This paper addresses the
notion of painting as a mindfulness-based intervention. This premise is
justified as it relates to Crowther’s phenomenological aesthetics. Crowther’s
theory of painting makes use of a number of features that characterize
mindfulness practice and reflect the mindful attitude. These include attention,
self-consciousness, universality, otherness, empathy and temporality. Painting
and mindfulness practice are seen as interventions upon experience that expand
being through greater engagement. Heightened perceptual awareness and
embodiment are central to this discussion as they are at the root of aesthetic
experience and mindfulness practice. The development of self-consciousness is a
key consideration in this context. By way of specific examples, I will show how
this theory works in practice. Although mindfulness-based interventions and
painting do not correlate directly, awareness of the many parallels and
distinctions serve to illuminate the intrinsic significance of painting and the
particular aspect of mindfulness that relate to aesthetics.
aesthetics, aesthetic empathy, Crowther, embodiment, mindfulness, painting,
self-consciousness, temporality, universality
It is customary to approach
the question of why painting engages our aesthetic interest in relation to
expressive properties. I want to take discussion of this problem into a new
area using the concept of mindfulness, a notion especially associated with Eastern
thought, and cognitive psychology. Traditional and contemporary mindfulness
interventions have much in common with aesthetic practices such as painting.
This is particularly the case if we think of Crowther’s distinctive
phenomenological approach to visual art. He does not directly refer to a
mindful attitude but aspects of his theory point to the possibility that
painting could be viewed as a mindfulness-based intervention.
In the following paper I
will develop the parallels between mindfulness and painting. Hopefully this
will lead to a more informed theory of painting that encompasses the
development of self-consciousness. It will allow, also, some interesting
connections to be made between Western and Eastern thought.
The main body of my
discussion begins with a brief description of mindfulness. For this purpose I
draw initially on psychological theories along with Buddhist philosophy. I then
address relevant points in Crowther’s aesthetics and justify why Crowther is
singled out amongst the phenomenologists in this area. This is followed up with a detailed
illustration of his criteria of the artistic and reference to specific examples
of painting. In conclusion, I argue that while mindfulness and painting are not
identical, an awareness of the mindful aspect of painting brings us to a
greater understanding of its significance.
2. The concept of mindfulness
Mindfulness has its roots in
contemplative Buddhist practices and philosophy.
Through mindfulness meditation practice, the Buddhist practitioner learns
to control attention to a greater extent and better perceive events as they
traditional Buddhism, mindfulness is related to the reduction of suffering,
because suffering comes from the fundamental problem of the mistaken
interpretation of reality:
world is given to us through our senses but rather than stick to what we
experience from moment to moment, we remain prisoner of our constructions.
Mindfulness has been
described as a kind of non-elaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness
in which each thought, feeling, and sensation that arises in the attentional
field is acknowledged and accepted as it is. This has been shown to lead to
greater curiosity and better self-reflection.
It is a state of presence of mind, a clear awareness of one’s inner and outer
mental state is characterized by full attention to internal and external
experiences as they occur in the present moment. This definition may be
extended to include alertness to distinction, context, and multiple
perspectives along with openness to novelty and orientation to the present. This
involves focus on an object such that, when the mind wanders, attention is
brought back to the object.
Bare attention, which
constitutes of mindfulness practice, is observing without evaluating, including
single-minded insight at successive moments of perception.
Mindfulness may be described as paying attention to present perceptions
and experience in a nonjudgmental and nonreactive manner.
This entails controlling the attention in a purposeful way in the context
of open-minded acceptance. The mindfulness practitioner can
then become free to fully engage at a deeper level with aspects of life that
are usually not experienced. The individual learns to let go of mental
preoccupations and embrace pure living experience.
interventions, the mind is trained to be anchored in the present moment. This
involves attending to the current experience as it is happening and a
heightened awareness of the relationship with the object of the experience. A
consciousness is brought to bear on the experience in that a conscious effort
is made to engage with present experience that results in total immersion in
the present. In contrast, we often experience the world in a mindless way,
going through life but not truly experiencing it.
The word ‘effort’ is
fitting, as the disposition that is adopted in mindfulness is one that requires
some work. We force ourselves to live
the experience, not just pass through it. Buddhism would say that this is
living in reality. It should be noted that the practiced individual eventually
lives life in a mindful way without effort, because being anchored in the
present moment starts to come as naturally as not paying attention does to the
unpracticed individual. The mindful individual approaches all aspects of life
with awareness, including the most menial tasks. This brings meaning to all
practice is executed through an initial withdrawing, wherein the practitioner
focuses in a solitary way, for example, on the breath in meditation, the goal
is to rejoin the universal and feel connected to others and the environment.
