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The Art Lesson

The Art Lesson

We and our students make art in our BootCamps, and what evolved from that work over time is that I would give what I called an art lesson. In order to do that, a certain teaching was required, not really about art but about the structure of identity and the structure of the unconscious.  I was encouraging people to just splash paint on canvas directly from their unconscious, and I wanted to explain why that was a meaningful activity; how we could get to know them better; how we could see things about them; how they could see things about themselves; how they could resolve things, even, by doing that simple act. But to gain the maximal benefit it required that the students pretend that there was a certain architecture to human life that they may not have considered before.

Jim : We have this idea of pretending: that pretending can be a very good way to avoid debating and resisting, that pretense can be very productive. I have managed to avoid a lot of resistance when trying to teach something or explain an idea by encouraging pretense, and I want to encourage some more pretense here in this, the third of our Pretend Series, and I started doing this pretense encouragement at our BootCamps as I tired of debating and arguing and insisting, etc.

We and our students make art in our BootCamps, and what evolved from that work over time is that I would give what I called an art lesson. In order to do that, a certain teaching was required, not really about art but about the structure of identity and the structure of the unconscious.  I was encouraging people to just splash paint on canvas directly from their unconscious, and I wanted to explain why that was a meaningful activity; how we could get to know them better; how we could see things about them; how they could see things about themselves; how they could resolve things, even, by doing that simple act. But to gain the maximal benefit it required that the students pretend that there was a certain architecture to human life that they may not have considered before.       The first few times I gave this art lesson, I tried to give a lecture on these matters, and I’m not really an expert in art nor do I have any special credentials in human – what would you call it?  Human nature, I guess.  I am gradually getting to be an expert in human nature, I suppose, if only because I have one –

Michele : Yes, you are.  I don’t think that was the problem.  I think people don’t come to BootCamp expecting an art lesson. This is what the issue was.

Jim :  Well, perhaps, but –

Michele : They’re expecting a lesson on project schedules or something like that, and so the resistance arises.  A wall goes up. “What does this have to do with me?”  You know, “I’m not an artist.  I’m a professional” or “I’m an engineer.”

Jim : So we have to get them to suspend their disbelief in the value and likelihood of them being an artist, to suspend their disbelief in the value of art as it relates to them.

Michele : Many of them probably, like me, come from families where if you’re an artist you’re considered a failure in your family…

Jim : Was that the overriding aesthetic in your family?

Michele : Yes.  I mean –       J

im : Because your mom is quite a good artist, and she won’t – or she doesn’t practice it.

Michele :  She was a “housewife,” right.  She wasn’t considered to have a successful career.

Jim : She’s a wonderful draftsperson, actually.  She has the actual ability to draw.

Michele : She’s a great artist, potentially –

Jim : And she has a good sense of color.

Michele : – but she wasn’t considered to have a career.  It was considered that art was what you would do as a hobby or for fun.  Like it’s not – it’s somehow considered less important than real work.

Jim : Well, anyway, when we conduct a BootCamp course, we’ll get, you know, sometimes 50, sometimes 100, sometimes 20, and not a one of them, usually, well, maybe one of them out of 20, five percent, -no more – will identify with the process of painting.  And so, anyway, I give this art lesson, and I say, “Well, you know, a lot can be revealed,” and so on.  I would start talking about human nature and how it comes out through art and so on, and I wouldn’t get very far, because understanding the fundamentals of what is happening requires a substantial shift in perspective, and so finally I gave up on the lecturing part and just said, “Okay, I’m going to tell you something now, and if you want me to tell you, if you’re going to listen further, you have to be willing right now to pretend that what I’m saying is true –

Michele : Uh-huh.

