Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Bored? Try a Buddha board!

Over twenty years ago, Eric Thrall was on a trip to Japan when he came across a man in a crowded square. In the middle of the throngs of people, the man had a stick and water, which he was using to paint on the pavement. Unlike the common other forms of street art and installation pieces, Thrall noted that the man's creations lasted only as long as it took for the water to evaporate. 

When he went back home, the idea of using water to paint remained at the back of his mind while he watched his mother work in her art studio. She showed him some of her materials, which eventually led to the creation of the Buddha Board. Thrall created the Buddha Board as a way to bring Zen thinking practices into Western society. He sees modern society as so caught up in technology and reliving experiences through our devices that we forget to just experiences moments as they come. The idea is that it encourages people to live in the moment, focusing on the water as it is brushed on the board, slowly making the design come to life for a few moments before it fades as it dries. People are invited to appreciate their artwork while it lasts without creating attachment. As soon as the brush touches the surface of the Buddha Board, the design comes to life and is continuously changing.
Art has long been hailed for its meditative and healing qualities. Art therapists argue that the creative process behind art helps reduce stress and anxiety, and can improve quality of life overall (Malchiodi). Thrall's Buddha Board embraces a common practice in art therapy, Zentangle, which promotes a practice of mindfulness and encourages patients to own their mistakes and to doodle aimlessly. The Buddha Board philosophy is "Let it go." Thrall says that many people use the board as a stress reliever, and encourages them to meditate while they play. 
While Thrall created the Buddha Board with the intent for use by adults, children quickly found it enticing as well and many schools began to bring the board into the classroom. Just as the board reteaches adults how to engage in child-like play, it teaches children the beginning of Zen thinking. In both cases, the Buddha Board opens up different ways to of thinking and expression of oneself.

Both the use of the Buddha Board and art therapy in general relate to the arguments made by Melcher et al. about the creative effects of music. Melcher argues that music encourages improvisation and improves communication. Just as music is a form of expression, the Buddha Board allows for a direct passage between a person's thoughts and the surface in front of them. It allows for focus to be placed on stream of consciousness, looking at a person's creative process, rather than the end product. 
Sawyer discusses the advantages of improvisation and argues that it leads to more creative ideas. Without the permanence and tactile end piece associated with most art mediums, the Buddha Board encourages improvisation and the opportunity to flesh out ideas. Mistakes are part of the "let it go" philosophy that Thrall adopted, and within a few minutes users are free to start completely anew, on a literally blank slate. 
The Buddha Board creates a unique sense of transience not found when using other materials to make art. Because of the "In the moment" philosophy of the Buddha Board, users are allowed to simply play with the product. They don't have to consider consequences, guidelines, or mistakes. Thrall created a product that removes the limits placed on our creative thinking by forcing us to stay in the present. So often our thoughts and actions are influenced by past memories and previous knowledge. We are dictated by the world around us and the rules set out for us. The Buddha Board provides a break, even if for only a few minutes, where we can clear our minds of everything except the here and now.

Find out more about the Buddha Board here

1 comment:

  1. Molly, this man and his creativity are so fascinating! It is obvious that he is taking innovation from the past and making it accessible to the world today - and through his love of meditation and the art that his mother does, you can see traces of his creativity follow him throughout his life. I am also interested in this concept of painting that disappears - it allows for so much more creativity and a sense of no pressure play. And, as we have learned, play is such an important component to the creative process. So this designer himself is not only creative, but he is producing a product that will allow others to engage in their own sense of creativity. Very cool.


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