Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Intuition in Art

Lines of Desire 1358   12x12"   Oil/cold wax on panel  © Janice Mason Steeves  

Everything we do and hear and see integrates itself into a work of art if we can find the connecting threads. And that artwork in turn can inform us about ourselves.  I went to hear a talk a couple of weeks ago by John Philip Newell, author of the book, New Harmony, the Spirit, the Earth and the Human Soul. He was the Warden of Iona Abbey in Scotland for many years.  He spoke about Celtic Christianity which holds the belief in the interconnectedness of all things and the pivotal importance of the feminine.  That sacred feminine he says, is essential in the healing of  our world today.

This past week, a friend invited me to consider the story of Inanna-a strong, sensual and powerful Goddess who was worshipped in ancient Sumeria-and the journeys she took to recover  sacred powers to give to civilization. This led me to pull out  my books on mythology, where stories of the Goddess  describe how the feminine-that intuitive, nurturing aspect of both men and women-was lost when patriarchy came to replace worship of the Goddess.  I think how art can access that feminine/intuitive side and how learning to understand ourselves is one important goal of art-making. 

 I came across a Youtube video of  Jim Dine speaking about his retrospective at Pace Wildenstein Gallery in 2009. I have always loved his intense and wide-ranging creativity.  One of his main objectives in his art practice, he states, is to explore his own unconscious.  He intuitively goes wherever it takes him, whether making sculptures of his childhood interest-Pinochio, or, writing poetry on walls and objects and then photographing it, or drawing self-portraits on museum walls and then washing them away at the end of the exhibit.

Last Saturday, I went to MOCCA Gallery in Toronto to see a Louise Bourgeois exhibit and to hear the talk by Jonathan Shaughnessy, Assistant Curator of Contemporary Art at the National Gallery.  I was interested to learn that Bourgeois spent more than 30 years in analysis. Through that self-understanding, she was able to access her deep anxieties, fears and issues about parental betrayal and turn those problems into deeply moving sculptures.

Bourgeois wrote:"The whole art mechanism is the result of many privileges, and it was a privilege to be part of it…The privilege was the access to the unconscious. It is a fantastic privilege to have access to the unconscious. I had to be worthy of this privilege, and to exercise it." 

This has been a week of interconnecting threads related to the idea of the feminine, intuition and the unconscious. My own art practice/my path, is informed by intuition.  I let the work lead the way. While there must be a balance between intuition and a critical analysis of the process-right brain/left brain; masculine/feminine-in order to create a strong work of art, I begin with intuition. This process opens a door into the unconscious and can teach us about ourselves.  And although it is a place of mystery and magic, it can take you to places you've never seen.  It can take courage to open that door.

"You have to have the courage to take risks. 
You have to have independence.
All these things are gifts.
They are blessings".  
Louise Bourgeois


  1. I love this post. It’s stoked my ongoing curiosity about the unconscious and consciousness, the intuitive and the courage to be alive.

    I was raised to be a super-dooper patriarch. If I couldn’t be a man, I could redeem my lowly female being by thinking like a man, acting like a man. Rational, clear-headed, stoical. Margaret Thatcher? A man in drag? The Anglican church buttressed this belief. The patriarchy was God’s way. Yet it happened sometimes, inside myself a faint bell ringing, “ But what if Jesus were a girl?" The question terrified—it had to be a sign of abnormality, if not incipient madness. I hid from it as best I could and yet…

    Now in my sixties I see I’ve been driven my entire life to work myself through that question. The drive was to save my life—not that I had consciousness of that, not really. But I know now that saving my life meant learning to accept, yes, and dare to love my way of feeling/seeing/being in the world, which I understand now is profoundly intuitive. It begins with allowing my body to be my primary instrument of knowing even as its messages take me into uncomfortable places of only feeling, of confusion and not knowing and not even knowing how to know. Then the mind comes into play, striving to make sense of my senses—and we talk, my feeling body/mind/memory and I. It’s best if it’s an open dialogue that does not end with prescription.

    Often the conversation leads me down a path into mystery. It used to be that the prospect of mystery terrified too, like that question about Jesus being a girl—but more and more I’m loving mystery’s grand surprise, the gift of awe and wonder.

    I read that Bourgeois says that, “Art is the guarantee of sanity.” Yes, and whatever our medium, this is what the process is all about!

  2. Sandra, your comments add so much to this post and to others you have commented on. Thanks so much for such thoughtful reflections.
    It's so true that it takes daring to be intuitive and to let that lead on our creative journeys. Good thoughts!

  3. A fine rich post Jan. Inanna and her sister are one of my favourite stories-- and recurring themes I see in a lot of creative women. (Descent to the Goddess-Sylvia Brinton Perera).

  4. A poem by eecummings that belongs here:

    poem #53

    may my heart always be open to little
    birds who are secrets of living
    whatever they sing is better than to know
    and if men should not hear them men are old

    may my mind stroll about hungry
    and fearless and thirsty and supple
    and even if its sunday may I be wrong
    for whenever men are right they are not young

    and may myself do nothing usefully
    and love yourself so more than truly
    there’s never been quite such a fool who could fail
    pulling all the sky over him with one smile

  5. Wonderful blog post! I so enjoyed it. The comments are rich and wonderful as well. I too have painted from an introspective muse. I deeply believe we are here to find all the answers to our questions lie within us. I have found that I seem to only recognize and give credence to them, when they emerge in my work. It could be that once they are facing me in the reality of pigment on canvas, I can no longer deny or pretend to be naive about my answers. The paintings keep me honest with myself and my art.