Whether conducting a diagnostic interview or attempting to understand an existential experience, success depends on asking the right questions. In a similar manner, speculation about the motivation of the abstract artist or what they were attempting to achieve are the wrong questions and will not reveal why the painting speaks to you. In part, why the painting touches your heart and soul begins with understanding the painting process.
The emotional appeal of the abstract, expressionistic, or process painting stems from the manner in which it mirrors life itself. The artist begins absent a destiny. A single color, line, drip, becomes the starting point. The artist allows their “inner eye” to scan/process the canvas and add another color, perhaps a dot or a line. Additions to the canvas guide what comes next. The painting develops a life of it’s own, evolving without a predetermined design. It is about feeling. The process creates a musical composition. There are no mistakes, like unpredictable events in life, things enter the painting that shapes its course. The artist struggles with the painting, while having faith in the process.
Like life, the goal—an existential one, is to achieve a spiritual harmony, to have the painting “work”. The artist’s suffering and struggle are an integral part of what contributes to their paintings. Stored internally, these accumulated experiences are utilized by the painter. The artist’s personal history, including their ability to connect to the collective unconscious become one’s “nature” from which the painting grows. These processes are externalized on the canvas.
The relationship between the artist and their canvas is one of give and take. It is fluid. It requires the artist to be open to energy and a consciousness beyond themselves. Evolving from the artist’s “nature” a feeling of harmony resides in the finished painting. For the painting that speaks to you, the relevant question is how does the painting make you feel? And, perhaps, why does it move me? Avoid speculating about the artist, instead, meditate on your own reaction and see what surfaces.
When you view the painting, understand that the painter did the work. Certainly their unconscious, perhaps manifest in dreams, is at work. You are experiencing the end result of the artist’s process. With each painting the painter revisits the process experiencing a sense of heaven—a spiritual connection. In creating the harmony, the artist experiences where their soul rests between lives. Where they spiritually belong.
So when a painting speaks to you consider that you have allowed yourself, through the artist’s work, to be connected to something greater. The artist has allowed you a glimpse of their soul. You get a glimpse of a process that, in some form, is a potential in each of us. It aids one in momentarily connecting with the heaven within and beyond. It fosters hope as we are reminded that there is something beyond the suffering and conflict of this material world. You “borrow” the spiritual process the artist went through. Hence, it speaks to you and offers hope and a similar sense of integration.
What price can you put on the painting if it speaks to you? Carrying the painting into your home, you can use it for a daily boost or you can develop a deeper understanding and use the painting as a stimulus to begin or further your own spiritual journey. Consider that you are buying a glimpse at heaven and a part of the artist’s soul. Cherish both.
Christine, by Jonas Gerard, was one such painting for me. Softer and with more depth than a Picasso it’s fauvist touches formed a connection to my own emotional life and vulnerabilities. It speaks to my soul and reminds me of, despite my own suffering, that there is meaning in life. There is purpose, hope and beauty. It reminds me of the part of me that has worked in this life, and perhaps previous ones, to guide and help others. It reinforces my nightly prayers that each day I am a vehicle to help others in their journey towards enlightenment. That I can be a good father to my son. Basically, the good part of me.
Carl B. Gacono, Ph.D., ABAP