Cover image for Point zero : creativity without limits
Point zero : creativity without limits
Cassou, Michele, 1942-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, [2001]

Physical Description:
231 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 23 cm
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ND1140 .C38 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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A guide to breaking through creative blocks to discover the emotional and spiritual rewards of spontaneous art.In Life, Paint and Passion, creativity expert Michele Cassou showed readers how to discover the magic of intuitive expression. For many of us it is difficult just to let go and create something. Cassou shows us that once we engage in the artistic process it is quite possible to gain access to a powerful spiritual reserve within us. In Point Zero, Cassou takes the process further by providing an original method of inquiry that can be utilized in the face of doubt, conflict, and lack of inspiration. Through stories of her work with dozens of students, she shows the reader how to overcome creative difficulties of all kinds.In the creative quest, Cassou teaches us, we must slay three dragons: The Dragon of Product fights the artist's spontaneity; the Dragon of Control bars the door to the unknown and the truly mysterious; and the Dragon of Meaning fights intuition and creativity by demanding interpretation and resolution with every move. Cassou arms us with a clear method for creating specific questions relevant to the situation of the moment, questions which are designed to dissolve barriers to creativity. She shows us how we can come face-to-face with the energy that creates our blocks, and then to use this encounter to return to Point Zero, the ground from which pure creation springs. In this place of infinite possibility, art becomes not a means to an end but a place which we may inhabit and in which we can explore our true selves and the mysteries of our lives.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

At first glance, Cassou's approach to overcoming creative blocks seems simple--she counsels students to ask themselves key questions to land them at what she terms "Point Zero," or the seat of creativity. But in all her real-life examples, none of the students know what to ask. One student in her painting workshop painted a spaceship, but didn't know what to do next. According to Cassou's diagnosis, his self-judgment and desire for control had closed the door to inspiration. After some prodding, he finally asked: "What would I paint if it was really okay for me to not be in control?" Like magic, he was "instantly energized" to paint large dark insects crawling around the ship. Cassou documents similar breakthroughs in almost every chapter, as she outlines the "Creative Quest" and the "dragons" that block the way: the Dragon of Product emphasizes the outcome, but not the process of creation; the Dragon of Control avoids risk, fearing the unknown; the Dragon of Meaning wants to analyze every step of the process, preferring reason to feeling. Cassou distrusts thinking, proposing that if one decides what to paint, one is "artificially simulating emotions." Only intuition unleashes creativity, she says. But Cassou doesn't offer specific guidance (e.g., exercises) for formulating the questions that lead to Point Zero. And while she asserts that the Point Zero method is applicable to any activity, here she focuses solely on painting. Her New Age prose will further limit this book's readership to the converted. 16 pages of color illus. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved All rights reserved.



Chapter One Creativity Unleashed Soulful Shelter As a child, I loved the dizziness that came when I asked myself, "What is at the edge of the universe? What is found when all ends?" I often tried to go there to look at what happens when matter stops. My mind searched for that edge in every way possible, eager to glimpse the unknown. I wouldn't give up until I got a strange twirling feeling in my head. That sensation would tell me that I had gone as far as possible for the moment. I relished that mysterious perception. Then, without further effort, a familiar sensation of soft vertigo would arise, with the delightful feeling of having stretched my consciousness to its limit. I would arrive at that amazing place and feel totally intimate with it. With my senses outstretched to new dimensions, I recognized this as the place I came from-away from the limitation of age, body, and name, away from the narrow space allotted to me as a human. My attempts to answer my question would move me into a vastness where I knew I belonged. It felt like home.     