Hi, I'm Jackie Armstrong, Associate Educator, Visitor Research and Experience here at MoMA.
When I'm not at MoMA I spend a lot of time researching and writing on topics that are important to me, such as trauma, mental health and well being. Today, I want us to look at a work of art in a new way using a skill often used for healing trauma.
The work you’re looking at is called And Then We Saw the Daughter of the Minotaur painted by the artist Leonora Carrington in 1953. This painting, like much of Leonora Carrington's work draws me into an otherworldly landscape where I feel completely immersed.
To me, Leonora Carrington’s spirit is representative of freedom and the boundless capacity of the mind to overcome, as well as the ability of art to give voice to what cannot be described in words. Sometimes when I look at a painting, I like to imagine myself being inside it walking around and exploring. This helps me to experience a work of art in an active way, taking in the details using all of my senses. But to fully experience this work, I'd like to invite you to take this approach one step further by using visualization imagery and mindfulness.
Visualization in particular is a skill often used in trauma therapy, as well as for other issues related to emotional and mental well being, such as lowering anxiety, managing nightmares or building inner resilience.
Before we get started, take some time to notice your environment to comfortably position yourself within it.
Draw an invisible circle around yourself, being aware that you can establish boundaries, create space for yourself, and safely occupy that space. Think of your body as a container, a protective vessel, that holds your being inside it. No matter what you've experienced in the past or what you might be going through right now. You are free from harm in this moment. If you notice any uncomfortable sensations in your body, or have any intrusive thoughts, taking you out of this moment, focus instead on what feels okay enough.
Alright, let's turn our attention to this painting. Let your eyes settle on the painting, where they want to settle? Where does your attention go first? What aspects of the painting draw you in or call to you? You might feel positively or negatively towards the painting. Regardless, pay attention to where your gaze first lands.
Try softening your gaze so that what you're looking at goes a little blurry. Then, intentionally sharpen your vision so that each detail becomes crystal clear. What do you notice when you do that?
Leonora Carrington once said, “The task of the right eye is to peer into the telescope while the left eye peers into the microscope.” Think about this quote as your eyes remain fixed on this painting.
Now, slowly let your vision open up, expanding out from where your gaze initially fell. Take in the painting in its entirety, all the way to the periphery. Move out slowly but intentionally. Experiment with zooming in on details and back out again, letting your curiosity guide you. Are there parts of the painting that feel more welcoming or comforting to you? Are there elements that pique your curiosity? What about aspects of the painting that make you feel uneasy or unsettled?
Notice your responses without judgment or reaction. What are your first impressions of the painting and this initial introduction? What words would you use to describe what you see and feel?
Next, we are going to go deeper into this painting as we go on a guided walkthrough of it. Connect with the part of yourself who is ready to have an adventure, and eager to explore this painting from the inside. Here we go.
Imagine stepping straight into the painting and the second your body touches the canvas you shrink to the scale of the other figures inside it and become immersed in its mythical landscape. Upon first entering this new land everything except for you is frozen in place. Take some time to walk around and become acquainted with the scene while everything is still and silent.Take it in at your own pace and allow yourself to settle in.
Move to a place within the painting that feels good to you. Maybe that spot is already created or maybe you build it using your imagination. Perhaps you create a lookout tower or a ledge where you can perch and take in the scene. Maybe, you give yourself wings so that you can fly above the scene. Or you find a corner to tuck yourself into.You might even choose to make yourself invisible as you walk around. Or, if you're someone who wants to be in the center of all the action, you might position yourself next to the table where the Minotaur, and the two small children are gathered.
When you have found a spot, imagine flipping a switch so that everything in the painting bursts into action.Suddenly the painting is alive with movement along with sights, sounds, and smells. Allow yourself to fully inhabit the space you're in and use your senses to drink in the atmosphere. If at any point you experience sensory overload, pullback and spotlight one area painting in your mind, focusing only on what you see, feel, hear and smell in that immediate location. Similarly, know that at any moment, you can dial back the energy, slowing things down, or even pulling the switch to freeze everything again.
As you move around, feel free to pick up objects and touch the surface of the architectural details around you. Lift the rose to your nose and breathe in its aroma. Kneel down by the dogs and gently stroke their fur. Move cautiously towards the ghostly figure. Is the form solid? What does the air around her feel like?
