Sunday, 29 May 2011

kiss the ground

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

Jelaluddin Rumi

Music is such a different kind of creativity to painting or drawing. With drawing or painting you wrestle alone, away from the crowds, with your sense of purpose, with your impetus and your restrictions. Whatever process lies behind the work that eventually appears is over by the time anyone sees what you create.

Music, on the other hand, although of course you can do it alone, ultimately moves in the direction if not of performance, at least of playing with other people. The issues of feeling can't be dealt with in the privacy and safety of your workplace. They have to be dealt with in the moment of creation, in the non-safety of social space. If you can do it, what comes out is ephemeral, and, unless you're recording, is only known within that uniquely shared social space. It's the ultimate 'living in the moment', really. You know it as it's happening - you are it as it's happening - and then it's gone, leaving no trace.

Which makes me think of that idea you sometimes hear being expressed about painting - that you could throw away the end result because 'it's the process that counts'. That doesn't seem quite right somehow, because in painting you're working with materials in order to bring a material object into being. Music doesn't have that kind of materiality.

I love Rumi's idea of 'not opening the door to the study'. This poem is on the cover of a wonderful piece of music (which you can hear here ) which was created by Ry Cooder and Vishwa Mohan Bhatt in the middle of the night, half an hour after they first met, with no rehearsal.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

the engine of creativity

I seem to have come back again and again to the idea that we're largely taught by our culture that the capacity to create is something innate, inborn, bestowed upon a chosen few. And yet increasingly it seems to me that actually pretty much everyone wants to create. Not just in the broad sense that most jobs, and all of human life, require constant creative responses simply to keep themselves treading water (let alone moving forward). Most people, if asked, seem to yearn for some kind of  'expression'  - they secretly would love to draw, or paint, or play an instrument, or write something; to dance, or take photographs, to weave materials or stand up and make people laugh.

If this is the case, why is it so often a secret, and why do those people express these desires with such a sense of futility, as if they might as well dream of flying off to the moon? I suspect that the answer is that the driver of creativity is not talent, genius or any special kind of compulsion. It seems to me that this fundamental human impulse is instead fuelled by feeling, emerging out of the interaction of a human being with the endless cycles and circumstances of  the social and natural worlds. It's as integral to our condition as breathing; an impulse as inescapable as the desire to eat, or communicate, or gaze at the waves.

If this is so, then the reasons that we don't create in the ways we secretly long to are presumably also to do with issues of feeling. Blows, perhaps, received in childhood, or strong overlays of social obligation;  disconnects within ourselves which have fashioned themselves out of subterranean levels of experience, and which can perhaps only show themselves occasionally in dreams.Julia Cameron, author of The Artist's Way, seems to recognise this in the early chapters of her book, which are entitled 'Recovering a sense of safety', Recovering a sense of identity', and 'Recovering a sense of power'.

I've been thinking about this because I'm observing a change in my relationship to music. I mentioned some time ago that this has been so problematic for me that I had completely given up - both playing itself, and also trying to understand why it seemed to be so impossible to play in any kind of relaxed way. Both my external and internal conditions have been slowly changing over the last year or so.  And now, almost suddenly, and without any effort, music is starting to emerge into a space that seems to have lost its sense of strain, and its crippling self-consciousness.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A portfolio

At the last meeting of the creativity group, one of our members showed us the portfolios she's been doing for two different courses; one on felting and one on embroidery. If you're about to think, how folksy, quilty, girly, stop yourself right there. The embroidery course involves a detailed study of line and design; the felting course an in-depth study of both colour and sheep...

The first series of pictures here show how she gradually develops a design from focussing in on a section of a cabbage, trying out different principles of colour theory at the same time:

The next series shows experimentation with different textures of line, and then design shapes created in various ways:

I love this last one - she spotted the design made by the 'mistake' of moving the image while it was scanning...

By the time I got to the stitches, I was looking at embroidery in a completely different way.  I saw the variety of the stitches and the different wools in a way I would never normally have noticed (thinking, mmm, embroidery, not my thing...).

