In 2002, I went back to school for Art Therapy at NYU. I immediately saw that basing art therapy on psychoanalysis, which is the common practice, was a mistake. Psychoanalysis is basically a thinking system. It is true that a few people continue to develop psychoanalysis even today, finally beginning to pay (and they start coming around to paying) attention to states of mind that are beyond “thinking.” But most therapists who practice psychoanalysis don’t go there.
What I knew spontaneously is that art can go into the non-thinking states, and that these states are deeper than “thinking.” In fact, you need to go to a non-thinking, deeper state in order for changes in thinking habits to take place. Thinking habits in the subconscious are where all of our psychological problems exist.
The reason that so many therapeutic processes go on for so long, and in most cases don’t really create a lasting change, is precisely because they do not go into deeper states than “thinking.”
From the first time I sat face to face with a client, what looked like miracles started to happen. There was not even one session in which change did not happen. I spent all my time in the sessions in a deeper state. The clients felt it spontaneously and went along with me. The changes happened from the activation of their intuition, or I can call it the “trust” in what was coming up from their deepest places. This happens naturally when you are in a deeper state.
In one of my internships I sat with four prisoners around a table, loaded with art materials. As the prisoners entered the process of art-making, I started a painting too. One person did not move. He was stuck. Intuitively, I knew why he was stuck. The thinking part of me did not know, but there was another kind of knowing. He was used to doing his art from thinking. When he looked at me, he saw that I was not working from thinking. He saw the easy flow in which the art progressed. He felt the joy. He was sensitive, but hesitant. I dipped my brush in green paint and, as it became soaked, I moved it toward my painting. As I moved, I caught a glimpse of him. He was mesmerized by my flow. This was what he wanted to do, but his thoughts got in the way. Unexpectedly for me and for him, I handed him my loaded brush from across the table. He smiled at me, took the brush and started to paint.
In this way he made the transition from “doing” art from his thoughts to creating art intuitively. By handing him my brush, I showed him that I supported his emerging connection to a deeper place within himself, a place he wanted so much to experience. In the end of the session, he thanked me and said that he would not have started to paint if it weren’t for the unexpected support of feeling what was coming. Making art this way is the first step in the method I have developed, which I call “Intuitive Flow.”
How does a person experience the method of Intuitive Flow?
The first thing you learn is how to create an intuitive artwork.
What “intuitive” means here is that thinking is not involved in the making of the art. If it does not come from thinking, it comes from a deeper place. It comes from what we can call the “collective consciousness,” which is endless. It comes from where knowing is not in thoughts. It is a deeper type of knowing that we all learn to ignore usually, because we are taught to only trust scientific, provable information. But just to place a little doubt in your mind about this blind trust that we place on what can be measured and proven, I’ll ask you to consider whether the thinking process knows what love is? Does it know what joy, playfulness, and curiosity are experientially? Can thinking alone be creative and come up with things that have not already been in the memory storage that thinking uses?
And I’ll ask you another question. What feels better to you: Being joyful, playful, and loving, or trying to figure out something? Just imagine yourself in these states and see how you feel in your body.
So how do we make art intuitively? We follow our individual sense of beauty as the only guide in the making of the art. Every person’s sense of beauty is different and it is even different for the same person in different times.
In order to know what is beautiful for you, you need to see in a different way than the usual. Usually we focus sharply on what we are looking at. We create a narrow focus area and ignore the periphery. This matches the style of our thinking, which focuses on one thought at a time. Instead, to follow our sense of beauty, we need to use the peripheral view that includes everything in our field of vision at the same time. Beauty has to do with how all the parts of the art relate to each other and to their placement in the area of the painting. We are capable of doing this quite easily. We use this kind of looking when we drive, to be able to know what is around us in all directions. Even when we walk, we use it so that as we find our way, we won’t bump into something or fall from stairs. What is useful for us in this way of looking while making art is that this task cannot be accomplished by thinking. Seeing and experiencing everything at once leaves thinking incapable of contributing. So it becomes uninvolved in the process. This choice of using the peripheral view puts us very quickly in a deeper state than that of thinking.
In order to know if something feels beautiful to you or not, you need to also pay attention to your inner experiences. These experiences are not of the coarse kind but are subtler. Paying attention to the more subtle inner experiences also leads you into a deeper state of being, like meditation. Thoughts are not useful for this kind of attention, and they calm down even further. There is no use in trying to calm the thoughts down willingly. But it happens on its own, when we focus on the experience of whether something is beautiful for us or not, as it is being experienced in these subtle variations of feeling. So both the outward appearance and the inner experience collaborate to bring us into a deeper state, and we go even deeper as the art making progresses.
Working with the sense of beauty also brings into the painting a wise and loving sense of order from the deeper part of us, which we can call our authentic self. Trusting this authenticity creates a deeply satisfying feeling that includes self-love. We love and trust this deep truth of ourselves and this true state loves us. The way this love is expressed is by total acceptance of everything that shows up in the process. Total acceptance of everything is the subject of Dzogchen meditation in Tibetan Buddhism and it is also implied in many other meditation approaches. In this method, this accepting state happens to everyone who uses the method, quite easily, during the time of art making, which is based on being guided by the individual sense of beauty. The accepting state is also a healing state.
