Observation x Repetition = Intuition

In my late 20’s I worked as a product photographer, shooting doodads for catalogs with medium format cameras. It was heaven. Across the hall from our photography studio was an art studio. It had a cryptic phrase on the door, What we do is secret. I liked that. It appealed to me. I did a lot of secret stuff. Maybe this was my club. Over time I got to know the artist and started taking a painting class there. Scratch the sentence above, this was the real heaven.

There are two things I remember from the class and they’re related. You must look at your work. Closely and often. The teacher had us tape the work to the walls, step back and really stare at it. Over and over. Many times throughout the process of making it. The second was to evaluate the composition. Was it balanced? Did it feel good. You would only know that by doing the first thing, looking at it.

It takes patience, focus and concentration to really look at something. Imagine you had to write an essay on the thing you were looking at. Could you? Can you retain the color palette when you look away, can you describe what is happening in the upper left corner? It’s hard enough to focus on something good, what about looking at something in development, something that is clearly not good. It takes patience, perseverance and something special to identify what is not working and figure out how to fix it. That special thing is what art is all about and it takes a lot of practice.

I quit my photography job and rented a space in the art studio. It was a pleasing and scary surprise to go from employed and stressed to the max, to unemployed and making art every day. From a warm industrial loft to a cold industrial loft, from charming clients with chitchat to listening to Bjork’s Vespertine on repeat. As a very frugal person, this turn of events felt like a fairy tale. My husband (whom I have to thank for financing this interlude) and I joined the San Francisco Modern Art Museum. I went there often and stared at art. Sometimes I would look at a single painting for 15 minutes. I was making the composition conscious in my mind, I was guessing how the artist made the work, what mark came first, what came last. I got really good at looking deeply at art. It was a wonderful time. I think about it as the best time.

I honed my sense of observation like a runner increases endurance. I was regularly doing marathon observations. One thing that happens while observing is ideas bubble up. Let’s say the act of observing is turning the stove on high and ideas are the air pockets surfacing in the boiling water. As you become conscious of what you are looking at, you become conscious of possibilities, of things you can try in your own art.

The next step is to act on one of these ideas, any idea. See what happens and repeat. Repeat the ones that are most interesting and the ones you naturally feel like repeating. No point trying to make yourself do something you aren’t interested in because nothing will come of it. But where there is interest there is the will to experiment. If you keep looking, you will keep having ideas and if you keep acting on those ideas and looking at the outcome you will generate more ideas and more action. This is repetition. It’s a big fruitful circle. Intuition is the final fruit. The noticing, the idea and the desire to take action merge. It’s the whole process in a single flash of insight.

As I mentioned in my post of December 12th, What Value Matters Most, Shoutout LA interviewed me about observation. You can read my response here and see a portrait of me with the doggies! That interview sparked me to sort out my thoughts on the topic of intuition, observation and repetition and this essay today was my attempt to speak about it with more nuance. I cut multiple paragraphs about intuition while editing this to keep it focused on the equation set in the title. But as I still have more to say about these ideas, I’m going to use that material in another post and try and define what exactly intuition is. Are you on the edge of your seat?!

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