In a scholarly debut, Paxson explores the origins and outlets of intuition and its relation to the creative process.
Since Freud “discovered” the unconscious mind, its processes have been the subject of science, art, psychoanalytic study and countless theories. To illuminate “the broader idea of intuition” and what she calls “the unthought stage of image making,” Paxson consults the works of several major thinkers: Jacques Lacan, J.F. Lyotard, Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, and Anton Ehrenzweig, among others. Paxson, a working painter, acknowledges Bataille’s paradox of a rational mind trying to plumb the unconscious, yet she feels compelled to investigate the roots of creativity, especially within her own studio. The book’s revelations escape a succinct summary, but notable among Paxson’s efforts are her hybridization of theories, combining Lacan’s “signifiers” and his concept of the “gaze” with Lyotard’s “libidinal energy,” the flow of which, Paxson agrees, is “the basis of the unconscious.” She also sees validity in Ehrenzweig’s contention that death overrides sex in the overall human equation. Paxson puts much weight in the work of Deleuze and Guattari and their theory of “schizoanalysis,” in which “breaks and flows” affect libidinal energy—what they called “a basic force of life”—and “a synthesis of ‘machines’ that ‘produce.’ ” Additionally, Ehrenzweig’s three stages of creativity connect the author’s collected theories, “specifically in the arena of making art.” However, although Paxson raises a few interesting ideas and has clearly put a great deal of thought into the unthought stage, the book tends to read like an intensely focused master’s thesis. Without some background in psychoanalysis, philosophy, semantics and art history, readers may find the text overwhelmingly pedantic. In hazy black-and-white reproductions, Paxson includes some of her own artwork as examples of the various intuition-based concepts she cites. Unfortunately, they aren’t especially helpful in furthering the discussion or simplifying the reading experience.
A dense, sometimes revelatory read, best appreciated by advanced students of art or psychology.