Sunday, June 04, 2006

Seeing & Imagination: Vidya & Vikalpa

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras he describes 5 states of mind - which can cause either contentment or suffering: clear perception, misperception, delusion/imagination, sleep, & memory.

For years, when I would read or study the Yoga Sutras, I would stumble on that third state of mind "delusion/imagination" (vikalpa). I was so bothered that imagination was said to be a state of mind that produced suffering... and that the same word meant both "imagination" and "delusion." I had an idea that imagination was the foundation of art... a critical and important part of art making... As a result, I was confused about making peace with this part of the sutras. I couldn't figure out how to resolve it with my practice as an artist.

But today I had an insight about this.

The fundamental goal of yoga is to see things as they truly are... to move from ignorance & misperception into a state of clear perception. In Sanskrit, the word for ignorance is "avidya" - which translates as "non-seeing." And of course it's opposite is "vidya" - wisdom, "seeing".

And it was only today that I understood that in the context of yoga philosophy, art comes from Vidya, Seeing things as they truly are - and not from Vikalpa, Imagining things to be that do not actually exist (ie. illusion/delusion). At its best, art recognizes some essential truth & perceives it as it truly is - and then illuminates it for the rest of us to see.

There's the obvious, literal interpretation - which would be still lives. Learning to draw what you are looking at is a process of learning to actually SEE what you are looking at - and not what you think you are looking at, or what you wish you were looking at, or what you are afraid you are looking at. This is probably why it is so important, in a classical art education, to first learn to draw what you are looking at with accuracy. Not just because it's a nice technical skill to have, but because it represents a certain ability to get yourself out of the way of your subject matter.

Then there's the larger, conceptual interpretation of these connections - that in addition to perceiving objects as they are - art also comes from a place of perceiving emotions or situations as they truly are... and this clear perception can be shared through any medium or subject matter.


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