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In the process of moving into my new studio space, I realized I needed to edit my drawings down to ones that were most pertinent. Also, I do not have enough space to store all of these drawings. So, in the spirit of the materials used, I thought the most apt thing to do was to burn the ones that did not make the cut. With the drawings being charcoal on paper, reducing them back to ash just made sense. Not seeing the pieces for a while brought a fresh perspective so there were some unexpected keepers. Getting rid of stuff is cathartic and what better way to do it than a friend’s backyard fire pit? I had a good time of it.
As some of you may know, before becoming a full-time studio artist in California, I pursued a PhD track in psychology. During this time, some of the most significant events for me were taking “Statistics and Research Methods” at UC Berkeley—a top-notch research institution—and working at the “Culture and Emotion Lab”—a research lab at Stanford University. I would not be in the place I am today, in my studio practice and my work, had it not been for my experiences in academia.
Learning statistics gave me another perceptual sense, like seeing or hearing, in understanding how the world works. Artists frequently site how observing patterns in nature as a source of inspiration and I believe this is another way of “seeing” those patterns. Contrary to how some may feel statistics is an opaque and hard edged discipline, my experience of the world has been significantly enriched by it.
Working at Stanford with Professor Jeanne Tsai and her graduate students, has been an enormously influential event in my life. I learned, first hand, how research generates knowledge in a community of other scientists. I have tremendous respect for the lab’s endeavors in investigating human emotion with scientific tools and terms. It’s a bold move in a world that cordons off human feelings as something untouchable by science, considering it sacrilegious even.
I had the amazing opportunity to co-author a book chapter with Professor Tsai on how religion influences emotion, an accomplishment I’d like to share with you all here. I am published! As you can see, I am listed as the third author. Not bad for an art school graduate, eh?
Professor Tsai’s lab compares human emotions within and across cultures. This book chapter takes the perspective of examining religion as a cultural system and how it influences human emotion. For example, the idea of happiness may be very different for Buddhists as it is for Christians (broad strokes, I know). The chapter applies the lab’s primary course of investigation in comparing how differently people from “Western” cultures conceive of happiness than those from the “East”.
I changed course back into the artist studio for a few reasons. One was, I realized the questions I was pursuing in the artist studio were just as important as those studied in academia. Having experienced and published research at Stanford University, validated that I had something significant to contribute to understanding life and consciousness. I understand now and sincerely believe that the world needs artists to continue this investigation into the human condition (of course, I’m not saying all artist do this).
Secondly, I disagreed with what is referred to as the “scientific method” in the world of scientific research. I disagreed not in the sense that I think that it is the right or wrong thing to do, but that it was against all that I worked very hard to “unlearn” in the first 10 years of my studio practice. The scientific method basically aims to predict and control whatever phenomenon is being studied. I work in the opposite where I want to learn and be taken to unexpected places by this phenomenon.
Third, I like to study on my own. Pursuing a PhD is a long and dedicated track on the map of academia. I have no problem in being committed. It’s that I read and write across many areas of studies. I frequently dip into disciplines that are normally contained within separate departmental walls at academic institutions. And at the PhD level, as generalizing as this may sound, one must know where they belong. This was my biggest weakness when working at the Stanford lab. I had difficulty understanding where to cull research papers from—history? neurobiology?—and in what boundaries I needed to write within—where did psychology end and sociology/philosophy/economics begin?
In this seriously dense block of text, I wanted to share some of how my identity as an artist has developed. I do what I do because I cannot do otherwise.
book info: Handbook of The Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Second Edition, by Raymond F. Paloutzian PhD and Crystal L. Park PhD
A PDF copy of the chapter can be found here.All images copyright ©2008-2019 Masako Miyazaki. See "Instagram" for latest information on work and works in progress. An icompendium Site