Jim : – because I’m not gonna be able to prove it to you.”  And it’s the same thing with this podcast.  I want you to pretend that what I’m going to tell you here is true.  So that’s our agreement before proceeding.     But first, as a sidebar, because it would be uncharacteristic of us to get directly to the meat –

Michele : [Laughter]

Jim : – and we must of course fulfill expectations, because you cannot exceed expectations without first fulfilling them, and we always want to exceed expectations…

Michele : [Laughter]

Jim : Well, you do have to fulfill them first, so – as a sidebar – I would like to say you can have different expectations, but you will somehow have to change the original expectations and then exceed those.      Anyway, but here’s the real sidebar I had in mind, something to always pretend that might be generally useful.  Pretend that what is true is what is useful.

Michele : In other words, you can tell what’s true by what’s useful.

Jim :  Yes.

Michele : Like if it works better, then it’s probably true.

Jim : Right.  Exactly.  The truth is that which is most fruitful to believe.

Michele : So, if believing you’re an artist or you have a great artist inside of you, if you pretend that, and then your life goes better, then it’s probably true.

Jim :  Well, yeah.  A while ago we were talking about pretending wild and vast diversity was the natural order of things.

Michele : Right.  If you try that pretense-

Jim : If you try it out, and it works, then let’s just say-

Michele : It’s very true.

Jim : You can then drop the pretense and say, “This is true.”

Michele : Yeah.

Jim : Because the truth is that which is most useful.

Michele : I think that’s a good rule of thumb.

Jim : And that is why truth changes, or evolves, over time.

Michele : Right, because you find an even better idea about what’s true.

Jim : So it’s in that spirit that I want you readers or listeners to pretend that what I’m going to tell you now is true.  This is my art lesson,  basically, which barely talks about art, because it simply orients you to your own nature, at least the one we’ve agreed to pretend is a true one.  So pretend that your nature is like this:  You know that you have five senses.  Accept that you have five senses, a sense of smell, sense of touch, hearing, whatever.

Michele : They added a new taste sense, by the way.  It’s called umami.       J

Jim : What?

Michele : A new sense called umami.

Jim : That’s a new taste. Not a new sense.

Michele : I know.  I was just being funny.

Jim : Yeah, it’s called your mommy.

Michele : [Laughter]

Jim : You mommy.  Yo mama.

Michele : Sight, hearing, touch, smell. ..     Jim :  ….and yo mama.

Michele : Taste, and yo mama.

Jim : Taste, and in taste there is saltiness, bitterness, sweetness –

Michele : Sour and yo mama.  [Laughter]

Jim : [Laughter] Well, that conjures up images your mind may not want to explore.  Anyway, there is another sense, pretend, a sixth one. What I want you to pretend is that the sense of self, the part of you that calls yourself “I,” “me,” “myself,” I want you to pretend that that’s just another sense, that it’s no bigger nor more meaningful a construct than the sense of smell.  It’s just a trick of your basic being that, among other things, it needs sight, it needs smell, it needs touch, and taste and it needs to believe that there’s an “I” that’s in charge, that there’s a “me,” right.  You with me?

Michele : Yes.

Jim : That there’s that whole thing you think of as you, but it’s just a sense.  It’s the sense of self.

Michele : Yes.

Jim : And it’s a very, very small thread of your identity, of your overall being.

Michele : And it’s very wrapped up in yo mama, as a matter of fact!

Jim :  In yo mama, indeed.

Michele : That’s where it comes from.

Jim :  This sense, well, it’s very – it’s very faulty.

Michele : Yep.

Jim :  And it’s extremely small and unable to manage all of your being.  That’s not its function.  It’s not its function to manage your whole being.  Its function includes getting you a girlfriend or getting you to procreate.  It’s to get you some food when you’re hungry.  It’s to get you friends when you’re lonely.  It has certain essential control aspects, but it does not control all, or even much.  It can control certain things, but I want you to pretend that it’s really a very small part of the being you are.  In fact, even your nervous system, most of it is autonomic, right?

Michele :  Yes.

