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The Voice of the Soul Using Trance in Fine Arts Painting

Newton Myers

Pratt Institute

About a thousand years ago Lao Tzu said "Be completely whole and everything will come to you." To me, to be completely whole means opening a direct and continuous pathway to the subconscious mind. It means to make no important decision without consulting this deeper source.

My guess is that less than one percent of the people in the world do this. Among that one percent are the highly creative people. These are often driven people. People like Beethoven and Kafka. Franz Kafka said: "Just learn to become still and solitary and the world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice. It will roll in ecstasy at your feet."

This is an exact description of the ambience and technique necessary to create the trance state that opens the subconscious. But how many can do it based on this precise but meager description? What is not revealed in Kafka's instructions is the necessary undercurrent of emotion that throws the door open. For the subconscious is a deeply emotional mind. Any extreme of emotion from black despair to unbounded joy will move the mountain.

In my opinion all great art culminates during the crisis part of creation at the end when the trance state completes everything automatically outside the artists conscious control. She/he feels that someone or something else is operating their painting arm. This is what Picasso meant by saying: "When I paint, I am not in my body."

I have experienced what Picasso is talking about. I find that I have both little trances in my work as a painter. As an example of a little trance, I am painting a panoramic scene of a stage set. I struggle to get the clouds right on the backdrop over and over. Suddenly I go into trance and zap the clouds out, in one two or three rapid Zen strokes in two or three seconds, automatically.


As an example of a large trance, I am painting a gigantic mural in a medical condominium. I have been working on it about 6 months and am halfway finished. On this particular day I am tremendously elated to be painting this mural, as I had always wanted to paint a mural. Suddenly, I flip into trance and paint the whole last half of the mural automatically. This means that I don't remember doing it. Someone or something else was operating me. I have absolutely no memory whatsoever of painting, mixing paints or planning anything of the last half of the mural. It is the best thing I have ever painted.


I have been exploring how to teach my students the art of trance and the use of trance in art. I find that visualization is a powerful subconscious technique and offers a path into trance. In the method I teach, the visualizer actually sees a series of sequential pictures in answer to an emotionally important question. These pictures are interpreted the same way dreams are interpreted and bring an answer to the question posed. Visualization was used by Edison, Einstein and Tesla, among many others. I find that my students can use this process.

In the classroom, I induce a visualization trance in my students. I have them prepare by instructing them to uncross their arms and legs, loosen any tight belts or any constricting clothing. I soften the lighting and maintain a temperature in the room. As people familiar with guided meditations and hypnotic journeys know, there is so much to the induction than the text of the instructions. There is an atmosphere about it. There is a matter of timing and tone of my voice, getting softer and slower, and watching the students appearing softened and in a relaxed state.

The induction itself is not what puts the students into trance. They put themselves into trance. I am but a coach. I find the students need an extended pretalk to win them over. They must trust and be willing to follow. They need practice. Although they could do this on their own, I prefer to lead them myself at first. If they try it haphazardly on their own and fail it will be discouraging and they may not wish to try again. A first successful experience under the guidance of a pro is better than an amateur fumbling around on their own.

Newton Meyers is a professor at Pratt Manhattan in New York City where he teaches a course entitled: Visualization for Artists, Writers &  Creative Thinkers. You can email him at or call him at (718) 852-7636

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