Art and Mindfulness

In our on-the-go, mobile-minded, multitasking culture, psychologists remind those of us frazzled by the (sometimes failing) juggling act we’re involved in to slow down, give our brains a break and take time to fully immerse ourselves in a moment. Breathe.

Sure, that sounds good. But how do we make space on our to-do list for mindfulness? There’s no time to stop and smell the roses unless maybe they’re on the side of the road at our kid’s elementary school pickup line and the scent wafts in through the window while we catch up on email and prepare for tomorrow morning’s meeting and why can’t that parent in front get his kid in the car faster?! The bank closes in 15 minutes!


The answer may lie in art.


Creating art certainly requires mindfulness. That’s why it’s such an effective tool in therapy and education. But simply being around art also can help people reach that elusive mindfulness state psychologists tell us we so desperately need. Viewing art can become a mindfulness meditation. And it doesn’t require a trip to the Louvre. A beloved piece hanging in your home office can become a focal point when your need a mini vacation from a screen.

In meditation, we’re asked to witness our breath in order to connect us to the present moment. But witnessing art also can ground us in the present. When we’re in the present, thoughts of tomorrow’s meeting, yesterday’s embarrassing moment or our feelings on local politics have to fall away. Shedding that mental chatter — even for a moment — increases mental clarity and gives us incredible awareness simply that we are. That we’re connected to all the others experiencing being human. And that we exist in this vast, ever-expanding universe. Powerful stuff.

Like observing our breath, taking in a piece of art makes us step outside of ourselves and shift from rapid, scattered patterns of thinking to a slower, more focused pattern. We observe color, take in both broad details and subtleties and be still, moving into a different level of consciousness.


Try these steps to meditate on a piece of art:

Eliminate distractions

Put your phone away, and clear your mind. It’s nearly impossible to eliminate all thought. Instead, observe your thoughts as they arise, but don’t engage with them.

Observe your own reaction

How does the piece of art make you feel? Maybe the emotion is easy to name. Maybe it isn’t. If it isn’t, go deep and try to explore that emotion. Perhaps you feel nothing at all, which also is a reaction. The important thing is to observe those reactions without attaching judgement to them.

Get curious

Do any of the details catch your eye? If a detail catches your eye, what does that about you or about the deeper meaning of the piece of art?


The fun thing about this process is that you can go through it multiple times with the same piece of art. You’re a new person every day, and you’ll react differently or notice different details each time you look at a piece of art. That’s one of the things that makes the art in a home beloved. It becomes a map of your own story.