Giorgione, The Tempest, c. 1508, Oil on canvas, 83 cm × 73 cm (33 in × 29 in), Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice
The artist's mind surrendered to the flow of creative inspiration can be as turbulent and foreboding as Giorgione's Tempest. This does not, however, necessitate a chaotic outcome. Just as nature utilizes storms to collect disparate energies and ecologically regenerate, so also the artist synthesizes the complexities of human experience in the encounter with wholeness known as Art.
"Where does creativity come from?" is perhaps the most pertinent question facing artists and neuroscientists alike. One of the chief creative aims of my artistic endeavors has been to create intimate encounters with the processes by which inspiration is tapped and methodically mined. We know, for example, that when the mind enters into a theta brainwave state, it generates lucid experiences of interior optics that are commonly associated with a graphic dream state.
This past summer, I tested the artistic application of this particular phenomenon in a live performance titled Luminous Objects. There is an effulgence that can be observed only when the eyes are closed and the mind is intently focused; in this performance, I sought to collect and share it.
For the performance, I utilized prolonged theta-state meditation in order to empirically study the aesthetics of this interior optical realm. Every day for two weeks, I meditated in a storefront gallery for up to 8 hours inhabiting a watchful stillness. Throughout the performance, I harvested the extraordinary, bizarre visions my mind generated in this exceptional state and shared them with my audience in real-time in the form of calligraphic drawings.
Within the vast sanctum of inner silence, I found myself in the midst of a prolific flow of luminous visions. I felt as if I were drinking from an inexhaustible fountain of creative inspiration. Early on in the performance, I encountered apparitions of typical Freudian dream symbols, such as gargantuan spiders and dancing phalluses, which anyone might expect from the unleashed unconscious. But these quickly gave way to dazzling visions of dynamic inner storm systems populated by cataclysms of radiance, gyrating rudimentary fibers of electricity, prowling clouds of short-lived photons, cascading firebolts, and embryonic stars.
A central challenge of the process involved translating optical experiences on the outskirts of language into words. Eventually, though, the storm clouds parted and left behind phrases, such as "Obsidian light that is harnessed from an unseen perimeter culminating in a blue pupil" and "The embryo of the Universe was curled up as a child." By the time the performance had concluded, I had received, recorded, and shared 220 individual visions which described an (oddly extraterrestrial) aesthetics of interior space. I couldn't help but recall Carl Jung's observation from Memories, Dreams and Reflections: "Our psyche is set up in accordance with the structure of the universe, and what happens in the macrocosm likewise happens in the infinitesimal and most subjective reaches of the psyche."(1)
At its close, this turbulent flood of insights left me simultaneously elated and devastated, which isn't surprising given the paradoxical nature of storms, in general...
Life is surrounded and sustained by flows. In the field of fluid dynamics, a "turbulent flow" refers to a fluid flow which undergoes irregular fluctuations. Flows in general are naturally turbulent phenomena, whether we are considering large-scale flows like the weather (as observed in Leonardo da Vinci's multiple drawings of storm systems) or smaller flows such air rushing into lungs, rippled streams of smoke arising from a cigarette, or the roiled and sinuous swirling of blood through the four chambers of a human heart.
To this day, the turbulent motion of fluids remains perhaps the greatest mystery to science. For something that permeates our experience, little of a quantitative nature is known about turbulent flow behavior, and even modern supercomputers provide only fleeting glimpses into it. Turbulence is an important process in most flows and significantly contributes to the transference of heat, mass, and momentum -- all elements which comprise the phenomenon which in art is referred to as "form." Turbulent flows organize into motion patterns of zigzagging, swirling fluid; scientists call these "coherent structures," which we observe as eddies, also known as impulsive vortex formations, in a variety of sizes -- in kitchen sink drains, hurricanes, Jupiter's Great Red Spot, and the Pinwheel Galaxy alike. The history of art is pregnant with keen observations of these structures, from the drawings of da Vinci and Ernst Haeckel to Martin Kemp's extensive scholarship on "structural intuitions."
Da Vinci is credited with the earliest observations of a vortical flow, noting, "So moving water strives to maintain the course pursuant of the power which occasions it and, if it finds an obstacle in its path, completes the span of the course it has commenced by a circular and revolving movement."(2) He was intent on learning how to regulate the flow of water and is said to have been haunted by the prospect of an aqueous apocalypse due to the severe flooding of the Arno River during his lifetime. His obsession with flow visualization of cardiac and vascular systems gave birth to detailed drawings of machines which controlled the flow of water.
Perhaps, though, da Vinci was thinking about more than merely regulating the flow of water in his detailed flow observations. His sketches of turbulent flows contain potent metaphors for regulating the flow of consciousness. Alongside rivers and heart ventricles, the artist is a channel of flows. If we are to adopt the ancient idea that water and consciousness are mirror images of one another, what might the equivalent of structuring the movement consciousness look like? How might the artist, as an open channel, regulate the flow of this medium? Although the flow of creativity remains as great a mystery as the flow of fluids, one thing is clear: the artist's most valuable resource is inspiration. If there were to be just one distinction between professional and amateur creatives, it is a mastery over the flow of this precious resource.
As with the motionless, blue center of a tornado's vortex or the intangible pole of a planet's pirouette, the artist choreographs the flow of consciousness into a swirl around a unseen point, her axis. She regulates flows driven by rotation, and in doing so, creates a vortex structure of the consciousness, which is inspiration. Artists continually seek to find and maintain their axes for the very reason that this still, central point enables the flow of consciousness to galvanize into inspiration. The whirling dervish embodies this dynamic.
The artist -- an embodied, holistic channel -- bears careful witness to the currents of consciousness and lends coherent structure to it through a variety of devotional practices; elements of meditation, silence, prayer, solitude, and fasting are some of the most obvious devotional practices embedded throughout the history of art making, from ancient times right up to the present.
The great Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Richard Feynman, called turbulence "the most important unsolved problem of classical physics." This problem is equally relevant to Art. The creative artist inhabits the eye of this storm in order to see. Although she opens her eyes to collect light from the past, she also closes them to collect light from the future. She resides at an axis around which the most severe conditions accumulate and dance.
The artist, then, is called to be a master of synthesis -- a high call indeed. The turbulence that characterizes and, at times, problematizes the creative life is also essential for the development of the systems which purify, heal, and give birth to Art. No storm or trial is without purpose. On the contrary, the very presence of a storm system signifies the manifestation of a creative act. It is around a still, devotional point where creativity (the archetypal cohesive structure) is articulated. And paradoxically, it is in the eye of the storm -- that place where a flow's velocity is greatest next to an unseen axis -- where new lives and lifeforms are forged. Like the nude mother in Giorgione's masterpiece who calmly nurses her child despite the encompassing fury, artists hold a vulnerable space of nourishing delicate new life in the face of great tumult. Integration enters the world through the process by which artists courageously become the points in time and space around which nomadic flows gather and take form.
The new book, Lia Chavez: A Thousand Rainbows, is released by a Damiani this fall. Find it on ARTBOOK.COM.