Jim : Like you’re not even – you’re not conscious of it. So this part of you that thinks of you as you and thinks of things as mine and thinks of me as me, it’s a very, very small part.  Pretend. And so when you go to make art (I tell my students while they’re pretending with me) that, you know, we’re not that interested in the part of you that thinks of you as you.  The part of you that can form intention is very, very powerful, but it’s just a small part.  There’s another part of you that is so vast and so limitless that, well, many religions teach that it is in the image and likeness of God.  It is enormously vast, and it is so brilliant and so beautiful and so endless that it can even create in you this idea that you are you.  I mean, that’s a pretty powerful being that can set up a complex sense of self, a self that can be healthy or even diagnosed, a self that can be formed by mamas and a self that can be –

Michele :  It’s almost like a fake-you-out type of thing, like to get your attention kind of taken up with that.

Jim : So, to focus you on the plus side, distract you on the negative side.

Michele : Right.

Jim : To focus you and make you more functional, or torment you and do the opposite.

Michele : Yeah.

Jim : You need a sense of self, and that’s wonderful….but for a moment think how big this divine creature, this whole you, this creature that’s in the image and likeness of God, according to the Judeo-Christian tradition – those are the very words, I believe. And, you, a child of God.  A child of God.  That’s what you are, and remember you’re pretending this with me now.  We’re not gonna debate it.  Now one of the tricks of the trade of being divine is that you give yourself a sense of self.  Now while all that sense of self show is going on, where and what is the rest of you doing?  That’s what Dr. Freud asked himself – at least after his rounds of interest in the electro-stimulation of the nervous system, in the cure-all cocaine and in all this other quackery that so engaged his attention, until, eventually, when he finally hit the mother lode, and he said, “Oh, my gosh, that sense of self is the smallest, least important part! There’s this enormous unconscious world,” and we call it the unconscious world, because that is what he named it.

A better word for this bigger part of you might be the divine self, or the enormous self, or the non-self self, or the rest of you. And that self is the self that cannot be repressed when you create art, when you create anything.  It can never be repressed, and what I teach in my art lesson: that that self is so big and so enormous and so brilliant that it is, for example, computing the fluid dynamics of the brush stroke, that it understands every line and every – and especially – every mistake.

The greater self (now we’re gonna start calling the big you the greater self)…

Mistakes are where the greater self decides to trump the conscious self and spill the paint, to make a bad stroke, to stop the straight line, to prevent the green from going where it wants orange to go. And that’s why we can see so much about who you really are from your dreams and from your art, when the sense of self is given time off and a rest.  Because it’s expensive for your greater self to maintain that sense of “I” all day, and the rest of you comes on the stage during your dreams and is allowed to roam freely in your existence, and that’s why there are- at least in our art lessons – there are no mistakes in art, and not only are there no mistakes, but mistakes are actually where the energy is.  That’s where the rest of you is trying, finally, successfully to break through. The greater self wants dominance and sometimes needs explicit expression. Now just how great is this greater self?  Here’s a further pretense I would like you to make, that the greater self is so big that it includes everybody else.  That’s how big it is.  I mean, you may very well go into me and all these expressions of selfhood may just be fictions and illusions to maintain the variety and diversity that the greater self needs and seeks for its greater and more everlasting joy.  That would be consistent with some theologians’ beliefs, I know; but at the very least I want you to pretend that what you want to do is access that greater self. Let the lesser self, you know, just accept the flow of genius from the greater self.  If it’s smart enough to create a thing you call you or a thing I call Jim, if it’s great enough to give me something seen and known and has some integrity around that idea, and if it can allow me to set up artificial boundaries between me and other people which are more or less healthy, and if it gives me a lot of power, even in that somewhat real and somewhat fictional identity it has created, if it can do all those things, why, then, it is a very powerful self indeed! Such a greater self will readily flow out of my brush – and not only my brush but out of my hand and out of thoughts and words and tics and all my projections, my every mental and emotional projection.  It will flow wherever I am and wherever I focus, and it will send my attention and intention into the world, and the things that it lets me believe will become real: because I believe in them, and I act on my beliefs, and as I act on my beliefs, the things I believe in become real.

So that’s my art lesson, I guess, in a nutshell.

Michele : That really reminds me of the discussion of grace in Dr. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled.

