Why did this stir me so? Probably because left-brain logic (the charts) was converging with right-brain joy (the colors). The same thing happens when I see a rainbow: I know the event is scientifically explicable, yet it is still magical—an arc of light and color appearing out of nowhere. Something emerging out of nothing might be as close to a definition of creativity as we're going to get.
So far the class had remained in the sphere of the private self: Our pictures, in the best tradition of abstract expressionism, were pure invention. In the next phase we confronted an object—a piece of fruit, a flower—and reached the scary and electric point at which, as Lindsay put it, "outer and inner worlds come together."
I stared at my pear, sitting innocently on the table, and felt sick at the prospect of trying—and failing—to reproduce it. I had to remind myself that this class wasn't about being gifted or trained; it was about honesty—painting from the inside out. Don't get hung up on details, Lindsay told us; squint at those pears so that you see the underlying form, where it's light and where it's dark. My first effort was a conventional brownish yellow; with each succeeding attempt (four in all), I got more daring. The last, knocked out in a speedy 15 minutes, was an audacious yellow-orange, botanically incorrect but full of gusto.
Even more interesting was an exercise called blind contour drawing: For five minutes we gazed at an object—I did a stalk of foxglove—and drew without looking at what we were doing. Once I got past the urge to peek, the need to rush, and the fear that the drawing would be a big mess (these messages courtesy of the left side of the brain—thanks a lot!), the process was mesmerizing and meditative, truly an altered state. And my sketch, while not a faithful rendition of the foxglove, was strangely beautiful and pure. It got the essence of the flower.
The more I drew and painted, the more I felt this stillness, this out-of-timeness. Other people faded and so did noises—it was just me, the paper, the moving pencil, the ever mutating colors. It's odd that such a mental state is described as a "trance" or "reverie." It was more like the awakening of a part of me that had been dozing for years.
You know the line from "Amazing Grace"—"Was blind, but now I see?" That's how I felt as the days went by. I looked at things around me not only with greater attention but also with a sense of being able to reflect and refract the natural world through my own lens. In my mind I painted and repainted everything from a pinecone to a cloud. By the next-to-last day, I was aching to take my art outside.