Self-Forgetful Concentration

vintage vines, photograph

“What one seems to want in art, in experiencing it, is the same thing that is necessary for its creation, a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration.”

Elizabeth Bishop

First of all, I think Bishop is being facetious here in her phrase “perfectly useless”. There is little that is of more use to us than the still point of concentration we experience when creating art or being moved by it. “Self-forgetful” is a state sought by most spiritual paths as a requirement for deeper understanding.

What struck me about this quote, however, was the way in which Bishop equates, at some level, the experience of creating art with that of experiencing it. When I see art that captures my attention, there is a sudden suspension of my surroundings as I focus my attention on the piece in front of me. It is similar to the way in which we become unaware of what’s going on around us when making art.

This shared state of mind, this self-forgetful concentration,  is at the root of the connection between artists and their audience. It occurs at a level underlying the specifics of any individual, at a more essential stratum. For me, this is one of the reasons it is so rewarding to be an artist – knowing that I share a bond with others making and experiencing art that exists regardless of our differences.

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5 responses to “Self-Forgetful Concentration

  1. What you write is one reason I try not to read much about an exhibit before I go to see it. I want to see art through my eyes through the artist’s eyes, and not through the critic’s, to sit with it without the noise of others’ words.

    I do like that phrase “self-forgetful concentration”. It describes so well being attentive, drawn away from oneself to be aware only of creating and then, later, of the creation.

  2. Beautiful image. I would also have to disagree with Bishop’s statement about self-forgetful concentration being perfectly useless concentration. I think it is that state where the seed of most profound ideas originates.

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