John Singer Sargent 1856-1925 Paul Helleu Sketching with his Wife 1889
Certain meditation techniques can promote creative thinking, even if you have never meditated before. This is the outcome of a study by cognitive psychologist Lorenza Colzato and Dominique Lippelt at Leiden University, published in Mindfulness.
The study is a clear indication that you don’t need to be an experienced meditator to profit more from meditation. The findings support the belief that meditation can have a long-lasting influence on human cognition, including how we conceive new ideas. Besides experienced meditators, also novices may profit from meditation.
Different techniques, different effects
But the results demonstrate that not all forms of meditation have the same effect on creativity. Test persons performed better in divergent thinking (= thinking up as many possible solutions for a given problem) after Open Monitoring meditation (= being receptive to every thought and sensation). The researchers did not see this effect on divergent thinking after Focused Attention meditation (=focusing on a particular thought or object.)
Setup of the study
40 individuals participated in this study, who had to meditate for 25 minutes before doing their thinking tasks. There were both experienced mediators and people who never meditated before. The study investigated the influences of different types of meditative techniques on the two main ingredients of creativity:
Lorenza S. Colzato, Ayca Szapora, Dominique Lippelt, Bernhard Hommel. Prior Meditation Practice Modulates Performance and Strategy Use in Convergent- and Divergent-Thinking Problems. Mindfulness, 2014
Type the words “Spring (Fruit Trees in Bloom)” into an online search engine and in less than a second you will be looking at a sparkling vista of trees erupting in a starburst of pale blossom like an exploding firework. The phrase is the title of an Impressionist oil painting by the French master Claude Monet that belongs to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
According to the museum’s website, the painting was executed in 1873 in Argenteuil, a village on the River Seine northwest of Paris where the Impressionist artists used to gather. Signed and dated “73 Claude Monet” in the lower left corner, it is almost 40in (1m) wide and 24.5in (62cm) high. In 1903, when it was known as Apple Blossoms, it was bought for $2,100 by the New York art dealership Knoedler & Co. The Met acquired it in 1926.
Concise, sober information like this is typical of the insights that museums commonly provide about artworks in their collections. Dates, dimensions, provenance: these are the bread and butter of scholarship and art history.
But by offering details about pictures in this manner, are museums fundamentally missing the point of what art is all about? One man who believes that they are is the British philosopher Alain de Botton, whose new book, Art as Therapy, co-written with the art theorist John Armstrong, is a polite but provocative demolition of the way that museums and galleries routinely present art to the public.