Intuitive Painting: Tapping into Creative Accidents

Article excerpt

The advanced drawing and painting class had seen Abstract Expressionist art before, but few of the juniors had tried to paint in that style, Some students felt that such art was "a cop out," that it didn't have much merit because it looked too easy. I decided to give them the opportunity to prove themselves.

Our one and a half-hour lesson began by viewing extracts from two videos. Each extract was approximately 3 minutes long. The first was from the New York School in which Willem de Kooning talked in his studio about painting with his eyes closed. The other clip came from American Masters: Robert Motherwell and the New York School and featured a demonstration of instinctual painting from the Surrealist, Matta Echaurren.

We discussed de Kooning and Matta's painting styles, and noted their similarities and differences. We analyzed the use of "automatism," or automatic painting, which encourages creative accidents to occur as the artist is directed largely by intuition. Some students were interested in the idea of painting through a stream of consciousness and thought it was a modern innovation. I pointed out that it occurred in the early 20th century when Modernist artists like Joyce, Eliot and Stravinsky sought to break traditional rules.

I quoted D.H. Lawrence whose great religion was a belief in the blood, the flesh, as being wiser than the intellect. Lawrence went on to say that we can all go wrong in our minds but what our hearts say is often the truth. I asked if it was possible to utilize Lawrence's philosophy in painting: to be directed by the instinct rather than by rules; to be audacious; to make a giant leap of faith into the unknown.

After our brief discussion, I gave a 20-minute demonstration. An 18"x 24" canvas board was set up on an easel and several media were close at hand: oil and chalk pastels, acrylics, soluble oils. As I painted hurriedly, I explained to students I would try hot to spend time examining what I was doing. The goal was to suspend all judgment and lotus on applying color and shapes wherever it "felt" right; this might even include mixing paint on the canvas with my fingers. (Latex gloves are ideal for this purpose.) Painting became a stream-of-consciousness process: exploring color, form, patterns, and allowing each to resonate iii search of an identity; in essence, letting the painting paint itself without employing any rigorous rules.

Students giggled as colors clashed and odd shapes appeared. Perhaps seeing their teacher creating a mess was liberating, making them feel less threatened when they came to paint. Already, I could see how eager they were to start their own works. …