Monday, April 11, 2016

Training the Unconscious

After reading Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer, certain important unique points stayed with me.

       "The thing to realize is that the unconscious must be trusted to bring you aid for a higher level than that on which you ordinarily function."

       Ms. Brande was not a psychologist, yet her experience as a writer served as the foundation for her teachings. The moment I read that sentence I realized that she was revealing a part of the creative process that is seldom discussed, and to connects with something I read years ago in another book on writing, If you Really Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. Ueland taught her students that if they wanted to be good writers, they must also be good people. We can replace "good" with "interesting", "fascinating", or "accomplished". The idea is this: the person you are comes through the pores of your work. This is as important in the arts and humanities as it is in the field of psychotherapy. A therapist obviously brings their entire personality to the client and the process, but art is seen to create a product, something for sale, so even in training a great deal of emphasis is on technique and manipulation of the materials.
      What is not taught in art classes is the deeper truth, that what comes from us actually comes through us. Kandinsky wrote about passing the world through the inner form. Our originality is at the core of our work as visual artists or writers. We choose something as our subject, yet the way in which that subject is portrayed and presented comes from that high level of the self which Brande describes as lying "behind the threshold of immediate knowledge."
       "Any art must draw on this higher content of the unconscious as well as on the memories and emotions stored away there."

         Most importantly, she connects the awareness and opening to the unconscious with the nuts and bolts of creative practice. I'm grateful to her for reframing the daily attention to creativity in a way that gives it clear purpose. In sketching, timed writings, and journalling we are training the unconscious to live the creative life. We are walking the path of the creative mind. New brain science would recognize that we are creating new neural paths in the brain. 
        These paths need to be cultivated. Time spent in meditation, time spent in reading challenging material, writing practice, sketching, dreaming these are all part of our work. I have always told my students, you are not painting just when you are painting, if you are engaged with life in your mind, heart, and soul, you are painting all the time. It is our job to be keen observers and channels of life beyond the ordinary. And it is important we realize that what we create may be a surprise to us. We don't "come up with" ideas or images, they come through us, the ego just has to stand out of the way.

* The photos is a close up from my painting titled "Rain Dance"; 18" x 24" Acrylic on Canvas