these conversations and of the conversationalists is astonishing. I hope that it’s not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that this blog with all the contributions, links and attendant information, can very possibly save lives.

    I feel privileged and honored and extremely lucky that I get to spend some time here as I make my own pilgrimage. Thank you.

    1. Thank you for taking this blog post seriously enough to wholeheartedly invest in a thorough consideration. I’ll come back soon on my next post with some thoughts…

  11. J.R. says:

    On our last day of school yesterday, my students and I made Mandalas – a practice we’ve done for a year now tying together geometry, art, and meditation. I played them a video of computer generated kaleidoscopic mandalas set to relaxing music; they were entranced and worked in silent concentration.
    Ever since I read this post, I’ve been mulling over how to share some of its essence with my students. I had hesitated to show them the Sacred Geometry video you shared because they are so young, six and seven years old, and I thought it would be beyond them. As they drew, I talked a bit about how mandalas reflect patterns in nature and our bodies. They kept asking me “How?” and “Why?” and so I decided to show them the video.
    Their reaction amazed me. Some students just sat in their chairs or stood staring at it with mystified expressions, saying “Woah!” and “What?!” and “How is that possible?!!” as it showed connections between mandalas, the body, the cosmos, and nature. Not all of them got into it but 5 or so did and it literally blew their minds.
    It was deeply satisfying to see their reaction and I felt I had really given them something – Thank you. I wonder how they might see and feel the world differently now and as they grow older with this hint of magic hidden everywhere.

  12. Sam says:

    J.R. what a beautiful enduring gift you’ve given your young students and it’s deeply moving what you’ve written.

  13. Paul M says:

    J.R. That is a wonderful gesture to your young charges. To have been consciously looking for a chance to introduce them to this fascinating and life altering information is extremely laudable. Well done for finding the opportunity, the inspiration and the willingness and intention to see it through to it’s conclusion. And even though there may only have been five students that “got into it”, it’s quite possible that they were as enthralled with this as was the young girl (in the ‘Flash Mob’ video) with the music that she bore witness to ……………. and who knows, you may have planted a few seeds in those young and fertile minds to produce the next generation of Artists and Scientists. Congratulations to you. To echo Sam’s sentiments, it is indeed a most beautiful gift that you have left them with. Good for you !!!

  14. Anonymous says:

    Re-reading the blogs, I am continuously appreciative and also surprised to find more and different aspects revealed that stun me (in a positive sense) and provoke a richer contemplation and more inspired intention to act. The very idea that we might look to another framework for answers or an approach to deep concerns and issues that plague us (or have plagued us for years) made me pause and wonder what this can be; that solutions to those concerns are NOT going to come from that very framework but outside it — a different way of seeing what is. This was and continues to be profound for me. In my own way of understanding this, which might not be intended, I have begun to feel on a visceral level how this can be and am acting upon it. It is richly surprising and welcome to me.
    There were many thoughtful and beautiful posts to this blog. Sam’s comments about how to approach the blog, focus and reading the blog aloud; Paul’s thoughtful, detailed and magnificent post touched on and even went beyond so many areas — the very idea that leaning in even further can lead us into “what came before the art” itself, allowing us to lean into something greater, sacred, divine; and Julia’s sharing with us her generosity and devoted and tender approach to her first graders in doing mandalas with them, and even presenting the golden ratio to those who showed interest in what most adults might believe 6-year olds could not appreciate.
    It is a lovely example of Natural Order chapter in In the Midst of Things.

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