Friday, September 25, 2009


The Caloosa, a civilization exterminated by the Spaniards three hundred years ago inhabited the Southern part of Florida in the heart of what is now called The Everglades. Only recently, archeologists have started to uncover their culture and gain some understanding of what they were like.

There is evidence that they believed that we did not have a single soul, but that we had three separate souls. To the Caloosa, the First Soul is our eye, looking out at the world, the Second Soul is the shadow we cast upon the Earth as we pass along, and the Third Soul is our reflection, such as looking down into the water. The more I think about this, the more it seems to be a very evocative description of the soul of the artist. While we may never know the specifics of how the Caloosa incorporated this into their daily and spiritual life, I am drawn to its application for the artist.

If the eye is the first soul to the Caloosa, it is equally important to the artist. Our eye is our primary means of sensory input, and it bombards our mind and brain with constant stimulus. Unfortunately, it is this “always on” aspect that often causes us difficulties as artists. We see so much, that in order to make sense of the world – to allow ourselves to concentrate and focus – we narrow our focus and look but do not see. We selectively “filter out” what we don’t feel we need, and consequently, much that is out there never enters our inner mind and awareness. We may call this discrimination but it is the rare adult who is capable of looking upon a scene with fresh and non-judgmental vision. If we wish to be an artist, we must train our eye to see as we did as a child, unencumbered by our preconceptions, so that we can witness wonder, once again.

As we walk the Earth and meet new people, do new things, and interact with life, we always cast our shadow. Unlike our physical body, which has mass, energy, and substance, our shadow is a more nebulous aspect of self. Certainly, it is present in all that we do, but it “casts a shadow” on those experiences, and can make them less than what they are. While the eye may see too much, our shadow, obscures, conceals, and beclouds that which may give us greater understanding to our life. We should never allow our presence to obscure the world we pass through – an artist who does not see both herself as well as the world around, has little to portray. As an artist, we must learn to shine the light of our creativity into the dark and gloomy areas we ourselves create. By looking at ourselves fully, both the positive as well as the negative, we start the process of knowing ourselves.

When we view our reflection, it is not our real self we see, but our subjective self. It is you, looking at you. This reflected image is the self of dream, spirituality, fantasy, and alternate reality. It is not surprising that when people talk about moments of revelation or flashes of insight, they also often report that they could see themselves as if they were separate or “out of body.” Perhaps at that moment of self-awareness, one becomes one’s own reflection or third soul. If our shadow is our participant in the making of our history, our reflection is the source of memory. It is how we transform the objective reality of history into the personal and subjective essence of personal memory. History is objective, memory is subjective – as artists, the subjective is critical to our existence.

The next essay will cover some additional ways we can access our creative, subjective memory, and utilize it in our Art Quest. As always, written comments are welcome.

Monday, September 14, 2009


A painter paints the appearance of things, not their objective correctness, in fact he creates new appearances of things. Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits: logic and common sense will only interfere. But once these barriers are broken, it will enter the realms of childhood visions and dreams. Giorgio de Chirico

A sincere artist is not one who makes a faithful attempt to put on to canvas what is in front of him, but one who tries to create something which is, in itself, a living thing. William Dobell

Wednesday, September 09, 2009


The past few essays have dealt with a discussion of Image Stories, which are clear and powerful personal narratives that occurred in the past. Usually they are not great moments in time or life altering events such as births, deaths, weddings, and relocations, but seemingly ordinary events that have the strange property of constantly re-emerging into your consciousness. Often their seeming ordinariness is what makes them puzzling, for they do not have any obvious reason for being so powerful and evocative.

It is my premise that these stories hold powerful personal truths, and can be the source of many artistic creations. Rather than approaching them intellectually and analytically, we need to view them intuitively and symbolically. They are not a biology class frog, to be carefully dissected, but deeply imbedded personal images that must be allowed to enter our consciousness, freely and unfettered by our preconceptions and mental censors.

I am going to present the following exercises in visual terms, but for those who are writers, dancers, poets and musicians, I encourage you to respond both visually as well as through forms that seem more intuitive. As a matter of simple truth for all of us, the greater number of your senses you bring to bear on any problem or activity, the deeper the experience is likely to be. It is important to remember, however, that these should be done spontaneously, without trying to be technically proficient and certainly with no intent to create a “work of art”.

If you have not recently read the Image Story essays, preceding this entry, it might be helpful to re-read them before continuing.

Your first step is to “open-up” your Image Story, in your mind, and let it fill your awareness. Don’t try to analyze it, just enjoy.

The second step is to insure that you yourself are an active participant in the narrative – don’t be the narrator or the third person storyteller.

Now let the narrative “have its head” – allow it to go where it wants, don’t lead, but follow in the moment. If it seemingly is going in a direction that is new, wrong, or different from what “really happened”, don’t stop, but go along for the ride. In other words, allow yourself to re-live the experience, as it happened long ago

After you feel the story has temporarily run its course, you might want to allow some of the following questions to speak:









Open a sketchbook to a blank page, and again think of your Image Story. Let it wash over you and become immersed in its power. After a few moments, do two or three quick sketches (thirty seconds to a minute each) of whatever pops into your mind while experiencing your story. These sketches should not be detailed, nor will they be realistic. Now, by letting your mind free associate, think of six or eight words or phrases that also “belong” on the page. Remember, quick and intuitive - don’t plan, and don’t try to be clever or insightful – just an honest, first response. Lastly, get one or two of your colored drawing tools, and express the mood or emotion that you feel, but only with color. This will be beneficial, even if you feel you are not a visual artist, but a writer, dancer etc. You also should feel free to portray your responses in any additional expressive form that seems appropriate.

Now, turn to a blank page, and do the same “story” again, but do it with your eyes closed. You may lay out your required materials on the table, but do not look at all from the time you first start to the time you are finished (three or four minutes per page. Don’t peek, don’t simplify to make it easier, and please don’t worry about layout, neatness or composition. You are not creating a signed work that is to be framed or sold, but starting to set up some free association links between your hand and brain. If you are writing or dancing, do that also with your eyes closed.

Do this for three or four Image Stories. The quicker you can work, and the more you can work without visually insuring that everything “comes out all right”, the more productive you will be. For most of us, there is always a part of our consciousness that worries a great deal about us getting out of control and making “a fool of our self.” The various disciplines of psychology have different names for this “censor”, but as artists, we need to be especially concerned, because this is the part of our mind that doesn’t want us being artists in the first place. When you work with your eyes closed, you are eliminating one of the strongest self-censoring mechanisms you have.

You are creating these images to explore how you react to your own ideas, and to start giving yourself permission to create visual shortcuts, symbols and abstractions for your ideas. By eliminating traditional subject matter and minimizing explanatory words, we are also cutting down on the influence of our censor - it knows how to control things that are analytical. It is hopelessly naive when it comes to free form.

While later on we will discuss a variety of ways that you can start to incorporate your Image Stories into your work, it would be helpful as you go to “play with it “ now. Don’t make this hard work, and don’t agonize over it, but every time you allow yourself to get lost in your images, also allow yourself to play with what ever media makes you feel comfortable. You are not creating a masterpiece, you don’t have to show this to a soul, and you certainly shouldn’t be concerned with your technical skills. Play. Play not as an adult, who worries about first learning the rules of the game, but play like a child who is totally immersed in activity, and that doll, or truck, or cardboard box is all that is important in the entire universe. Play like those French students played basketball.

We have taken a first step. The next essay will talk a bit about the Caloosa Indians, and following essays will give you additional tools to start giving form to what you are discovering within yourself. Again, I invite your comments.