Subliminal Knowledge

The Twins, Castor and Pollux
Dorothea Rockburne

I think the reason I paint, or that I do whatever I do, is to deal with (I don’t think of it as unconscious) subliminal knowledge. And I do think that one has knowledge about things that haven’t occured yet, and I try to work for those kinds of knowledges. For me, these are emotional truths.

[Subliminal knowledge] is what I call developed intuition. What I have found is that when I learn something–while you are using it at the moment, it’s right at the top of your brain. But, as you move on and are using newer information, the formerly learned information goes into a mental file and with time that file goes deeper into the drawer and becomes what I call sublminal information. It is trained intuition because the files begin to combine, all on their own accord.

Dorothea Rockburne, in conversation with Denise Green
Metonymy in Contemporary Art

This is one of the clearest statements I’ve ever read of what it is that compels me to paint. Rockburne’s distinction between “sublminal knowledge” and the unconscious is also a key insight. The visual material that we internalize is a bit like the bubble under the tablecloth–you know it’s there, but it is nearly impossible to nail down. It just pops up somewhere else, having morphed into yet a different shape. As Rockburne suggests, the mixing it up happens with or without conscious engagement.

Another provocative suggestion in this exchange is Rockburne’s reference to prescient information and how, as an artist, she is seeking access to those other “kinds of knowledges.” Now that is a topic for a whole other discussion.

2 Replies to “Subliminal Knowledge”

  1. This makes me think of some quotations from an interview with Gary Snyder I recently copied down. He said among other things, “Poetry effects change by fiddling with the archetypes and getting at people’s dreams about a century before it actually effects historical change.” “…out of his own vision and hearing of voices [the poet]seeks for new paths for the mind energy to flow, which would be literally more creative directions…Poets are more like mushrooms or fungi–they can digest the symbol detritus…” “…poetry IS our life. It’s not that poetry has an effect on it, or a function in it, or a value for it. It IS our life as much as eating and speaking is our life. It’s like asking, ‘”Well, what’s the function of eating: What’s the value of speaking?”…

  2. These are such rich quotes Kitty. Thank you for sharing them. I particularly resonate with Snyder’s phrase, “poetry effects change by fiddling with the archetypes.”

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