The stage of meditating in silence is only a technique to focus the mind. The
aim is to train the mind so that in other situations in everyday life the
subject will take in more and engage more. This is an important point, as
mindfulness interventions are often confused with being disassociated from others.
The element of universality and expanding our empathies to others is key in
Buddhist thought, which recognizes that all things are interconnected and empathizing
with others sets us free.
Mindfulness is not a purely
intellectual exercise; it takes place at the level of embodiment. Despite use
of the word ‘mind,’ which is generally associated with cognition in Western
cultures, mindfulness does not originate in the thought processes. The
individual experiences mindfulness as a whole sensuous human being and learns
to think not just about current experience but to live it. The training of the
mind of which we speak refers to integrating our cognitive abilities with our
In Buddhism, mind is
considered an entity that has the nature of mere experience, clarity, and
knowing and it is nonmaterial. In this regard, the mind is pure and full of
potential but its fundamental nature is clear light, which means its greatest
potential is for the positive.
It includes sense perception and mental consciousness but is heavily dependent
on the physiological basis of the body. There is a strong mind-body link. Mental
attitudes are influenced by physical wellness and vice versa. Importantly,
Buddhism recognizes the mind’s ability to observe itself. In Buddhism, then, mind
is not just where we think but a blank slate ready to absorb the reality that
we create for it, and mindfulness optimizes this inner world of mental events that
influences everything else.
One of the ways in which
mindfulness training works is to reduce habitual patterns of responding.
Individuals who have cultivated this approach to experience exhibit increased
flexibility, fluency, and originality in responses.
The result of this is a mind
that perceives more clearly and an individual who sees himself or herself as an
integral part of the world as opposed to experiencing alienation. In systematic
reviews of neuropsychological findings, researchers have found that mindfulness
training improves cognitive abilities, including attention and memory.
Mindfulness, above all, is
about perceptual awareness, and this is why it relates to phenomenological
aesthetics. Highly mindful individuals have been characterized as more attuned
to sensations and perceptions. These individuals demonstrate superior
perceptual abilities in visual work, memory, and temporal tasks.
Crowther, mindfulness, and painting
Crowther’s theory of
painting utilizes a number of concepts that relate to the mindful attitude that
will be discussed below.
it is worth noting that Crowther’s work has been the co-subject of two recent
monographs, and he is, by far, the most prolific writer on
phenomenology and the visual arts.
His work involves extensive critical discussions of figures such as Heidegger,
Dufrenne, and Merleau-Ponty. He shows how these philosophers theorize visual
artwork through the special needs of their own philosophies rather than through
consideration of what is unique to such art.
Through this lack of
consideration, art is mainly understood from a narrow interpretation of the
spectator’s viewpoint. Crowther’s constructive work, in contrast, focuses on
the process of making and the conventions by which drawing and painting are
practiced. Heidegger, Dufrenne and Merleau-Ponty see the visual arts as
disclosing such things as the truth of Being or of the emergence of the
visible, but Crowther shows that much more is involved. Painting, for example:
…is governed by complex
conventions over and above the ontology of the visible. This means that when the world is represented in a painting,
on the basis of pictorial or abstract convention, its significance, qua
visible, is changed. Through being adapted to conventions of pictoriality
visible things are presented under conditions that, indeed, embody, but also go beyond, the making visible of
vision. We have a transformation,
rather than a translation of vision into visible terms.
The value of Crowther’s work
lies in the way he focuses on this transformative power. Philosophers such as
Berleant have also highlighted this aspect and noted that entering the world of
art requires active engagement of the total person and not just the subjective
cast of the mind. However,
Crowther has a particular focus on the structure of pictorial space and the intervening role of the planar structure of visual
representation. Crowther emphasizes that transformation includes increased
perspectives, literally seeing with, experiencing another viewpoint.
Crowther’s theory of art is
based on the premise of human embodiment.
The human subject is just one among other such sensible beings and things with
which and whom art has a reciprocal relationship. He stresses that our most
fundamental relation to this world is not one of an inner thinking subject
gazing out upon an external world. Rather we inhere in the sensible. It is
through the function of reciprocity that we locate ourselves.
This account of
being-in-the-world is derived from Merleau-Ponty, who asserted that “my body is
a thing among things; it is one of them. It is caught in the fabric of the
According to such
phenomenological accounts, embodiment and perception, which are shared by all
human beings, are at the root of all paintings. Similarly, in mindfulness
practice, embodiment is a means towards greater self-consciousness. For
example, the breath is used as a point of focus, and in yoga the body is used
in various ways; the end result is greater perceptual ability. This leads to
greater consciousness of self and others.