Jim :  How so?

Michele : Well, when I think of him teaching about grace, he teaches that your unconscious is doing all this work to kind of set you up.

Jim :   Right.

Michele : Set you up to learn, set you up to be –

Jim :  Trying to help.

Michele : – in the right place at the right time, set you up to be with the right people, and then you have all these stories about, “Oh, that was an accident,” or –

Jim :  “What a coincidence.”

Michele : Or you’re blind to the people that are around you or, you know, like you’re – the part you’re describing, the ego, the I, is like –    kind of stumbling around all this great stuff your unconscious is trying to do for you.

Jim :  Yes.  Yes, exactly.

Michele :  Especially I’ll notice it at work in some of my clients where I’ll think, “Man, he is just really blowing it,” and at the very same time I can see he’s got this great person within him, this great genius person.  He’s hired us.  We’re doing great things, and many other things around him are flowering in spite of his smaller, error-prone self, so, his unconscious is clearly trying to set him up to learn something –

Jim :   Right.

Michele :  – even though his ego is getting in the way big-time.

Jim :  Right.  Right, his lesser self, which includes an ego.

Michele :  I’m always wondering, what am I missing?  You know, life for me is about taking all those levels of curtains away, like looking behind the next curtain, so, you know, what’s behind the next one?  What am I blind to right now?  What is my ego blinding me to right now that my greater self is trying to show me?

Jim :   Well, that’s a very good – that’s a very fruitful line of discourse.  See, if we pretend that that’s the model,  that basically the greater self is in love with the lesser self and is provisional….

Michele :  Yes.

Jim :  That it’s providing everything.  It’s abundantly providing.

Michele :  That’s right.  It’s taking care of it.

Jim :  If we assume that, then we can begin to scrutinize the signals that come our way.  This art lesson, the way I conclude it is, “Okay, I want you all to – I’m gonna look in every one of your eyes now, and I’m speaking to your greater self, because I want you to know at your deepest level that I will see you and your greater self if you present it in the art, that you are not alone,” and I try and speak right past their lesser selves –

Michele :  Yeah.

Jim :  – and invite their greater self into the room and into the art, and at that point, I touch them.

Michele :  That’s a key message, too, though, that “you are not alone” part.  The greater self is constantly trying to convince the ego that “you are not alone.”  And every time I draw back a curtain, it’s more about learning how I’m not alone.  I’m not alone.  I’m not alone, learning it at deeper and deeper levels.

Jim :  Yes.  In fact, all the great ones, it seems almost without exception, have said, “Not only are you not alone, not only are you greatly beloved, but you are one.”  Now I’m not prepared to understand that yet, personally. Not really.

Michele : Oh, I definitely think we are one and that that’s what this life is about is getting closer and closer to that mystery –

Jim :  That’s probably true.

Michele : This mystery of being separate but being one.

Jim :  So please don’t diminish yourself, and please don’t ever say, “I’m not an artist, I’m not creative,” because God is.  If you are in the image and likeness of God – or whatever phraseology or cosmology you want to use to reference the greatness of self –  you have this greater self, and you agreed at the beginning of this discourse to pretend that for a while, and now you can start looking for the ways in which your greater self is provisioning your lesser self and absolving it of its guilts and sins and omissions and weaknesses and providing its solutions, absolutions and insights and support. And you can see how it’s computing the brush strokes of your life.

Michele : And I think any amount of study of human spirituality or human nature will yield this conclusion, which is you cannot be a human being without having an artist/creator within you.  That’s just not possible.  The two things must go together.  That’s part of what human is.

Jim :  Creative is fundamental.  Okay, so that was today’s pretending, and so please pretend that, and consider that an art lesson, as well.       ‘

Michele : Two for one.

Jim :  Huh?

Michele : Two for one.

Jim :  A twofer, and there’s more in our Pretend Series.

Michele : We have even more.

Jim :  Thank you for your kind attention, and this is my limited self signing off, and my greater self remains with you.

Michele : Bye.

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