An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

powered by TinyLetter
Today is:
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".

Matthew Dallman is a composer, philosopher, & blogger. He has released three albums of original compositions, and published many essays that deal with integral art. His website is

Constructing an
Artistic IOS

Matthew Dallman

You need to practice only long enough to draw something from the moment. But keep coming back to the simple things. It may come to pass that what was once mildly interesting and marginally relevant has become a touchstone for your musical life.
—W.A. Mathieu, composer[1]

IOS, or Integral Operating System, provides a flexible template for inquiries that an artist can apply to the context of art-making. By consciously engaging all quadrants and streams in our cumulative endeavors, we can begin the construction of an Artistic IOS that addresses our integral intentions to create art in the domains of body, mind, and spirit. As we develop our Artistic IOS over time, we can learn how to engage more complicated and unique aspects of IOS, such as waves, states, and types.[2] Thus, we draw a distinction between Artistic IOS span (quadrants, streams) and Artistic IOS depth (waves, states, types).

Span is where we begin; depth is where we develop. Both are crucial. And the point of using an Artistic IOS is to help make the artist, on one hand, more altered-state prone, and on the other hand, more accident-prone.

Before we open the Artistic IOS span, I suggest that we first consider two concepts. One is the Left- and Right-Hand Questions, which I will explain below. The other is the Infinite Canvas upon which we can create our art. As modern artists with integral intentions, the doors to our own artistic accidents blow wide open with each of our ongoing conscious gestures. The rules of making art appear to be obliterated by at least a century of conscious effort to accomplish that very task. We do not want to blindly confuse the perspectives of informed freedom versus ignorant freedom, and we do not want to imagine that development of artistic depth does not exist. Yet the apparent fact remains: the leading-edge of artistic vision is bound only by the artist's own horizons. World-centric artists scan the world for fertile source material and source understanding. Kosmos-centric efforts align our art flows with the inherent creative energy constitutive of both the endless universe and the embrace of ecstatic love. Thich Nhat Hanh said, "this paper is empty and thus contains the whole Kosmos in it."[3] More and more, the theory and practice of everything is our palette. We tread the integral terrain opened by IOS knowing that we can manifest art in any manner in which we are moved, quite literally.

Diagram One: The Infinite Canvas

Generally speaking, through our inquiries we look to coordinate the discrete flows—what Hazrat Inayat Khan calls the "essences within flower and seed"—that propel our visions through our art-making activities and into a material medium.[4]

We sense and feel these flows, but we do not empirically see them. When the empirical realm is thus bounded, it remains infinite in manifest variety. The distinction is that the search for source consciously bends inward. We bend spiritual, and witness the energy sources of our art-making. Artists in the context of the Spiritual levels of art-making consciousness can rightly learn to "be nobody," to stand at pure witness, and allow the growth and radiance of our art to emerge through its fullest potentials.

Or at least we can give it our best shot.

Artistic IOS, v 1.0—Subject and Object, the Two Questions

Art-making consists of the internal of our being and the external of our created artifacts. In a conversation with artist Alex Grey, Ken Wilber provides two foundational questions for the artist to reconcile within their own art-making practice.[5]

1) How high or deep or wide is my consciousness that's imprinting these artifacts? 2) How effective am I in creating an artifact that will evoke the same level of consciousness in the viewer?

Perhaps you might write these questions down in your notebook for future consideration, as well as record your ongoing answers. These are simple questions, and even answers that seem obvious and simple are your answers, and only you can address them, because you and no one anyone else travel your artistic path. Cultivate a relationship with these inquiries, and you may be surprised at where the explorations take you.

The following diagram illustrates the grouping that these two questions create.

Diagram Two: A-IOS, v 1.0

When we answer each question, we construct our own Artistic IOS, because we consciously engage injunctions that together energize the integral terrain. We can only answer the first question by finding and practicing one or more injunctions that heightens, depends, or widens your artistic consciousness. Likewise, we can only answer the second question by finding and practicing one or more injunctions that increases your effectiveness in conveying that consciousness through a material or empirical medium.

Doing so makes each art-making into a comprehensive practice—born of and continually cultivating increased awareness. We ensure that we cover the span of the integral terrain, and we ensure a more organized art-making approach so that we are more efficient with our multi-form efforts. Making art is the work of nine lifetimes. Day-to-day, we chop wood, carry water.