Crowther and Merleau-Ponty emphasize
that the phenomenal field is composed of the immediately perceptible, together
with factors that are invisible in the sense of not being presently attended to
or not being available to perception under normal circumstances. Merleau-Ponty
discusses how paintings make the invisible visible. Crowther
develops this notion by showing how painting does not simply disclose invisible
relations but does so through adapting them to the two-dimensional planar
structure of the pictorial medium. At the heart of this is how the act of
painting involves an intervention upon the visible/invisible relation. In
representation intervenes upon normal perception by creating immobile figures
and groups whose selected shapes, lines, and shading resemble similar figures
in the subject-matter….Through its absolutely stationary ‘presentness,’ the
picture actively separates the subject-matter from the normal conditions under
which things of that kind are perceived.
Hence, while the colors and
shapes of a painting are optically alive in disclosing their subject matter’s
visibility, the fixed planar presentation means that, at the same time, they
are made available to a more contemplative attitude. Photography, too,
translates the visible in planar terms but, with a photograph, we always know
that it is a single appearance that has been mechanically captured, an arresting
of the visible. The shapes and colors of a painting, in contrast, do not simply
reproduce what is given visually. They are recognized as a stylistic
bringing-forth of a possible appearance of the visible.
emphasizes that painting does far more than merely disclose how things become
visible. It intervenes upon the visible by adapting it to the structures of the
pictorial medium. This means that painting’s presentness has an unexpected
temporal significance and also spatial outcomes.
This does not
involve some reduction of the visible to Platonic form. Rather, it is a dynamic
planar expression of optical vitality in how things become visible. Through
eternalized contemplation of aesthetic space we can attend more fully to the
particular nuances of how visible things inhabit visibility.
It is clear that Crowther’s
theory provides some major elaborations of the scope of mindfulness by
disclosing interventions that involve contemplative idioms of creation and
perception. The painter extracts what seems to be invisible by going out into
the world and not just looking but participating. Through the making of
pictures, he or she becomes aware of and embodies different levels of being,
from observation of the flow of visible things to their articulation in more
eternalizing idioms. The artist comes
to achieve and understand self-development, and the spectator is able to share
in this insofar as the work is rendered in a publicly accessible medium.
Crowther argues that, by
virtue of its ontological discontinuity with the causal flow of the physical
world, painting focuses and concentrates our reflective awareness. In effect,
his theory of painting clarifies a type of visual mindfulness, an aesthetic space where spatial phenomena are
experienced in a more focused and intense way than usual. Indeed, he shows that
this is something intrinsic to the very making of paintings.
Below, I will consider
examples that illuminate important ways in which mindful attention to painting
transforms the character of the subject-object relation in experience.
Consider first Chardin’s White Tablecloth. This is a perfect
example of a mundane object that we overlook in normal quotidian life. How
often do we take the time to observe the sensuousness of a tablecloth? Art
affords us this opportunity. As only the artistic eye can, Chardin looked
deeper than the commonplace scene of the table with food on it, and shared what
he found with the viewer.
Figure 1 –
Jean Baptiste-Simeon Chardin, The White
The artist manages to evoke
a whole range of sentiments and a way of being by bringing awareness to this
scene. There is a soft sensuality, a slowness, a gently abandoned mood that is
nuanced with tenderness. The startling beauty of the white pigments in a
setting of earth tones manages not to be startling but inviting in an almost
seductive way. It is softened by the flow of the fabric that barely touches the
ground with grace and elegance. The planar nature of pictorial space, coupled
with the sumptuousness of the paint, translates an uneventful scene into a
provocative one. This initiates a response in the viewer, who then has the
opportunity to open up to what may have been commonplace in reality but is
transformed into a rich, sensuous experience exercising the powers of
perception. This happens via aesthetic space that has, indeed, transformed the
Where the work is mindfully considered,
the experience goes beyond spectating. A merging of subject and object evolves,
and a dialogical relation emerges. The subject receives and incorporates the
world of the object; the world of the subject transforms through
phenomenological participation in the life of the object. Because a painting is
imbued with embodied gesture, it reaches out to the subject.
Both viewer and artist
engage in a way of seeing an aspect of the world that was previously unnoticed,
with all the concomitant feeling. In terms of mindfulness, the result of this
is the experience of a broader range of human capacities through engagement
with the aesthetic object. Through active observation, we arrive at increased
participation. We could also say that both viewer and creator have benefited
from a new perspective. The acts of broadening horizons, increasing
perspectives, and exploring the bounds of being human in this way speak for
let us reflect on Casper David Friedrich’s Monk
by the Sea. It is true that the sea is a subject that does enthrall many
people, unlike a tablecloth. Nevertheless, we do not often take the time to
truly examine what the sea evokes in us. The sheer expanse of it, qua sea, is an obstacle to actually
contemplating it in an accessible way. The picturing of it sets it apart for
contemplation. Friedrich captures not just the sea as one may gaze upon it
absentmindedly; he has created a mindful space of tranquility, isolation, and
reflection. Merleau-Ponty said of Cézanne that he “made visible how the world
touches us.” 
