"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.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sunday in the Studio

Funny how it goes in the studio. This week was Week 8 of my Daily Practice Series. Although I have always been good at getting to the studio for regular work time (since it’s so much cheaper than therapy) this series requires my attendance as part of the design of the whole project. It’s based on the premise that I will go to the studio, day in and day out, if only for a short time. Inspired by the talented musicians I know, many of whom still practice scales every single day, my visual etudes are in part about what I can discover if I renew my commitment to being present. Whether I feel like it or not.

I may have written previously, that I have also challenged myself to think of filling linear space. The gallery consists of three rooms. The total running space, as close as I can figure, is approximately 290 feet, allowing for doors and the various odd air vents, security devices and thermostat panels. In an effort to work within limits, my pieces are long, rectangular works – meant to mimic the style and presentation of scrolls - musical exercises, perhaps, or penmanship samples. So I am working not only from the inspiration of refinement – selecting each element to be included or discarded even more carefully than in the past, but also from the new angle of practical logistics. Can I produce enough panels to fill 290’ of running wall space? It’s a gamble.

But I have the Gambler archetype so it’s within my comfort zone. Especially with my Judge holding court – monitoring rigorously whether my work is up to snuff on any particular day, or not.

Darn frustrating today, though. I dyed gorgeous pearl gray silk backgrounds this week, but spent most of the time spinning my mental wheels. Too much going on, between Family and Great Big Life in general. I couldn’t focus. Nothing I did felt right. My Judge was operating full throttle. And not being very nice.

For example, yesterday it seemed like a good idea to cut out stenciled letters so I could print “and the greatest of these is Love” really big as a background on one piece. Even while I was cutting out the letters I knew it was hokey, but I couldn’t stop myself. Do you know that feeling - when you might as well be driving 90 miles an hour toward a cliff? The accelerator is stuck and Fate is driving?

Sure enough. Sprayed the paint. Tried to keep it soft like the image in my mind. Oh boy. Peeled off the mask. Totally wrong. Immediate response? Cover the whole thing up by gluing rice paper over the entire surface, obscuring the lettering. Punch the time clock in my brain and hope to have a better day tomorrow.

Tomorrow arrived. Today. Energized by the cool morning and the promise of recovery, the studio beckoned. As I worked to devore’ the paper surface - allowing just a bit of the wording to appear - I felt a surge of hope. And then I thought of Zenna’s heart screen. Drawn when she was three years old, I have kept that screen for twenty years. Partly for sentimental value but partly because she’s got a good eye and a free spirit and it shows anytime she picks up a pencil.

I resisted the idea of printing her heart on the reclaimed background. I’ve been so determined to keep this series mainly abstract. Going for reverence and connection without being figurative. Wasn’t using an image that had been in my repertoire for twenty years a sell out? Couldn’t I come up with something new?

I began to write in my journal and this is what flowed from the pen:

“ Maybe this week making is leading me to a more literal, heartfelt response to the world around me. Perhaps wanting to stick with abstraction is a defense mechanism I’ve been using to keep my heart from breaking. I’ve wanted to abandon the figurative imagery I’ve used over the years but now I see it emerging from the past and inserting itself into these pieces in new forms. This Etude series has abstracted, textural backgrounds, and a use of new materials, but the birds on a line, Zenna’s heart, and various other images have wound their way through the series connecting me inextricably to previous work in a way that is comfortingly grounding.”

“Will a viewer know whether an image is old or new? Will a colleague, smarter or more intellectual than I am, dismiss my work because it is too figurative/decorative or not up his or her alley? That’s my fear; but not necessarily reality.”

“ In the meantime, I can’t choose to use or not use an image that still exists as a tool in my repertoire. I can only pay attention when the rightness of using an older image asserts itself. And then I can choose to listen. Printing tenderly or fearlessly. I must trust that my making will also be my healing.

That’s the value of developing your visual voice. It is a unique and personal language. With it comes the profound ability to express anger, tenderness, indignation and beauty – all in forms that will touch your viewer as surely as you were yourself, changed by the making.


  1. Indeed, making is healing. Making changes us. You recognized the rightfulness of the heart, you knew it. A web, a network of caring is the safety net that holds us; you hold your sister, your family. They, in turn, hold you. We hope to help with that holding. Seek rightness, heal, know comfort.

  2. Oh, Jane, there is so much here,,,Going in every day, the commitment, the exploration, the judgment, the working & reworking of the truth of ours hearts...
    Thank you for sharing this.
    And I know that your heart will keep coming back to you/having you coming back to her. And whatever arises from those meetings will be beautiful.

  3. The "new" physics (as opposed to classic Newtonian) says in very simple terms)that the act of observation changes that which we are observing because of the energy connection between the two. Very old spiritual practices support this idea. I think anyone actively and continually involved in the creative process understands and experiences this if only intuitively. Is this process at the base of artistic growth and development? We create, we observe both object and process, we change as a result, the way we see the object changes and, in some way, the object changes by direct alteration or just in "spirit".

    Using pieces of the past is still using the new because the piece is not the same as it was in the past. It has been changed by the act of use and observation. I also think that becoming aware of this process to some degree is what drives creation and the overwhelming need to create. BTW - they also say that the connective energy has intelligence of its own. Hmmm...

  4. I Love these comments and the thrust of continued thinking they inspire.
    Thank you, thank you for this forwarding of the thought thread.

  5. Allow yourself to try it all...tell the Judge her time will come - later!

  6. PS I'm not really headless,only advocating occasional heedlessness! weird that Google does that to the little image, should I be worried? headless in GA!

  7. What is abstraction, anyway? For me, what looks to many as abstract in my own work is truly a gesture of energy and music, an interpretation of glimpses of a figurative world. Even those who make purely representational work imbue their subjects with emotional color, unless they are only depicting the outer skin of the thing, in which their subjects look sadly lifeless. Think Phillip Pearlstein, for that example. To me, the MOST intriguing work involves the balance of seemingly abstract, and the symbolic and recognizable.