M.C. Richards on Art as Meditation, part 2

M. C. Richards tells the story of being at a beach in North Carolina and awakening to racism when she saw segregation at the water fountains standing in contrast to the light that shone on everyone and everything such as the waters equally.  She exclaims: “How can we not see what our eyes behold?  As our perceptions become more and more coordinated, we grow in justice.”  By deepening our perceptions art sensitizes us to the suffering of the world. 

Richards tells us that “the craftsman works from an immediate life sense.”  It is this life sense without intermediary that we call ecstasy and mysticism–an experience of Unity with the Whole. 

“Surfer” photo by Jeremy Bishop

Richards insists on how all art is bodily.  In art as meditation the body is not forgotten but rather integral to our meditation experiences, just like yoga is.  “It is in our bodies that redemption takes place.  It is the physicality of the crafts that pleases me: I learn through my hand and eyes and my skin what I could never learn through my brain.”

Because art as meditation is about doing, it is about materials.  Therefore it involves matter and the transformation of matter and the transformation of energy by way of matter. Richards cautions us: “Realize that we do not win our depth and our inner form and our texture and our truth of being without the fire.  Ordeal by fire.  There is no substitute for transformation of the body.” 

Untitled, by Ahmad Odeh

Art as meditation, being bodily, cuts through the dualism of body versus soul that so much ascetic spirituality preaches.  Richards celebrates the “bodying forth” that occurs in Art as meditation when she writes: “Incarnation: bodying forth.  Is this not our whole concern?  The bodying forth of our sense of life?…That is what form is: the bodying forth.  The bodying forth of the living vessel in the shapes of clay.”

The prophet Isaiah presents us with a picture of the Creator as a Potter of potters (Isa. 64:8).  The prophet does not begin with the suffering of the world but with the excitement of beauty and the joy of life–as does the artist.  As Heschel puts it, “What the prophet faces is not his own faith.  He faces God.  To sense the living God is to sense infinite goodness, infinite wisdom, infinite beauty.  Such a sensation is a sensation of joy.”[1]

Adapted from Matthew Fox, “Deep Ecumenism, Ecojustice, and Art as Meditation,” in Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, pp. 227-231.
[1] Abraham Heschel, The Prophets, 143.
Banner Image: “Inside Wood-Fired Kiln,” photo by Crystal King, Crystal King Pottery Studio

Queries for Contemplation

“Ordeal by fire.” How is that a positive thing?  Consider your ordeals by fire, be with them, welcome them back into your heart.  What have they taught you?  What are they teaching you now?

Our “sensations of joy.”  Call them up. Listen to what they are telling you.  Can art as meditation bring more such experiences to life for you?

Recommended Reading

In one of his foundational works, Fox engages in substantive discussions with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets on today’s social and spiritual issues on such challenging topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interspirituality, and more.

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2 thoughts on “M.C. Richards on Art as Meditation, part 2”

  1. Avatar
    Robert Goldthwaite

    I was feeling inadequate since the start of this series, especially when we got to art as meditation. I told myself that I didn’t have any of these attributes ; I’m just an old retired engineer who loved creation spirituality! But when I was walking our dog a few days ago, I suddenly realized where/what my art was- I’ve been singing with a Barbershop Harmony for 14 years and love it! Early on, I really took in what our director preached- “If you can hear yourself singing, you’re singing too loud. You have to be an integral voice in your part (I’m a bass ), and your part has to be an intergal of the chorus. The bass needs to blend with the leads, tenors, tenors and baritones so we can produce a unit sound, with harmony.” I immediately realized that this is a pretty good prescription for living- living so that I’m not calling attention to myself, but am part of creating harmonies, something beautiful! This led me to the natural harmonies present in creation.
    I still smile when I think that Barbershop Harmony has brought me closer to the inherent Harmony of Creation.
    Thank you for these daily meditation!

    1. Gail Ransom

      Robert, you are singing my song! in the sea of sound that is a chorus – with sparkling overtones, surging with melody, harmony, and hearts, blessing our bodies and blending our breath – might that be what M. C. Richards meant by ‘a sense of life without intermediary that we call ecstasy and mysticism–an experience of Unity with the Whole”? I would imagine that there are a few times when you are walking your dog when you, the animal life, and the plant world around you form a Unity with the Whole.’
      Keep singing!
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the DM Team

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