Artistic IOS, v 2.0

With integral intentions, the artist seeks to operate as a holon. This means operating in your artistic subjective and objective as above, but also doing so as a singular artist as well as part of an artistic plural. We use Ken Wilber's famous four-quadrants diagram to illustrate the four combinations. It outlines the broad domains of potential artistic activity. We place the Two Questions according to the orientation that Wilber uses for subjective and objective. The Two Questions, accordingly, become the Left- and Right-Hand Questions.

Diagram Three: A-IOS, v 2.0

An Example of v 2.0

W.A. Mathieu is a composer, writer, and teacher living in California. He was one of the founders of Second City, the comedy theatre in Chicago, and his career includes work with Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington, Hamza el Din, Pandit Pran Nath, Easley Blackwood, William Russo, and many others. Below, I sketch his suggestion for a comprehensive approach to composing music. Notice he does not use explicitly integral terminology. He suggests to spend about:

  • ¼ of your time on technique and theory
  • ¼ working on the performance or study of other people's music (Bach, Monk)
  • ¼ listening
  • ¼ improvising and composing[6]

Is integral terrain covered? Let's try to translate his approach into integral language. The mastery of technique answers the RHQ, to better convey consciousness; it roots in the UR, because the repetitive empirical activity. The performance or study of repertoire answers the RHQ, because you learn how others objectively conveyed (it also indirectly answers the LHQ, once a certain level of mastery with the music is reached); it roots in the LR, because you are entering the sociology of your art. Listening answers the LHQ, because you deepen your subjective consciousness; it roots in the LL because you commune in an art/audience situation. Improvising and composing answers both, because you shape the object of your art, but also enact your subjective by forming empirical material through your technical skills; for the time being, we say it roots in the UL, because of predominant subjective awareness activation.

We can rephrase Mathieu's compositional approach into terms applicable to all mediums:

  • ¼ in technique/craft — UR
  • ¼ in critical study — LR
  • ¼ communing — LL
  • ¼ creating art — UL

The point is not that each activity exclusively energizes each quadrant, as we saw above. We expect that the integrated vines will tangle together, more so over time with increased mastery. Our inquiries might be:

How can I cultivate my artistic inner world as a singular? As part of a plural?

How can I cultivate my artistic outer world as a singular? As part of a plural?

Understanding ITP

Yet we can go further. To do so, I suggest a short course in ITP, as pioneered by Murphy and Leonard. If we understand the core streams covered by ITP, or Integral Transformative Practice, we may be able to translate the essential character of each stream into our Artistic IOS construction.

ITP is defined in a few strokes. A transformative practice is a complex and coherent set of activities that produces positive changes in a person or group. An integral practice is a discipline to cultivate the dimensions (or streams) of human functioning in an integrated way.[7]

With a slight rephrase, we have:

A comprehensive discipline to cultivate the streams of human functioning through a coherent set of activities to produce a positive change in a person or group.

The basic premise is that one activity, within a stream, will not cover the integral terrain. A practice may touch on more than one stream, but as Murphy says, "every practice … promotes a certain set of virtues, while others are either neglected or suppressed."[8] The more streams we can cultivate, the more integral our approach will be. The more integral our approach is, the more we will have well-rounded perspectives on life, which then inform our engaged activities within life. Therefore, we have the stunningly concise yet powerful sketch of ITP from Murphy and Leonard:

Integral  … deals with the body (diet, exercise, somatics), mind (reading, discussions), heart (group process, community activites), and soul (meditation, imaging, yoga).

Transformative … is aimed at positive change in body and being, including changes that exceed conventional expectations.

Practice … involves long-term, regular, disciplined activities which, above and beyond any specific external rewards, are of value in and of themselves.[9]

Rightly stated, ITP is a form of integral yoga completely in the tradition of Sri Aurobindo's integral yoga. ITP therefore addresses a larger-scale integral terrain of human activity, which transcends and includes the specialization of Artistic IOS, or any IOS application. Being an artist, or simply being creative, is one aspect of being a human. Aurobindo echoes this when he writes, "Music, painting, poetry … can be used as part of spiritual development."[10]

Artistic IOS nests within an ITP. The following diagrams illustrate this relationship.

Diagram Four: ITP

Or, adding the Artistic IOS template in the UL, we have:

Diagram Five: ITP with A-IOS Nested

To practice ITP (and Artistic IOS), pick a cycle of time to practice that makes sense for your lifestyle. Practice in each stream at least once before the cycle of time is over. Then repeat. It could be a week, two weeks, a month, or more. Start to set up a routine for not just one activity, but several in concert. Let's be clear: nothing in the construction of Artistic IOS in any way, shape, or formless takes away from ITP. Artistic IOS functions within mother ITP, and is born of the same intentions. It is from our mother that we begin, and to our mother that we return. In the middle, we choose our own IOS adventure.