The next two show experiments with different background wools (apparently some mix up with the colours, whereas others don't, which you have to take account of in terms of what this does to the colour). Most interesting, to me, is the way that secondary colours are made optically - if you look closely, you can see the two primary colours quite distinctly.

This (below) was, I think, an example of how dyes take differently on different colours and types of wool...

The next series show the mixing of threads to make different colours, using different types of wool.

A colour and shape exercise.

Simply colour theory, but until I saw this (below) I had actually forgotten about tertiary colours (mixing green and orange, for example).

The same with tints and tones, it's so helpful to see it all laid out so systematically like this. To say nothing of what you would learn by being so systematic, I imagine.

These colour exercises below are to me beautiful paintings in their own right.

Here are two of the felt experiments, which I also see as paintings in their own right, plus a combination of felt and embroidery.

Someone commented afterwards how different art college would have been for them if they had done things like this. It's true - how different might art college have been for us if we'd spent time playing with materials, learning about colour and marks in a very simple way?

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

transcendence, immanence?

In some ways, creativity enables people to transcend ordinary existence (insofar as creativity is, by definition, making something NEW, ie going beyond what existed before)

A friend made this comment to me recently. I never know what to think of the idea of transcendence. It seems to me that it's suggesting moving away from something; above, beyond, taking you to somewhere else. And, by definition, thereby, to some degree separating you from the thing you're transcending.

It seems to me that creativity is the opposite of this. It doesn't take you away, place you above, detach you from ordinary existence. It takes you further in to your existence; opening up dimensions within the apparently ordinary that before you were unable to perceive...


Wednesday, 4 May 2011

emergence, once more

I seem to continually be discovering what I see to be the truly emergent nature of (the kind of) drawing and painting (that I'm currently doing). As I write this, I wonder if all drawing and painting is emergent in the same way, even though a more representational focus might appear to suggest otherwise. Because even if you're trying to paint a grape to look like a grape, what happens in front of you has, in some strange way, a life of its own. You see the grape, you make colours in paint, you put down what you feel you're seeing. But even the most representational painting is still, irrevocably, paint, rather than grape. And I expect the painter of grapes probably also feels that 'the thing' is emerging in its own way in front of her eyes, almost inspite of all her intentions and skills.

She perceives the paint, and makes an adjustment. The adjustment changes everything, and she responds again, changing everything, again. And so it goes on. Sometimes, at the time she decides to stop this process, what has ended up on the page or canvas seems to have appeared there through some process largely beyond the control of the hand that held the crayon or the brush.

And what of the judgements involved, the so-called decisions? A painter friend of mine apparently once said that you shouldn't stand back and look until you've finished, or at least until you've done a fair bit of this working and responding without thought. Someone else said that you can't trust the judging mind, even when it's your own, about your own painting. Because sometimes that judging mind gets it wrong. How can the mind get it wrong about its own process? Good question.

But it happens. Sometimes you feel, after some time of this kind of process, that your painting is quite lost, complete rubbish. If you manage not to immediately destroy it out of your frustration, you get up and walk away, finished with the whole sorry business. And then you come back, a few hours, or even days later, and you suddenly see that all isn't, in fact, lost at all. You were wrong. It's as if when you're in the process of responding and doing, there's a largely unconscious dialogue going on between different things, which, as long as you don't stop and think too much, is self-generating, self-organising, continually emergent. The process seems to 'know' where it's going, as this movement of responding and seeing and judging and responding again unfolds through time. Eventually, the movement starts to perceive a need to begin stop itself, as the process works its way to its own conclusion. Sometimes that's a comfortable enough feeling for consciousness and emotion. Sometimes it isn't, and the feeling of needing to stop apppears along with a kind of sickening.

Being so attentive to our thoughts and judgements, at the point of sickening and ending, consciousness seems often to come in and to start to make negative judgements. It's as if semi-consciousness knows what it's doing, but fuller consciousness doesn't seem to have that connection.....


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