Years later, when I let myself be fully free in my expression, I discovered that creative painting has the same effect on me. As I let my hand be guided by an inner impulse, it was moved by energies much beyond my will or comprehension. I would enter that primary place at the edge of matter, that other side of reality. Painting would slow the activity of my mind or simply short-circuit it. I was led into that great expanse where consciousness frees itself from its thoughts and knowledge. Guided by what seemed an ancient impulse, I would lose my sense of time and space. It did not matter what was being painted. My being was riding the wave, silent and soft, barely witnessing the little space where the painter was painting. Concerns about my life miraculously withered away. My familiar self seemed to do nothing as I painted. It all happened by itself. I remembered how utterly familiar was that sense of belonging to a larger reality. I had forgotten it all.     Young children go to that magical place periodically to rest and refuel, to survive in the world of knowledge where hundreds of concepts are thrown at them every day, concepts that gradually steal their capacity to reach that soulful shelter. I saw how hungry and desperate I was to meet my own self there.     I was struck with joy when I realized the underlying, meaningful aspect of the creative act, its hidden beauty and intelligence. It happened at the children's studio where, suddenly free from rules and expectations, I discovered the unending power of my intuition. There was no more encompassing path, no deeper goal for what I wanted from life. Creation would inevitably guide me to transcend my narrow boundaries, my limited thoughts, my self-identification. It would pull me away from my clinging to the know; it would break my chains and free me to explore.     From that moment on, my trust was complete. What more could I ask for? The water of creation would find its way down the mountain, over many rocks and tender soil, through rains and storms and clear weather. It would find its route, surely, in the most harmonious way, in the only possible way. I had found my guide, a guide inspired by what I could not see. Until now, my adult mind could only view one small patch of existence. Now, creation could help me transcend that limitation. Through creation, I could express myself and enjoy the delight of freedom.     Through my child eyes, I had looked at adults and wondered why they seemed to miss what was essential; why they never seemed to touch the edge of life. Back then, I was pulled between two worlds-the traditional world of things and people and the other world, vast and mysterious. Now, creativity finally cracked the shell of my own beliefs. My passion to create became the bridge between myself and the background of all things. As I reached the Point of No Return-a place of full merging with creativity-my passion turned to the search of what lies beyond the edge of the universe, and there I encountered what I had almost touched as a child. I met the spirit. The Rose--First Step into Creation My father liked to settle in our little den on Sundays to color black-and-white photographs of the family. Coloring photographs is a very precise and delicate task, yet he could spend hours patiently adding shades to pictures, giving them a brand-new look.     In his young years, my father had dreamed of being a painter. He loved the arts, but his parents had stressed the importance of a career to support his family-to-be. He had surrendered. "They were right," he used to say, looking thoughtfully at us, his seven children, sitting around the kitchen table. My father had become an engineer, but his dream had not died.     By the time I was four, I became aware of my father's extraordinary gift: He had the skill and the power to paint. A picture he'd painted was hanging in our entrance hall to prove it. The painting-three pastel roses on a pale blue background-was framed in gold. It was astounding.     One day, leaning against the armchair near his old, wooden desk, my father initiated me into the magic of creation. He taught me how to paint a rose. To watch the birth of something out of nothing is an experience I never forgot. It was like witnessing a miracle. It lit a fire inside me. I had always felt immense wonderment watching chicks emerge from their eggs and seeing seeds give birth to live plants, but never had I realized that I too could create, that I might have that mysterious power. With the birth of the rose, my world expanded instantly and became filled with possibilities; suddenly my dreams had places to go and my longing to create was born.     I spent the next few weeks in a sort of ecstasy, drawing and painting roses until my enthusiasm died down. Then, I went to my father and asked him to show me more of his magic secrets, but he was too busy to teach me at length. So, in my disappointment, I proceeded to learn on my own. I copied images from books and magazines. I filled coloring books and studied shapes. I worked hard and often, and started the long wait for adulthood. I knew that someday, somewhere, I would find a school, a technique, or a teacher that would show me how to make art.     