Activating The Deep River Of Creativity in Your Abstract Art
A wonderful artist in my online course wrote to tell me the story of a large canvas residing in her studio. She felt it had once been quite good, only a bit of the painting lacking something.
She went into the work many times and quickly lost the freshness and spontaneity as she moved into thinking mode. Trying to convince herself that nothing was lost, she ultimately felt frustrated with the piece.
By now the painting had lived for months in her studio, leaning all alone against the wall, turned so no one could see it, invisible—abandoned for the time being.
But every day the painting seemed to be calling her. She said it was as if it was beseeching her, saying “Come and get me…do something with me!”
The river always flows…and insight happens when you reflect upon the deeper pools.
It’s in the slower, translucent pools that you calm yourself enough to see into the deeper reasons, the Why of your creations.
When you stop and listen you finally see that your painting has a life of it’s own and it asks you to be in relationship with it.
Indeed, like a reflecting pool, our paintings mirror our lives.
Paintings Have Lives of Their Own
I was mesmerized by the imagery of the painting having a life of its own and calling out to the artist.
It brought to mind Pirandello’s play, “Six Characters In Search Of An Author”—a play I saw years ago in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and that had me riveted.
It’s an existential play about six characters who turn to the audience and implore us all to save them from their predicament of endless repetition.
The six characters created by Pirandello claim to be as alive as any of us in the audience.
They ask us to imagine the horror of being created as a character and then being left to play out the same existence over and over.
When I think of the play, the film Groundhog Day comes to mind—the story of a day that gets repeated over and over into infinity.
Or the idea of “eternal return,” Nietzsche’s renewal of the concept of eternal recurrence that first emerged in Indian philosophy and in ancient Egypt, later to be explored by both Nietzsche and Schopenhauer. This is the idea that everything that has happened or will happen has already occurred and will continue to recur infinitely without change.
What fascinated me about Pirandello’s play was the way the characters turned to us at the end and convincingly exclaimed that they were alive!
They were animated and upset by the fact that the play just stopped there.
They decried that we get to go home and live out our lives, not knowing ahead of time what’s going to happen—to live in the mystery.
But they were doomed to repeat the same lines, the same story—night after night.
There was no mystery, no surprise, no unknowns for them to experience. Just the same story, the same lines, the same interactions repeated in front of anonymous audiences.
They were imprisoned!
I was astonished by the concept that a work of art is alive!
Years later, as an abstract artist exploring experimental and intuitive expressionistic paintings…
I’m now convinced that our paintings are alive.
We talk a lot about the “aliveness” of a painting and how the ones that are most alive come from a place of “not knowing” —from the mystery of life.
These paintings aren’t planned out or strategic. There’s no Cartesian grid laid over them.
They’re not informed by Descartes’ dictum: Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am.
There’s a deeper knowing that resides in a place before and beyond thought.
Fresh and wondrous paintings come from trusting the knowing, the intelligence in your gestural expressions as well as accessing and trusting the not knowing, the mystery of existence.
It’s at the intersection of knowing and not knowing that the magic happens.
The most astonishing work ultimately comes from trusting yourself. Only by trusting yourself will you truly be able to let go, experiment and explore.
Magical things happen when you’re not thinking, not worried, not strategizing about the outcome.
It’s about showing up and trusting your gesture—your expression—and not knowing what’s going to happen.
It’s allowing the marks, passages, and shapes you just made to affect you. These marks speak to you and you respond to them in the moment. It’s a conversation.
These works are raw, immediate and alive.
Your painting is calling, beseeching you to allow it to live. Will you let it live?
Will you allow your authentic expression to reveal itself without covering it up? Will you trust that what you have to express is enough?
By daring to explore and experiment you’re tapping into a deep well of wisdom stretching back for millennia. Indeed, great poets, philosophers, scientists and thinkers have spoken of the mysterium. It’s the gold of existence. It’s what we live for.
I love these words of Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard: “Life is a mystery to be lived, not a problem to be solved”.
And these from Irish poet John Keats: “I’m certain of nothing but the holiness of the heart’s affections and the truth of the imagination”.
Finally, 20th century’s unsurpassed genius, Albert Einstein said:
“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed”.
Will you invite the mysterious into your art? Will you express the mystery that is you in your paintings?
From my studio to yours-
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Just love this piece. Just as conversations and love affairs have a life of their own, so do paintings and poems. There is a lot of truth to everything you say here, particularly the ref. to Pirandello’s play. Fabulous. I was sorry to miss the workshops you co-led in Maine. As a (retired) prof. of Creative Arts Therapy, and painter, I obviously believe in the aliveness of art making, and how it informs and opens up our journeys, spiritual, emotional. and psychological. Thanks for all these essays you send, I always enjoy them.
Thank you so much Mary. I wish you could have been in those workshops in Maine too. I love what you write here as well. I hope that one day we’ll meet again in person. Warmly, Nancy
I’ve been painting for years now and I’ll totally agree that the paintings are actually alive. While painting, I try as much as I can to do that with much emotion and imagine myself in the canvas. This way, I know how a stroke should go and how a color should be splashed in order to come out with something good.
I have just had an amazing Aha Moment. “Our paintings are alive.” I believe that in a way I cannot explain, but the Spirit that is in Everything is also in our paintings and in the action of painting! It comes from that place of mystery inside each of us which you describe as the place of not knowing. It’s the Imago Dei. Thank you Thank you for this glimpse of insight! Of course, you describe it better than I just did, but you know… our art is a living thing… very Wow for me.
Wow Nancy! I love what you wrote here! And the Imago Dei! Yes!!! It gives me chills and goosebumps to think about what you wrote. Thank you!!! Much love, Nancy
Love and am so intrigued by your methods and mystery. I live in the mystery in everything but my art and writing and want to authenticate myself in my work. Thank you for your wonderful insights and magical suggestions.
Oh thank you so much Joanne! I’m delighted that my writings here are helpful and magical for you. I look forward to hearing more about your art and writing.
Thank you so much for the article (“The intersection of Knowing & Not Knowing”). This is a journey I’ve been wanting to start but not sure how to begin.
I have enrolled in the free 4 part video course and am looking forward to finding my own artistic voice. Thanks!