This statement also aptly describes The
Monk by the Sea.
Figure 2 - Caspar David Friedrich, The Monk by the Sea
inclusion of the lone figure in the vastness evokes feelings of our own
mortality, fears of loneliness or, perhaps, the joy of solitude. These states
could not be elicited in the same way by viewing a person walking along the
shore because the artist has composed the image using the picture plane, the
paint, and his own gestural way of being-in-the-world. The original scene has
been digested by the artist, who captures a moment with the intention to
We do not need to know if the artist intended this
painting to be melancholy or tranquil; it could be either depending on the
viewer. The point is that it is evocative. This goes beyond responding to,
viewing, or even appreciating a painting in the ordinary sense of the word.
This is an interactive relationship.
We see something that we have never seen before and never
will again, that is, this particular artist’s view of this scene. This is his
perspective on a corner of the universe, a corner that exists for all people
but Friedrich noticed it. This painting is capable of inducing a viewer to more
closely engage with the actual sea and, indeed, other people and the self. This
relates to why Crowther says of pictures: “They project places for exploration
through virtual movement and perceptual relocation. It might be said, indeed,
that pictorial space is itself an emblem
Frederic Leighton’s Drapery
Studies gives us nothing less than a way of being-in-the world, which is
alluring and seductive, considered and effortless, at the same time. Here
again, we have a commonplace item, nothing more than a piece of material. If
not for art, who would have thought that a piece of apparently discarded
material could say so much? It is unclear what it is draped over, and it is
obviously not a human body, yet it is suggestive of embodiment, of peaceful
human slumber. The organic way that it flows almost feels as if it was just
removed from a human being or fell off and was carelessly left.
Figure 3 - Frederic Leighton – Drapery Study
Of course it is likely that the artist positioned it this
way to draw it. But the artist must have been inspired by a piece of discarded
drapery himself at some point that stirred his emotion in order to draw this
composition. The viewer’s imagination becomes exercised because Leighton decided
to externalize his into the public arena.
It is irrelevant whether the artist staged this scene or
not. The result is an image that speaks directly to our sensual side and
activates the imagination. As a result of engaging with this picture, the
viewer may pause at an actual piece of material and see the beauty and wonder
in it. Does this really enrich one’s life? I believe the answer is yes. To see
the uniqueness in every moment and observe beauty in the most mundane of things
certainly adds to psychological completeness and contributes to the evolution
of self-consciousness. To experience wonder where it could not previously be
found can indeed be described as transformation. This is the goal of
mindfulness. As we become more conscious of the details around us, we become
more conscious of ourselves. The two are inextricably linked because, as
Crowther has pointed out, we are conscious in relation to others and our
Hofmann’s Pompeii provides an example of abstract
art that is an energetic and emotional explosion created by the push-pull
effect of the lines and colors. Abstract
works possess a presumption of virtuality and an “aboutness” that involve
idioms of optical illusion. This is not a trick of the eye but “…can be seen-as
possible visual structures that are overlooked, neglected or taken for granted
under normal perceptual circumstances.”
Figure 4 - Hans Hofmann – Pompeii
Crowther uses the term
‘transperceptual space’ to describe these usually hidden aspects of space that
abstract paintings to bring our attention. In Pompeii, there is a clear sense of depth but its very ambiguity
calls one all the more to focus, to look, to find. Its emotiveness corresponds
to aspects of the external world and also our own affective inner world. Because
abstract works do not represent something concrete we can immediately recognize,
they provide special opportunities to attend in a mindful way and to “see-as.”
Hofmann abstracted from his world in order to create this compelling and
dynamic pictorial space, and the viewer abstracts from the finished piece that opens
up a world of imagination and lived experience. This stirs awe and wonder just
as a representational painting can.
In relation to non-Western
art, it is worth noting, not surprisingly, that Zen art, for example, has
always seen itself as integrally related to mindful transformation:
general, art has always been transformative. It enlarges the universe, touches
the heart and illuminates the spirit. The Zen arts, because of their emphasis
on spiritual insight derived from personal experience, are a powerful tool of
exploration. They point to a whole new way of seeing ourselves and the
universe, and way of living that is simple, spontaneous and vital.
