The Life-Changing Magic of Looking at Art

Creation of the Birds — Remedios Varo
Creation of the Birds (Creacion de las Aves) — © Remedios Varo, c. 1957 — Location: Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City, Mexico

We can only imagine the spectrum of brutalities and love known by painter Remedios Varo, though the peace-seeking qualities of her riveting body of work suggest depths of first-hand experience with human nature, and a choice to paint towards harmony with enormous questions.

Her painting Creation of the Birds is a masterwork that’s been a fertile staple of my art-viewing practice for years, like many of us in the community of practitioners who use the Visual Thinking Strategies method. Blessings to VTS founders Philip Yenawine and Abigail Housen and the team of educators who placed this riveting work in the VTS curriculum, securing its ongoing interaction with humans young and grown for years – and years more to come.

Engaging with this work is a unique kind of magic – perhaps an even better word for it is pure remedios. Life-changing, because it is so life-giving. Like how a good cup of tea makes you feel both rest and awakeness at the same time, the experience both deepens roots and widens reach, every single time. Creation of the Birds is a forcefield where giant themes – creation, nature, technology – interact and seem to only continue to re-position, based on the questions and life experiences of those making sense of its enigmatic reality.

For example, here are some pearls from recent salons and workshops:

I see the best picture we could find to describe the totality of a person. A human being enjoying music, embodying their animal subconscious, tapping into some form of technology to bring out their art, tapped into nature, using science to observe. It looks like their eyes are closed – they are not even painting from sight, but from some other sort of vision.

There’s been a lot of discussion about if this figure is masculine or feminine. I believe it’s a genderless creature, as we all are, at the level of our core being.

I see a string, coming from the heart-space, through an instrument. It makes me wonder if it is imbuing the birds with a song.

The downward gaze reflects such serenity, it reminds me of images of the Buddha.

I’m worried that those downward eyes are not actually peace, but rather an act of obligation and resignation. It reads to me like a scenario where this technology-creature is instructing the owl-figure to work.

The machine is aligned with perfect placement to support creative flow. But what is the source of energy to the machine?

In the background, is that a fountain, continually fueling its own flow?

Plumb-lines into humanity, glimpses into lifeworlds, and spotlights opening new insights before our very eyes – all of them.

To facilitate these correspondences is to stand in that forcefield, listening to understand what it sparks in others, and to serve as translator. Is it an honor and a privilege? Absolutely. But the real gift is the remedios of the reminder of connection with our humanity.

Engaging with art – especially art made from a particularly deep place of contact while working at a high level of mastery, such as Creation of the Birds – has a way of unlocking that access to other worlds, showing us what was right there all along. Philosopher/teacher Kasia Urbaniak talks about how, when it comes to our humanity, it is as if we are sitting before a smorgasbord, and we are starving. Our hunger is not due to any lack of availability of human possibility, but due to the conditioning and structure preventing exploration, keeping us bound.

Certain particularly on-point works of art, and the science-art of the Visual Thinking Strategies method, have a way of popping those bindings and unlocking those worlds. Remedios indeed.

Alexa Miller hosts the Joy of Looking Salon Series with the goal of providing experiences with art that center that joy and exploration. Join us for the rest of the series, offered the First Friday of each month from 1-3 EST through July. Forthcoming Salon topics include rare works by Frida Kahlo, works of art made in secret, and the concept of re-creation. Full list here: Sign up for the March salon here. No experience with art required.

Creation of the Birds was discussed at a recent Joy of Looking Salon with Alexa Miller.