Impermanent. Temporary. Fleeting. Ephemeral, transient, passing. There are many words to express the essential nature of life. Despite this, we resist change by taking photos, recording music, building monuments, having children, planting trees, writing, and creating art that will last.
It’s a very different mindset to try to embrace the impermanence of life. Even if (like me) you can only do it for short periods of time, it’s worth a try. It can help you feel more peaceful and resilient when things change fast. And when it comes to art, it can help you let go of end results and just enjoy creating. Placing value on the process of creating over the end product allows you to feel the joy inherent in the creative act.
Is it really impermanent?
Continuing a trend first made famous by Andy Goldsworthy, many people make land art that is by nature temporary. American artist Andres Amador has been carving giant works of art on beaches around the world since 2004. His works are created at low tide, and they are destroyed when the tide comes in. This allows him to “reflect upon the nature of impermanence, as a reminder that the act of joyous creation is it’s own reward.” (Quote from his website, www.andresamadorarts.com. He sells prints of his art and is available for private commission.) I question whether this type of art can really be called temporary, when beautiful photos are taken, which then become coffee-table books and calendars, existing in a permanent form.
"Improvisation is the ability to create something very spiritual, something of one's own." - Sonny Rollins
One of the most truly impermanent types of art is live improvisation. In jazz, blues, rock, and other forms of music, performing artists play incredible solos, which exist only in the moment (unless a live recording is made).
Here’s some science to explain why improvising feels so good: According to a study by Drs. Charles Limb and Allen Braun of the National Institutes of Health, when improvising, the parts of your brain that cause anxiety and rule-based inhibitions are quiet, “You feel good when you improvise, in part, because you've turned on the part of your brain that is most closely aligned with your aspirations, while quieting neural centers that would otherwise hold you back.”
Experiment with temporary art
So maybe we should all try some improvisation, impermanent art, or temporary creative play. Make sculptures in the sand that will be washed away by the next tide. Make snow sculptures that will melt. Improvise with music or movement. Finger paint, draw, or do collage, making deliberately bad art, knowing that you will throw it away. Or let it be a spiritual act, like the Buddhist monks who make intricate and beautiful sand mandalas, which they then destroy.
Lisa Pontoppidan, March 14, 2016