As an Art Therapist, I often say that art made with intention can act as a dynamic roadmap to the subconscious mind and to our deepest state of knowing. Sometimes, people are skeptical that art made with such a purpose in mind may yield such results; that symbolic gestures can actually bypass our defenses, leaving us vulnerable to our own truth. It always inspires me to observe their awareness unfolding. I had the privilege of bearing witness to such a revelation at a recent Open Studio session that I facilitated for a group of deeply introspective women.
My close friend* had been hoping to attend one of my workshops for many months, and her busy schedule finally allowed her to be present at this particular Open Studio. She, an intelligent, nurturing, spiritual Jewish woman who is highly regarded by family, friends and people within her community, often struggles with insecurity. No matter the feedback given by myself or others, she has not fully seen what we all matter-of-factly see: all the aforementioned traits, along with a tremendous capacity for self-actualization.
I structure my Open Studio sessions by encouraging participants to acknowledge their intuitive knowing about some challenge in their lives, and to articulate this knowing in writing. This prompt is then followed by artmaking, which is supported by diverse and lush materials. With the incorporation of curated music, we together create an environment that is conducive to catharsis, connection and seeing.
My friend chose to create a multimedia image about her innate inability to allow herself to shine. Much like her, the ensuing image was elegant and polished, however it possessed a confounding element. Along with shiny, metallic papers, she had chosen the words ‘shine bright.’ After adhering the words to the page, she chose to cover them with a brush stroke of white paint. I observed her render this change to the image, and I watched her face as she began to realize what she had done. Dulled by the white, the words were left lackluster, with a longing for more.
When it was her time to share, my friend’s eyes glistened as she pondered her image. With much emotion, she described her choice in materials and when the words ‘shine bright’ could no longer escape her attention, she said, “Why did I do that? Why did I cover those words up? Why DO I DO THAT?” As I strived to contain her experience, the words Binah and Da’at entered my mind and they have remained.
Da’at is experiential knowledge. It is how one knows that one is alive or that the sky is blue. It is knowledge based on one’s experience.
Binah, or intuitive understanding is often attributed to the divine feminine. Likened to a womb, or a “place of mirrors,” it reflects the pure light of the divine and increases and multiplies in infinite ways. This “processed wisdom” is discussed in the Kabbalah book known as The Bahir, or The Book of Illumination. Written in the 1st Century, the rabbinic sage Nehunya ben HaKanah noted, “you shall call understanding Mother.” In addition, sages have long suggested that both the story and words used to describe Eve’s creation, underscored her intrinsic feminine intuition, her ability to see beyond what was apparent.
For my friend, her artwork was the source of both her Binah and her Da’at. The intentional creation was the experience that allowed her to know what it is that she does: the covering up of her brightness. Da’at. The fateful stroke of the brush across the words was her subconscious intuition materialized. Binah. The engagement with and subsequent witnessing of the art then allowed for a deeper knowing, far beyond the page. The undeniable quality that she captured and then articulated further opened up her Binah. Her intuitive understanding of why she covers up her brightness: conscious meets subconscious, a knowing beyond the knowing manifested in physical form.
As contemporary women, we have inherited not only our predisposed access to Binah, but also the societal and cultural denial of this very knowing. There is a long and lasting lineage of dismissal, patronization and invalidation that has left many women feeling severed from their God-given ability to know beyond the known.
This is exactly where the creation of intentional artmaking becomes most relevant. Both the process and the product may act as a conduit to the woman’s deepest place of knowledge. Once made, the art takes up physical space just as she does, and the awareness imbued within the art may no longer be denied or put back inside. Fantasy becomes reality, subconscious drives surface, symbolism takes form, and the woman embodies her Binah.
If you find yourself confused by a challenge in your life, one that leaves you feeling overwhelmed, ambivalent or stuck, perhaps consider engaging with art materials in the ways that have been described. You need not know what will emerge, or plan for any particular image or product. You need simply set an intention for yourself to remain steadfast to your truth, to confront your challenge and to allow your knowing to be seen by you most of all.
While I cannot fully determine what my friend will do now that she embodies her awareness more fully, my own Binah tells me that she will allow her light to shine more brightly than before.
*As a Clinical Art Therapist, I value confidentiality and have received permission from my friend to write about and share her experience.
At The Well uplifts many approaches to Jewish practice. Our community draws on ancient Jewish wisdom, sometimes adapting longstanding practices to more deeply support the well-being of women and nonbinary people. See this article’s sources below. We believe Torah (sacred teachings) are always unfolding to help answer the needs of the present moment.
Genesis and Feminine Intuition, Ulpan-Or
Sefer HaBahir, accessed via Sefaria.org