[more of a work in progress than #1. For the Future We Deserve collaborative book project.]
“It is a radical contemporary experiment in social sculpture inspired by tradition: to apply the disciplined, contemplative, and sustainable monastic way of living to the creative process.” [6. https://www.artmonastery.org http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Art_Monastery]
An art monastery utilizes monastic technology for art rather than religion.
Art monasticism considers:
- the monastery as an art form,
- art as a monastic tool.
If a monastery is a community that through a set of agreements (e.g. rule, vow) about how to live together (e.g. in silence, hard work, prayer & contemplation) leads its individual members to a certain goal (e.g. God, dharma, buddha-nature, self-knowledge, wisdom, concentration, compassion, non-dual awareness, the perfect blueberry pie), an art monastery is a one that leaves the goal undefined. For an artmonk, art is a primary form of prayer, work, and therapy, which along with meditation and other traditional monastic activities, leads him/her to a personal or shared goal.
Art monasticism acknowledges that meditation is essential for spiritual progress, but by itself insufficient to help individuals confront the unincorporated or unacknowledged aspects of themselves—their “shadow” sides. Art is one primary tool for confronting the shadow.
An art monastery provides an empty space in which an artmonk can progress as deeply as possible along a chosen path, using a set of traditional monastic tools.
The International Otherhood of Artmonks
The International Otherhood of Artmonks connects artmonks (whether they’re inside and outside art monasteries) and provides them with the tools and models they need to exist in the world (but not “of the world”).
The Otherhood serves artmonks in the following ways:
- By bringing legitimacy to contemplative artmaking.
- By connecting artists of a similar spirit.
- By inspiring and instructing them in artistic and contemplative practices.
- By getting them gigs & housing.
- By commissioning, funding and producing works.
- By building or adapting spaces (i.e. monasteries) for visitable longterm learning communities and spiritual research.
- By giving them online tools to develop personal, intimate communities around the world.
- By what it produces: works, books, articles, cds, concerts, festivals.
Art monasticism as sustainable community economic development
When a town agrees to give a community of artists access to rooms (for sleeping, cooking, practice, artist studios, and office space, preferably in a beautiful abandoned monastery), they initiate a cycle of uplift that benefits everyone.
The world-class artmonks that live there by the principles of art monasticism create art—as work and as prayer—that can be displayed or performed publicly, attracting the world’s attention (and economic input) to the town. Because the artists live together under a monastic rule and vows, made visible to anytone, the town can be assured that their historic property is being treated with respect.
Monasticism & Spirituality as art
Art monasticism as social sculpture
“Let’s talk of a system that transforms all the social organisms into a work of art, in which the entire process of work is included… something in which the principle of production and consumption takes on a form of quality. It’s a Gigantic project.” —Joseph Beuys
“Only on condition of a radical widening of definitions will it be possible for art and activities related to art [to] provide evidence that art is now the only evolutionary-revolutionary power. Only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of a senile social system that continues to totter along the deathline: to dismantle in order to build ‘a social organism as a work of art’… every human being is an artistwho – from his state of freedom – the position of freedom that he experiences at first-hand – learns to determine the other positions of the total art work of the future social order.” —Joseph Beuys
The beautiful community
What intersubjective qualities are beautiful? A beautiful community embraces (and continuously reinvents and subverts) the play of dualities like
- liveliness and stillness
- play and seriousness
- interpersonal harmony and dissonance
- isolation and togetherness
- autonomy and teamwork
- submission and dominance
- service and stardom
- tradition and novelty
- inward searching and outward expression
Thus a common art monastic year will swell to a frenzy of activity and performance in the summer, and slow to stillness of meditation retreat in the winter. Meetings and community process time will be held with a playful spirit. Artmonks are encouraged to act out and express together their journey to deep insight and self knowledge.
“Ritual Theatre,” a term coined by Antonin Artaud and further developed by Jerzy Grotowski, is an important element of art monasticism. From singing Gregorian Chant compline every evening, to customized “critical mass” ceremonies, to full on ritualistic theatrical spectacles, an art monastic community continuously comes up with its own (often site specific and historically appropriate) rituals and holds on to a perspective that they are in the end, just spectacles. Dogma, faith, or belief are seen as unnecessary to ritual theater’s personally transformative power, or its power to breaks down boundaries between performer and audience.
Art Monastery as game
The endeavor of art monasticism can be thought of as playing a game (one that doesn’t always feel like a game). It has goals, rules, challenge, and interaction. One goal is to make art. Another is to have fun; although it doesn’t always feel fun, the more you play, the more you are grateful for every moment of the game.
French sociologist Roger Caillois defined a game something that is:
- fun: “the activity is chosen for its light-hearted character”
- separate: “it is circumscribed in time and place”
- uncertain: “the outcome of the activity is unforeseeable”
- non-productive: “participation does not accomplish anything useful”
- governed by rules: “the activity has rules that are different from everyday life”
- fictitious: “it is accompanied by the awareness of a different reality” [7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Game#Roger_Caillois]
Thus, an art monastery will experiment with mythology and spiritual language while acknowledging that these are all essentially made-up or metaphorical.