Most of our waking thoughts, decisions, and perceptions are premeditated—informed by social mores and logic. By limiting ourselves to logic, we may be closing ourselves off to our dream world and subconscious. Access to both heightens our ability to cultivate fresh and new perceptions on work, self, and life in general.
In the early twentieth century, writers and artists involved in the Surrealist movement attempted to unleash their subconscious instincts, creativity, and imagination. They found liberation from the shackles of social convention and rationality by employing psychoanalytic techniques to encourage stream-of-consciousness thinking, writing, and art making. Practicing “automatism,” or automatic writing and drawing, in which writing and drawing become random acts, allowed for pure expression without censorship. No longer the products of controlled thought, words and images revealed important parts of their subconscious and dream world.
It can be quite hard to distance ourselves from the thought and speech patterns we’ve been developing since infancy. After all, it would be difficult to function in our world without maintaining social decorum and rationality. But for brief pockets of time, it is helpful to nurture the lesser-known parts of our psyches. Repressed memories, emotions, and beliefs can be sorted through, and crucial aspects of our personalities can be understood.
But how can we begin to engage with our subconscious? Conducting certain exercises with friends and loved ones might help you approach automatism, as you create oddly harmonious—and usually illogical—words or images. A favorite collaborative drawing and writing game of the Surrealists is called “exquisite corpse.” Don’t let the name scare you, because the game is enjoyable and even revelatory. Think of the game of Telephone or Mad Libs, but more artistic. Play “exquisite corpse” (explained below) on your next game night. You might even free your mind.
- Gather friends. Collect a blank sheet of paper, a few pens, and some good friends around a table. Inform your friends that you’ll be composing a poem together, but don’t discuss genre or subject matter. If you wish, you may predetermine the sentence structure (so you might all decide that the poem should be comprised of sentences that start with an adjective and end with a verb).
- Compose a communal poem. The first person will start the poem by writing one word. If you decided upon a sentence structure, then the first person will start with a particular part of speech. The first person will then conceal his or her word by folding the paper or taping over it, and pass the paper to the next participant, who will continue the poem with his or her own word, conceal it, and pass the paper to the next person. The game continues many rounds until you have, as a group, written several sentences.
- Read your masterpiece aloud. Unfold the paper or remove the tape so all words are uncovered. Read the poem aloud. Since you combined the thoughts of multiple people and in turn ignored grammar and learned modes of expression, the result should be refreshing and surprising. This game can easily be modified to create a drawing instead of a poem. To do so, follow the same procedure, except instead of writing, draw.