Just for a minute, don’t think of right- and left-brain thinking — think simply of thinking and not thinking. At your easel or workstation, think of “thinking-it-out” and “not-thinking-it-out.” Glimpse into your own brain while in the act of art — when you’re actually moving a brush or some other tool. Try to analyze this brain activity systematically at the start, in the middle, and towards the end of a piece of work. Every one of us manifests a different percentage of thinking and not thinking. It’s this percentage — and the changes of percentages — that makes our work interesting both to our selves and to others.
Before you start thinking that I’m drinking, you have to understand that all art, in its nature, ranges from cerebral to emotive, from mentally contrived to intellectually vacant, from thoughtful to thoughtless. Also, you may have noticed that a weighty, intellectual subject can be rendered as a no-brainer, while a potentially emotional subject can be rendered by intellectual power alone.
It’s my opinion that the better work is the result of understanding our own tendencies and at the same time expanding ourselves to a personal balance. Here are a few ideas to think about:
Understood and contrived motifs deftly applied.
Calculated planning and anticipation of problem areas.
Facility for order and reverse-order ordering.
Refinement of stylistic modes through self-training.
Repeated asking of the “what could be?” question.
Unconscious, “automatic writing” through fantasy or drift.
Carefree and casual rendering through distraction or music.
Confident handling due to trust and experience.
Surrendering to the flow of the “great dreamer within.”
When you understand the nature of the two states, you can begin to control and utilize them in the processing of your work. The more proficient you become, the more you are able to trust the virtues and limitations of both states — and the more you are able to train yourself to slip from one to the other.
“The unexamined life is not worth living.” (Socrates) “The apprehension of values is intuitive; but it is not a built-in intuition, not something with which one is born. Intuition in art is actually the result of prolonged tuition.” (Ben Shahn)
Esoterica: Twentieth Century modernist Piet Mondrian noted, “Intellect confuses intuition.” This is indeed the conventional wisdom and to a great degree true. With experience, however, you begin to see that the job of the intellect is to give permission to the intuition, and it’s the job of intuition to know when intellect is once again appropriate. While thinking can be dangerous and detrimental to your art, it’s not as dangerous and detrimental as not thinking.
This letter was originally published as “Thinking and not thinking” on November 3, 2006.