The power of visual language

The power of visual language

In today’s episode of the Art with Soul podcast, we talk about language – visual language, written language…words and images and how they are related, or rather, how I think we relate to them. We also discuss the intersection between a creative arts practice and a contemplative writing practice as a tool for self-development, growth, and healing. You’ll find a written transcript + detailed shownotes below.

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Long before I became an artist, I was a writer. In my younger years, I participated in juried poetry competitions – and won. I’ve been writing on here since well over 11 years now. And in my day job, I am a writer and editor – I started my career with magazines and newspapers, and then moved over to business and financial writing. I’ve also kept a written journal pretty darn consistently since my teenage years.

The point I’m trying to make is this: I’ve been a writer for much longer than I have been a painter.

The ancient power of the visual language

What I have noticed on my art journey, though, is that the act of painting taps into a much more ancient communication language. There’s a strong visceral knowing, which feels almost ancient….primal….that I can tap into when I am painting.

Which shouldn’t be surprising, especially when you consider that the visual language – cave paintings and Egyptian hieroglyphs – was our earliest form of communication.

Before there were words, there were symbols!

Now obviously I’m not implying that one is better than the other. I’m simply reflecting here on the power of visual language, and by extension, the power of an art practice.

Finding your flow with art vs writing

There’s a creative satisfaction that comes from painting that is quite different from the satisfaction I’ve experienced after a good writing session, for example. I’m thinking, especially, of painting as a form of active meditation, which is when you find yourself in the flow state, something that I suspect most artists experience on a rather regular basis.

I find that it is relatively easier to slip into this flow state while painting than it is while writing. Part of that is because my inner editor is very loud when I’m writing, but when I’m lost among the paints, it’s much easier to find that flow state.

What I am more interested in here, is using the arts or writing to tap into a deeper vein of gold. And while I do journal a lot, and I know that there is, indeed, a way to tap into that vein of gold through the written word, I think it’s much easier with art.

With journaling, you need a much more focused practice and a set of carefully crafted and curated questions to help you tap into your inner vein of gold. With art, regardless of your level of experience, it is much easier to tap into that alchemical healing state.

Inner quest workbook

The power of a visual language: let’s talk about color

I think that’s also because color already has meaning. I’m not talking about standard color psychology, which ascribes different emotions to different colors. I’m talking here about your unique, personal color language.

Just look around at your home or your wardrobe and observe the colors that you have chosen to surround yourself with. Think of the colors you wear when you want to feel a certain emotion. I bet you reach for a particular color every time that you want to feel confident, for example. {I reach for red lipstick for that boost of confidence.}

You’re subconsciously choosing a color to reflect something back to you – to heal, if you will.

But if I ask you what your power words are, that will require a lot more digging.

The visual language encoded in our DNA

I think this distinction comes from our DNA. It’s almost like we are encoded with a visual language that we may not necessarily always tap into, because our world focuses on words, whereas when we paint, it’s more about what colors work together, and  finding the colors that make our heart sing.

When we tap into that visual world, especially through an art or a creative painting practice, it awakens something ancient inside of us much quicker. It’s like we remember our cave dwelling ancestors and the language they used to communicate among themselves, and with us, through time and space.

You don’t need to be a “serious” artist – whatever that is! – to tap into this visual world. Just painting for the sheer love of it, for the process, is powerful.

Also read: Imagine a world without words

Carl Jung and his work with active imagination

When you look back at some visionaries, Carl Jung, for example, the role of the visual language along with the written one becomes all the more clear.

Jung is the father of modern psycho-analysis. Some of his seminal work involved understanding and using active imagination for deeper self awareness and individuation. Active imagination is, simply, the act of tapping into our inner visual, imaginal world.

Jung’s Red Book, which is where he recorded these visions, is filled with not just notes of his experiences, but also with his art – beautiful, deeply symbolic and deeply layered mandalas.  Here again, it’s that interplay between the language of our ancestors {visuals} and our relatively more modern language {written/spoken} that can bring us deeper insights, healing and growth.

Using the power of visual language for healing and growth

What I’m really trying to get at here is the power of a creative arts practice alongside any other creative practice that you may also enjoy. Even more important, is the power of a visual arts practice {like art journaling, painting, sketching or drawing} with a contemplative writing practice.

What I really want is for you to think about art in a slightly different manner – not just art for sale or art for art’s sake or purely for fun, although all of these are absolutely valid. What I am asking you to consider is the idea of art for healing, for transformation, for building a much more solid relationship with yourself.

Because ultimately, I think all of us are looking for that sense of belonging…connection…with ourselves, and with something greater than ourselves. It’s a connection that’s easily lost in this world where our attention is divided and fragmented among myriad distractions, and where introspection and self knowledge isn’t given much importance any more.

And there’s the contemplative aspect of this, which I believe is beautifully complemented, and in fact comes alive, with an art practice. For example, when I paint faces, they’re like self portraits, even though my whimsical faces look nothing like me! But the colors, the layout, the expression, all of it reflects something back to me. Sometimes words come bubbling to my mind as I paint, and I grab a piece of paper and note them down. Sometimes I find the perfect quote to pair with a painting, and it beautifully reflects my state of mind.