You may ask: What happens when what I express is just anger or fear? How can this be beautiful?
We, as a society, have decided that anger and fear are ugly, but this is not what intuition sees.
See, for example, artworks by Robert Rauschenberg, who many times used junk, that can be considered to be ugly, as part of his art. If we stick with intuitive flow, it will find the beauty in everything. But if the emotions take over and you can’t even relate to your sense of beauty, you allow it to cheapen your work, and you can read the difference of the resulting art. In the second artwork you will be much more peaceful and intuition will flow.
Now you make your first intuitive artwork, and this is what happens.
Every line and effect that we make is immediately associated with something that we remember in our subconscious.
Our subconscious is always listening. Some of the memories do not stir us, but some remind us of events and situations that the subconscious considers dangerous, unpleasant, or annoying. In these moments, because the subconscious feels endangered, it generates thoughts, as it is habituated to do, to protect us, and suddenly thinking interferes with the art making. As long as the art was coming from intuition it flowed. But when thinking got involved, the art stopped flowing. The places where the art did not flow can easily be seen in the finished art. This is how our inner conflicts and hindering beliefs leave marks in the art. This happens even if we do not use intuitive art making. But if we do use intuitive flow, the blockages show up much more clearly.
The making of the art continues until the sense of beauty tells you to stop, because any addition will spoil the beauty. So even the ending of the artwork comes from the sense of beauty.
The art you create in this way shows your personality at the time of the art making, with things that flow nicely and things that do not seem to flow. Both aspects are useful. Again, the same things can be seen in any artwork, even those that were not created with intuitive flow. But with intuitive flow, the art is much clearer and more readily understandable.
Reading the Art
There is a law in the universe about the way things behave. Energies of the same kind come together, and energies that do not match go apart. When we become absorbed in the deeper state (which, by the way, is not hard to do at all), we vibrate with the energy of a more peaceful state, a more accepting and loving state. The blockages that we have in the subconscious that pop up when some elements in the art provoke them are of the energy of fear. Fear is a weaker energy than acceptance and love, so it has to leave our presence. For the time of making art, fear leaves us. But the habit of fear is old and strong, so as soon as the effect of art making stops, the habit is recreated by the subconscious. This is the reason why most of art therapy is only lightly effective. People feel good while in the process, but the habitual patterns of thought come back to them later. It is still beneficial to have this experience of having no fear, even if this condition does not stay, and even if we are not aware of it when it happens. There is an accumulative effect and people who engage in art therapy regularly become more optimistic. This is very valuable. But there is a way to make the changes take hold and stay.
“Reading the art” is a way to see clearly what is going on in your subconscious, what flows and what is blocking the flow. The thought patterns that block the flow are indeed the causes of suffering. In order for the change to happen and stay, you need to become a witness to the change. If change happens and you do not know, the habit will bring the blockage back. How do we become witnesses? We do it in two steps:
- Read the art intuitively. When the blockages or hindering beliefs act in the subconscious, they compel us to act in order to protect ourselves from a perceived danger. We act out of the fear, and do not witness it. But when we are in an intuitive state, we do witness the hindering thought patterns. They feel really unpleasant. You see how they block your happiness. Now you know what is going on, but you still do not see how they have changed, because the change happened after you created the art, and some more happened after the witnessing.
- Create another intuitive flow artwork, to see what is going on in the subconscious now. Reading the second artwork you see that the beliefs changed. Sometimes you see that they have become softer. Sometimes they disappear altogether. Now you have witnessed change. You become convinced that you have changed. You start to expect that your life will go more smoothly without the hindering beliefs. And because this is what you believe and expect, this is the way it will be. This is how a big change is created.
Every time a change like this happens, it is a big change and it is a stable change. Depending on the readiness of the client, sometimes easy blockages can leave in one session. Difficult ones may only change a little bit, and they will continue to change and become weaker every time that they are witnessed. As an example, one client, who had gone through twenty years of standard psychotherapies for her continuing depression, got rid of it in one year. Another client, also after years of a variety of therapies, got rid of a lifelong depression in three months. Another client got rid of artistic performance anxiety in one session.
Now let me show you how you can read your art.
Look at the artwork and choose 5 to 10 spots within it that intrigue you. Maybe you will choose a few places that you like, and maybe some places that you do not like. Move intently from one spot to another. In every spot, imagine that you are standing on that spot and catching words that come to your awareness, as one would catch butterflies with a net. Maybe sentences will come. Write all that you catch in a list, one line after another. When you finish, read the words that came to you and you will learn a lot about what was going on in your subconscious as you observed. The first words that come are always intuitive.
Want to go deeper? Scramble the lines that you collected and arrange then in another order. Now, make them into a poem. You will be shocked at how precisely this poem will describe your inner state of mind at the time of the art making. This is a good enough witnessing for a good change to take effect.