Tuesday, 27 May 2014

how a lack of faeries kills artists

A very refreshing talk on negative cultural attitudes to creativity... and some other ways of seeing.



Monday, 19 May 2014

control, manipulation and breath

Zoie Kennedy
Seems to me this wise essay on puppets could apply to any artform...


And here it is rewritten for painting...

The Myths of Painting
Eric Bass/tamsin haggis
May 14, 2014
Every object has natural properties. For the moment, I will use the words painting  and object interchangeably. The painting is, after all, an object. The natural properties of the object are determined by the materials, and by the size, shape, and function of the object. These properties are true of paintings, as well, and one can add to the properties of the painting, the painting’s character, which has emerged as the painting appeared in the studio. That character is not only a matter of style or figuration. It is also a matter of the limitations of the function of the painting. A painting cannot do everything that we would expect of images in life. It is allows for a specific range of tones, gestures and shapes. These limitations give it its character as much as any painterly elements.

The Myth of Control
There are two myths about painting that need to be exploded. The first of them is the more obvious. It is the myth that the artist controls the painting. This myth is, of course, supported by numerous catch phrases in our language and culture:
 He’s so talented, what skill she has, she’s a natural creative . All suggest that the artist makes the painting do whatever he or she wants. Although some artists do try to impose their will on the objects of their art, most know that this is a disservice to both art and to the painting. Our job, our art, is to bring the painting to life. To impose control over the object is, in both spirit and practice, the opposite of this.

As painters, it is, surprisingly, not our job to impose our intent on the painting. It is our job to discover what the paint can do and what it seems to want to do. It has propensities. We want to find out what they are, and support them. We are, in this sense, less like tyrants, and more like nurses to these objects. How can we help them? They are built for a purpose. They seem to have destinies. We want to help them arrive at those destinies.

A simple example: What are the properties of a ball? It rolls, and sometimes it bounces. To put a ball onstage and have it never bounce or roll is a denial of what that ball is. Even if the ball does nothing, it can be said to be waiting to roll or bounce. A painting’s properties may not be quite so obvious, but they are there, and so is its character. Analyzing the character will not get us very far. We have to discover who our two-dimensional partner is. This is true of its shapes, gestures, and its voice. Our cleverness in thinking of great things for the painting to do or say will not help the painting live. They will only draw attention to ourselves. If we try to impose them on the painting , what we produce will not be about the painting at all. It will be about us, the manipulator. Or it will be about the conflict between us and our painting.
The practice of our art, then, requires that we be the exact opposite of a controller. In fact, it requires that we step back and allow our paintings to perform their shapes, their tones, their moments of life in the world. It requires from us a generosity. If we try to dominate them, we will take from them the life we are trying to give them.
This practice of discovering the painting’s intentions can take a long time. Often we make a painting  to play a role in a script we have written. If we are sensitive to our work, we may take the painting and propose the actions and text of that script. But it is very likely that something will not fit, that the painting  does not seem to embody those actions or text easily. It might seem as though the painting is fighting us. What can we do? Start the painting again? Rewrite the script that informs our intention? Possibly a little of both, first one, then the other, until we find the place where everything fits together. This can be a long process. The art of the painting has very little to do with what we want, and everything to do with what we allow ourselves to discover, support, and follow.

The Myth of Manipulation
This brings us to the second myth. This myth is more illusive. It is the myth that we manipulate the paint with the skill and technique of our hands. What is manipulation, after all, than the moving of an object
 with the hand? This word does not serve us well.

For a moment, let’s look at a bigger picture. We come to the art gallery. To see what? The painting? I don’t think so. I think that we come to the art gallery to experience the world that the painting gives form to. That world is a reflection of our world, so it is of great interest to us. We come, then, not to see the painting, but to see through the painting, and out into its world.

About thirty-five years ago, I did a performance in a beautiful Zen temple in Rochester, New York. I remember the temple as having been built without nails, but rather with wooden pegs. As I and the rest of our ensemble entered the temple, we saw a very large drum lying horizontally on a high stand, like a huge barrel suspended in the air. The drum had two skins, one at each end, with the barrel in between. A monk was playing the drum and its sound was deep and reverberated through our bodies. I asked the monk if he would let me play the drum. He generously handed me the two sticks and stepped aside. I took my stance at one end of the drum, raised my sticks above my head and began to beat, trying to emulate what I had seen the monk doing. Very quickly, he stopped me and said, “You are doing it all wrong.” Wrong? What was I doing wrong? “You are playing the skin of the drum.” What should I be playing? “You should be playing through the skin, through the second skin, and out into the world.”
This seemingly mysterious statement is not so mysterious as it seems. For me, it is the same with painting. We should not, in fact, be painting at all. We should be playing through the painting, and out into its world. We do not manipulate the painting at all. It is a means to evoking its environment. And that environment, that world, is not a material world. It is a sensory one, and we, the audience, can only experience it through the senses of the painting. How can our hands manipulate immaterial sensations?

In fact, our hands are only the middle men in this transaction, like the paintings themselves. Our hands are sensors, not actors. The are transmitters of our breath. Like all artists, like musicians and dancers and even good lighting technicians, it is in our breath that the living response is found.
Breathing Through Our Hands
Breath is how we experience the world. Everything that we experience we breathe in. We pass, for example, a window of a shoe store. There, in the window, we see that pair of shoes that we have been dreaming about. We gasp. In a sense, we
 inhale the shoes. If we do not inhale, we do not really see them. It is the same for nature. We inhale the sunset, the vast sky. We inhale the view of the mountains, the distant skyscrapers approaching a city. Our inhale connects us to the world.

