Intuitive Painting Process Explained: Abstract vs Figurative

Intuitive Painting Process Explained: Abstract vs Figurative


[Announcer]: Happy New Year and welcome to The
Painting Experience podcast for January 2015. On the podcast, founder Stewart
Cubley explores the potential of the emerging field of process arts and
shares inspiration from his ongoing workshops and retreats. In this episode,
Stewart addresses a question that often comes up when someone begins to paint
for process. Does it matter whether my painting is abstract or figurative? How
do I know which direction my painting should take? [Stewart]: There’s often some confusion
in the beginning of painting for process around the traditional distinction
between abstract and figurative. Should I remain abstract? Should I not have any
recognizable features or figures in my painting? Is it best to avoid anything
that might lend itself to interpretation or bring about the thought process? Or, on
the other hand, is it actually better to access the internal imagery that exists
within the human psyche and to allow those images to take form? These are
questions that I get fairly often in doing the painting process with people
and I think it’s interesting to see how the mind wants to categorize our
experience and therefore feel somewhat more comfortable once it’s decided
whether it’s better to do abstract or better to do a figurative or whatever
category we create. And so I’d like to explore that a little bit today because
it’s kind of a bogus distinction actually and rather irrelevant in the process of
painting because it puts us back into our head and it tries to create a value
based upon whether or not something has looks a certain way or doesn’t look a
certain way. So if we start in the beginning and say someone who has no art
experience and no training comes to a workshop and starts to do the
process as it’s been presented which in the beginning is very open in other
words there’s no assignment given, there’s a safe space created where
there’s no comparison and a person knows that they’re going to be listening to
the serendipity and not having to plan ahead of time. And so they get started —
and if someone is open to that experience, they’ll often take it to
heart and not have a plan and so turn towards the table and see a
color and see a brush size that seems to attract them and go to the blank piece
of paper and to allow some sort of stroke to happen. And then there’s a kind
of a movement that starts to take place and one stroke leads to another stroke
and a rather undefined painting takes place where there’s colors and
different shapes and different strokes and you could say it’s abstract. You
could call it abstract, I guess, if you’d like. And as that person proceeds, very often, and not always but very often, after a while
one of the strokes looks like something. It reminds you of something, “Oh, it’s a
face or it’s a tree or that looks like an animal or or maybe a rock.” It could be
anything, but it looks like something. And then you’re at a fork in the road
here because, do you go with what it looks like or do you stay with the
abstract? And sometimes people tell me it looks like such and such, but you know I
don’t want to do that I shouldn’t do that because because that’s planning, or
that’s thinking too much. And so we have a discussion around that. And basically
I’ll encourage a person to do it because that’s not thinking and that’s not
planning; that’s serendipity. Serendipity often speaks to us through
particulars, it doesn’t just stay in general and intuition comes in
precise forms, very often. So if something looks like something, it’s announced
itself. It’s not come from thinking, it’s come out of left field and so I’ll
encourage somebody to go ahead and do it. Say yes, do it! So that often unfolds for
a while and can be very satisfying to start seeing . . . you start seeing things in
your painting. You say, “Oh look, there’s there’s something here and there’s
something over here.” And all these little images start to — or large images —
start to emerge. And then at a certain point there can be another leap: perhaps
you’ve turned away from your painting and you’re getting some paints and then
you turn around and and you glimpse your painting and you see an image in your
mind’s eye and maybe it has a location in the painting but something pops at
you and it’s no longer “look-alike.” In other words, it’s no longer suggested by
the stroke or the color and the painting but it came to you in your mind’s eye,
very much like a dream does. And it’s just an image popped at you and you say,
whoa where did that come from? And our first tendency of course is to
reject these spontaneous images because conscious mind, you know, thinks they
don’t fit or often there’s a fear that we don’t have the skill to paint them.
That we’re not trained, we couldn’t execute it, it wouldn’t turn out right.
And so this is another fork in the road you might say, this is another time when
I’m often needing to encourage someone to go ahead and do it and to say look it
really doesn’t matter if it turns out the way you saw it in your mind’s eye
but it did present itself. And it’s just the jumping-off point; it’s just the tip
of the iceberg. There’s something here that wants to be explored; it’s pulled
you towards it and you want to give it credibility. So I would say go there with
with that image in mind that you saw and see what happens, let it be born
