As an example of FA, the performance artist
has famously developed her own method of paying attention to every minute sensation in, say, drinking a glass of water or counting grains of rice over a period of hours. OM, on the other hand, may be as rigorous as the no-mind tradition of Zazen, or Zen meditation, or it could be free-form. Artist
, whose take on a meditation space, NDD Immersion Room
(2017)—a forested room in which visitors spend time alone, after having surrendered their phones and other devices—was recently on view
at Leila Heller Gallery
in New York, practices a form of OM by simply walking in the woods and thinking.
Recent research suggests that each approach has benefits for creativity. At least one well-regarded study
, by the Italian cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato, found that OM benefits divergent thinking, which is the process of generating as many ideas about a topic or problem as possible. We might say that emptying the mind helps us not
to fixate on stressors, stimuli, or things that don’t pertain to our work, and in doing so allows new ideas to enter the field of our thinking. Colzato found that FA also may stimulate divergent thinking.
Generally, convergent thinking is not considered as “creative,” yet FA surely helps us practice concentration itself, which is another quality that is necessary for creative endeavors. Consider Abramović’s method of focusing on each detail of a process. Since art demands choosing among details, practicing her method ought to help you recognize what details are available.
Concentration alone, however, may not be the most useful skill for creativity. Indeed, in a series of four studies
examining mindful meditation and creativity, the Dutch psychologist Matthijs Baas found that people who most effectively focus with attention and awareness do relatively poorly on tests of creative originality. By contrast, strong observation skills did predict creativity.
Observation would seem to be a quality boosted primarily by OM. In actuality, most meditative approaches blend OM and FA. Ethan Nichtern, a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition who has worked with artist
, among others, explains that Shambhala employs a variety of meditation techniques: “The breath functions as a sort of home base, as an object of mindfulness to return to, but then there are visualization practices, compassion meditation, mantra meditations, and contemplation, where you actually think through a particular topic in a contained and directed manner.”