Intuition is knowing or understanding something without having apparently thought about it. This could be solving a mystery (but don’t you just hate those cheap mysteries where the detective solves the crime through “intuition”!! Poirot would be turning in his grave if he had one, as would dear Sherlock). It could also be expecting rain or a storm..some people “intuitively” know a storm is coming. Or it could be in performing skilful acts without obviously consciously thinking through the steps.
Intuition is not a basic instinct, something we are born with, a basic survival skill. A baby will instinctively fear strangers…and when we are grown up all of us are put on alert by our nervous systems when there is something unusual in the environment. The senses say “change!” to the brain, and the brain then assesses the importance of the change. So even in that case, there is a cognitive connection between the input and the reaction. Some very basic inputs will lead to reaction without thought: pulling back one’s hand from a hot object – you can see how that would be important for survival. But I feel that all other inputs do actually go through the brain! And human beings have the ability to prevent their reactions too – which means the brain.
It certainly is very easy to fall into habits…they are useful routines that save us time..and we might well not consciously be really thinking about them as we perform them, a habitual pattern – “what we always do”. But I imagine all of us could, if we wished, slow the activity down and give a verbal conscious description of the processes.
Okay so where does this play in art making?
You often hear artists say: “oh I don’t make a plan before I make art, I just do it intuitively”. They feel they are (for example) placing shapes onto a design wall without having apparently thought about it. It would be perfectly easy to do this – quick pick up a chunk of fabric from your cutting table and run to the wall and pin it up…quick run back to the table get another piece back to the wall and pin it up..and so on!!! It might work even better if you close your eyes while you are doing it! I think that would be art making without a plan or conscious thought. I think that would really be the ONLY way to make art without a plan or without thought. Select the fabric from your stash with your eyes closed, cut out shapes carefully (no rotary cutters!), stick the shapes on the wall and no feeling around to see where the first piece is, either! I do believe, in fact, that you can pay a large sum of money to take a class and do something very similar to this! “How to become more intuitive in your work!” Scrooge had a description for this!
But, seriously, how many “intuitive” artists are working exactly in this way? There are some problems in talking about intuition in art; it’s not one straightforward thing. Some people who think they are literally not making any judgments about how they place shapes on a wall (or whatever) are actually operating “by habit”, following old patterns without really being aware that they are doing so. Their old patterns might be very good ones, based on a strong art education and years of experience. Or they might be quite bad ones based on doing what they have always done without ever assessing the value of it or thinking about any way things could be improved. For example a self taught tennis player who consistently doesn’t use her body in the most powerful way, or a golfer who has never been shown the most effective hand position on the club. Or the person who plays the piano “by ear”: they pick out a melody with one hand and then chomp away at some basic chords with the other. After they’ve played a few pieces, you realize that they all sound the same, because they don’t really know what they’re doing except trying to follow that right hand melody.
Going back to our art quilter standing in front of the design wall: Just because you might not be consciously thinking “okay I’ve got to place this piece of red fabric 3 inches to the right because I placed the last piece 2 inches from another piece and I want my distances between pieces to vary….” does not mean you are operating without conscious thought.
True intuition is based on years of experience. Experience both in what works and what doesn’t: where you have learned many times to select/avoid a certain solution or device because it always/rarely works well. Experience can lead you to a good basic design more quickly than if you reinvent everything right from the start. Intuition is not instinctively avoiding – say – dividing your composition exactly into two because your survival depends upon it. That kind of instinct just doesn’t exist.
Real intuition ALWAYS depends upon experience, knowledge and sensitivity. The detective who has a “hunch” about the killer has unconsciously noticed that person’s awkward behaviour, or spotted some inappropriate element in a scene but hasn’t yet thought about it why the scene looks “odd”. A person who had never tried to assess the body language of a criminal, or the elements of a scene of crime who never be able to intuitively or otherwise find the murderer.
Good, workable, intuition is based on Something. That something is, I submit, a mixture of knowledge and experience. Not guesswork, and not blindly trying to copy something (like the person playing piano “by ear”).
One studies and practices art so that then one can let the more formal elements be dealt with at a less conscious level knowing they will be right. I descry those folk who claim to work intuitively when really what they mean is they don't think about it at all and havn't got any deep down automatic knowledge and end up making a dog's dinner!!!
I don't think you can skip the education step...you've gotta get it, and then get it automatic. It's like learning a piece of music, you've got to learn it SO well that when you play it you don't think about the notes and the timing but only about the feeling.
There’s no way you can go straight to expressing the feeling no matter how sensitive you are.
I also think that any experienced artist would say that while parts of the process of art making have now become more intuitive for them…the whole process (if the art is to be any good) is rarely, if ever, that smooth and unconscious and effortless; it's blood sweat and tears with nearly every piece..occasionally intuition and luck work ...but often they don't. I used to think "when I'm a real artist, everything will go so well, there'll be no doubt, no multiple attempts, everything will work perfectly the first time....." ha!!! just talk to a few artists, or read their autobiographies, and the Truth is revealed!! No longer can we go off and sign a urinal!!
And neither could have Magritte – without the art education and experience that he had.
I submit there is no way to make good art without getting your metaphorical hands dirty – i.e. exercising the little grey cells.
you might do this in different ways:
planning it out before hand
planning some out before hand and then adjusting as the terrain unfolds
trial and error
etc...but that is for another blog!!
but all involve the brain! conscious thought...
which, I feel, is a Good thing!
otherwise, let us give all our cats paint brushes and sewing machines!!
If you have been, thanks for reading!!! Elizabeth
PS There’s oodles of room below for your comments!