Tuesday, 28 June 2011

the gap

McNiff  talks about the gap between 'the idea' (which presumably also includes 'the thing', if you're working from life) and what actually comes out - whether onto the page, onto the stage, or into the air. Something clicked in me when I read this. I began to wonder whether this was central to my blocked years - had I (do I) always interpret(ed) the gap as my own inadequacy, an indicator of my unique and apparently insuperable inability to focus?

You see the thing that makes your heart sing (the shape of a plant stem curling to the light, the splendour of the sky, the mass of yellow against a background of green). You take up your crayon and you 'draw it'. Then you look down and you see this ridiculous little apology for the splendour of nature, this scrawl, this mere line made with a crayon. I've always vaguely intuited this as a kind of problem. I never liked heavy oil paint, or acrylic, because, well, because they were clearly paint. How inadequate was that?? So, in the end, I stopped trying to do that thing with the crayon that I wanted to do every time I looked out of my window.

McNiff talks about the gap always being there (heavy on italics today!). It's not 'your little problem'. It's not the general impossibility of painting, of the art world, of technique. It's just the gap - the reality of a human being looking out at the world and trying to respond. Of course the thing on the paper doesn't look like what made you pick up the crayon. And not only does that not matter, it's actually the point. You can take a photo if you want to 'capture' something. As someone pointed out to me recently, very realistic work can be quite bland and strangely pointless, apart perhaps from being an impressive display of technique.

Perhaps the whole business of painting (or dance, or poetry, or music...) is about the gap. It has to be there, because the mark you make has come through the prism that is you - and you can only make marks that have undergone that process. As soon as the first mark is there, then the work begins. It's a surprise, always a surprise. You have to deal with the surprise, not run from it. You have to react to it by putting a second mark, or another smear.

This is creation. Not gaining some kind of technical control over materials and/or the world you're looking at. Surprise after surprise, and working with the material reality of what's appeared. That's it. This is why everyone can do it. We just have to learn stop sabotaging and judging that first little mark...


  1. This is so helpful and comforting. I have been struggling with the gap between what I write and what the many brilliant poets write. This gives me permission to respond in my way and for that to be OK

  2. It's amazing, isn't it, how we seem to fear the sound of our own voice...



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