Gestural Self Expression in Art
Every summer I teach an art workshop for Stanford physicians at Stanford Sierra Camp with Jane Lombard, MD.
Creativity and self expression is essential for everyone, including physicians. Stanford Medical School and Hospital has been on a mission of incorporating art into the medical school curriculum as well as nurturing well being in physicians.
They have courses and workshops in the arts ranging from painting, drawing, filmmaking, creative writing, dance and many more arts.
I’m delighted to be part of this journey.
In the workshop we explore the emergence of post-war abstract expressionism and how it explored the idea of expressing the unconscious through gestural expression and stream of consciousness mark making.
Automatic drawing is mark making without a preconceived plan. It’s where you trust your gesture and the intelligence of your body, and you express without thinking, without editing and without trying to make it look like something. It is pure energy coming through your body onto the paper.
Activating The Canvas & Flux
You can activate the canvas with stream of consciousness mark making and then go back in with an eraser if you wish- randomly knocking back or covering some of your spontaneous marks.
Don’t worry. Activate the canvas. Don’t edit or strategize or plan. Allow your body to express spontaneous mark making.
We’re not trying to make it look like something here, we’re simply activating the canvas with your marks. You can activate the canvas with slow lines, fast lines, jagged lines, discontinuous lines, continuous lines, staccato marks, dots, meandering marks- anything you wish. It could be a combination of different types and energies of line and mark making.
This is about whatever YOUR marks are. This is about your self expression.
Flux is the back and forth dance between assertion and dissolution of marks and shapes. It’s a form of editing.
We can edit or knock back or veil marks that we wish to cover up to varying degrees.
You can edit or knock back marks easiest when you use opaque paint.
You can veil marks by using transparent paint so that the marks are toned down, not as apparent. The marks are still there and you can see them behind the veil of paint you used to cover them. Zinc white is great for veiling because it’s a transparent white.
If you see a mark that you’re not sure you want, go ahead and knock it back or veil it.
In veiling, you can still see the previous marks but they’re more subtle.
Expressing Feelings in Mark Making
In the segment where there’s uproarious laughter, we were talking about how marks are expressive, for example they can express feeling states. We explored a range of feelings such as joy, anger, agitation, serene, laughter and so on.
As you explore the expressive language of mark making you begin to realize that there’s an intelligence in your body and its gestures that expresses feelings without words.
Believing in Yourself
The work of my life is helping people to believe in themselves. This is the work I’ve done in existential psychiatry for over twenty years.
I think the Holy Grail of creating is trusting yourself.
And then we have two concepts: composition and value that are technical game changers. But, being an artist ultimately boils down to: Do you trust yourself? Do you take risks? Is your work alive?
Your work may not be technically “perfect” but if it’s alive we feel it
I’d like to invite you to take risks in your art, to notice the fear and the inner critic and go ahead anyway. This is your journey of self expression.
It’s about deep experimentation.
We can get overstimulated in viewing art. Sometimes this brings up the language of comparison and we get stuck.
I’m reminded of Stendhal and an experience he described during his 1817 visit to Florence, Italy in his book Naples and Florence: A Journey from Milan to Reggio.
When Stendhal visited the Basilica of Santa Croce, where Michelangelo, Galileo and Dante are buried, he was overcome with emotion.
He wrote: “I was in a sort of ecstasy, from the idea of being in Florence, close to the great men whose tombs I had seen. Absorbed in the contemplation of sublime beauty…I reached the point where one encounters celestial sensations…Everything spoke so vividly to my soul. Ah, if I could only forget. I had palpitations of the heart, what in Berlin they call “nerves.” Life was drained from me. I walked with the fear of falling.”
I think most artists grapple with comparison at various times.
You’re not alone!
Remember to give yourself permission to deeply experiment and post your works in progress for they are so deeply a part of your magnificent story.
Remember that it’s a journey…it’s about the process and the discoveries you make along the way.
We may not like or love all of our paintings or creations and yet I believe that each one of them is important…even and perhaps especially the “ugly” ones.
The only person that can create the way in which you do is YOU.
YOU ARE THE ANSWER.
No one compares to YOU.
Come back full circle to trusting yourself.
Much gratitude from my studio to yours,
Also published on Medium.