A painting as simple as Circle, Triangle, Square, by Sengai
Gibon, induces endless fascination. The three geometric shapes touch and
intertwine as the ink tone increases in intensity from left to right. Their
overlapping relationships provide an example of transperceptual space pointing
to interconnectedness that we may have failed to notice in a more narrative
Figure 5 - Sengai Gibon – Circle, Triangle, Square
We can see, from the above
discussion, that, in the words of Berleant:
discernment is a demand of all painting, from color field and minimalist art to
traditional landscape painting and portrait painting, where the distance and
direction of the viewer as well as an activating eye sets the forces of the
painting in motion.
The Relationship between Mindfulness Theory & Crowther’s Aesthetics
As we have seen, the goal of
mindfulness-based interventions is to bring us face to face with a new outlook,
uproot us from our comfort zone and allow us to see reality in its fullness. In
this way we more fully engage and have greater clarity. Buddhist philosophy
asserts that a veil of obscurity is lifted through mindful meditation and truth
is revealed. Buddhism recommends that we start living in the real world of
On these terms, the role of
mindfulness is to improve the individual’s abilities to observe what is
occurring while it is occurring. This results in a mind that is more
perceptually observant. Crowther’s
works addresses the aesthetic experiences that arise from this. By
investigating these, the scope of mindfulness in aesthetics can be further
illuminated. A number of points of commonality will be reviewed below.
Let us first consider the
disinterested character of aesthetic appreciation in Crowtherian terms.
It concerns the logical grounds of enjoyment and distances us from the intended
practical outcome. Disinterestedness, in this context, means that in order to
identify with the artistic interpretation, the artist does not need to be
physically present nor do we need any empirical facts concerning the work or
the artist. We need only the pure, occurrent experience of being in the
presence of the artwork. In this way, we experience an aesthetic empathy that is
based on freedom rather than one beset by the psychological pressures that
characterize our direct relations with other people: “Pictorial beauty
completes us, by placing artist and audience in a free and mutually benefitting
relationship at the level of space”.
disinterested stance echoes the nonjudgmental attitude that is recommended in
mindfulness practice. In this case, the practitioner does not get stuck in intellectual
analysis but experiences the moment in a detached way, neither judging nor
holding onto practical considerations. This stance liberates the practitioner;
otherwise the mind is a prisoner of its unbridled discursivity.
This nonjudgmental state that is cultivated also allows an empathy with others
because it increases our abilities of acceptance, as opposed to judgment.
This brings us to universality, which
is a key point of commonality. Both mindfulness theory and Crowther address a
reciprocal aspect that reflects the
universal nature of existence in an interdependent world. Crowther asserts that
all things are interwoven into an inseparable unity. The observer is not
solitary but part of a public. Aesthetic space, as he describes it, provides a
safe place for the world of possibilities that is fueled by the imagination; aesthetic
space is a universal and a shared space that has implications for the other.
Right mindfulness, as it is termed,
has implications for the reciprocal relationship that we share with our fellow
human beings, including ethics, awareness of others, and being of service in
the world. Reciprocity is also an indispensable
consideration in Crowther’s philosophy, evidenced in his notion of ontological
reciprocity. He coined this term to describe the condition whereby the human
subject is in a constant state of reciprocity with the world in which it
This is closely linked to aesthetic
empathy. The central role of the artist’s style involves seeing-with, an aesthetic empathy embodying a
psychological identification with the artist’s way of seeing the visual world.
The pictorial nature of the painting allows the viewer to be witness to the
artist’s view without the pressure associated with face-to-face interactions. This aesthetic empathy
echoes the universal connections that are realized through mindfulness
Crowther explains how seeing
a picture discloses things and how this happens through an aesthetic empathy
that he describes thus:
mode of identification with the artist’s way of seeing and representing visual
possibilities of space-occupancy.... the selection of content and the style in which
it is rendered allow us to share the artist’s vision to some degree at the
level of space itself. He or she offers a way of seeing – of interpreting and
evaluating the visible world. 
In this respect, we are not
only imaginatively absorbed by the artist’s style but we also learn things
about our own possibilities and limitations. Aesthetic empathy through
pictures, therefore, facilitates psychological completion in personal and also
social terms. Artwork
reflects our mode of embodied inherence in the world. In the creation and
reception of art, we are able to enjoy a free belonging to the world.
However, we do not do this in a vacuum but alongside other embodied beings. Paintings
allow us to imaginatively identify with the artist’s struggle at the level of
empathy, or to appropriate the work as another way in which it is possible for
us to view being. “Species-identity”
is to be conscious of oneself but also conscious of being part of a shared
species, to see oneself as part of a broader phenomenal field.