Even in our dreams, our breath connects us to the world of our imagination. We dream we are being pursued. In our dream we are running. We awake, suddenly, panting, gasping for breath. And yet our bodies have not moved. We have been asleep in bed. But our imaginations have been running. Whatever we imagine, our breath corresponds.

And so we have an equation: It is not our hands manipulating the paint that brings the painting  to life. It is our breath corresponding to the world of our imagination. Between our breath and the imagined world, our hands take up the paint. We allow our breath to go through our hands, through the painting, and out into the world. And we allow the imagined world to go through the painting, through our hands, and into our breath. If we assert more than the minimal amount of effort needed to support the painting, we lock the piece into being about our hands and the paint. If we keep our hands receptive, to let our breath flow through them, and through the painting as well, we have the potential to unlock a richer content, and a richer experience.

Our first act of generosity is to let the painting be about the painting, not about us. Our second act of generosity is to let the piece be about a greater world outside the painting. This is where our breath and the breath of the audience meet to make meaningful art. Ultimately, a painting is about how the piece is offered and received, rather than the intention of the marks. In painting, we can choose to impress the audience with our muscle, skill, and technique; or we can choose to invite them to follow an inanimate object into a world that reflects their own. We meet our audience there.


Sunday, 18 May 2014

not perfectionism but self-consciousness

In my case it is not so much perfectionism that stuffs me up, but self-conciousness. The initial lines of this drawing were done on the first day that I moved into my new studio. I wanted to just carry on as I had been doing, making my large drawings, but after these lines appeared I immediately realised that something was wrong.

It took me some weeks to work out that I couldn't transplant my whole work process to a new space over a few days and expect to just carry on. And then, in a curious second version of this attempting to just carry on, the first thing I did when I reclaimed my home work space was to pull out this badly-begun drawing and see what I could discover by working into it.

Well, I've had some interesting adventures with it. But in the end, the self-consciousness of those first lines seemed to set the scene for something that was compositionally doomed from the start. No matter what adventures I may have had, the beginning wrongness set the conditions for something that was never going to be overcome.

The motto from the struggle this drawing represents seems to be, 'never start an improvisation with any kind of self-consciousness'.


'perfectionism will ruin your art'

Thursday, 15 May 2014

process, process, process

It occurs to me this morning that one of the things that most disturbs me about 'the art world', or even just 'art' as a general idea, is the obsession with product. Now, before you say, oh, god, here we go, process v. product, yawn, I'm off to make a cup of tea, I would like to pause on this a while. The question, and my at least imagined reactions to it, reminds me of some of my experiences with social science research. If you stopped to ask a few questions about HOW actually people had got to their conclusions about, for example, 'how adults learn' I soon found out that on the whole such questions were dismissed. They appeared to be regarded as being the provenance of the beginning academic, the PhD student, and it seemed to be taken for granted that once you had done your PhD, you didn't have to bother with the (in fact very troublesome and unresolved) questions in this area.

And so it seems to be with art process. Where, in the online groups I belong to, is any kind of discussion about HOW people work? About what blocks them and stuffs them up, about what frees them and helps them reach out beyond what's safe, about what goes on behind the scenes of the 'finished work' which is proudly signed, and posted along with information about how it can be purchased?

Classes and workshops are advertised where 'expert' practitioners offer to guide the less experienced, but where is the exploration of the processes of the experienced professional? For myself, at least, I am really far more interested in how these processes occur than in what they produce.

I think one of the reasons the obsession with product and sales bothers me is that the lack of discussion of process disguises a great deal, and, amongst other things, perpetuates the (culturally-based) illusion that 'there are those that can, and those that can't'. If someone liked the image above, for example, they might think, mmm, like that, wish I could do that, pity I'm not creative. And yet if I actually explained how I produced this image, step by step, anyone in the world could make their own version of it. What interests me is not the perpetuation of some kind of mystery around the production of an image that might create an effect in someone (and whether that effect is 'I like it' or 'that's shite' doesn't matter from this point of view) but to explore the processes by which objects like this appear in the world.  Or are prevented from appearing. I'm interested in this because I believe that the appearance, or otherwise, of such things is vital in terms of both individual and collective health and resilience.

For some reason this idea is connecting in my mind to an article I've just finished reading in the New Scientist, about rampantly developing antibiotic resistance beginning to force people to look back at older approaches and research. An experiment done in the late 60s, for example, which showed that bacteria on a roof which were exposed to moving outside air were almost entirely killed off over a 24 hour period, whereas those kept in an enclosed box on the same roof in the same conditions were all still happily living and developing. Florence Nightingale's light and air-filled wards, compared to today's sealed rooms.

More and more time, money and words are spent discussing the mechanisms and biochemical correlates of physical and psychological/ emotional 'illnesses', but every now and again the research says something like (...the day before yesterday on Radio 4...) 'maybe we just all need more sleep'.

I would suggest that maybe we also all need more time, space, and belief in our capacities to move, dance, sing, draw, paint and play. All of us. Artists, musicians, 'non-artists', 'non-musicians', everyone. The processes involved in these things happening, or not, are what interests me.

Why do you want to get up and dance but stop yourself? What was it like to be you in the four years leading up to the day you completed that painting, which happens to have just sold? The questions are the same for everyone, in my book. I'm happy if you just sold a painting, but I'm much more interested in why all of your paintings look like versions of the same thing (and of course I'm not exempt from this observation), despite the fact that you've been painting for years. What's going on behind your scenes that stops you from taking a greater risk; from risking yourself in the world in a new way?



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