I have finally finished Pat Paxson’s densely packed, PhD thesis, Art & Intuition 1. I am reminded of that classic sketch with Eric Morecombe and Andre Previn. I know the information contained within is meaningful to me, I am just not quite sure which ideas matter. I am reassured by Anton Ehrenzweig in The Hidden Order of Art 2, (a breeze to read by comparison), that it is necessary to take ‘flying leaps’ over the, at first, incomprehensible bits, in order to grow, much as a child uses its syncretistic ability to enjoy the whole, without necessarily understanding the detail.
I will use this blog to try to create some clarity.
Much of Paxson’s work makes sense in principle, the use of practice led research to support or disprove a particular idea, the exploration of the unthought stage of creativity (unconscious? intuition?) and looking beyond Freud to Jacques Lacan, for his concepts of the Gaze, the Gap (the door that opens between conscious and unconscious) and the Stain (the influence of unconscious energy on the psyche), to Bracha Ettinger for the Matrixial Gaze, and others, for a more expansive perspective. What I am at odds with is what feels like slight manipulation. In her conclusion she refers to the libidinal gaze as keeping her ‘attention wide and unfocused – in the sense of edges of perception, intuition and affect.’ p129 Why libidinal gaze, and not a trance-like or meditative state, is unclear, but seems convenient to Paxson’s argument.
The basis of the unconscious for Lacan is ‘lack’, which generates ‘desire’, a definition that Paxson disagrees with, using the ideas of Lyotard, Deleuze and Guattari to expand upon. Paxson is researching from a psychoanalytical perspective laced with studio research, and not a purely artistic perspective, which I think would have given a starting point of Jung rather than Freud, which in turn would have given a less sexually focused, and more expansive and perhaps spiritual, perspective. At this point I know very little about Jung and will be seeking material for this line of inquiry.
What is becoming clearer is that my research is seeking an answer to these questions: Are the unconscious mind and intuition one and the same, or two separate ‘states’? What ‘drives’ them? How can we harness them in the creative process? From that awareness and/or from my practice led research I am seeking to access what Sartre referred to as ‘pure presence’ and Bomberg as ‘spirit in the mass’.
Are intuition and the unconscious mind (UM) one and the same?
The books that I am reading and the ancillary reference sources (Wiki etc) use the words interchangeably, with the nuanced difference being the history, spiritual and enlightened connections associated with intuition, and the relatively recent Freudian concept of UM.
But what if Freud was right and there is a tangible difference, what could it be? I will start with my own experience. Yesterday is a good example. Having been house-bound since before Christmas with a minor ailment, I felt a need to be by the sea. I live 5 minutes walk from the beach, so no big deal, but for some inexplicable reason I needed to walk on a sandy beach. The nearest is Camber Sands, 12 miles away. It was a gloriously sunny, crisp Winter’s day, and I was sure that this calming walk would breathe much needed energy back into my weakened lungs.
Wrong! The scene on the beach was surreal. Hundreds of people and dogs. The beach felt more like a doggy toilet than an area of peace. I felt badly let down by my intuition, that is until I left the beach. The surrounding countryside is possibly the flattest in the county, more akin to Norfolk, than East Sussex. I was struck by the enormity of the sky, how I felt almost enveloped by it, and I realised that this was why I had been directed to this area.
Later that day we walked to a pub in Hastings that had live music. I find that some live music, and this band in particular, has the ability to connect directly to my creative energy, my UM, recharging like a drug.
Two very different connections, the first driven by the intuitive needs of my body, the second by a conscious intention to replenish my depleted creative UM. For me, intuition feels like the accumulated wisdom of my lineage, a ‘fourth dimension’ that makes no rational sense, but with contemplative attention can be harnessed for good. Whereas the UM is my personal font of creativity, what Ehrenzweig calls ‘intuitive scanning’ where the student shifts their attention from precise visualisation to lower mental levels.3 That isn’t to say that intuition doesn’t play its part in this particular process, it just doesn’t seem so evident for me, when compared to other actions prompted by intuition.
Perception: to be aware through the senses; conscious mind.
Intuition: to understand instinctively, without resorting to conscious reasoning. Latin – intueri, consider, English – intuit, to contemplate. (wiki) In Zen Buddhism, Satori refers to the experience of Kensho ‘seeing into one’s true nature or essence’, enlightenment through study of the Koans and meditation, used to develop intuitive capabilities.
Unconscious mind: appears to have been developed as a Freudian concept, not accessible to the conscious mind (Freud labelled the ego). The UM was later developed into Superego (conscience) and id (instincts and drive)
1 Paxson, P, 2011 Xlibris Corp
2 Ehrenzweig, A, 1967 Pheonix Press, London
3 Ibid, p56