Artistic IOS, v 3.0

The construction of v 3.0 uses translations of the ITP streams into general artistic terms. By translating, we aim to preserve the essential character and four quadrant location of the ITP energy streams. This grouping of ITP streams from which I translate are a conflation of the streams (or lines of development) that Murphy and Wilber have listed. More exist than are listed here.[11] (Perhaps this provides material for v 4.0.)

  • Transpersonal translates as CONTEMPLATIVE
  • Vital/Prana/Chi translates as VITAL
  • Physical/Somatic translates as TECHNICAL (or CRAFT)
  • Cognitive/Mental translates as CRITICAL
  • Eco/Natural translates as PUBLIC (or PERFORMANCE)
  • Moral/Volitional translates as ETHICAL

The following diagram of v 3.0 situates each stream on the four quadrant grid.

Diagram Six: A-IOS, v 3.0
Pointing-out Metaphors for Each Stream

I will proceed to draw light sketches of each stream for primary two reasons. One is that I am a musician and composer, without exceptional understanding of other mediums (though of course I learn from them all). The other reason is that there is not a one-size-fits-all form of Artistic IOS. Artists operate according to their own contexts and perspectives. Therefore, we create an Artistic IOS not with intellectual rules, but with post-intellectual pointing-out instructions. Aurobindo captures this sentiment best when he wrote of his own Integral Yoga:

But all this must not be taken in too rigid and mechanical a sense. It is an immense plastic movement full of the play of possibilities and must be seized by a flexible and subtle tact or sense in the seeing consciousness. It cannot be reduced to a too rigorous logical or mathematical formula.[12]

The Contemplative Stream

To paraphrase Fritz Perls, we want to understand the basic question, "When I'm making art, what all am I doing?"[13] We want to answer the LHQ from the singular perspective. There are many forms and traditions of meditation which incorporate a similar kind of introspective inquiry. Aurobindo writes that glimpses the Divine are the essential foundation of an integral approach, because those wordless glimpses and stable realizations provide the fuel and will to deeply commit to an integral multi-form yoga.

Practices exist that translate meditation into an Artistic context. For example, you can learn to keep a personal record of your art-making practice. Examples include an emotional diary, a dream journal, a journal of artistic ideas and ambitions, and a comprehensive daily log of your entire Artistic IOS practice.

Notice that the stream slightly enters the LL quadrant. This acknowledges several situations. We often are inspired and deeply effected by the experience of collective art communion. And sometimes we meet people who inspire, prod, or commission a work, and perhaps provide basic bounds within which you create a project.

How aware can I be of my art-making practice?

The Vital Stream

Describing ITP, Ken Wilber suggests you might practice Hatha Yoga, for example, which is commonly understood as a yoke of somatic with meditative.[14] Through various body postures held with conscious awareness, increases one's life-force, physical strength and fitness, mental clarity, and overall outlook. For the Artistic Vital stream, look for a practice that combines Technical (described below) with Contemplative. We are looking for a practice that allows us to enter a raw creative flow state. We vitalize our art.

One example is improvisation, which is common to all mediums. The artist that grows tired of improvisation has grown tired of art. Improvisation is like digging into rich and fertile soil, and rollicking in the diversity and nourishment of all the raw minerals. Furthermore, we begin to create artifacts in the Vital stream—improvisations can and often do crystallize as compositions. The injunction here: brainstorm, then build.

Conversely, a composer can practice "self-dictation." This involves entering into a contemplative state, envisioning music as a priori sound, and recording that subjective vision on paper. More universally, with conscious artistic visualization in a meditative state of consciousness, doors open for all mediums. The injunction is to visualize, then record. Beginning the process of manifesting vision into a medium starts to bring down the consciousness from our Contemplative using the technical skills we have acquired.

How much can I connect my awareness with my technique?

The Technical Stream

The general idea is to master the relevant empirical tools of your medium, and to do so regularly so as to not get rusty. There is no shortage of technical activities. Every medium obviously has its own technique. In acting, the Meisner program is well-used. In poetry, there is the technique of versification as well as skills in writing according to classic poetic forms, such as the sonnet. Music has scales and harmony as fundamentals. Often there are techniques for using artistic technology, such as film cameras and editing equipment. Painters learn techniques of image depiction, and the mixing of colors.

