What exactly is going on in our heads when we are making art? I do a lot of working from intuition but also spend a lot of time sitting in a chair scratching my head trying to understand what to do next.
I am starting to see, at least in my practice; there are basically two kinds of thinking going on. One is the analytical, judgmental kind, and the other is the more intuitive, take a leap of faith kind. These are, respectively, the left-brain and the right brain thinking.
I have been taking notes lately about this aspect of my process and it has been super helpful for me. Understanding how we think can actually even out the emotional roller coaster we can sometimes feel when we are trying to make our art. Maybe some of my recent realizations about my process could help even out yours as well.
This is what I have discovered.
The best parts are made by intuition.
All the work I like best and even the work that seems to sell at the opening night of my shows usually are made with a high degree of intuition. I can literally point to an area of a painting and say that area was totally unplanned. I have no idea how I made it but it is often my favorite part. My goal lately, therefore, has been to increase the amount of time I am working intuitively on a painting. Now I say, as a general reminder, to the participants in my workshops that they should try to shoot for 50% of the time to be working intuitively, rather than staying analytical the whole time.
Using intuition is easier
Part of the reason I keep increasing the time I work intuitively is that it quite possibly is the easiest part of my process. There are no instructions, no “shoulds” no way to plan or rehearse what to do. We are perfectly ready to work intuitive right here, right now. Working intuitively requires no thinking at all. When I do, I am just responding in any way I please to what is unfolding in front of me on the canvas. This is truly creative freedom and it doesn’t get any better than this. Sometimes it is hard to believe we have absolutely no restrictions upon what we do. Working intuitively reminds us of the sometimes forgotten benefit of making art.
We are free.
The Pause that Refreshes
So most of the time, actually most of our lives, we are operating from the more analytical ‘left side’ of our brain. Figuring out how to get art supplies, how to set up lights in our studios, sending out promotional materials, pricing our art all are mostly solved with the left side of our brain. We also, of course, need to use this side of our brain when making our art.
The only problem I have found, is that when I stand back and look at my work I can sometimes feel that side of my brain, the left side, too much in the finished work. It makes my art look like I have been trying too hard. I know you know what I mean. I actually really dislike it when my work ends up looking this way. A casual observer might say, ”It looks like, in this painting you didn’t have as much fun” and in truth, they would be right. Working excessively trying to control everything does become tiring and is definitely, not fun.
So this pivot, this piece of remembering to switch over to working intuitively is very important. It provides the artist with a refreshing break from the controlling aspect of themselves. Switching into a more right brain, intuitive mode invites mystery surprise and delight into our work.
Having too much of one thing, in this case control, left brain thinking, can become boring and monotonous. Like almost all aspects of art making, and life, actually, the juice, the feeling of aliveness that we are all after seems to come at the intersection of opposites. The one thing always comes bundled with the other one. They need each other. The holding on with the letting go, the dull with the bright colors, the hard with the easy and in this case the left brain thinking with the right brain kind of thinking.
I have given up trying to fight these opposing sides, but instead happily walk from one to another. It only takes a millisecond to leave one and arrive in the second, and then back again. It is like an endless dance between two opposing states of being. Neither is better that the other and both are evenly balanced with each other.
It almost seems too perfect to be true.
But thankfully, it is.