When I was a youth and didn’t know anything, I had (as far as I can tell) the closest thing I’ll ever get to an experience of natural cognition. My ideas, perceptions, experiences were wild and untamed. I saw stuff and my reaction was composed all of “ooh” and “ahhhh.” My feelings were strong and optimistic. I faced a visually intriguing world and thoroughly enjoyed looking at it. Were I in search of raw natural vision, I can think of no better access to it than what I felt back then. Adolescence is a great invention that way.
Unfortunately, the period when I had that direct access to Integer Nature was the time when I was least prepared to do anything about it. I didn’t know how to draw. I made brave efforts using instincts that I still cherish (cherish your instincts always). I tried to capture the wild thoughts of my experience using my bare hands, a ploy that took me on many a Wild Goose Chase during which, as often as not, the goose got away.
Those visions came from I know not where. They slipped out of the forest and afterwards escaped back into the forest of thought as suddenly and as mysteriously as they had first appeared.
In contrast now I have all these tools. I am like the hunter who has three kinds of firearms, a state of the art bow and arrow, a laser-accurate sighting scope, the best camouflage clothing that money can buy, bird calls, electronic animal calls, a GPS … I got all this stuff.
And I stand here sometimes and wonder, “Where are all the animals?”
Later in the artistic life, you don’t draw the wild. You draw at the zoo, and the wild animals are in cages. Of course, I’m speaking metaphorically. So you spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to let the animals out of the cages — and equally much how to find that habitat where they all used to live — and you want to take your fancy tools — the contour lines, the hatching and cross-hatching, the smooth tonal washes, the textured brush-strokes or the finely managed continuous tones, the color mixing, the knowledge of the medium — all that stuff and use it on these wild thoughts.
And the mixing of the raw and the refined — well, it’s difficult. As difficult as it was trying to catch those wild things when you were wild too. Tis merely a different kind of chase.
What barriers stand between me and my wild, native thoughts? That takes a bit of pondering in itself. Perhaps one reason that I meditate so often on “beginnings” is that my youth marks that time when my thoughts seem to have been most free — most untamed — and yet they were raw and unfiltered precisely because I didn’t know anything.