"Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings when the dawn is still dark. 
In effect, the people who change our lives the most begin to 
sing to us while we are still in darkness. If we listen to 
their song, we will see the dawning of a new part of ourselves."

Rabindranth Tagore

Existential Intelligence is the sensitivity and capacity to engage questions about human existence – how we got here, whether we have a purpose, and whether there is meaning in Life. Existential intelligence embraces the exploration of aesthetics, philosophy, religion and values like beauty, truth, and goodness. A strong existential intelligence allows human beings to see their place in the big picture, be it in the classroom, community, world, or universe.

First proposed by Howard Gardner, existential intelligence is one of nine theorized intelligences and is considered to be amoral – that is, it and the other eight categories of human intelligence can be used either constructively or destructively.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Desire: Round Two

A few days ago I wrote about desire. How to tap desire in order to ignite or re-ignite the creative spark. One way to tap desire is to investigate the meaning of your work - or your process. The why of working. I think once an artist contemplates and refines the meaning attached to the making it is easier to transition from producing technique driven work to creating work with personal significance. That’s the question: Does tapping into meaning also tap into desire? And can meaning and desire comingle to assist artists in finding a visual voice?

I find it helpful to talk about what matters to people when I address this subject in my workshops. In any group there are those who feel others’ ideas are “better” or matter “more” than our own. The first hurdle we face as artists is to recognize that each of us cares about very personal, different topics, and we are all on a continuum – with some people having more experience than others when it comes to thinking about meaning. I use the example of a student who wants to build a series around flower imagery. She may at first feel this is trite compared to someone who is developing imagery on implements taken from women as they went into Holocaust camps (I have had both these themes in one workshop setting), but if she digs a bit deeper, the first artist will discover that her flowers are a personal expression of awe at the limitless beauty of the natural world. That’s a big, worthy theme, too. So the message worth conveying is that no matter where we start, that’s where we start, and it’s a good place as long as we feel connected to it. If we stick with it, we’ll learn how to work easily with harder imagery, and our range will expand.

Another observation I’d like to share is that frequently we are working with topics – writing or art making – by default. That is, someone else assigned a topic, or we are working with certain art making tools because they are there, not because of an intentional choice. Writing or making in default mode only carries us so far, because sooner or later we realize the whole thing is flat. Our hearts aren’t in it. In the workshop I just referenced, I encourage people to set aside tools or ideas that aren’t resonating in favor of creating new tools, or rethinking topics for writing. One of the biggest resistances to starting all over is the investment participants have in what they’ve already done. This is a longer topic than I can address completely here, but basically once participants are willing to set aside old tools and ideas, they can begin to explore WHY they are making. WHO do they want to please? WHAT is driving the work they do? If we work ONLY because of a need or hope for outside recognition, we have to face that reality and examine it. If we are letting materials or writing become too precious, then we need to remember a line from one of Don Henley’s great songs – “You never saw a hearse with a luggage rack.”

The primary goal of these discussions is to encourage a new appreciation for process, as opposed to product. It isn’t that product isn’t valuable or worth it – everyone deserves to do work that is appreciated and capable of generating income. But tapping internal strength – passion for a topic and the fortitude to pursue it – is more likely to keep someone working, knowing that there will be inevitable rejections, minor or major waves of insecurity, and stretches of tedious, but necessary practice. What is your passion? What do you desire?


  1. Desire. I love Desire! That eagerness, longing, aching that something is struggling inside to be expressed. Along the way the tools must become refined, but they can be refined developing real ideas intentionally. Your phrase 'work with personal significance' is vital. Although I am not able to articulate what I'm expressing, I can recognize that I've done it. I'm working on seven cabbages right now and I'm enjoying it and loving the unfolding. I'm really alive and involved in that process. And process it is. When I taught first grade, I was thrilled watching my students' art projects because they were totally process. Many times they ended badly, totally overworked in great joy; sometimes for Mother's Day, for example, I'd stop them at a propitious stage to create a pleasing gift, but their joy and immersion was palpable. When I've completed the binding and label and sleeve on a quilt, I'm ready to begin again--another process, work with personal significance. Yes!

  2. What a beautiful essay. Reading it was like a meditation. I'm going to save it to read often.