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I paint, make collages and mixed media work. I write poetry. I reflect on the Tao.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Poem for daybreak

Attend with care
before the dawn and feel
the moment when
the world suspends
in perfect equipoise
between dark and light
in perfect quietus
between sound and silence

And then light breaks
upon the world
and then sound cracks
open the silence
and every bird must call
out its claim upon the world

and I, too

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Art versus therapy: final imaginary dialogue with Peter London

What is the difference between art and therapy? They have entirely different goals and motivations. The goal of therapy is the healing of illness. The goal of art (all art) is the creation of a satisfying form -- in movement, sound, color, words or any other material. Therapy is utilitarian, serving a purpose beyond itself, successful only insofar as it promotes healing. Art serves no purpose other than providing joy in the creative work itself. Joy in creative work. This is the meaning of esthetic experience ..
Barbara Mettier Creative dance -- Art or therapy?, American Journal of Dance Therapy 12 (2), 1990

At 2 am, I found this article open on the table, where my beloved had left it as part of his university research. When I read this quote, that vague uneasiness I have had reading Peter London's"Drawing Closer to Nature"  suddenly crystallised.

I was going to share my experience in undertaking one of the guided encounters with nature that Peter uses; alone and unaided, contrary to Peter's advice that one should be accompanied by congenial companions and guided by an empathetic teacher. However, I think I will just cut to the chase and give you my reactions. 

The encounter I chose to undergo was My Self as Landscape, where you are invited find the landscape that is your way of being through the making of an art work. Peter offers a number of ways in to the encounter: guided meditation, meditating on the phrase "my self as landscape",just plunging in, or considering what aspects of nature you find yourself most at home with, Either way you choose to begin, the strategy is improvisational, making it up as you go, without any direct intention.Once the art work is made, you are invited to reflect on the art work (ideally with the congenial companions and the empathetic teacher), to tease out what it means and how it shows your self.

Curiously, the art I produced was no different to the art I was producing. When I rationally considered the questions about which types of landscape and natural conditions resonated with me, it was not that much different either. Of course, what resonated with me depended a lot on the state of my flowing being. Sometimes I like bright sunshine and sometimes I like rain, sometimes my hear leaps when I see a rugged craggy mountain and sometimes it sings when I see gentle rolling hills, sometimes I like the sea and sometimes I like the desert.

No matter what I tried, however, I couldn't shake off the nagging impression that the whole set-up of encounters was irredeemably artificial. I don't mean the techniques used, but rather the whole idea of the question itself. Indeed, I rather felt that both nature and art were being exploited to achieve a particular result, albeit one that was worthy...namely becoming more aware of a natural and truthful self.

As Barbar Mettier says, therapy is utilitarian, art is aesthetic, and, I would add, nature just is. 

P.S. Serendipitously, I am also reading Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place by Philip Marsden, about his wanderings through the landscape of Cornwall. Of the 18th-century antiquarian John Whitaker and John Henderson, the Cornish historian, he writes they "promoted that diligent attention to the world that makes life worth living".

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Imaginary Dialogue with Peter London's Drawing Closer to Nature 2

I skipped ahead to the chapter on media:

In truth, this entire chapter may be compressed into two sentences: Any substance will serve as an art material. Handling any medium with devoted care for its outer and inner reality enables you to draw closer to Nature....
It is the fit that counts, the alignment between the artist, the media and the task. ...
Everything has a nature, an inherent particularity and susceptibility. 
Peter London Drawing Closer to Nature 

Or, as Lao Tzu put it, everything has its Te, its virtue, its essence; or, more prosaically, the inherent nature of the medium.

Is Peter saying anything more than that which all artists have known: you have to respect the material?

A question which brings me to the notion of resonance/sympathy/rapport between the artist and the medium.

What I feel to be the essence of some media seem to resonate with me. For example:

I love the wateriness of watercolour, the way it flows and spreads across a dampened page, the way wet colours flow and merge into each other, the way it blooms when a drop of water is added.

I love the velvety sootiness of compressed charcoal and the silky smokiness of vine charcoal.

I love the butteriness of oil paints, the way they slide across the canvas, the way one colour merges into another, how a wet colour can scumble over a dry surface.

 I love the chalkiness of goauche, its velvety surface, the way one colour lays over the next.

 On the other hand, I feel indifferent, if not outright antagonistic, to using marking pens, biros, oil pastels and all digital tools, They seem alien, cold, distant.

As I read through those lists (and think about how I use pencils and forgot to add conté and pastels to my loves) I realise that the quality which underlies my rapport with these materials has to do with their tactility and the way they move across/interact with the surface. It's about the touch. It's about that which allows "that within me" to move freely through the hand. Or, perhaps to put it even more accurately, it's about that quality of the material that calls forth "that within me".

