James Torrell’s spiritual blueprint

If you look into artists’ childhood memories, drawings, and music and literature they liked, you will most likely see the connection to what they create as adults. The American artist James Turrell, whose art I love, illustrates this beautifully.


Whenever I visit the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, I go to the space he created and see the framed sky. I hope to be there alone. In interviews, he often recalls a childhood memory that I believe is a cornerstone of his art. In an interview with Art21, he recounts one of his earliest memories of visiting a Quaker meeting house and asking his grandmother what he was supposed to be doing. Her response: “Just wait, we’re going inside to greet the light.”


Greeting the light is part of his blueprint. You cannot think of Turrell without the element of light and space. A meaningful memory of childhood connected to a close person—his grandmother—may come to represent the source of longing and beginning of a lifelong search. It is an intriguing symbolic phenomenon that his grandmother as an elder linked him to light as a physical-spiritual element.

As an art educator and therapist, I am attuned to such stories. Often, they are connected to what the hands are creating. When a therapist identifies the patient’s blueprint, it can be used as a tool toward understanding their specific permission needs. To be accurate and therefore therapeutically helpful and present requires us to search with attention and a feeling of wanting to grant the other the exact “thing” they need. In the open studio setting, I observe and document the patient’s characteristic artistic phenomenology—qualities of line, color, shape, composition—and also how the process happens with their body and materials. I record the body’s actions as verb lists—pouring, scraping, jabbing, brushing in long strokes, for instance. These observations will lead us to the patient’s personality core, and there is a good chance that we will find it, along with the permission he needs. Deciphering the spiritual blueprint of others is an act of generosity and social interest. According to Adler, this is an act of responsibility towards the other, towards our shared humanity.


This text is cited from The Book of Permission, 2023

The Spiritual Blueprint


Be my Guest: James Turell under Jerusalem light


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