While waiting, I had to find a way to prepare myself for creation. I would regularly scavenge the garbage pail next to my mother's desk and retrieve scraps of paper, cardboard, postcards, little strings, stamp endings, colored things. I made collages and constructions, even though I was always lacking most of the basic materials. I dreamed of being so rich that I could have an unending supply of tape, glue, scissors, paints, and brushes. I went to nature and gathered twigs and stones and shells and glued them together or carved them. I sculpted, varnished, and colored.     Still, I thought I needed to be taught. I had no suspicion that all I would ever need and want was inside me. That is why, years later, as soon as I could afford it, I registered at an art school in Paris.     I sat at a worktable in a classroom with twenty other students. I was given a white plaster statue of a young man's head and a dozen tools to measure and calculate proportions. Within a few minutes, the teacher had erased most of what I had done and then gave me instructions on how to use the instruments. Was this the first phase of learning? I remember searching his eyes for a spark. Where was the passion of those who give their lives to art? I couldn't sense any.     After just a few short weeks, I couldn't bear going to that class anymore; I was already too accustomed to my freedom. I quit and looked for other art schools in Paris. Everywhere, the same disillusion was waiting for me.     After spending a couple of years searching for the right school, I gave up painting on the advice of my last art teacher who had said, "Michele, painting is not for you. If you want to express yourself, write or do something else." I believed him and gave away my oil paints and my precious brushes. I was only in my early twenties, but I thought I had lost my lifelong dream. I became sad and depressed. I didn't know that the way had been cleared for me. I had been stripped of the idea of having any talent or being able to learn or even understand what art was. Any hope of living an artist's life had been destroyed. I had nothing left to cling to; no ready-made path I could take. Only one thing was left. I had to find my own way. I had to start from zero.     That was when I decided to find a way to work with children. If I was not talented enough to paint or to teach adults to paint, maybe I could help guide and support children, be around them, watch them create. So when I finally entered the free expression studio to watch the children paint, my eyes were free from expectations. I was able, for the first time, to see creativity floating in the air, to sense it, to touch it, to breathe it. I was so hungry for it that it filled me in an instant. My heart had found its passion, my soul its resting place. I didn't need anything from outside me. It was all in me, just as it is in every human being: the capacity, the ability, and the power to create. Nothing was missing. A Teacher's Story When I rediscovered my passion for painting through my work with the children, I set up a painting studio in my two-bedroom apartment in Paris and invited my friends to come and paint. Even when they had little enthusiasm, I never interfered with their work because of my great respect for the creative process. I could not forget that I had found my calling to paint among children in a place that didn't allow criticism or judgment. I had found my passion in a context of freedom and play, a place without rules and agendas. I had been left to pull entirely on my own resources to create, and it had worked like magic.     While painting with the children, I soon started holding classes and workshops in my home, determined to help painters-to-be make the same discovery: You have all you need inside to create; just follow your intuition. I knew I had no right to interfere in their paintings lest I damage their ability to find their true uniqueness. My dilemma started there. How was I to help painters help themselves without influencing them?     In my workshops, each held for a few days, I talked about the power of play, spontaneity, and intuition, and the principles of creativity that I had discovered through my own painting process. I developed ways to stir and stimulate creativity. Because I painted every day, I tested everything on myself. I came up with the funniest ideas, like having a crazy lady or man or a make-believe twin paint. (Pretending to be someone who is very free will drop self-consciousness and fear.) I introduced students to the concept of creative destruction to face intense feelings by channeling frustrated energy into strong and direct images. I expounded on the key importance of always finishing the painting, and I talked about judgments and expectations and how they damage the ability to create. I taught about listening to intuition and the necessity to respect and never destroy the work. I cautioned them again and again to let go of product and embrace process.     