Friday, September 4, 2015

An Imaginary Dialogue with Peter London 1

I am reading Peter London's "Drawing Closer to Nature"

Rather than writing marginalia in the book, I am going to do it here. A raw on-the-go interaction between me and the book.

I delight in the prologue poem; you will have to read it for yourself.

Pages 1 to 3. "The Perspective" Here Peter ( already I feel we are on first name terms) sets out his basic orientation, which resonates strongly with me:
Rejoining these two aspects of the original whole, the Self and Nature, to heal this broken primal relationship, our lives -- mind, body and spirit--take on a harmony, a grace, a wholeness, and an endlessly resourceful, gentle, and indomitable power.  Our art becomes that way too.
Connecting, healing the rift between the human and nature, realising they are one and the same, I feel is THE essential primary task of our time. A small observation: mind, body, spirit AND heart and soul. problem of our time, Mind is split from Soul, Heart and Body...yet all are manifestations of Spirit.
Art is a holistic language that is uttered from the mind, body and spirit.
Well, yes, holistic, but only because it is the language of the SOUL, which is the integrative principle drawing together Mind (the ideation principle), Heart ( the emotive principle) and the Body ( the sensation principle).

Peter sees art as healing, as a movement towards a more authentic Self.
For as we draw closer to Nature, we simultaneously draw closer to our Selve
Perhaps true, but how do you then account for the fact that much great art has been created by seriously damaged individuals, who did NOT move towards healing  through their art? At best, Van Gogh, Pollock, Rothko, Freud, made great art in spite of their damaged selves.

Peter also veers toward the notion that anyone can make art. I just can't agree with this. Anyone can make a mark, anyone (even me) can hit a perfect middle C on the piano, but not everyone can make good art or play Beethoven. This is not a matter of skill, but of inner nature. Some of us are visual artists, some of us are musical (I really wish I could sing, or even just hold a does my family), some of us are brilliant with people, some of us can play with ideas, some of us...

And yes, I do believe that drawing closer to Nature brings us closer to our inner nature.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

What is art?

Be relieved, dear reader, I have no intention of writing a discursive essay on the definitions of art, only to conclude it's anything and everything.

I am rather taken, though, by the breadth of things and experiences that the term now covers, even if we exclude art as skill plus something else, as in the art of cooking.

This train of thought was started by the show at MONA by Marina Abramović (Private Archaelogy), which
involves the use of objects and simple rituals - either by the audience or the artist herself - to transport us to full consciousness of the present moment.
In particular, I was taken by the reports of Counting the Rice , where you count grains of rice as a process of developing mindfulness.

As someone who has undertaken a number of mindfulness exercises and meditations over the years, I think I get the value and potential depth of this experience. It closes down the I-mind (the ego-based, rational, logical mind) and allows the holistic mind (the intuitive and integrative mind) to be consciousness (See Iain McGilchrist's ground-breaking book The Master and His Emissary). Or, if you like, it appeals to the human spirit as soul.

But, the classificatory brain had to object that this is not art. After musing for some time on this, I realised that, for me, art makes the same appealas a gateway to a more integrative consciousness but it does so through different means. I am thinking primarily about visual art, although I think the same applies to music and dance.

The mindfulness experience uses repetitive physical actions coupled with focus on the actions themselves, thereby boring the rational purposive mind to sleep.  Non-artistic artists also use other means to break the dominance of the logical controlling mind, such as sensory deprivation or enhancement, emotional tension, shock, paradox and moral confrontation, (Zen Buddhists will go Aha! at this point).

What I see as art uses a different strategy and that is to appeal through the senses and the emotions to an element of integrated consciousness that I can only term beauty. I use the term beauty not to mean prettinessindeed, beauty may be terrifying, horrible or ugly but rather in the same sense as John Keats
I am certain of nothing but of the holiness of the Heart's affections and the truth of Imagination - What the imagination seizes as Beauty must be truth - whether it existed before or not - for I have the same idea of all our passions as of love: they are all, in their sublime, creative of essential beauty. Letter to John Bailey
 And no, I can't define Beauty, any more than I can define Art, but I know it when I see it. The rational mind is stunned into the silence of the Imaginationsoul or integrative consciousness.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The power of art

I'm not sure that anyone could have put the case for the continuing relevance of art as well as the late, brilliant  Robert Hughes in the "New Shock of the New" documentary.

Painting and drawing bring us in to a different— a deeper and more fully experienced relationship to the object. We have had a gutful of fast art and fast food. What we need more of is slow art; art that holds time as a vase holds water; art that grows out of a modes of perception and making whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in ten seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep running in our natures in a word art that is the very opposite of mass media. 