Through mindful attention to
experience, the practitioner increases perspectives. This is achieved by not
just going through the motions in life but by being alert, including being
alert to fellow human beings, as they are a large part of our experiential
field. It has been noted that mindfulness interventions increase flexibility.
This has implications for tolerance and a more open mind. The more that we
engage, the more we reflect through increased connections with the world.
Clearly, this means abandoning a parochial attitude and view of the world and
others. This is a type of empathy that occurs at a similar level to Crowther’s aesthetic
Note that the contemplation of paintings takes place in the privacy
of one’s own consciousness but, as with mindfulness, there are sequential
effects in the external world.
Temporality is another
shared aspect of minduflness and aesthetics. According to Crowther, making
pictures is temporal but it also involves some release from the confines of time
as a flow. He asserts that the wonder of picturing consists in its opening of a
space that is both discontinuous with and different from the normal perceptual
order while still being orientated by some demands made by that order and by
the external observer’s own personal experience.
In this regard, “It is a metaphysical intervention
on our experience of space and time.” This
account of painting, articulated by Crowther, eloquently describes the process
of mindfulness meditation, whereby the practitioner must focus on the present
moment in order to transcend it. Indeed, he uses the term ‘transcendence’ to
explain why painting has “an enduring expressive significance.”
This is a transcendence of
the finite self towards an experience of “Godhood” but the religious
interpretation can be adapted to the secular viewpoint.
This is because the experience of God in pictorial art is fundamentally aesthetic.
Pictorial art offers visual possibility, takes an “as-if” form, the inhabiting
of which “completes the self.”
This is achieved through increasing perspectives, literally seeing as others
see. In this context, the self evolves through identification with others.
gives much attention to what he terms “eternalization of the moment.” This
means that an artwork can preserve and present a moment of decisive human
significance and “the moment of present awareness emerges through its
reciprocal relation with a broader field of perceptual and latent spatial,
temporal, and existential factors.”, Crowther and Buddhist scholars, such as Dreyfus, would agree
that the present moment is of fundamental significance. Crowther claims that
this is because the present moment is the major principle of temporal
unification, that is, the present is more than just a temporal point or
instant. It both connects and separates our experienced past and anticipated
Dreyfus asserts that the retentive ability of the mind is of vital importance
because it is what allows for future recollection of the present moment. He goes
on to say:
retentive ability of mindfulness is crucially connected to working memory, the
ability of the mind to retain and make sense of received information. When we
see an object we are not just presented with discrete time slices of the object,
we integrate it within a temporal flow so that it is given as making sense.…consciousness
involves the ability to put in resonance and various cognitive processes so
that the information they deliver make sense and produce coherent patterns.
Phenomenology and Buddhist philosophy
have a shared heritage. Crowther’s philosophy is in opposition to Cartesian
dualism and science, which celebrated rationality and observable experience.
Consider this statement from Dreyfus that illustrates the concordance between
Western medical and psychological
science has historically emphasized intellectual knowledge and concrete
experience as the main stream of human knowledge. The concept of mindfulness
derives from a culture that places higher emphasis upon subjective experience
as a source of inquiry and understanding.
6. Points of distinction
interventions and painting do not correlate directly. Painting is about visual
perception and imagination; mindfulness is about perception in general. In
addition, mindfulness practice recommends focused attention, where possible, to
any and all aspects of the world. In contrast, the aesthetic object is the
unique focal point for contemplation. Every context provides an opportunity for
mindfulness; however, the aesthetic experience is seen as something special and
the mindful experience we are orientated towards a given phenomenal object in a
contemplative way, seeking to embrace the fullness of its being. We are
engrossed with the special way the object engages us, how we feel in the act of
contemplating and responding to it. This is an important point. The focus of
this mindful activity is on the actuality of the object whereas aesthetic
appreciation centers on the image and its genesis, which means the realm of
the painting, we focus on the fecundity of all the gestures and thought that
went into its making, and the way these project a possibility of experience
rather than an actuality. There is an invitation to see it like this. We cannot do so at the level of
actuality, it is at the level of imagination.
When we aesthetically regard a painting, we are engaging with another
person’s expression of the world but our seeing with them is at a virtual
experience of painting converges upon the imaginative possibilities that the
object projects for us at the level of space-occupancy, whereas mindful
contemplation of the object centers on the richness of its actuality. Aesthetic elements are absorbed within
and converge upon our sense of the object’s actuality in all the dimensions
that we can be mindful of. They become parts of a contemplative whole that
ranges far beyond aesthetic attention.
aesthetic experience can use the techniques of mindfulness. But, ultimately,
these acts serve to open up possibilities of experience at a virtual level. The
mindful attention is subsumed within the aesthetic experience. Similarly, in
mindful attention to something, we can attend to its aesthetic unity. In this
case the aesthetic is subsumed within the mindful. The result of these
arguments is that mindfulness and aesthetic experience often swap and exchange
patterns of attention, and, in this, they are mutually reinforcing.
