Rolling in the deep


I just got back from a 10-day intuitive painting training workshop with Deb Purdy of Creative Wings Studio and I’m still trying to wrap my head around it, though folks who’ve done this type of painting for any length of time will tell you that the head is one of the greatest impediments to true fulfillment. In other words, intuitive painting isn’t what you think.

The materials couldn’t be simpler—a large sheet of white paper and tempera paints, along with water containers for rinsing brushes. Prompted by clear instructions—Tape your paper to the wall, approach the paint and dip your brush into the color that seems to “call” you—the eight of us began.

“Keep the brush moving,” Deb suggests, and in time an image does indeed begin to appear, and then another, and another. Unlike traditional painting, where the artist begins with an idea for an image and then proceeds to paint, intuitive painting invites the participant to follow the lead of both the brush and the paint in order to, as Deb puts it, “bring forth the image that’s calling to be made.”

This raises a question: If the image doesn’t spring from the painter’s own head, from a process that involves thinking and planning, where does it come from? The unconscious? Maybe, but not in the way I’m used to thinking about the unconscious, that deep wellspring of material relegated for a host of good reasons to regions beyond one’s own conscious awareness. Intuitive painting seems to summon images that live 60,000 leagues under the unconscious.

Carl Jung was so convinced of the healing power of these images—archetypal images, as he termed them, embodying not the unconscious of one individual but the collective unconscious of all of human kind—that he broke away from his mentor, Sigmund Freud, in order to explore more deeply their fuller meanings and potentials. 

Seasoned intuitive painters suggest that we’re all perhaps a bit too enamored with “meaning” and that the painting process is a richer one when it’s free from shackling questions about what it all means. I myself tend to like meaning and can attest to the fact that those who find themselves without the capacity for meaning in life are individuals who suffer deeply. Meaning provides something undeniably vital for health and well-being. Survival itself is endangered, as Victor Frankl so influentially chronicled, without a sense of meaning. At the same time I can’t deny that I enjoyed a more profoundly gratifying experience over the course of the training when I managed to turn the meaning-making part of my thinking off. I felt energized and expanded, as if my own sense of myself, my life and my vision for what could be had now somehow enlarged, an awareness which has continued since my return home. I understand this to be yet another reminder that the mind is only so competent at comprehending the fullness of meaning, possibility and potential and that there’s value in moving the mind aside in order to access that deeper bounty.

Like the sea itself, the unconscious yields an endless and self-replenishing abundance of creatures, a wealth beyond our fathoming. ~ Carl Jung

Now more than ever I find myself needing experiences that offer deeper levels of restoration and replenishment. Whatever those may be for you, those portals and places that provide sorely-needed reprieve from the noise of life on land and an expanded sense of what could be, may you find yourself spending some quality time there, especially in the week ahead.

Photo credit courtesy of Dana G.F. Sterbens