THE GOLDEN THREAD OF INTUITION
Disclaimer: The following is just speculation on my part; I don't have enough experience to say that this is exactly how it is. I used to write these little feverish notes in my phone whenever I got an insight, but this seems like a better way to document them. I write so I that I don't forget, so that I can revisit them, but chiefly so that I can investigate and understand better.
The images I have used in this post are all Milton Avery's paintings.
This was (a) to stop me from going crazy choosing from the endless good stuff out there (b) since his work is so devoid of needless elements - every stroke is so valuable, so meaningful and so strongly INTENDED - that his paintings display a clear case of that energy and inspiration I will talk about ahead.
The REAL THING that makes a painting arresting to look at, always comes from within the artist. If that connection to the primal/universal source is absent while painting, it shows in the artwork. This is why I feel AI can create great work for commercial projects, but to appeal to the heart? Ah mon ami, you need a connection to the divine for that. That is where all the magic comes from.
If it has been created from the realm of thought, it can be beautiful. But it will appear measured; lacking a certain vitality. That is because thought is a surface level phenomenon. It is recycled, it is stale, it is 'of this world'. Nothing coming out of it can truly shock the senses. (All music that has ever given you goosebumps has originated from the core of that artist.)
But that shimmering thread of intuition and energy that springs forth from within- it gilds your work with the magic of the beyond, even if what you've painted are two pears.
And that energy of the source is impossible to imitate, for by its very nature it is spontaneous desire. One cannot imitate spontaneity nor desire.
So I suppose the only way to bring it in your art is to be in touch with it always while creating. Sometimes that connection is lost. Fatigue, boredom, lack of inspiration. All necessary reasons to move away from the work and relax. Go fill your well so that the divine may shine in you again as inspiration.
Is the process to be then entirely without thought? Not entirely... but what is to be used is intuitive thought, not deliberate thought.
I read somewhere that intuition is when you have not mentally followed all the steps leading to the conclusion, but arrive at an instantaneous conclusion, the brain/mind/heart having computed all the steps already in the hyper-accurate and fast inner computer... sort of a Deep Thought from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
This inner computer derives data from all the conditioning you've had since birth. Society, culture, your own personality and inclinations, your deepest desires and fears, your natural environment- all these are the inputs. And what emerges is a unique blend made out of all the experiences that this singular person has had. So yes, there is a method to the process; it is not arbitrary. In fact it is extremely refined. Just that it is not entirely conscious.
You are presented with these results by your brain/mind/heart all the time, in the form of intermittent flashes- what we call inspiration, ideas, vision. It is the answer to the ultimate question- What is my authentic style?
Well, what flashes in front of your eyes?
Now to execution.
What seems important is to be able to accurately sense ones intuition. For visual artists, it appears in the form of vague mental imagery. You can see it in moments you feel inspired. What is inspiration, but a sudden visualisation of possibilities. Where does the sudden vision come from? I get a strong desire to paint a red painting; where has it come from?
The source. Honour that source, and let intuition bring forth what it wants to.
Do note that this can often go very wrong at first, when you start painting without accurately following your intuition.
* Sometimes you might listen to your surface thought, thinking it is intuition. And in that case, you might make underwhelming art (somehow lacking harmony, life, joy).
* Sometimes you might shut down your conscious thought, but not be connected to intuition either. Intuition is the perfect guide, conscious thought is a blind guide but at least a guide. And thinking you are working from intuition when you're actually not, while also not using conscious thought- you are now entirely unmoored. This results in some astoundingly bad work which may very well make you lose total faith in your abilities. Ask me how I know.
So what has to be practiced is how to spot intuition? Your own feedback loop of what sort of brain activity leads to what sort of painting, will eventually lead you to a more accurate recognition of the voice of intuition. You will self-correct as you keep practicing, like a little AI :P
This apart, the most direct marker of the presence of inspiration is a distinct energy surge you feel within you, manifesting as a 'desire' to create. You can recognise when you have a strong desire v/s when you're just going through the motions. This strong desire is key in whether your painting 'succeeds' or not. I personally find this desire evident in Milton Avery's paintings. This desire is what endows any painting with vitality. But the desire and vitality has to appear in the artist first. There can be no two ways about it.
A colour appears to you. Some shapes, sometimes a vibe. Honour it. At least see what wants to come forth.
Try it a few times, out of curiosity if nothing else; what have you got to lose?
And where do I stand in all this? I am at a stage where I have experienced it a handful of times without fully knowing what was happening. With awareness, it has happened once, a few days ago. I saw a remarkable difference in how I was painting without energy at first, and then suddenly with a burst of freshness emerging from within me.
What caused it to happen mid-painting?
I was painting lifelessly for a while, trying to carefully arrange things and failing constantly. Then I finally got fed up. I decided this painting was just not cutting it, and completely gave up on it.
And in doing so, I deprived it of its power over me; it freed me up.
Now this was a no-stakes game, and I felt that familiar surge of energy I spoke earlier about.
I took a brush and mixed the colours in front of me (not even the ones I might have consciously chosen) and painted over the bad parts in a sort of frenzy. And voila, what appeared was beautiful! (The colour combination wasn't one I had in mind at all, but that's a topic for another letter- how serendipitous accidents are a big part of art-making in physical media. One of the reasons I moved over from digital.)
It's a crazy puzzle, this art making, but what an incredibly deep and rich experience, both within and without.