On Art and Mindfulness

For the past several summers, Enrique Martínez Celaya has been teaching a painting workshop at Anderson Ranch in Colorado. Many of his students are unusually moved by the experience. And that’s not surprising.

While nearly everywhere style, entertainment and spectacle take center stage, the deep questions remain acknowledged or not. For those who feel how little nourishment beguiling surfaces provide, there’s a hunger for contact with the deeper reaches of life—territory that traditionally has been the purview of art, philosophy and religion. Martínez Celaya is the rare artist who continues to produce work that springs from the perennial questions without irony or apology.

In his afterword to this volume, he writes that if someone is an artist today it does not mean this will be true tomorrow. The flame that fuels the artist is not solely a function of talent, but is fed by the friction between talent and character. Character, as he writes, is reflected in the artist’s will to move through the world with keen eyes, skeptical of his or her gains, and eager to accept responsibility as an individual. There are always threats to the integrity of an artist. Nothing has changed about that or in the challenge that faces artists who seek truth in and through their work.

We can thank Irene Sullivan [interviewed in w&c #16] for the existence of this book. An artist herself, and former Episcopal priest, she’s also a long-time student of Enrique’s at Anderson Ranch. Her lecture notes are the basis of the new book. rw

Being an Artist
• “Being an artist is not a posture or a profession, but a way of being in the world and in relation to yourself. An artist is revealed in his or her choices. Watch your actions as well as what you like and notice who is the person suggested by them. Understanding who you are as an artist should be thought of as a life-long process inseparable from your work.”

• “Growth does not have to be systematic. The way of the artist is a meandering path.”

• “When we think we know art, what is it that we know?”

• “Put aside irony. Irony is hostile to reality. Irony camouflages confusion and cowardice. It postpones engagement. The comfort of irony is a false comfort.”

• “Take your time. Do not gel too quickly. Do not try to find your voice or your style. Instead, open your eyes and try to see what is in front of you.”

Art as Experience
• “It is not taste that recognizes art, but spirit.”

Notes on Ethics
• “Wide acclaim is not needed for something to be true.”

• “In art, real knowledge is not what comes from hearsay, or what is gained by listening to the consensus, but what is unconcealed by deep engagement.”

• “The qualities that distinguish great art from the rest are, directly or indirectly, related to ethics. At the heart of great art you will find love and compassion…. A great work of art cannot come from hatred or cynicism.”

Risk and Failure
• “An artist’s practice should account for uncertainty and instability that is always part of an honest inquiry. Expect change. Embrace accidents and mistakes.”

• “A painting is often more interesting at the beginning than at the end.”

Dangers and Fears
• “It is confusion and misunderstandings, especially of what we are, that hold us back from discovering what is in front of us.”

• “How can you stay vital? Study yourself. Study the world. But do not become an authority on either. Something secret, mysterious, must always remain.”

Towards a Practice
• “Do not worry about stripping down the work. Strip yourself down worry about that.”

Beyond the Studio
• “Reflect on the spirit of the age and consider whether what you are doing fits in or not. There are ways to handle yourself either way, but you ought to know where you stand.”

• “The viewer completes the endeavor. There is no work of work of art without the viewer.”

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