Recently I stumbled on artist Ugo Rondinone’s Seven Magic Mountains, with its fluorescently-painted totems of large, car-size stones stacked 32 feet high in the desert outside Las Vegas.

From a distance, it makes for a wildly joyful vision, as though some brightly-colored giants were heading my way across the arid desert-scape. It reminded me a bit of poet Gary Snyder’s description of how poetry comes to him:

It comes blundering over the
Boulders at night, it stays
Frightened outside the 
Range of my campfire
I go to meet it at the
Edge of the light.

Rondinone’s big bold ideas are happily and forthrightly presenting themselves, yet are still needing to be met…

Gianfranco Gorgoni for Nevada Museum of Art

I asked David Saltman of The Houdini File what Rondinone’s totems made him think of. In a riff of perfect free association he said:  Lollypop… Menorah  

It made me laugh for reasons unknown, and strangely in tune with the holidays.

Free associating, expressing without censorship to access to unconscious information, is a practice we can employ anywhere with always-interesting, reliably-unpredictable results: fertile ground for creative ideas. (It is also an illuminating way to enjoy a work of art.)

So say whatever goes through your mind. Act as though, for instance, you were a traveller sitting next to the window of a railway carriage and describing to someone inside the carriage the changing views you see outside. 

― Sigmund Freud, On Beginning the Treatment (1913)

 

Isaac Brekken for The New York Times

 

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