Monday, November 23, 2009


In the previous essay, I suggested that there might be two types of memory. The everyday type of memory that is first developed in our very early years and refined in school has many uses, but it is also misunderstood. It is great for recalling past data or processes, but it is not very effective in what we think as “problem solving”. Because this memory deals with data already learned, it can limit us from “thinking outside of the box”. It has been observed many times, that if a hammer is the only tool you have, everything looks like a nail. The other memory, which I referred to as Psychic Memory, is harder to quantify, but it can be a powerful tool, especially for the artist.

One way of differentiating the two types is to draw an analogy. In a much earlier essay, we talked about analytical learning styles, which is the logical, linear type of instruction/learning featured in schools and vocational training programs. In a less formally structured way, this type of “problem solving” progresses from a myriad of small data bits, which we then form into larger cognitive structures called information (instead of data). When enough information is available, a strategy or plan of action can be formed, and we are able to move towards a solution or a mental framework that makes “sense” of the problem we face. As this process occurs, our conscious, aware, mind constantly scans the process, fine-tuning and directing it towards ever more precise and detailed conclusions. If successful, we can feel that we have solved the problem that was presented, and we have been active in and aware of the entire process.

The second form of memory, or psychic memory operates much more like intuitive learning and decision-making than it does analytical learning. When we utilize intuitive problem solving, on some preconscious level we may be collecting and storing data, but the type and the scope of the data collected is not a completely conscious activity, nor is it consciously direct. Unlike analytical problem solving, during which we are actively collecting as much information as possible, intuitive data gathering takes place outside of our active and focused control. Wandering, daydreaming, “wool gathering” and moments of relaxed and unfocused meditation are the fertile grounds for building a reservoir of intuitive data. Rather than an active quest, it is a passive quest – remember, “All Who Wander Are Not Lost”.

As the data is processed, and often right up to the moment of “intuitive insight” (or decision making), much of the intellectual processing takes place “out of sight” of our conscious awareness. While we may be aware of our sudden insight, (the light bulb going on over our head) we may not have any idea at all, as to how we arrived at this inspiration.

Just as in Intuitive learning, psychic memory has a similar manifestation. The process, the orientation and the mechanisms by which it works are not usually visible to our mind’s eye, but we can train ourselves to be aware of the results, and to understand their implications for us. Most importantly, we can develop an attitude that recognizes intuition as a strength that is the equal of analysis. For working artists, psychic memory has the potential to be a fertile field, and one that can produce a bountiful harvest.

Before continuing, this psychic memory that I have mentioned is just a hypothesis, but one that seems to explain a great deal. It is clear that our personality, attitudes, mind-set and approach to everything we do in life is unique and highly individualized. It affects the way we think, what we value, and probably how we live our lives. It is also clear that this unique set of personal traits is set by environment (or life forces) at least as much (if not more than) genetic and biological determinism. The assumption that I will be making is that one of the external factors that help us form our “selfness” is psychic memory.

They are our cumulative memories and awareness’s of persons, places, incidents and ideas that became one of our psychological building blocks. Why one memory is more important than another and how a particular memory accomplishes its impact is unknown. There are, however, some good reasons to feel that this does take place and significantly, it opens up some productive artistic avenues. Psychic Memory is not the type of memory to be preserved and then accessed for our usable memory bank. It is a memory more deeply buried, which serves as a marker or beacon, illuminating a psychic intersection. Just as a highway intersection represents a set of choices, our psychic intersections are decision points in our development – they are moments when we made a “choice” about who we are or who we were about to become. The memories associated with and linked to these “moments of truth” are powerful and laden with creative insights for us to explore.

In Essays Thirteen through Sixteen, we discussed Image Stories, which I described as personal stories that are always tickling our consciousness and seem to be with us on a regular basis. While superficially they do not seem to be memories of great importance, they evidence a power and a hold on our awareness. My premise is that our Image Stories are created and nurtured by our Psychic Memory and as artists, we need to not only honor them but to use them in our creative process. The following essays will deal with utilizing Images, Stories and ideas from your Psychic Memory. As always, feel free to leave comments or to e-mail me directly with ideas, suggestions or reactions.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


The artist's world is limitless. It can be found anywhere,

far from where he lives or a few feet away.

It is always on his doorstep.

~Paul Strand

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

Ernst Ludwig Kirchner

What I am seeking is not the real and not the unreal but rather the unconscious, the mystery of the instinctive in the human race.

Georgia O'Keeffe

Monday, November 16, 2009


In a previous essay, problem solving was discussed, and it was pointed out that a logical and focused plan was very effective in dealing with some problems or situations. Of course, for the artist, there were times that a more open-ended approach allowed for the discovery of the unexpected, instead of merely arriving at the desired, pre-determined goal. The later is often much closer to providing an answer to a question as opposed to a unique and creative solution to a problem.

For most of us, “problem solving” has its cognitive roots in school. From earliest times, the teacher would present information, rules or processes, and it was clear to all of us, that we were expected to pay attention to this material, as we would certainly be tested at a later date. Whether it was in pre-school when the teacher admonished someone that they knew better than to blurt out a response without first raising their hand, or much later when we were desperately trying to remember arcane theorems or formulas.

