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Intuitive art making IS a skill.

I’m in a group where someone recently posted a discussion around “Intuitive vs. Skill Training,” also questioning if there’s an undercurrent of “more enlightened” in intuitive art-making.

Where enlightenment has to do with self-awareness and widening perspective, I tend to believe that it can be found and felt anywhere at all when we come into the experience wholeheartedly and with a healthy curiosity for connection. It is intimate and personally decided. I like this Old English definition… Enlighten: “to remove the dimness or blindness from one’s eyes or heart.”

If we’re working with that, then yes, I would say for me personally that intuitive art making is a method toward my own enlightenment. A method that helps me work with my blindspots and offers growth. But it’s just one way up the mountain – the only way that is right is the way that is right for you.

What I find unfortunate are the general assumptions around any method of approaching art-making. For instance, many people feel anyone can just sit down and ‘be’ intuitive and therefore make intuitive art. Many people think because it is often a spontaneous expression, or because it can be a helluva lot of fun and often looks messy in the end, that it is easier -and therefore of less value. All true, perhaps, if you take in the landscape by pulling your car over for 30 seconds, snapping a picture, and then telling your friends at home that you experienced the place. Unless you get out and move your body around on the land, feel it, be with its changes, be with the way you change within its presence, I’m not sure that counts.

Steve (hubby) is a musician, and it is all too often that he will have people come up to him at a gig and suggest that what he gets paid is fantastic for just getting to sit up on stage and play music with his friends. Truth is, people just don’t think about what it takes to be an artist – the hours and years that go unseen, wrestling with technique, skill and inner shadow – and then learning how all of that can play nice with your muse (who is never satisfied by the way). That two hour gig or the sale of one painting is actually the only compensation seen for hours and hours of trial and error, skill practice, logistical detail wrangling and sheer audaciousness.

Luckily, though, we don’t do it for those people who don’t get it. We do it for those who do – but mostly, we do it because we can’t not do it. Because once we’ve had light shined on our blindspots and truths in the creative process, it is like starving the soul to turn away and pretend we haven’t seen that the process IS a way up the mountain with views worth every drop of sweat and tired muscle.

So, after 30+ years as an artist with both formal training and self-guided practice, and having left and returned to my practice as part of my journey, I say with confidence:

Intuitive art making IS a skill.

It’s just not one with cookie-cutter, measurable results that can be tested against an algorithm or formulaic concept, like other outcome based art skills.

But just like every other skill, you have to do the work before you can fully understand what it takes and what it gives back, or to receive relatively regular consistent results. You have to do it again and again. You get to catch yourself in patterns of staying comfortable, and stretch your comfort zone, consciously – building resilience and strength.

Yet, it takes great courage to show up, practice and refine a skill that no one can determine the true meaning or quality of except you (though some will certainly try). You can’t hold up an intuitive painting to a designated point in the room and say, You’ve really captured that intuition well.

{Well, OK, just to be fair – it IS also about the outcome, but not in relation to the resulting piece of art, per se… but that’s a rabbit trail for another post}

Ultimately, intuition is a skill of LISTENING – to your whole dynamic human self, as an eco-system of cycles. It is the ability to shut out external noise long enough to take stock of what is most needed and revel in your beingness at the roots of your own spontaneous inspiration.

I find it most often lands in my heart or my gut, which is partially why I think of it as holistic creativity – because of the very embodied way I experience it.

Intuition reveals itself as a nudge + a challenge to be brave enough to explore and honor what presents itself in honest expression. Art making is a safe place to rehearse how this feels in our skin.

In the throes of an intuitive chit-chat with our self, we often find ourselves looking at parts of who we are that we might not like to see or claim… consciously looking at those parts and saying, OK, OK, I’m doing that thing again, how can I work with this, how can I grow, how can I be curious about it, how is this serving me, how do I shake this up?

As with any other expressive skill – be it drawing faces or playing arpeggios, verbal communication or building a website – it is a form of translation and transmission. A still-life can be as breath-taking as an improv spoken-word performance upon eyes and ears primed to receive it.

It’s just that in process art, where we practice the skill of intuiting, the artist is priming, translating, transmitting AND receiving.

And there are those moments – moments when you *get* it. It flows. You’ve moved through something you couldn’t get past before – like you do in other journeys of skill. You now know why the lips on your faces always looked like play-doh sitting on top of the face, what to do about it, and you become empowered to move onward up your mountain.

Within that stride, is a place with fewer answers, where questions themselves are holding the space and all is well in the unknowing  – because the perseverance of opening to and tending our practice, our skill, delivers more than we could ever adequately describe or imagine…

…though we might call it FAITH, or even SELF-ESTEEM.

Certainly it is something that only you can give to yourself. And from what I can tell, the ability to tap into it – intuition, that is – seems to increase with experience. Like all skills, really.

Whatever you call it, it’s priceless and worth every hour, doubt and tear, as far as I’m concerned. I’ve known no better way to get really honest with myself about how I show up, what I really feel, what my boundaries are, what I really need to take proper care of myself and have reverence for this life I breathe. Maybe that’s enlightenment to some degree – it certainly softens edges when applied.

It’s also a way I personally stay in touch with that free-spirit joyful me – not always an easy thing for this artist. It helps me continue to heal cellular memory by reminding me how OPEN, uninhibited PLAY feels. This allows me to bring more joyful, easy energy into the places I touch, as well.

Like all skills, once engrossed in the landscape of it, you might begin to see how the intuitive creative process relates to navigating life’s terrain.

I come to it with whatever I am faced with and processing, how I feel and how I want to feel in that moment – and then I open up and ask what I need to see in the greater context. Just me and the paint or pen, as is, working with what we’ve got, right now.

It grounds me into my body, my emotions, my environment, my energy, my sense of time… while discarding any drama of the day for what matters most: my whole self, connected to everything else, no more and no less – pulsing, vital and full of vision.

For this, I will practice again and again.

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