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

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.