As I've been elaborating on the evolution of art theory over the past few weeks, many of you have raised the idea that intuition is important, too. Admittedly, I haven't given that much consideration, until today! So, I need to understand what it is and here's what I found:
According to the Miriam-Webster Dictionary, the word derives from the Latin intuitio, which is the act of contemplating. The definitions are: 1 : quick and ready insight, and 2 a : immediate apprehension or cognition b : knowledge or conviction gained by intuition c : the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.
To better understand how this word is used, I turned to Nodding and Shore, Awakening the Inner Eye: Intuition in Education (1984). If we look at the history of how the meaning developed, we'd begin with Plato who thought that intiution is not rational, but is a reliable source of knowledge because it IS reality. Aristotle extended the definition of intuition by making it an intellectual process that is based on reasoning, but requires a leap of understanding in order to grasp a larger concept that can't be reached by logical reasoning alone.
Buddha found inner truth, wisdom, and liberation in intuitive thinking rather than reason. Ch'an (China) and Zen (Japan) place emphasis on this use of intuition.
In the Hindu religion, meditation and disciplined control of the mind produce intuition about universal cosmic issues. As they put it, one aim of Yoga is the systematic development of intuition, so it's considered a stable, reliable function of higher levels of consciousness from which they can access information.
Carol Jung felt that information is received in two ways: externally through the senses and internally through intuition. The latter is perceived through memory and association and is the source of hunches, ideas, and insight into the "bigger picture."
According to Frances E. Vaughan, human intuition falls into four distinct levels of awareness which often overlap: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. On the physical level, it acts as the "flight or fight" instinct. On the emotional level, our intuition manifests itself as feelings about something or someone. On the mental level, intuition is linked with problem-solving that begins with the application of logic and reasoning followed by an intuitive "flash." Discovery and invention often result. Educated guesses also fall into this category, as well "leaps" from the rational to a conclusion. Frequently, incubation of information in the mind for a time allows it to turn chaos into order for understanding. And, finally, at the spiritual level, intuition is mystical and independent from sensations, feelings, and thoughts.
How many, if not all, of these categories do we apply to making art? And, in what proportion? I suspect the answer is different for each artist. But, I also think it's true that as we learn to create art we learn a set of skills and theories or relationships that we begin to apply to our work, even if it doesn't seem like a conscious act. If I apply mental intuition to my art, I am relying on my education , what I've learned and what I know, in this way. So, is there ever a time when we don't use intuition in painting?
Here's a good example of someone that was probably 100% intuitive in her work: Sonabai. I first learned of this woman when I attended a lecture by Stephen P. Huyler and purchased his book (photo below). Sonabai was a poor wife and mother who was confined to her home in remote rural India by her husband without the ability to recieve guests for nearly 15 years. She was a teenager when she married him. No one knows why he imprisoned her, and she had a son who was in her care. Over time and in complete isolation, Sonabai developed an entirely new form of art, just from her imagination. She had no training and no way to become informed about art. She used straw, cow dung, and mud from their farm to consruct elaborate scenes on the walls of their home, which had no electricity. She ground the pigments from seeds and other things that her husband brought home from the market.
Here are some examples of her work:
Eventually, Sonabai's husband removed the restrictions and her work was "discovered." It was so unique and unlike any preexisting art, that she was awarded the highest honor paid to any citizen in India by its President, and her work has been acquired by museums. Sadly, she is now dead, but the influence of her work spread to her son and his wife and the surrounding region where it's elevated the economic situation of the poor rural population. This small, uneducated woman created a new art form. Was it pure intuition? What else could it have been.
I opened this door in order to begin a new discussion. What do you think?