School encouraged a process that we would use over and over again. We knew there was a solution to the problem being posed, and it was our job to search our memories to retrieve the “correct” answer, technique or situation that would allow us to give the right answer and therefore pass the test. Our memory, therefore, was a repository of already stored data, and the more effective we were in pulling out “answers already stored” the better we were at “problem solving.”

I’d like to raise two points. For our purposes, this use of memory is not problem solving at all, but rather a technique for answering questions that someone in authority or command is posing. In the case of school, the answer is already known (by the teacher), the answer has already been supplied to us (either earlier by the instructor or through assigned reading), and our job is to locate it, and present it in the proper form at the proper time. This is not problem solving, but rather an exercise in demonstrating you have been paying attention, and that you have memorized the proper information.

While memorizing the correct theorem is useful to the student in advanced math classes, it is not even close to what a scientist utilizes in research. Rather than trying to “remember” how to achieve an already postulated goal, he or she is seeking understanding or insight into an area that is truly unknown or barely understood. It is not an exercise in demonstrating to “the teacher” that you remember what was covered last Thursday, but rather it is a quest to discover, to reveal or to at least get a glimpse of something that never before was known. It is a search for mystery rather than a process of regurgitation of what you digested the day before.

I would like to propose that we could also think of memory as having a dual nature.

There is the typical use of memory where we access the bits of information from our past that we deem will be useful. Most of what we remember is analogous to either the stacks in our internal library where the books are filed, or our mental Google or Wikopedia. All of our personal and learned data, facts, information, incidents research and accomplishments are neatly filed away in our mind and when we need to know something about Aunt Harriet and her garden, or whether or not the Emersions (whom we invited for dinner) eat seafood, we “access” the required data in our memory. This data is pretty straightforward and complete, and while there probably is some alteration due to our personality and priorities, most of our memories have a framework of accuracy and universality.

My hunch is that we have a second form of memory and although it may be keyed by the same kind of stimulus mentioned earlier (data, information, incidents etc.) it operates differently, and it serves a different purpose. The first (and more common) memory exists to allow us to live our everyday lives. It is a USABLE MEMORY and it serves our regular activities. It gives us the factual, behavioral and informational basis for almost anything we do; from remembering where the front door is in our house is, to remembering our first effort at bicycle riding. Without the usable memory, we could not operate in this complex world. We couldn’t even function in a simple world - for very primitive animals have a memory similar to ours. Earthworms alter their behavior based upon exterior stimulus, and then repeat that altered behavior at a later time. They remember.

It is the other memory, as artists, to which we should pay close attention. If the first memory, or usable memory, affects our actions and behaviors, as well as our consciousness and probably our preconscious functioning, this second memory affects our concepts of self and identity. It is the learned determinate of who and what we are, emotionally, spiritually and personally. It is the sum total of all of the outside influences that have formed our own unique individuality and personality. It is not there to inform us of appropriate behavior or to solve problems, but it is what determines how we behave and defines what we perceive as problems. It is our memory of our Guidelines and an instruction manual of how to be our self.

Because our usable or functional memory is called upon virtually every minute of our lives, it is readily accessible and exquisitely cross-indexed. If you key in the word “friend” to your conscious memory, you get friends from today, all the way back to early childhood. You get family friends, work friends, school friends, buddy friends, Blog friends, best friends, lover friends and Facebook friends. There are seemingly endless responses, so you start narrowing the focus, and if you keep at it, you can locate your best friend’s other good friend during the summer when you were ten years old at the camp near Lake Pohawatan.

This second form of memory, or Psychic Memory as I will call it, is a bit shyer and more reserved. Unlike Usable Memory which is constantly available, Psychic Memory has much more of a background role. To use the computer analogy mentioned earlier, the Usable Memory would be the programs that are installed such as word processing, spreadsheets and games. They are up front and visible, and at least one is used every time you use the machine. Psychic Memory is buried, and rarely opened by the operator, but it is what determines the actual “behaviors” and “traits” of the computer. It would be more analogous to the operating system in use or the amount of RAM available. For most of us, the applications and programs that we open are all that we care about, but it is the operating system, running silently and efficiently behind the scenes (we will ignore the blue screen of death) that makes it all work. Most of us are content to never open the “secret parts, both on our computer and more importantly, in our own life.

Our Psychic Memory consists of real (and perhaps imagined) incidents, interactions, places and objects that affected our developing personalities in some way. They might have introduced new insights, they might have confirmed old beliefs, and they might have caused a “psychic reevaluation”. They could feel positive, negative or neutral, but they represent moments of psychic change, alteration or confirmation. In a sense, they are crossroads or interchanges on the road map of our life.

When we open a highway map, we see many colored lines inscribed all over the surface. They are bold or narrow, curved or straight, long or short, and they cover most of the surface. Those lines go through, over, and around all of the cities, towns, geographic features and points of interest, linking them together in a fascinating complexity. Although there is a great deal of information on these maps, for most of us, the important information is at the intersections. The long straight lines require little from us other than looking at the sights, playing our music or searching for the next rest stop. However, it is the crossroads that demand our greatest attention, because they require a change in direction and the establishment of a new baseline.

In many ways, this is the function of our Psychic Memories – not to solve our day-to-day problems perform our regular tasks and to enjoy our normal activities, but to help us understand and work with our motivations, hopes, fears and dreams.

Where is this Psychic memory and how do we use it? We’ll talk more about that in the following essay, but for the artist, it will be an invaluable tool. As usual, I invite comments, thoughts or commentary.