Sometimes you find an answer to a difficult question by turning it around. Like in the studio, turning the canvas around during the painting process (particularly when I feel stuck) allows me to see the work in a new way. I pick up on things that I couldn’t see before and build on those, discovering something new.
When I’m painting, I’m forced to explore things that move into and out of my awareness. One of the things I struggle with, that most artists struggle with, while painting is letting go of what I think a painting is supposed to be. To help, we try to tap into some type of knowledge outside of conscious awareness, simply put, improvising as a way to get to some new and interesting answers.
When I’m not painting, I’m thinking about my paintings because they have become answers to questions I don’t know how to ask. When a painiting is completed, I then have to explore what question(s) it is trying to answer. In addition to the more formal questions and the structures of feeling, some questions seem to revolve around how do we know what we know, how do we access our various kinds of knowledge, where does it come from, what is connecting it all together.
And, of course, I get into thinking about the “hard problem of consciousness” which simply asks what is consciousness and where does it come from. Scientists and philosophers have been asking this question for centuries. We’ve been looking for consciousness in matter as some sort of emergent property when a bunch of cells come together in just the right way. In fact, science has always only been concerned with what matter does, not what it is. Since Galileo, science has put any qualitative data into the consciousness bucket which it then ignored while only focusing on quantitative data which makes up just a small portion of our reality. We’ve been beating on this idea for so long and we’re no closer to understanding where and how consciousness is formed. We’re stuck. But what if we’ve been looking at it wrong this entire time. What if we turn the question around to see it in a new way. Instead of consciousness emerging from matter, what if matter emerges from consciousness.
For me, when I write this I can hear echoes of “woo-woo” mysticism creeping in. I’m not religious (although I find religions very interesting) nor really spiritual. I guess I would say I’m more science-minded (a limiting perspective for sure) while also recognizing there’s something bigger tying it all together. That’s in apart why I paint improvisationally because it gets me out of my head and into something else, something deeper. There’s something interesting in this idea that consciousness could be some massive quantum field that expresses itself in different ways and at different levels. Sometimes very simply, like an atom or bacterium, sometimes more complex like the human mind. I don’t think of it as an omnipotent, omniscient being pulling the strings of the universe (pun intended) for our benefit. But I do think consciousness could be some sort of baseline, fundamental aspect of the universe, something that we share with each other and this world we are privileged to co-inhabit.