“PAINT ONE BRUSHSTROKE AT A TIME…” How can something so simple be so hard? Another bit of advice: “When you don’t know what to paint, keep the brush moving!” Sounds crazy, yet those bits reconnected me to the exhilaration of intuitive creativity.
First, flash back to your 4-year-old self, or perhaps, yourself in third grade. You have vigorously put crayons through their paces and you’re enjoying happy results. You may have heard someone say, “Here, let me show you how to do it….” Or you might have heard, “That’s really great, what an artist you are!” Others heard some variation on the perennial, “Can’t you just color in the lines, honey…” or, “That’s so nice! Could you do one for me, too?” There is always one you take most to heart. Here’s mine, recalled from art class: “Make it worth the canvas it’s on!”
Still today, place blank paper in front of me, hand me some paints or a pen, and 10,000 versions of those judgments rush to limit what I make or write. I thought, “This is normal. Don’t artists need assessment and critique? Wasn’t an artist’s purpose to produce good work, convey deep meaning and skillfully manage technique?”
Here’s what I know now. I had traded natural soulfulness, joy and creativity for product, meaning and control. Michele Cassou, the great pioneer of intuitive painting, calls this dreaded threesome “dragons of our own making” — limiting ease of expression, and constricting natural creative flow. She reminds us that we actually reinforce and feed these “dragons” with judgment-based habits of mind until we literally can’t make a mark.
She tells her students, “Creative blocks don’t just happen to us. We actually participate in their creation.” Then she asks passionately: “Isn’t that great news?” Usually her students groan in self-recognition.
After years of struggle, and being judged to have little talent, Michele tells how she went to paint with little children, imitating their zest, their willingness to risk, their innocent courage to paint directly what they know in the only way they know how. For almost 40 years she has been sharing what those children taught her. She calls her approach “painting from Point Zero,” that unconditioned place free from learned habits of judgment, and unencumbered by the constrictions of product, meaning and control. I call it painting from Soul, from that place where images originate, dreams unfold, and the numinous divine reveals itself.
But more than a place to paint from, I find what Michele calls Point Zero a desirable place to LIVE from. As a long-time meditator and spiritual director, I often quip that a day in the studio painting without product, meaning and control is worth a week on a cushion or a couch! Isn’t the point of spiritual practice a process of getting beyond the limited and conditioned — to be in the moment, fresh and joyfully at ease? I yearn to be able to risk the mysterious and unknown, that not-yet-seen, the only-now-unfolding, ever fresh place where God lures me back to my whole, true, compassionate self.
I am never the same after a session of painting from intuition, as freely and as honestly as I can. For the record, I still can paint for product, and I still can please editors — but now I know the difference, and what a soulful, original difference it has made.
Process painting or intuitive painting hones contemplative presence and invites insight to arise. If you’re brave enough to look your ego in the eye, if you long to swim in the deep waters of holy integrity, or just have fun (What a thought!), simply stand in front of a blank piece of paper, brush in hand and 20 open pots of paint at the ready. Declare a judgment-free zone, and fiercely protect it — mostly from your own habits of mind. Without plan, without regard for product, meaning and control, dare yourself to paint whatever wants to be painted. Remind yourself there is no need to like what you paint. Paint no matter what. Happily let moment-to-moment experience guide you.
Sometimes it’s dragons you meet. Sometimes it’s God. I know. You’ll find me there as often as I can.