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Wellsprings Reconsidered

The idea for this issue of the Brooklyn Rail came from a conversation I had with Donald Kuspit regarding his book The End of Art, as well as discussions I have had with artist Michael Zansky, whose art begins with a Freudian perspective and travels into uncharted realms.

The Cracks in the Pavement

Children play in the street near me in London, chalking the outline of a ladder to heaven, hopping, skipping, and jumping, each player going out when they tread on a line.

Cubist, as in Cuba

I’ll start with a serious jeu d’esprit: I have come recently to define my work as “Cubist—of the Cuba kind,” i.e. with an underworld connection to Haiti and voodoo.

Dreamscripts in the Waking World

One of the signs which has become a trademark of being in a dream is the inability to read the written word or at other times to decipher numbers on a clock face or elsewhere. Such figures most often appear to blur before the eyes.

No More Hidden Order of Art

Writing in 1967 about “the hidden order of art,” that is, its unconscious order, Anton Ehrenzweig notes that “the seemingly chaotic structure of handwriting conceals some hidden unconscious order, such order is destroyed as soon as it is imitated by a conscious effort.

Cindy and Andy on the Ancient Unconscious

Thomas McEvilley (1939 – 2013) wrote about contemporary art as conjunctive, as sequentiation and dispersion, as an “and,” and not an “is.”

Excerpts from an interview with Khem Caigan, conducted, edited, and composed

“Witchcraft” is an Anglo-Saxon word. As far as we can tell, it means “craft of the wise.” It refers to any technology for getting things done—catching a fish, staunching a wound, getting your cows to make milk, establishing a relationship with your neighbors—entities seen and unseen. It was very utilitarian.

To Plow the Sea: A Note on the Unconscious

Simón Bolívar once said that all who serve the revolution plow the sea. The Surrealists, who presumed to teach the unconscious to be revolutionary, sailed the surface of a placid lake. For they had no sense of the unconscious, no feel for it.

Everything’s All Right

hen I was 14 years old growing up in Maine I experienced a startling awareness of understanding. I was in my bedroom getting ready to go to school and looking out the window at the late fall oak leaves against the early morning sky.

“Vespers Pool” (1999 – 2000)

“Vespers Pool” continues Schneemann’s dissolution of imagistic and technological boundaries. Relying on dreams and signs, the work moves between conscious and unconscious worlds, melding realms that are commonly kept apart.

Sigmar Polke’s Photographic Unconscious

In Sigmar Polke’s untitled photograph of 1975, the artist appears to float, his body suspended between a naked mattress and a curtain’s edge. The print is oriented horizontally and the images on it vertically, heightening the impression of weightlessness.

The Unconscious

The web is the unconscious mind of everyone alive today. It’s a networked intelligence and a hive, a living thing, and also a digital repository for 5,000 years of human history. We can safely say that most everything repressed and hidden lies in some corner of the Internet.

The Matriarch’s Rhapsody

The Matriarch’s Rhapsody is a codex of language, abstraction, symbols, and objects outsourced from my photo archives, my mother’s drawings, and miscellaneous databases.

A Long History of Madness, 2012 – Present

The “social unconscious” surfaces when a society first drives people mad through violence, then represses mad people, and puts them out of sight.

(Documentation for the Works of Art)

My most recent series of drawings was done by scorching paper with a propane torch; every mark is unalterable from the moment the open flame burns the paper.


Richard Smith has been hospitalized as a mental patient at Creedmoor Psychiatric Center in Queens, New York for 47 of his 67 years. In 1989 he joined the Living Museum, an art asylum created out of an abandoned building on the grounds of Creedmoor, under the direction of clinical psychologist Janos Marton.

This is Not the Article, Just Coffee Talk…

As if that were taboo … to dream … to feel. Bah. “The ineffable! We don’t discuss it,” the wary Clem Greenberg dismissed the spirituality in Pollock’s art, glaring at me, defensive, when I asked him this simple question that my own Ph.D. thesis in “Shamanism and Art” hinged on.

…Saying These Things, I Went to Sleep…

In this rationality-biased world many aspects of life have collapsed into what can be monetized or used in self-promotion. This process has penetrated deeply into almost all creative acts, yet there are some who recognize a more complete range of being and expression.

The Warp and the Woof

Warp: strong and straight, from Old English weorpan, to throw, the cast of the net, the warp of the fabric is that across which the woof is thrown


I’m often inspired by poetry. “Lost Doll” was made in response to a poem by Rachel Levitsky that she wrote about my drawing, “The Island.”


Kiki Smith was born in Nuremberg, West Germany in 1954 and now enjoys living in a state of confusion. Besides that, she likes art and nature and the color blue.


Nalini Malani was born in Karachi on the eve of Partition. Revolting against the growing religious orthodoxy she became a pioneer in Indian experimental video, shadow plays, and ephemeral wall drawings.

Mutable and Immutable Divides

In attempting to elucidate the possibilities of escaping the rational mind in order to have experiences with art, Georges Didi-Huberman describes a “gaze that would not draw to a close only to discern and recognize, to name what it grasps at any cost—but would, first, distance itself a bit and abstain from clarifying everything immediately.

Faith & the Devil

I had an exhibit at George Adams Gallery in New York City in 2012 called Faith & The Devil that is now touring the country until 2015. The exhibition centers around a large female figure, “Big Gal Faith,” eight feet tall with wild hair, in a lavish 26-foot-wide dress encrusted with drawn images, appliquéd words, and hundreds of threads.

Artists-of-the-Dream: Harbingers of Social Change

Twenty years ago I interviewed several well-known women artists for my book, Women Dreaming-into-Art. The interviewees included Carolee Schneemann, Deena Metzger, Mary Beth Edelson, Ann McCoy, Anna Halprin, and Pauline Oliveros.

Why I Went from the Visual Arts to Theater

The unconscious is alive and well in at least one art form: the theater. It is a medium that depends deeply on both the artists’ and the audience’s willingness to enter that world of the shadow cave, and allow themselves to be affected at a most fundamental human level.

Sometimes it takes an Outsider artist to remind us how the unconscious serves not only as a powerful source of inspiration but the only source that results in truly compelling art…

Ed Nelson (1907 – 92) was a recluse living in the foothills of Mount Hood in Oregon. In 1961 he experienced an epiphany that revealed the microcosm (atomic structure) as well as the macrocosm (the universe). Nelson recorded his observations with two distinctly different techniques and media as he plumbed the depths.

“Even the Dumbest Dream Can Astound Us with its Art”

The exhibition spanning 23 years of Robert Gober’s work is not a retrospective, but an anamnesis—a word that means “to recall to mind, or memory.” In a medical context the anamnesis is a gathering of information that forms a complete case history.


Sighing over ubiquitous externalizing tendencies in our global culture and in the art world, I often yearn for inwardness, depth, and opportunities for engagement with whatever is ineffable, irrational, unconscious, or mystical—forces that have impelled art from time immemorial.

A Visionary Artist’s Journey into Madness

For 20 years, from 1947 to 1967, a man by the name of Forrest Bess ran a bait camp on a tiny spit of land 100 feet offshore Chinquapin Bayou on the Gulf Coast of Texas. By day, he trawled for shrimp and sold them to fishermen for bait.


Like a hologram, which, even when broken up, still contains within itself the experience of the whole, as human beings we are the extreme projection of that which is inherently essential.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2014

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