Tuesday, 28 September 2010

why do it?

I suspect that the reason why many of us never fully make a committment to this creativity thing is because we can't somehow find a way to justify it to ourselves. How could we be so indulgent as to pursue something that appears to be entirely for ourselves, not serving others, not contributing to the greater good?

When you think about it, though, every young person starts off trying to find out 'what they want to do', and that's seen as being perfectly valid. You're somehow allowed, when young, to supposedly choose the thing 'that you really want to do'. You're even allowed to choose something crazy like art or music which won't earn you any money, if that's 'what you really want'.

The mad saddness is that with some exceptions, the vast majority of us really aren't sure, at 16, or even 18. And how on earth could we be, when you think about it? So many people end up in a rather unsatisfactory compromise, usually spurred on by cultural stories about where the money is, and it takes them some years before the fruit of such compromise appears on their tree. By this time, however, they may have mortgages, partners and children. And boy, do the stories change then. Whereas at 18 it was 'feel free to help yourself to whatever kind of life you think you fancy', a decade or so later it's more 'I/you can't possibly do something so viscerally attractive, so sumptous, so deeply, exotically enticing and satisfying. I have to do X, Y and Z, whether I feel like it or not.....'

Whatever the life is that we're living, it's a life that, at some point, we chose for ourselves. So why not choose again, later on, if the fruits on the tree start to taste bitter, or lose their flavour?

NB I know what the socialogical critique would have to say on my ideas about choice, but I might argue that it's middle-class patronising to suggest that people from different backgrounds to my own don't have a sense of agency in just the way that I do...

Thursday, 23 September 2010

inner necessity

Jim and I have been having an interesting discussion in relation to my previous post on play. We ended up talking about motivation, the push and pull to create...

I hadn't noticed that in the quote I used Jung talks about inner necessity - or I had forgotten, having recently been reading Kandinsky, who uses exactly this term:

'As a last conclusion it must be established that it is not more important whether the form is personal, national or has style; whether or not it is in accordance with major contemporary movements; whether or not it is related to many or few other forms; whether or not it stands completely by itself: but rather the most important thing in the question of form is whether or not the form has grown out of inner necessity' (Chipp, 1968:158).

The footnote to this quote reads: 'That is, one may not make a uniform out of a form. Works of art are not soldiers. With a given artist, a given form can be the best at one time and the worst at another. In the first case, it has grown out of the soil of inner necessity; in the second, in the soil of outer necessity: out of ambition and greed'.

What a strange thing, inner necessity. What does this mean? It seems different to me from what we think of in relation to motivation -  the stress on necessity for a start. This is not just something you fancy doing, or something you like. And, I would argue, it also isn't the same as compulsion, or obsession, both of which are perjorative and out of control. Nachmanovitch (1990) talks about this:

The creative processes of free play and concentrated practice can be derailed. They can go spinning off into addiction or procrastination, into obsession or obstruction, leaving us outside our own natural flow of activity, in states of confusion and self-doubt. Addiction is excessive, compulsive attachment; procrastination is excessive, compulsive avoidance.

Addiction is any dependency that self-perpetuates or self-catalyzes at an ever-accelerating rate. It accounts for much of the suffering we inflict on each ourselves and each other.... An artist can be addicted to an idea, stuck in a particular self-concept, a particular view of how the work must go, or what the audience may want. Some habits may appear in both addictive and non-addictive forms. Some habits may seem addictive, such as physical exercise or practicing a musical instrument, or doing some other labour of love, yet we may consider them to be positive and beneficial. There is a fine line between the pathological and the creative, between addiction and practice. What actually is the vital difference between 'I'll just have one more drink' and 'I'll just try the Bach fugue one more time'?

Addiction consumes energy and leads to slavery. Practice generates energy and leads to freedom. In practice... we obsess in order to find out more and more. ...In addiction, we obsess in order to avoid finding out something, or in order to avoid facing something unpleasant. In practice the act becomes more and more expansive; we are unwinding a thread outward and building more and more implications and connections. In addiction, we are folding inward, into more sameness, more dullness' (126-127).

