The title of this collection of monotypes is a reference to a passage in "The Art of Letters" (1) by Chinese poet Lu Chi:
Their coming cannot be prevented
Their going cannot be stopped;
underground things go on like shadows
back to life they come like echoes awakening.
For writers and other artists, creative inspiration has its source in “underground things”: the unconscious mental processes that are largely unknown to the artist.
Wassily Kandinsky, in "Concerning the Spiritual in Art," wrote that the source of inspiration is "A largely unconscious, spontaneous expression of inner character, the non-material(2)." In "On Modern Art," Paul Klee wrote: “From the root the sap flows to the artist, flows through him, flows to his eye (3).” These artists and many others acknowledge that the source of inspiration is neither predictable nor even knowable and that it may issue from the unconscious.
The existence of unconscious processes, mental activities that are outside awareness, is widely accepted today. Numerous experimental studies show that unconscious processes can influence decisions (4), judgements (5), and motivation (6). Neuroimaging shows that conscious cognitive processes occur after unconscious processes take place. The sum of research indicates that the power of unconscious processes may surpass that of the conscious cognitive mind.
Perception may also be under the influence of unconscious processes. Kihlstrom, a pioneer in the field, concluded:
“Apparently, perceptual processing automatically activates preexisting semantic memory structures corresponding to the features of the stimulus event, as well as related nodes by virtue of spreading activation . . . Thus, in contrast to implications of the classic model for human information processing, a great deal of complex cognitive activity can be devoted to stimuli that are themselves outside of phenomenal awareness."(7)
This leads to the conclusion that unconscious processes have significant roles in both the inspiration and interpretation of art. The monotypes in “Underground Things” illustrate how art mediates communication via underground, unconscious processes.
1. Lu Chi (translation by E.R. Hughes), The Art of Letters, Pantheon Books, Inc.: New York, NY, 1951, p. 107.
2. Kandinsky, Wassily, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, Dover Publications, Inc.: New York, NY, 1977 ( English translation of The Art of Spiritual Harmony, Constable and Company Ltd.: London, 1914), p.57.
3. Klee, Paul, On Modern Art, Faber and Faber Ltd.: London, 1954, p.13.
4. Claxton, Guy, The Wayward Mind, Abacus, 2005, p.214.
5. Rey, A. , Goldstein, R.M., Perruchet,2009, Does unconscious thought improve complex decision making. Psychological Research. 73, pp. 372-379.
6. Ham, J. Van der Bosk, 2009, Lady Justice thinks unconsciously: Unconscious thought can lead to more accurate justice judgements. Social Cognition, 28, pp.180-190.
7. Kihlstrom, John F. (1987). The Cognitive Unconscious, Science, Vol. 237(18), p. 237.