In my workshops, students painted for many hours every day and built a momentum of creative energy that carried them into the creative unknown. When they experienced a block or a lack of inspiration, I was there, helping them directly. They seemed to thrive under my guidance and loved to paint. Slowly, I became more involved in their process as I discovered the infinite possibilities of creativity. My teacher's intuition sharpened, and I found myself becoming more closely connected to my students' work. I looked at myself as a midwife, helping to deliver their art, or sometimes as a radar, receiving messages and sending them back to my students. I happily witnessed thousands of changes, discoveries, breakthroughs, and healings. I became an expert at dissolving creative blocks.     Unfortunately, however, few of my students painted outside my workshops. Most of them complained about not being able to find their inspiration when alone. They said they couldn't go as deep in themselves as they did in my class. The outcome of their painting seemed to become more important when nobody was there to remind them to let it go. They talked about being distracted by everything. Often, their enthusiasm for painting lasted but a short while. My dilemma was growing. Something was not right: My teaching had made my students somewhat dependent on my interactions despite my good intentions and a method built on freedom and respect.     Why, if everyone can create, couldn't my students unblock themselves after they had experienced unblocking with my help? The question was: How could the teaching and the teacher give them the means to rely uniquely on themselves? Something had to shift. This is when I discovered that Point Zero, which had played such a huge role in my own creation, could be used as a teaching method. In a new light, I saw its amazing power and its key place in creation. This new concept gave intuitive painting a framework. Painters now could use Point Zero, a place where they could listen to their intuition at any time. Finally, they had something substantial to work with outside my workshops.     I started experimenting with Point Zero in my intensive groups with exciting results. I had students do the unblocking work I had been doing for them for so many years. It was not easy at first because they needed to have a full understanding of creativity before it could work. But soon, I was able to guide them to find and ask their own unblocking questions. They felt empowered instantly. They learned how to get out of difficult places by themselves, which could ensure a continual flow of their creation instead of being dependent on a teacher or on the volatility of inspiration.     This concept transformed my workshops. Suddenly my work as a teacher was solely to convey how creativity works and to let the students practice so they could take the method with them wherever they went. They could now explore the vast unknowns of their lives without me showing them the way anytime it became difficult.     From then on, I guided my students toward that wonderful place. I observed that they would often ask themselves questions that didn't have the power to reach them deep inside. Their questions would talk to their minds instead of opening the door to the mysterious unknown. Like a broken compass, these questions would never find the way home to Point Zero, the womb of creation. I hammered into them that their questions had to be oriented to reach the source of creation every time; that nothing less would do. If they could understand Point Zero and how to build a particular question using their blocks, asking it would become simple, and it would bring back the flow of creativity automatically. What had closed the door to the creative flow would now open it. The questions had to have only one purpose: to take them back to Point Zero again and again.     I remember one week in New York a few years ago, during a workshop at the Open Center for Learning, when my new method of teaching finally fell into place and how the students felt empowered by their creativity. After only a few days, they became confident that when they were alone, they could move through the ups and downs of the creative process.     After my years of exploration, my dilemma had finally dissolved. My teaching entered the student from within to do its work at the core. Inside each painter, Point Zero was revealing itself as a source of strength and inspiration. Two Ways to Approach Painting Tell me what you plan to do with your one wild and precious life. Mary Oliver When you want to paint, you can start two ways: The first is to study the techniques pertaining to making art, such as composition, color balancing, texture, and perspective. You study until you master the skill that allows you to portray what you like. But that is not enough. You want your work to be alive and original, and you want to feel passion running through your blood. This cannot be taught. This is when the real test starts.     