The healing, self-knowledge and deeper self connection that comes from the act of creating – of laying down colors and shapes and lines – and seeing myself reflected back in some way is unparalleled, and most definitely slightly different from any other creative practice.

I’m curious, is this something that you have experienced too? If you haven’t, would you like to give it a try? And if you have a different point of view, I would love to hear that too! Let’s get a conversation going in the comments!

And if you want to give this method of art as a soulful practice a try, do take a look at the Atomtic Lotus ecourse, where I guide you through some contemplative soulful practices and show you how to translate that into an art journal page.

Linking up with Blogchatter‘s #MyFriendAlexa

Posted in The Art with Soul Podcast.

34 Comments

  1. Really loved to hear this,Shinjini.I deeply feel something about ancient symbols are deep within us,passed down,remembered and so soothing.You articulated this so well.Thank you for talking about this topic.I love the journey of following your art.

  2. Art is a medium of expression and I love the way you have highlighted it as a medium for self understanding and connection too. When you speak about at journaling, is it a manner of using art to express yourself everyday or with greater frequency just like writing in a diary? I have been thinking of picking up the brush and try my play with colours and I don’t know how to begin. Should one try to emulate an artist or let the brush decide?

    • Here, when I speak of journaling, I’m talking about written journaling, since I’m speaking more to the difference between art journaling and written journaling. In art journaling we would use art as our main form of expression, and yes, it’s like journaling – instead of writing, you paint! You can do it everyday {I do} or with greater frequency. As for beginning with art, it depends on what you want to achieve and how you want to express yourself. I never really emulated an artist, though I did take, and continue to take, a butt ton of art courses from various teachers whose styles I like. Since I have no formal art training, this is how I taught myself art – online courses! Now, I just let my brush decide. If you have some art experience, you can just let your brush decide. If you have none, take a few courses and find your way from there. Hope that helps, Dipali! Else I’m always a phone call away! 🙂

  3. one think is proven that colours stimulates human brain. As we are living in a society which remember visuals better than words and numbers, it make us get connected with art really easily.

  4. This is really interesting. It has been ages since I picked up a brush. It is a great way to explore your subconscious.

  5. Such an interesting & informative post. I love painting in my free time though I am not at all professional . I completely agree that Painting is like meditation . It is therapeutic and the colors do have a direct link with our mood . Loved every bit of the post. Your voice is very soothing as well.

  6. Though I love to write I’m an amateur painter at best. Yet, I can relate with your post about the effect of this visual language on us. The meditative state is truly cathartic.

  7. Visualizations is a strong tool in my line of work and I often face a block when my clients are unable to see the whole picture through my design. One needs to be in touch with one’s creative self to recognize patterns and symbols in everything around us. I can’t imagine writing as I do if I am unable to visualize the picture that I am trying to put forth through my words. Agree whole heartedly with your post Shinjini.

    • Perhaps you’re right there. Recognizing patterns and nature comes naturally to us, yet we don’t always flex our creative muscles. Like any muscle, if the creative muscle isn’t flexed, it becomes weaker.

  8. Yes, losing yourself to colours is much easier than choosing correct words to describe your feelings. Maybe because the brush chooses ts destiny and words need our direction to convey our exact emotion to the world.

  9. I do agree with you. Visual language indeed appeals more than writing. The fact that our ancestors chose to communicate with symbols (that too so unique) shows a lot about visual language.

    I also agree with the way we showcase our emotion and state of mind through colors!

    • Yes – the Egyptian hieroglyphs are such a rich source of symbols. Even Japanese characters have a visual element to them. There’s a reason for each stroke. Very fascinating, indeed!

  10. After reading this I’m pretty sure that any artistic endeavors can be very meditative, just like Karma Yoga! It was pleasure to go through your creative processes and read more about it. Very insightful post. Thank you for sharing.

  11. I know exactly what you mean. With colours, it’s easier to shut off your brain and just be in the present and not worry about whether it’s right or wrong. While writing, that inner critic sometimes gets nosier and noisy. But that flow that you mentioned – when I’m in that flow, I feel invincible.

    • Yes! I find it very difficult to shut my inner critic up when I’m writing. Maybe because I also am a professional editor – that voice becomes doubly loud in my head! When I’m painting, though, I can get into the flow very quickly – and yes, I feel invincible! 😉

  12. I am someone who always had a big difficulty in art class. 1. I was never good at the classical art taught in school.
    2. What I wanted to draw versus what actually came out on paper were poles apart.
    But yes, once in a blue moon I feel I have to just put something on paper with paints. Doesnt come out very well but atleast my urge is satisfied!

  13. What a splendid way of laying out the nexus between visual cues, art & colors into deeper thoughts, moods & meaningful communication.

    And I particularly like how you’ve cited the work of Carl Jung in diving deep into self-awareness.

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