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Award-Winning Artwork: The Process is the Point

Updated: Jul 22, 2021

(Originally posted March 26, 2021 to my Artful Buddhist blog on Substack)

I’m happy to report that I won second place in the avocational division of the 31st Annual Minnetrista Juried Art Show.

The award-winning piece, “Happy Hour,” is part of an ongoing series that presents Buddhist principles via abstract line-drawings. “Happy Hour” refers to the efforts of Prince Siddhartha’s father to keep his son from leaving home and eventually becoming the Buddha, the Awakened One.

My other 36x60 piece in the show is “Sati” (a Pāli term often glossed as “Mindfulness”). I drew “Sati” using a scribbling technique that is fundamentally different from the precise line-work of “Happy Hour,” though it, too, requires lots of concentration.

(“Happy Hour” – 36x60 ink on paper; @jeffbrackettart)

[Check out the WIP pics for this drawing]

As an Aspie, I’m really good at seeing patterns and design, but I also face the challenge of over-thinking, planning, and obsessing over a finished product. The entire drawing process is an extended exercise in self-analysis: thinking vs. just drawing; planning vs. process; perfectionism vs. acceptance; confidence vs. fear, and more.

I often leave pieces untouched, hoping that breaks will bring with them new ideas. “Happy Hour” lay dormant for ten weeks before I came back to it with renewed focus and creativity. (Of course, that had much to do with being exceedingly busy during the Fall semester.)

Planning “Happy Hour” was fairly simple: use two colors of ink, create “ribbons” of negative space that become part of the overall composition, and fill the page in with an interesting pattern. Creating a complex design requires a degree of patience in the early stages when I am creating the overall structure. I experimented with the decreasing the “gaps” between lines, which significantly added to the time it took to complete the piece.

I also wanted to convey a sense of bound up energy, tension waiting for release. Thus, it feels like the ribbons are either escaping (as in, explosively) or being held back and trying to be set free; either interpretation fits with the Buddhist story I tell in the drawing (explained below).

The smaller left-side of the drawing becomes tangled with the black lines, indicating the clash between Siddhartha and his father (noted above). Yet the allusion to modern Happy Hours is also evident: the first sips that promise euphoria, with the ribbons appearing like bursting party favors. That initial elation or release subsides, as symbolized in the longer, obstruction-free arcs.

As Happy Hour drags on, the lines then turn back on themselves, so to speak. There is no permanent escape from the root causes a person’s pain, to return to the Buddhist-themed interpretation.

Both Siddhartha’s “escape” and Happy Hours seek to ease human suffering, yet the problems shall return, driven as they are by the inescapable cause of suffering, namely, desire, or thirst (tṛṣṇa). (Ah, the Happy Hour pun was unintended!)

(“Sati” – 36x60, ink on paper; @jeffbrackettart)

The “biography” of the Buddha is a devotional and pedagogical story intended to increase Buddhists’ faith in the veracity of the Buddha as The Teacher par excellence.

The story becomes a paradigm of what he is purported to have taught, which, in brief is laid out in the Four Noble Truths:

  1. Life is characterized by dissatisfaction (duḥkha), often translated with the misleading term, “suffering”;

  2. This “suffering” is caused by one’s thirst (tṛṣṇa), desire, or attachment;

  3. One can reverse the conditions that give rise to “suffering,” leading to nirvana; and

  4. The Eightfold Path (leading to nirvana, ideally or doctrinally).

While “Happy Hour” recalls the Four Noble Truths, it focuses primarily on the moments immediately preceding the “Going Forth,” Siddhartha’s leaving the palace in the dark of night (symbolic of ignorance, which characterizes the human condition).

“Happy Hour” is the 7th piece – and “Sati” the 8th – in my ongoing series of Buddhist-themed work. I began the series in the summer of 2020; so far, the pieces depict:

  1. Emptiness (śūnyatā);

  2. The Four Noble Truths (cātur-ārya-satya);

  3. The Three Bodies of the Buddha (trikāya);

  4. The Cyclical Nature of Existence (saṃsāra);

  5. Suffering (duḥkha); and

  6. Ignorance (avidyā).

As I continue the series, I will elaborate more on the intersections of Buddhist principles and my artwork. Once completed, I can use it in my teaching and research project: “Making Art, Doing Religious Studies.” On this blog, I’m integrating my personal and professional persona. All of this intertwines with the book I’m currently working on, Zen and the Artful Buddhist: Asperger’s, Art, and Academia, a memoir-style account of my art and research. This blog helps me think through the topics for this book in different ways.

If you are in the vicinity of East Central Indiana, stop on by Minnetrista to see the show, which is open through April 11. Minnetrista is a cultural center built on 40 acres adjoining the White River; it has numerous educational programs, a museum, gardens, a farmer’s market, and more. This year’s art show juror was Carl Schafer, co-owner of Gordy Fine Art and Framing (also in Muncie). Carl has more than 25 years experience in the museum profession, and is the former Associate Director of the David Owsley Museum of Art at BSU (2006-2015). “Gordy,” as we locals refer to it, shows fine art from around Indiana (and beyond), hosts a new artist and show each month as part of the First Thursday Arts Walk, and is a gathering place for local artists and art aficionados; it happens also to be the main (read: only) art gallery in town.

Thanks for reading!

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