We notice that the Technical stream dips into LR territory. We sometimes practice group techniques, or create skills from objective and collective classifications of art theory and repertoire. Understanding the sociology of our medium informs which techniques we choose to master.

How skillful can I be with technique and craft?

The Critical Stream

This stream refers to, as Murphy says, "various ways of knowing, including analysis and reasoning; pattern recognition through the use of metaphor; … [and] problem solving that involves visual, auditory, or other imagery."[15]

Examples include immersion in the history of art aesthetics and art theory. Formally, the student studies the canon and its theories with a teacher; informally, we leave out the teacher. In this stream, intuitions and subjective opinions tend to matter less than objective reasoning and, in a formal setting, well-crafted scholarship. Critical cultivation breaks-down a whole into its various constitutive elements, uses successive analyses of those elements, and then generates classifications and categories for means of larger-scale aesthetic appreciation and comprehension. That the categories and classifications are essentially artificial, and likewise that art creation is always a whole greater than the sum of its parts—this is often the final lesson of art history class.

Another means to energize the Critical stream is to copy, perform, or transcribe some other artist's work. Bach would studiously transcribe other composers' work into his own notebooks. Besides preserving scored music (less plentiful in his day), he gained greater understanding of how other composers conveyed music consciousness, in a manner greater than visual inspection offers. Poets can transcribe other poets' work. Hunter S. Thompson did this with some works of Hemingway. Filmmakers can shoot a scene as close as possible to the nature of a scene from a classic film. Actors can work on impersonations. Painters can recreate a work from the canon; this was playfully captured in the French film, Amelie.

Finally, we create an ongoing education in the skills of reaching an audience using business strategies: marketing, utilizing agents and managers, dealing with contracts, commissions, auditions. We network with other artists along the way, who have experience and personal referrals. This aspect particularly mixes with the Public stream (described below).

We notice that the Critical stream also touches the UR quadrant. Often, we need technical understanding to gain more critical depth. For example, a filmmaker who understands various camera skills can gain a greater understanding of the subtle manner in which famous directors shaped their films. And the business skills we learn are further refined through on-the-job training, in other words getting into the mix of business and public display. The Critical stream tends to quickly mix with other streams, but we remember the root of Critical: We enter the collectively-created body of objective and sociological analyses of art.

How skillful can I be with the theories and business of my art?

The Public Stream

By keeping in mind the nature of the ITP Ecological stream of environmental communion and stewardship, the translation into Artistic IOS becomes cultivation of a routine of performance and public display of one's art creations. Basically, we learn, 1) how to be with an audience, via public performance and display, including showings, concerts, gallery openings, performances, readings, and distributed recordings. 2) We learn how to celebrate that relationship, via a Pagan ethos; we celebrate the ritual and ceremonies of collective communion—the sexuality and raw sensual energies. 3) We learn to protect the future sustainability of art and audience communion—we educate and entertain—so they are interested not only in future public displays of our own art, but of all artists in general.

Therefore, the Public stream touches objective and subjective quadrants, and is a bridge between our Critical and Ethical stream (which is described below). In this stream, we connect artistic knowing with an ethical giving back.

How much can I connect my theory and business skills with my immersion in the greater art world?

The Ethical Stream

The Ethical stream is energized by being an active member of a larger artistic fabric and community. As an artist, you give back to the community through focused listening, watching, participating, reading, or any sort of communion where the emphasis on you as the agentic artist is subsumed in favor of you as a witness to someone else's art. It could be through offering battle tips to the next generation of practitioners. The Ethical stream can involve teaching, mentoring, and public speaking. It could also involve writing artistic essays and books. Giving a simple summation of how a specific artistic project went, from intuition to performance, energizes the Ethical stream.

And we notice that the Ethical stream mixes with the Contemplative stream. When we commune with some else's art, often our intuitions are sparked, and we are given new ideas and attitudes that will, after time, shape our own consciousness and artifacts. Perhaps the beginning of every art project we undertake occurs in the mix between Ethical and Contemplative. Perhaps the swing of an Artistic IOS thus proceeds clockwise, from UL to UR to LR to LL. And maybe just maybe, the perpetual swing around the quadrants doesn't repeat itself, but instead spirals upward as we reach more and more levels in our art-making. Is it clockwise 'round the quadrants and up the Spiral, from our center outwards? Is this going too far?

