Wednesday, 27 October 2010

miniature obsessions

This strikes me as even more amazing than the watermelon swimmer, if perhaps a bit less original in terms of breadth (it's carved out of a pencil lead...).

It's even signed!

See the rest of them at

Sunday, 24 October 2010

shrinking humanity

I was struck by this image in a book I was reading yesterday of the Munich Academy of Fine Arts at the beginning of the 20th century. Look at the size of it!!! Regardless of the problems of what they were actually teaching in there, look at the SIZE of that investment in art...

On the same day, there were two items in the Guardian. Firstly, Posy Simmonds:

And then an article about a leaked email promising an 80% cut in university teaching budgets. Am I going out of my mind? Does it really say this? P6 in the national paper:

All but medicine, science, engineering and modern language degrees could stop receiving state subsidies (the email) said.

...'the true agenda of the coalition government this week is to strip away all public support for arts, humanities and social science provision in universities...' (statement by president of National Union of Students).

Are we dreaming? Are we insane?

Saturday, 16 October 2010

can robots sing the blues?

This is an image from 3rd April, 2010 in the New Scientist. The article was called 'The nuts and bolts of creativity'. It's an image created by a robot, programmed to approximate the wrist flexes, pressure etc, of an artist drawing a face.

This has had me foxed for a long time. What does it say about how people view the idea of 'creativity'? Creativity equals skill-with-the hand-and-eye - if you copy how the fingers move, the robot is apparently being creative. But what's creative about robotic implementation of an algorithm?

The idea that creativity equals manual dexterity seems to be quite widespread, perhaps particularly amongst people who think they can't draw. What seems to be missed is the fact that a person drawing is trying to say something about how they experience the world. What looks like cleverness isn't necessarily perceived as such by the person doing it at all. They're off on their own trip, trying to do something that makes sense to them internally, privately, existentially. And, at the moment, a robot can't do this, right? A robot isn't trying to make meaning of their experience, their consciousness. Is it? Lord help us....

Monday, 4 October 2010


I know I've written about the subject of my last post quite a bit in the past, but it seems to be a theme that keeps recurring. I think when I wrote about it at the beginning of the summer, I was taking 'non-action' too literally. At that time I felt a need to actually stop trying to do anything at all; to stop trying to make paintings for a while.

I think that can make new things happen. This time though, when I chanced upon another discussion of non-action, this time in a book about Tai Chi, I find myself in a very different position. I'm now relieved to be regularly doing without question; to be doing gently and naturally, pulled back time and time again, rather than pushing and trying. Liberated, perhaps, by just experimenting with materials, instead of trying to actually make images.

I've been trying to find a way to use acrylic paint that will work for me. I hate the stuff, mostly. Shiny, plasticky, drying in seconds to an invincible hard line. Thinned down it breaks up, and not in ways I find appealing. Thick it shows brushmarks, which I have no interest in. On acrylic paper the fake canvas makes a texture I hate. On paper it seems to go kind of muddy. The day before I was reading the Tai Chi book, I had finally given up and gone back to my gorgeous water colours. I think that's why the passage resonated. The minute that prussian blue flowed out from my watery brush, I felt something inside me let go. The marks that resulted spoke to me, were alive, promised possibilities. Instead of that dead plastic.

Funny business, this painting lark. You might imagine that I'd be working away at 'improving my technique' or some other such thing. Actually, I'm squelching around in my bare feet deep in the mud of cobalt egg tempera (metaphorically speaking, you understand...). And I can't begin to tell you how deeply, existentially, satisfying that turns out to be.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

fears and fantasies

In Tai Chi we learn Non Action, the action that is not action. Non-Action is not really a great mystery. Everyone has experienced it to a greater or lesser degree: those times when we have struggled to create something, only to have it recede from us, until we give up. Then, if we are lucky, we tap some inner core of wisdom that allows us to take a deep breath and relax, and what we want seems to flow to us, or through us, like a gift from heaven, or more exactly as a gift from heaven.

We must be patient, we must wait; but wait correctly, through the creative process of Non-Action. We make ourselves accessible - to the flow of chi in our bodies and the current of the Tao in our lives. The method is to eliminate blockages. There is nothing we have to do: that to which we aspire is already there. We must dissolve blockages to let it emerge.

As for the Tao in our lives, we have to learn to stop interfering with its flow. Take writing for example. Inspiration, the muse, is another way of describing the energy of Tao. You can't force it to come, but if a writer can let go of all the fears and fantasies that darken the creative present, learn how to get out of his own way, he finds that he is like a channel for that core of truth in the deepest part of his being.

Lownenthal, W. (1991) There are no Secrets: Professor Cheng Man-chi'ing and his Tai Chi Chuan, Blue Snake Books, Berkley, California pp8-9

Forget the post-modern critique of 'core', 'truth' and 'deepest'. What can we do with these metaphors?


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