Reach off and try to grasp one of the wispy clouds. How does it feel against your skin? Walk over and greet the children. Ask them their names. Who are they and why are they here? Consider what else you'd like to know and engage in conversation.Pause to check in with yourself. How are you feeling in this mysterious place?
What does the energy in this room feel like? What's the temperature of this room? Take up one of the glass orbs. Notice its weight and the smoothness of its surface. Hold it up to your eyes and peer through it. What do you see?
Now, make your way over to the Minotaur. Maybe you decide to sit at his feet and listen to what he has to say. Perhaps you stand alongside him or in front of him introducing yourself and seeking out information. How does he move? What does he sound like? Imagine that while in his presence his billowing robe brushes against your arm. What does the texture of the fabric feel like? How formal are your interactions with the minotaur. Think about how you would take your leave of him.
When you're ready, walk over to the last figure at the table. The most central one in the pink flowing gown. Who is this magical creature? Notice how this figure seems to preside over the gathering. Get as close as you’d like and pay attention to the face and the draping of materials around the form. Examine the thin almost translucent hand extending out from the sleeve. As the figure reaches out their hand to you, picture yourself placing your hand in theirs. How does this feel? How do you communicate with this being, and what would you like to ask? Do you feel safe in this place? Do you feel wary? Be aware of how you feel in this setting amongst these beings. Ask yourself why you might feel this way?
What could you bring into this painting to either change how you feel, or alter the scene in some way? If you brought gifts for everyone in the scene, how would that change things? What would you bring them? Maybe you feel on your own and decide to invite a guide or protector to join you.
Try rolling out a thick tapestry on the ground or hanging a lantern from the wall. How does this affect the mood and how does everyone respond to these changes? What are you wearing? Do you need armor, a wand, or perhaps a hooded cloak? Do your shoes echo on the floor or your feet bare?
How can you imagine the scene to experience a sense of contentment and inner peace? What if you wanted to amplify the mystical qualities of this place. Your mind has the capacity to change the narrative and also shift the emotional state. You have the power to experience this painting in any manner of your choosing.
Pause and let your mind expand and let any intrusive thoughts pass through so you are not interrupted as we go even deeper into this landscape. Let's extend this dreamlike place past what we see before us. Walk to the far edge of the room, standing between the two columns. What do you see as you look out? When you look over the edge. What do you see, just outside this building? How far into the distance can you see? Try to see it as far out as you can perhaps to a body of water and neighboring village or dense forest. How high up are you? Can you get a sense of the size of the building you’re in from your vantage point?
From inside your pocket, pull out a spool of yarn. Move out of the frame of the scene and into the room adjacent. Allow the yarn to unravel as you wander around so you can easily find your way back. What do you find in the adjacent room? How do you imagine all the other rooms in hallways to look? What trinkets and treasures do you find in the various rooms? Are there staircases? What are those like? Other secret chambers? Who are the other occupants of this place? Think about what's around each corner and on the floor above or below you. What new sounds, can you hear as you explore more intently?
Continue to roam as far and as wide as this spool of yarn will take you making time to peer into key holes, browse stacks of books. Feel the warmth of a blaze and a stone fireplace and sample delicacies laid on a table. Pause to look out the window and locate where you are in the building. If at any point you wish to turn back, know that you can. Once the spool of yarn has come to an end, turn around and follow it back to the room you first entered. Take in all the details of the room, knowing you made it safely back. Say goodbye to everyone in the room as you prepare to leave, thanking them for allowing you to freely explore.
When you're ready, step out of the painting and feel your body grow and take up more space. Settle into your body, the container that holds your soul. Slowly inhale and exhale, three times. Look around you and become attuned to the environment you're in. Orient to the present time. Realize that anytime you have the power to shift your perspectives, imagine things differently, and to explore beyond what is visible to the naked eye. Know that your mind has an extraordinary ability to free you from what confines you. Remember that anytime you can tap into this power safely within your body.
Leonora Carrington once said, “I've always had access to other worlds. We all do. Because we dream.” Reflect on the possibilities of visualization and imagery and infinite capacity. Your mind has when you open yourself up to it.