Aesthetic experience and
mindfulness are not the same. However, aesthetic experience is, among other
things, a type of mindfulness. In this way, it is an intervention, a
transformative intervention. The creation and the appreciation of paintings, by
their nature, carry many of the benefits of a specifically mindful
My intention is, in part, to
answer the questions: What is the point of painting? Why has it enjoyed
continued existence in an ever-changing world? My argument is that if we accept
the benefits of mindfulness interventions in relation to self-consciousness, in
conjunction with accepting Crowther’s interpretation of painting, our
understanding of the intrinsic significance of painting is enhanced. This is
because we can see the many points in common between the two, and Crowther’s
aesthetics is cast in a new light. We do not simply accept his arguments; we
see that there is a bigger picture into which his theory fits, a foundation, as
it were, of which Crowther, himself may have been unaware.
Clearly, with regard to
aesthetics, there is a finished work that is a product of gesture. In the case
of mindfulness, there is no such thing. Yet perceptual attention to the present
moment as it is occurring through embodiment is at the center of both mindfulness
and the aesthetic theory discussed, and one could argue that the end goal is
still the same, to more fully engage with life.
Aesthetic experience acts as
a unifying experience. Universality is an integral element of the Eastern
thought that gave rise to mindfulness practice. The practice is intended to
connect individuals and raise consciousness of an ecologically shared space.
Although this is an entirely different path to universality than that which
Crowther espouses, the sentiment, nonetheless, is similar and the concept of
empathy and identification with the other is key.
Does this elucidate anything
new about painting? Yes. It shows us that the intrinsic significance of
painting, in part, comes from the way in which it acts as an attentional
control exercise and a unifying force. We have learned much about painting by
contrasting it with mindfulness; the actual (mindful aspect) and the virtual
(aesthetic aspect) elements complement each other. In fact, calling these
points of distinction may be a misnomer. More accurately, we find that they
highlight a complementarity between the two and the place that painting
occupies existentially becomes more meaningful through this knowledge.
But what can we do with this
information? Children are taught art history in school but not educated in the
practice of mindful appreciation of
paintings. Yet this
is where the real joy and concomitant benefits of art lie. Awareness of this
aspect of aesthetics would greatly benefit teachers of art history and teachers
of drawing and painting because the ideas presented here are practical and
applicable to the study, appreciation, and creation of art, particularly
If students were introduced
to the mindful aspects of painting and integrated this into their approach to
art, it would have far-reaching possibilities. It must be stressed that this
goes beyond art appreciation. Mindful engagement with paintings involves
focused, present-centered engagement with the work that entails attending to
how it portrays a perspective on life, a way of being-in-the-world though
gesture and style. What I refer to here is an education in mindful perception.
This is, indeed, called for in order to balance the current climate of sound
bites and fast-paced images.
Proponents of mindfulness
are clear on its benefits but, in relation to art, little has been said except
that mindfulness practice can unlock creativity.
My purpose has been to examine the nature of painting rather than demonstrate
how to become more creative through mindfulness. Painting, in this regard, is
viewed as an intervention on reality, and mindfulness occupies an integral
place in aesthetic experience. This feature of mindfulness has been largely
ignored, among many that have been analyzed in a plethora of literature on the
Examination of the intrinsic
value of painting has never been timelier in an age obsessed with digital
imagery and instant gratification. In
the 1980s, certain radical theorists took up the theme of the death of painting and, based their judgment, on the claim that advanced painting had shown the signs of internal exhaustion or at least marked limits beyond which it could press. Although there have been
compelling shifts in the art world, painting enjoys a continued existence. In
the modern world of technological advances, it is worth marking the value of
painting and exploring the question: What is the value of painting?
mindfulness is a central cultural topic of our time, and yet philosophical
discussion on its unique relationship with aesthetic experience is nonexistent.
contend that painting is, by nature, a mindfulness-based intervention that, when
practiced through creation or appreciation, sharpens perceptual skills and
brings greater awareness of the environment, others, and, ultimately,
it is experienced more consciously, aesthetic space is a mindful space. In the contemplation of paintings and
mindfulness practice, reflection is made subject to the will. Things normally
taken for granted are explicitly and deliberately contemplated. The subject is
not simply experiencing an act of recognition but becomes absorbed in
Mindfulness brings us into
awareness of others. As Merleau-Ponty states, “culture allows us to dwell in
the lives of others.”