How deep is my immersion in the greater art world and interpretive culture?

In Conclusion

The basic injunctions of Artistic IOS are clear. Work to cultivate your artistic inner world. Work to cultivate your artistic outer world. Work to operate as an artistic singular. Work to operate as part of an artistic plural. Develop a raw creative flow that mixes your artistic inner and outer, and co-mingle your artistic singular and plural operations through the public display of your artifacts. The conscious work you do for each constructs your Artistic IOS for you. Create a comprehensive set of inquiries, the answering of which exposes to scrutiny the deepest forces of your art-making.

May the ride you take as a conscious holon rock not only your world, but our world, everyone's world, and other worlds to the very bottom of our unmanifest being, and the very top of our Divine Supramind. May you rest in simple awareness in every moment of every one of your artistic endeavors. May you be blessed with altered-state artistic accidents, galore! And may your art, as a humble medium for consciousness, serve to educate, entertain, and enlighten.

  1. Mathieu, W.A. Harmonic Experience, Inner Traditions. Rochester, VT. 1997, p. 18.
  2. From Ken Wilber's published excerpts of Volume II of the Kosmos Trilogy, at : "Once you install IOS, it sweeps the system looking to see whether any endeavor that you are pursuing at least touches bases with all the known quadrants (I, we, and it); all the known waves (such as preconventional, conventional, postconventional); all the known streams (e.g., cognitive, interpersonal, emotional, spiritual, etc.); states (e.g., gross-waking, subtle-dreaming, causal-formless); types (e.g., masculine and feminine, autonomy and relationship, agency and communion); and so on".
  3. Kornfield, Jack. A Path With Heart, Bantam Doubleday. 1993.
  4. Inayat Kahn, Hazrat. Mysticism of Sound and Music, Shambhala Publications. Boston, MA. 1996, Chapter 5. He writes, "The difference between the material and the spiritual point of view is that the material point of view sees matter as the first thing, from which intelligence, beauty and all else evolved afterwards. From the spiritual point of view we see the intelligence and beauty first, and from them comes all that exists. From a spiritual point of view we see that what one considers last is the same as first. Therefore in the essence of this Whole Being - as its basis - there is music, as one can see that in the essence of the seed of the rose there is the rose itself, its fragrance, form and beauty. Although in the seed it is not manifest, at the same time it is there in essence. The one who tunes himself not only to the external but also to the inner being and to the essence of all things, gets an insight into the essence of the Whole Being, and therefore he can find and enjoy that fragrance and flower which he sees in the rose, to the same extent even in the seed."
  5. Grey, Alex. Transfigurations, Inner Traditions. Rochester, VT. 2001, p 103.
  6. Mathieu, W.A. The Listening Book, Shambhala. Boston, MA. 1991, p. 95.
  7. Murphy, Michael. The Future of the Body, Tarcher/Putnam, New York, NY. 1992, pp. 588-589.
  8. "Integral Practices: Body, Heart, and Mind", by Michael Murphy. From Paths Beyond Ego, Chapter 27,. Edited by Roger Walsh and Frances Vaughn. Tarcher/Putnam, New York, NY. 1993.
  9. From the ITP website,
  10. Sri Aurobindo, The Integral Yoga. Lotus Press, Twin Lakes, WI, USA. 1993, p.356
  11. Various streams from Ken Wilber include physical, emotional-sexual/prana/chi, mental, contemplative, community, and ecological (See What is Enlightenment? article below). Various streams from Michael Murphy include physical, vital, affective, cognitive, volitional, and transpersonal (from Future of the Body). A longer list would include self-identity, psychosexuality, ideas of the good, role-taking, creativity, altruism, joy, communicative competence, modes of space and time, death-seizure, needs, worldviews, logico-mathematical competence, kinesthetic skills, gender identity, and empathy (from Integral Psychology, Ken Wilber. Shambhala, 1999).
  12. The Integral Yoga, p. 48
  13. Perls, Fritz. The Gestalt Approach & Eye Witness to Therapy, Science and Behavior Books. 1973, p. 74. Perls suggests formulations of the basic statement, "Now I am aware."
  14. "Integral Transformative Practice: In This World or Out of It?" by Ken Wilber. From What is Enlightenment?, Issue 18, Fall/Winter 2000, p. 39
  15. Murphy, Michael. The Future of the Body, pp. 126-127

Comment Form is loading comments...