Automatism in art
Automatism is a form of “instant art” — the destination, the final product, the aim of the work is completely and purposefully unknown at the time of commencement. It’s exactly like automatic writing, but a picture, not words: instant illustration. Automatic drawing and automatic painting.
The topic is discussed in the book Poets on Painters, a collection of essays on art.
A good introduction to the technique and its history is found in this article from Answers.com, which lists out some of the early pioneers and more famous examples of artists applying techniques of automatism in their work. In 1933, Time magazine ran an article on automatic painting, profiling the artist Marion Bush. In more recent times it’s been called “yoga for artists” and a way to “channel” altered states of consciousness.
It’s simple. You just draw (or paint), going with an empty mind — you don’t think at what you’re trying to arrive at or what it is you are trying to illustrate. It’s all on process. The idea is to just start drawing, or painting, taking the instrument in hand and going — not thinking, not planning, but allowing for only the motion and the flow. It probably helps if you have the basics of painting already down, so a book like Instant Oil Painting is helpful at first just to learn basic craft.
Automatism as applied to art therapy and meditation
Techniques of automatic drawing are used for art therapy purposes because of their meditative qualities. Called “meditative drawing.”
In the literature, this appears in discussion at around the time of the surrealist painters. It’s the topic of a book by Milton H. Erickson, Use of Automatic Drawing in the Interpretation and Relief of a State of Acure Obsessional Depression, which was published in 1938!
For further reference