If you want to experience passion, you need to get your heart and soul involved. The heart needs freedom to express, respond, and invent. The fact is, you need to transcend learned techniques. Many great masters describe that place in their creative process as a turning point. Following years of work and study, they felt the urge to go beyond technique. There, they found the amazing joy of freedom and authenticity.     Trying to reach such a place, however, has a drawback. It is often a difficult challenge to reclaim freedom after years of learning and to let go of the habits and conditionings that come with it. When painters fail to find that spontaneous place, they often think that a lack of talent is responsible.     The second option is not to study at all and enter creation with innocence and freedom from the start. You discover how to be spontaneous; you develop your intuition; you follow the inspiration of your heart; you approach painting from the opposite side. Skill and technique are not the focus of the work; they will develop in time. This approach demands that you do not focus on product, but that you become acquainted with Point Zero, the source of creation. It liberates you from the pressures of success and failure and aims instantly toward authenticity, personal style, and aliveness. This approach requires a deep understanding of creativity and a willingness to explore. Moreover, the intuitive path affects and enhances your entire life because it demands that you respond from your whole being.     Whether you have studied painting extensively or have never painted, the approach through intuition is the same. A professional artist may find in it a renewed inspiration and fresh excitement because the intuitive world suddenly opens in the most surprising and unexpected ways. On the other hand, beginners at painting rejoice in their ability to play, experiment, and express themselves in a non-judgmental context. They may be delighted by the opportunity to play with colors and to reach feelings without outside pressures. They learn to trust what comes spontaneously and are intrigued by the unexpected images and endless combinations of forms and colors. They quickly notice the healing qualities of creativity and its potential to change their lives.     You can start creating from intuition at any point in your process, regardless of your history and goals. Whether you are a complete beginner or a professional artist, you need to unlearn what you've been taught and move beyond knowing. You must let go of your plans so the mystery can find you. When the patterns of knowing dissolve, the heart becomes engaged. Your creativity becomes stimulated and renewed through the use of Point Zero. Creative passion, then, is at hand. Copyright © 2001 Michele Cassou. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

This Bookp. 1
1. Creativity Unleashedp. 3
Soulful Shelterp. 4
The Rose--First Step into Creationp. 7
A Teacher's Storyp. 10
Two Ways to Approach Paintingp. 15
2. The Creative Questp. 19
The Wondrous Journeyp. 20
Point Zerop. 22
A State of Beingp. 25
Why Ask Questions?p. 27
The Power of Questionsp. 30
How to Build a Questionp. 32
Dragonsp. 36
3. The Dragon of Productp. 39
I Can't Paint!p. 40
Find Your Freedomp. 45
Intuition Is Always on Your Sidep. 49
Do I Need a Plan?p. 52
You Don't Need a Reasonp. 55
The Spontaneous Development of Techniquep. 58
Concepts Are Empty Skinsp. 61
A Good Question Speaks to the Heartp. 63
On Trying to Make Your Painting Look Alivep. 66
Tired and Boredp. 68
Painting Your Bodyp. 70
The Wax Museum of Your Mindp. 74
Point of Contactp. 76
Inside the Heartbeat of Creationp. 78
4. The Dragon of Controlp. 81
Process Not Controlp. 82
Spontaneous Expressionp. 84
Follow Your Feelingsp. 86
Let Your Body Sense Your Questionsp. 90
Anatomy of Creative Blocksp. 93
Reaching the Corep. 96
Drink and Eat Your Questionp. 99
Are You a Shrinker?p. 102
Repeat: A Good Signp. 104
Exploring Your Dreamsp. 108
Sexuality and Taboosp. 111
Permission to Be Badp. 115
The Power of Embarrassmentp. 119
Suspicion of Spontaneityp. 122
5. The Dragon of Meaningp. 125
Caught Up in a Storyp. 126
Seduction of Contentp. 130
Fighting with the Universep. 134
Going the Whole Wayp. 137
Artificially Simulated Emotionsp. 141
Benevolent Darknessp. 144
The Alchemy of Creationp. 148
Imagination or Intuitionp. 151
Being Connectedp. 153
Painting from Your Heartp. 156
Omens?p. 159
Painter's Cornerp. 162
Worms and Beautyp. 164
6. Creativity and Spiritualityp. 167
Intuition Moving Through My Lifep. 168
Reaching the Point of No Returnp. 171
Insightsp. 174
God or the Idea of God?p. 177
A Zen Master in Your Pocketp. 179
Meeting the Spiritp. 182
Natural Wisdomp. 185
Suddenly, Two Worldsp. 189
The Eye-Eating Buddhap. 191
The Ecstasy of Paintingp. 195
The Shiftp. 197
7. Pointersp. 201
The Ten Principles of Creativityp. 202
Teachings to Rememberp. 205
Colors, Abstracts, and Preferencesp. 218
Looking at Your Finished Paintingsp. 220
Showing Your Paintingsp. 223
Point Zero for All Art Formsp. 224
Appendixp. 227
Brushes, Paint, and Paperp. 228
Contact Informationp. 230
Acknowledgmentsp. 231