As I have been reviewing my art work recently I have been doing a lot of pondering triggered by different things, which has brought me to a point of clarity, I feel, and this clarity is around my understanding of being in tune with intuition.
When artists are asked about intuition many different answers are given. These range from intuitive mark making where fast, spontaneous marks are encouraged without too much thinking, to taking a more spiritual approach to painting, painting more about feelings than accurate, physical representation, art making from a ‘gut instinct’ or painting about the relationships of things or people to one another. All of these are probably right on some level.
The dictionary definition of intuition is ‘immediate insight’; an ability to know and understand something immediately based on feelings rather than facts. The thesaurus offers alternative words to help us understand this nebulous concept – Intuition: discernment, hunch, insight, instinct, perception, sixth sense; Intuitive: innate, instinctive, instinctual, involuntary, spontaneous, unreflecting, untaught.
I find it fascinating that some people just seem to get the thing about intuition whilst others think it is all nonsense; it seems to be something you can’t make people see or understand.
I have been reading Brian Rutenberg’s book ‘Clear Seeing Place’ recently and watching his Studio Visit videos on You Tube. My grown up daughter listened in to one of the videos and declared it ‘arty bollocks’. I laughed because I kind of knew what she meant and I didn’t think Brian would take it too personally! The truth for me is that the first time I read his book through, many times I thought ‘Oh, I don’t think I agree with that and that’, but there were things that I wanted to think about more and things that did resonate. So I read the book a second time and I will read it even a third time because I am starting to understand and see a bit more what he is saying. Working from intuition is a key message in his book, or rather, it is a key message I have picked up on, as well as some pragmatic advice about being an artist.
On many levels I think the majority of people have felt the intuitive push / pull at some point, a moment when something just felt right for them – ‘I knew this was the house we had to buy’, ‘ I just feel connected to this place’, and so on, but I also do think that sensitivity to the intuitive voice can be quashed somewhat in us as individuals in the process of living. This might be the person who consistently told us we are wrong; or growing self-doubt leading us to follow others rather than our own instinct; or often the corporate need of a group or community to which we belong requiring compliance for the sake of the whole rather than individual expression. I recognize all three in my history and, from this, I recognize many old habits I have held on to where I have blocked or diminished my own intuition, sometimes to a point where I have hardly recognized its voice at all.
Thinking about intuition in relation to my art practice recently has helped me to get a better grasp on what I think intuition is and what it means for me both as a woman and as a painter. I believe intuition comes from the subconscious part of our central being, that, given chance, expresses all our real likes, dislikes, desires, and needs. It represents the more spiritual aspect of our being, and this can be both a little ‘s’ and a capital ‘S’. It becomes moulded by our experiences and beliefs, knowledge and learning and so it is not a fixed thing when we are prepared to let our selves experience life and learning. It is the voice that stirs in your gut when you need to make a decision – the voice that will tell you what you really want and need rather than your rational brain arguing for ‘what would be good for XYZ’.
Looking back over previous art work from years ago, my ‘portfolio’ as such appears rather random and diverse, from art journals, papier mache, acrylics, watercolours, botanicals, portrait work, textile work and art dolls to name but a few.
I have memories of being so attracted by many different, beautiful works by other artists or by new techniques and materials. I gave many a go! But often I remember feeling ‘ok, that was good, but I don’t feel a purpose in it for me’. I think that was my intuition trying to tell me it wasn’t quite what I needed to do. But I didn’t seem to be able to tune into what my intuition might have been pointing me towards. A lot of times I know I was just too busy with the day job and with family to think about it in any great depth. Maybe it is because we have to keep trying things to find out what fits best? I think there has been evidence of that in my story.
Over the last 2-3 years or so my painting and drawing has been providing me with a greater feeling of doing the thing I am meant to be doing. Painting moorlands and wild spaces has, for me, linked into something that resonates deep within me. It really seems to have sparked my intuition into life! I think my ‘wild spaces’ paintings are my subconscious shouting ‘I want to be here’! Being up on the moors, on top of a hill or rock, I can stand beneath a big blue sky; I can breathe, I can be, I can be a bit wild and free. I know now that this intuitive prompt has been there for a long time, but I had quashed it down because a busy working life was more demanding. Having time now to go out onto the moors and seek out local wild spaces has allowed me to tap into this intuitive spark more often and recognize it better; a key thing that makes me tick and is part of my authentic self.
Similarly, working with water mixable oils over the last 2 years has felt like coming home to the medium I was born to use all along. It hasn’t always an easy or immediate ‘engagement’ and we nearly parted ways early on. Using oils has been so different to other mediums I had tried and not many people around me like using oils, nor were able to advise me. I had a lot to learn about the particular requirements of oil painting but thank goodness for the internet and You Tube! Again I started to recognize that intuitive voice within me that said ‘this is right for you, stick with it and learn as much as you can about it’. And I have continued to learn how to get the best and make the most of the medium, looking to others on the internet who use oils and how they use them. From this learning I am starting to develop my own techniques and approaches from a base of knowledge and experience.
Now, I feel that I am at a place where I am able to bring those renewed revelations about my self and the new skills in painting onto the table as it were. I want to practice more about following the intuitive voice during painting, rather than overthinking technique or what I should paint. In reality, I do tend to start with an idea. My intuition seems to take great delight in waking me up at about 4 in the morning with an idea brimming in my head! Or maybe that is the time when my rational brain is quietest and my intuitive mind can get a few words in edge-ways!! What I am trying to do is to hold the idea lightly, to respond more instinctively to what I see on the paper or canvas. As Brian says, to not think whilst actually painting but to regularly take several steps back, look at the work and use that time to think and decide what to do next. I often come into my studio and know exactly what area I want to work on next and with what colour.
The important thing from all this, I feel, is that I am waking up more to the intuitive voice deep inside and finding that, the more I am aware of it, the more intuition directs and leads into an expression that I know is right for me. It is like a muscle that you need to use regularly so that it functions fully for you. It is hard to describe what intuition is and how it works, but you know it when you feel it.
So, why is this all important anyway? Again, many artists will have many different reasons, explanations and descriptions for why intuition is important in their art. For me, it is part of my journey into being more authentic, real and true to myself and in my art. In my history I think I have demonstrated that I can learn skills and produce some fairly decent work. But I want more than a good representation of something – I want my art work to express something more of me and I think employing intuition more of the time will tap into, not just the conscious parts of me, but the subconscious, sometimes forgotten, core parts of my being. It’s definitely something about a more personal approach, and putting more of yourself into the painting.
I am sharing these thoughts, not because I think I have cracked this marvellously strange nut of intuition, but because I think many struggle with it and maybe we all need to have the encouragement to sound and feel a little crazy whilst working it out, and not worry that others think it is just ‘arty bollocks’! I just know there is a thread of truth in there that I am reaching for and, by staying in tune with my intuition, I will know it when I see it.