Inner necessity seems to me to be like a flame. It can warm, it can catalyse, it can feed. Out of control it can consume. On the whole, of course, we don't care about the consumption of those whose works we value and romanticise - Van Gogh, for example, or that Japanese artist who paints spots in order to maintain a reasonable mental equilibrium. And, indeed, musicians and other celebrities who entertain us whilst burning up on the side.

Inner necessity can possibly also be lacking even in those who are involved in creative making and performing. This interests me. What Kandinsky calls outer necessity. It seems to me that it shows, that often you can feel it, even if only via the haziest instinct. I'm out of my depth mentioning Damien Hirst here - I know nothing about the guy - but is it possible that he moved from outer necessity (which was generating huge sucess and wealth) to inner necessity, when he recently apparently 'withdrew into a garden shed' and came out some months later with a very different kind of painting, which the critics slated mercilessly?

Sunday, 19 September 2010

colour and form

I've been thinking recently about what I've been doing these last couple of years since I started painting again. In my mind, I've been thinking that I've just been working with colour - exploring colour, diving into it in a way I never had the courage to before.

And yet when I actually look at one of the first paintings, I see that it's, of course, not just about colour at all - it's about colour and form. Now, if you were an artist, you'd say, well of course, what did you think? But let's say you're not an artist, and you haven't been reading about art, or painting. Well, then you can forget such apparently obvious things.

Perhaps it was because for most of the time I ever worked on painting or drawing, apart from at art college, it was always drawing. For years, what years there were, before the 25 year freeze, it was always line and tone. Colour was too difficult. Too dramatic. And also, colour had to work with line and form, and line and form seemed hard enough on their own.

You can see why I though it was about colour, perhaps. Colour was the thrill, the adventure, was new. But actually, the forms were new too. The scanning technique I was using gave me forms, so I was freed from the vexed question of what forms, and why.

I even began to form a philosophy, to put into words, for myself, what moved me about such forms, and how they related to something I was always trying to do in painting and drawing, by feel. Something that was always at the edge of my consciousness, always just beyond my grasp.

But I was very wary of words for any of it, so conscious that words used in relation to images had the power to demolish their source in an instant (hence my comment to Jim, some time back, about thinking and talking being able to destroy so much....). Dimly aware, also, that contemporary art is so often 'conceptual' - ideas and thinking - and that what I was doing was somehow not this. Does the concept lead the creation, in conceptual art? Is that what confounded me? Because that doesn't seem to be what I want. I don't want to make art from the mind....

Anyway, back to colour and form. For some reason, a few weeks ago, I sat down with two colours, and started a gradual mixing thing, of the sort you do at college, or did if you were at college in the 70s. So, no form at all, really just pure colour.

And it had the strangest effect on me. As each colour appeared, it was like a kind of magic, a bewitching. Not just, 'that's pretty', or, 'that's a bit different from the last one'. The colours were so different to what I'd been using, which has been dense, high quality watercolour, not only primaries, but always pre-mixed. These colours had a different quality, a quality that linked them to pre-bright-synthetic-pigment days; to dutch masters and post-impressionists. But there was something else.

I'm learning already that this kind of thing has been discussed ad infinitum. This morning I was reading and excerpt from Kandinsky's 'On the spiritual in art' and he had a whole lot of early 20th century theorising about psychological responses versus other kinds of response. I'll try to get my head around it and make some sense of it here, next time. But in the meantime, something stirred, something tried to wake up, something beckoned. Not so different from when the painting started, or from when I started experimenting with running liquid yellow into liquid blue and became mesmerised by swirling fractals. What has changed, from all those years ago, is that I seem to have begun to tap into a kind of 'beginner's mind', which makes everything look new. And the simpler it is, the more dramatic it seems to be.

Monday, 13 September 2010

unexpected angles


'In our specialised orientation to the arts, we may forget that creativity is an ecology in which all of the senses enrich one another.

If you have no experience in the arts, you are ripe for every possible opportunity. What aspects of your life seem most antithetical to art? These areas may be the most amenable to transformation because their creative potential has been obscured'   (Mcniff,  1998; 58).