Dufrenne reminds us that this is our life, also.
Colleen Fitzpatrick holds a
PhD in the Philosophy of Art and Culture from The National University of
Ireland, Galway, where she currently teaches philosophy. She also holds a
Masters degree in Psychology from University College Dublin and is a practicing
visual artist with a degree in Fine Art from the Galway-Mayo Institute of
Technology. Her research focuses on
Published on July 18, 2017.
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L. Anicha, et al. (2012) p. 265
 Elena Fell and Ioanna Kopsiafti, The
Cognitive Basis of Aesthetics: Cassirer, Crowther and the Future (New York:
Routledge, 2016); Elena Fell and Ioanna Kopsiafti, Thinking Space, Advancing Art: Cassirer and Crowther (Cambridge:
Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2015).
 See Paul Crowther, How Pictures Complete Us, the Beautiful, the Sublime and the Divine
(California: Stanford Press, 2016); Paul Crowther, Phenomenologies of Art and Vision, A Post-Analytic Turn (London:
Bloomsbury, 2013); Paul Crowther, Phenomenology
and the Visual Arts (Even the Frame) (California: Stanford Press 2009);
Paul Crowther, Art and Embodiment, From Aesthetics
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Clarendon Press 1993).
 Crowther, Phenomenologies
of Art and Vision, p. 100.
 Arnold Berleant, Art and Engagement (Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 1991), p. 26.
 Crowther, Art and Embodiment, From
Aesthetics to Self-Consciousness, p. 1.
Merleau-Ponty, "Eye and Mind" in Galen A. Johnson (ed.), The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1993), p. 125.
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and Vision, p. 2.
Merleau-Ponty, "Cezanne’s Doubt," in G. Johnson, The Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader (Evanston: Northwestern
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Us The Beautiful, the
Divine and the Sublime, pp. 48-49.
 This work is discussed at length by Crowther. See pp. 31-34, Phenomenologies of Visual Art.
 “Seeing-as” is a term coined by Crowther in reaction to Richard
Wollheim’s term “seeing-in.”
 Stephen Addiss and
John Daido Loori, The Zen Art Book, The
Art of Enlightenment (Boston & London: Shambala Press, 2009), p. 10.
 Berleant, Art and Engagement, p.
 George Dreyfus, "Is Mindfulness Present-Centered and Nonjudgemental? A
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 It is acknowledged
that the term ‘disinterested’ finds its origins in Kantian
aesthetics but, in the present context, it is developed beyond the strictures
of its origins. A lengthy comparison with Kant’s notion of disinterestedness is
beyond the scope of this paper.
 Crowther, The Beautiful, the Sublime and the Divine,
 Dreyfus, "Is Mindfulness Present-Centered and Nonjudgemental? A
Discussion of the Cognitive Dimensions of Mindfulness," p. 5.
 It should be noted
that this accepting attitude is reputed to extend not just to others but to the
self and circumstances.
 Crowther, Art and Embodiment, From
Aesthetics to Self-Consciousness, p. 2.
 Crowther, "How Images Create Us, Imagination and the Unity of
Self-Consciousness," Journal of
Consciousness Studies, 118-119.
 Crowther, Art and Embodiment, p. 7.
 Crowther, How Pictures Complete Us, The Beautiful, the Divine and the Sublime,
 Crowther, Drawing and Painting as
Symbolic Forms, Liberation of the Image, p. 168.
 Dreyfus, "Is Mindfulness Present-Centered and Nonjudgemental? A Discussion
of the Cognitive Dimensions of Mindfulness," p. 8.
 This is perhaps because children and older students alike are not
instructed on the practice of mindfulness at all. Many experiences could be
enhanced by living them mindfully, which is to say in a phenomenological way.
 See Ellen Langer, On Becoming an
Artist: Reinvent Yourself through Mindful Creativity (New York: Ballantine
 See Arthur Danto, After the End of Art (Princeton
University Press, 1997), p. 4.
 See Graham Parkes, "Awe and Humility in the Face of Things, Somatic
Practices in East-Asian Philosophies," European
Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 4/3 Autumn (2012), 69-88.
 M. Merleau-Ponty, "Indirect
Language and the Voice of Others" in G.A. Johnson, Merleau-Ponty Aesthetics Reader (Evanston: Northwestern University
Press, 1993), p. 112.
 See Mikel Dufrenne, The Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience (Evanston:
Northwestern University Press, 1973).
would like to express my gratitude to the reviewers of this paper for their
valuable comments. It was clear from their recommendations that they read this
paper meticulously and thoughtfully.