Painting is, you might say, exactly what mass visual media are not; a way of specific engagement not of general seduction. That is its continuing relevance to us. Everywhere and at all times there is a world to be re-formed by the dazzling subtlety and persistent slowness of the painter’s eye. There is beauty in pure paint confidently handled.
The basic project of art is always to make the world whole and comprehensible, to restore it to us in all its glory and its occasional nastiness, not through argument but through feeling, and then to close the gap between you and everything that is not you, and in this way pass from feeling to meaning.
… today I think we are left with a more modest, but an equally difficult task for art to do, and that is to be beautiful, to manifest beauty. People need beauty. There’s a hunger for it amid the clamour of visual imagery that surrounds us and so we seek out zones of silence and contemplation, arenas of free thought and unregimented feeling.

The idea that aesthetic experience provides a transcendent understanding is at the very heart of art. It fulfils a deep human need.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

An art statement (sort of)

Well, at least some musings that might be considered such...

What I would like is for the viewer of my art to look at the world through my eyes for a moment.

That is to say, to imaginatively enter the gestalt of soul-mind-heart-body which was my current point of consciousness in the flux of all-there-is.

That is to say, to intuit what I intuit as beauty and grace (soul), to apperceive what I apperceive as nous (mind), to feel what I feel (heart), to perceive what I perceive (body) through the image.

The image is the conjuring up of my intuiting, apperception, feeling and sensation before the reality of objects and encounters with the unseen.

I am not concerned with  merely representing objects, or illustrating ideas and concepts, or mocking notions of the past, or entertaining gallery goers — all concerns of current art trends. Rather, I am concerned to evoke, by the means at my disposal, a parallel experience to my own.

That is to say, poiesis

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Cursed Jade, A Tao story

Once there was a Taoist hermit, who had been entrusted with a precious statue carved from a rare variety of jade. The statue had been given to the hermit by a dying man. Clad only in rags and dying of starvation, the man explained that he had once been a wealthy and prosperous merchant. He had stolen the jade statue from temple beyond the western gates. Since then, his business foundered, his wives had died one by one, and his children had been killed by bandits, or accidents, or illnesses. He had become a pauper. Hearing of his ill fortune, no-one would buy the statue, believing it to be cursed.

So he gave the statue to the hermit, believing that the hermit, owning nothing and living alone, would be immune from the curse.

One day a young stranger came to the village at the foot of the mountain, where the hermit lived. On hearing the rumour of the immensely valuable statue guarded only by a hermit, the young man decided to take the statue, by force, if necessary.

He climbed to the hermitage and arrived, hot, sweaty and exhausted, to find the monk waiting for him with a pitcher of cool refreshing spring water. The monk offered the young man the water. “Later, Monk”, the young man snarled, raising his sword as if to cut off the Monk’s head. “Give me the statue.”

The Monk smiled. “You may take the statue, if that is what you wish, young man. But first, won’t you have some cool water to refresh yourself?”

The young man lowered his sword, but kept it within reach. He took the cup of water offered by the Monk and sipped it slowly. It was indeed refreshing. It was cool and seemed to taste of pine and spring blossom all at once. The young man rudely demanded another cup and another. He began to feel drowsy. Too late he realized the water had been drugged. He reached fumbling for his sword and fell into unconsciousness.

When he awoke, the Monk had gone. Next to his sword, stood the jade statue. On the ground below the statue the Monk had written, “Danger”.

Laughing, the young man picked up his sword and the statue and left the mountain. His fortune was made.

And, indeed it was. Luck seemed to follow him everywhere. His trading business flourished. He was rewarded with powerful government posts. He had his pick of beautiful young women from wealthy families as his wives. They gave him many sons. The jade statue was given pride of place in his household. Indeed, so precious had it become to him that he could not bear to be parted from it. Where he travelled, it travelled, housed in a rich coach of its own and protected by a platoon of fierce Mongol soldiers.

One day, he was passing through the hermit’s village. He thought he would flaunt his good fortune in front of the Monk and laugh at his foolish warning. He instructed his men to bring the Monk to him.

He looked at the plump, smiling, well-dressed man before him. Could this be the same skinny hermit-monk, clad only in worn robes, that he had seen all those years ago? The same smile told him it was so.

“So you no longer live in your mountain cave?”

“No, your Excellency. After your Excellency took the statue, there was no need. So I came back the village. I have a farm, a wife and several children, all of whom bring me joy each day. I eat well and laugh a lot. I am happy, Excellency”

“Ha, you call that happiness, Monk. I have wealth beyond measure. I have many wives and concubines. They have given me many sons who now work in my businesses and many daughters to make good marriages with rich and powerful families. I advise the Emperor’s advisors. I eat the finest, richest foods. I have the services of the best and finest doctors and apothecaries to look after my health. I owe it all to the statue, which I give pride of place to. Truly, the statue wasn’t cursed.”

The Monk smiled “Wasn’t it?”