In other words, you're freer to create in areas where you've no experience.

I just love these food creations. Who would have thought of doing this?

Or this? http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v421/Eclisse/?action=view&current=food003.jpg

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

theories of modern art

It's really only now that I begin to grasp the extent of the confusion engendered by going to art college at the age of 16. For many years, the only sense I could make of it all was my critique of the contemporary art scene. Something was wrong with them, it seemed; with the culture of enforced abstraction (St Martins School of Art, London, 1975); the mandatory eight foot canvases; the disdain for the illustrative, the decorative, and the representational.

But now I can see that, even if I hadn't been an emotionally disturbed teenager who had just left an unhappy home, at 16 you have a very shakey sense of self. And without some degree of robustness in terms of this base, you're likely to be hopelessly adrift when it comes to this creative lark.

When I say 'sense of self',  I'm not arguing for any kind of core, essential being that is waiting there to be discovered. Sense of self is emergent; constantly creating itself in the face of daily challenges, biological urges, and emotional imperatives. You have to have this constant process of self-knitting in order to stay sane; in order to make it from one day to the next, from one year to another. And I think you need to it to make paintings. Or play music. Without it, you're not only likely to be derivative, and to focus on the perfection of technique without having any sense of what you're going to do with the technique, but you're going to be lost in a much greater sense. You're not going to know how to find your own voice, or how to find confidence in such a voice. You're also not going to be able to withstand the force of the very powerful influences that everywhere are pushing in upon you, not least from an educational instutition, whose very purpose is to exert these pressures upon you.

At 16, I studied the history of 20th century art. Well, I can't say I studied it - I had no idea how to study - but I did attend the lectures, look at the pictures, and even read a book or two. And some of it got through. I could see what was happening, how things were evolving, what Cezanne was reacting to, why the Impressionists painted in little bits of paint. Finally, I remember, we got to a Russian guy called Malevitch. He was continuing the evolution away from the constrictions imposed on painting as it was taught in the academies, and in the end he painted a painting that was called something like 'white square on a white ground'. I haven't been back to check this, but my memory, 34 years later, tells me that this was seen as end of painting. A logical evolution, arriving at the blank canvas. I don't have any idea what the discussions have been since then, but something about this logical arrival at the blank canvas made perfect sense to me. And that, combined with the art fashions of the time (as represented by what my tutors said to me and the culture of in/out of the life room etc) somehow combined to freeze me out of any capacity for work. Perhaps it was because I was only 16, and it took it all too literally (on the other hand, I have a friend who has just put herself through art college in her late fifties, having been a painter all of her life, and the experience seems to have had precisely the same effect...).

All this has come back to me because about ten days ago I went to the public library and found myself getting out books on Kandinsky, Miro, printers and printing, illustrators and illustrating. Kandinsky pulled me in like a warm, deep forest. A place of safety, a treasure chest. But we were going on holiday, and the book was far too big to put in my suitcase. So I took a book that has been sitting on my shelves for longer than I can remember, which I've never read, and which I assumed was dry, meaningless and academic. It's called 'Theories of Modern Art', by Herschel Chipp, published in 1968.

When I got to the beach, I opened it up. The forest rolled out in front of me like a new land. Theories? Dry academic stuff? The book is a collection of what they said, themselves. Cezanne, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Munch, Redon, Kandinsky, Nolde.... The questions they asked themselves, the answers they gave to their critics, their purposes and intentions, vexed questions concerning nature, the world, and the imagination. And I saw that their dilemmas are exactly the same as mine. It isn't a question of it all 'being wrong' in the contemporary art world. I'm simply standing on the huge open plain that they argued and worked into being, free of the constraints that they had to push so hard against. Trying to turn the tanker of my own 32 years of confusion, yes; almost crushed by the inertia of my own 25 years of inactivity, yes. But, fundamentally, in an unbelievably privileged place. Which I ought to try to learn to make use of, especially  now that I'm somewhat past the age of 16.....


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