under the brush. So this takes some courage and requires you to dare
allowing your own forms and images and way of painting to come forth. It’s
challenging and there can often be judgement that’s encountered in that
process and I think that’s one of the reasons we avoid doing it. And yet it’s
very satisfying when you do it, when you begin to allow your own
internal imagery to be born and to take form and there’s a quality here that I
relate to a phrase from David Whyte, the poet. He speaks about coming out of
hiding and this is very relevant for me in the painting process because being
willing to allow your own images to come forth, and your own forms and and your own precise paintings — there’s a coming out of hiding. There’s a willingness to show
up in your particular way that’s different than anybody else’s way and
there’s a kind of individuation. You’re allowing your own individual images to
come forth, you’re allowing something that that’s very unique to you to take
place. That’s a very important aspect of a painting process but that doesn’t make
images “better.” And I think this is really important to understand because it is
true that in this process of individuation through art, that we can be
in denial, we can be avoiding, actually. Allowing our own images to take place we
can be in denial and be kind of defensive around allowing our own images
to take place and then we get stuck, of course, and the energy stops and we find
ourselves kind of at a dead end. And so it is important to take the risk and to
allow ourselves to come forth in that way but, again, it doesn’t make images
better. There are times when we’re deeply in the
stream of the creative flow and the brush is moving; it’s being drawn into
maybe a certain repetitive gestures and sometimes you wonder, what are these fine lines that I’m doing? Are they roots? Are they . . . they look almost dendritic. Are they cracks? I don’t know what they are but they feel really really good to do. And
then you might have these sort of drop like things coming down and and you
can’t get enough of them and you just feel like . . . they feel so good . . .
they’re almost . . . they’re getting tinier and tinier, they’re little dots and dots
within dots. Are they tears? Is it rain? What is it? Are they stars? You
realize that you have no interpretation. You’re painting without interpretation
and the mind could easily label the painting as being abstract because
there’s no recognizable images in the painting but you’re being drawn to do it.
And can you say in this case that you’re avoiding something because you’re not
doing imagery? So I think you can begin to see that it’s a rather artificial
distinction and it really doesn’t matter. I think that’s the main point
because what really matters is, of course, does it have juice? Does it have that
quickening, that feeling of being excited in the moment being drawn to do
something? And this happens in paintings that have recognizable images and
paintings that don’t. It really doesn’t matter what really matters is the energy
and when you’re being drawn to do something, which means the
brush feels really comfortable doing these fine little little lines and it
just, it can’t get enough of them and wants to do more and more and more and
more and more. There’s something there that is so compelling and functioning on
a level which is beyond the comprehension of the conscious mind. It really
doesn’t make any difference whether you can label it as something or not and if
you’re being drawn to an image and some image pops at you and in
your mind’s eye the imagination is is alive and well and something has come to
you to paint and it’s got excitement and fear both mixed in at the same time.
Excitement because it’s new and you don’t know why it came to you and yet
it’s very precise and you can see what it is — and frightening because you’re not
sure you can execute it and it might mess up your painting and what does it
mean anyway and what will people think — but there’s energy there! And so what if
that’s what mattered. It’s really about the energy rather than the product. Then
you see, you enter into a very exciting realm and you realize that we exist on
both these levels in a way in other words we we exist in form and yet we’re
beyond form. We have a certain identity that we walk around with and
function with in life and yet we really don’t know who we are. We are not that
self image that’s been created through experience and through other people’s
opinions and our own ideas of ourselves there’s there’s much more of a mystery
than that and the painting process is really a way of living that mystery,
engaging the mystery and travelling with the mystery. And there’s something very
natural about that, of not defining our experience and therefore ourselves by
these categories. By not valuing one aspect of experience over another aspect,
but realizing that there’s a deeper mystery and that it’s really our job to
allow that mystery to unfold and to recognize ourselves in the mystery as
opposed to being defined by a particular form. [Announcer]: You can learn more about The Painting
Experience and find a list of upcoming process painting workshops by visiting
our website at www.processarts.com. If you enjoyed what you heard today, please share it with a friend. The theme music for this podcast
comes from Stephan Jacob. We thank you for listening
and hope you’ll join us again soon.

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