Monday, 27 December 2010


I'm going to be taking a holiday from the blog for the next few weeks, but will be back by the beginning of February at the latest (if it works - the last time I decided to take a holiday Jim appeared, and I started a whole new kind of activity...). I thought I would sign off for the year with these gingerbreads made by my niece. Creativity or what??

Saturday, 18 December 2010

disappointing yourself

As I was looking at some books on painting on the internet yesterday, I began to see how restricted I am within my own vision. It's partly a reaction to a succession of bad art teachers in my early adult life, and some equally off-putting experiences when I tried again years later. It's partly a personality trait, a tendency to feel oppressed by what I see as the interference of others in 'my business'; a strange kind of independence that makes me feel crowded by other people's agendas. Sometimes that urge towards independence results in some interesting ideas, but I'm not sure it works like that in painting. What I could see yesterday was how, if you don't get input and fresh stimulus from outside, you become self-referential, tame, circular.

Partly, you just can't see how to do it differently. You can't usually come up with something that new - even the new emerges out of the 'well-worn channels' of your historical trajectory, and is constrained by the emerging styles and habits of your recent activity. Partly, in my case, I suspect it's also a fear of disappointing myself. Not disappointing other people, not  a fear of being ridiculed, or written off by those in the know. Avoidance of breaking out, of taking risks in new directions, seems to be an unconscious attempt to avoid the hollow resonance of yet another set of marks coming out in a disappointing way. Which is quite ridiculous. What kind of risk is it to make a wild line over a soft colour, to scratch roughly on something smooth? I suppose the risk is to that fragile sense that the shape already in the stone is quietly beginning to show its outline; that the outward flow of colour and form that has just occasionally not offended in recent months will be stopped in its tracks by the emergence of the unsubtle, the ugly, the brutal.

David Reilly talks about people orienting and running their lives in relation to personal maps. These maps come from society and culture, from parents, from experience. Unfortunately, we mostly can't see such maps; we run our lives in relation to their layout and instructions without even being aware of it. These cartographies are partly aural; we listen (as if our lives depended on it) to that chatty little critic on our shoulder who tells us what we can't do, or where we shouldn't go. And they're also partly verbal (though in our heads); we talk them into being, half-consciously, unconsciously ('I can't possibly give this job which is crushing the life out of me, I must be sensible and think about my pension'....).

Unseen maps constrain, block, constrict. They lock you into endless circularity, at least until you're able to see that they're there. I'm running some kind of map about the marks I make, or, more particularly, about the marks I don't make. What is that map? How can I learn to see it? The only hint I  have at this stage is what Reilly suggests in terms of checking out the existence of your maps. The place to start, he says,  is any place of suffering. Where there is suffering, there is a map. Where there is frustration, stuckness, limitation, safeness, pointless repetition, there must surely also be a map.

Saturday, 11 December 2010


It occurred to me this morning that one of the reasons that drawing and painting are so difficult is because you have completely invent what you're doing. Every day, every time. When you start learning to draw or paint, your focus is on accuracy; on training your hand and eye in relation to learning the properties of materials. I would argue that this has to be done - that your inventions will suffer in the future if you haven't learnt something about the nature of light, shade and space, as they exist in the physical world. I suspect that people would argue against me here - there seems to me to be evidence that some artists have not focussed on this kind of learning, and arguably it doesn't affect their art at all. I guess they would say.

But even if you do set out to do this kind of learning at the start, at some point, you're going to start thinking a bit differently. My previous post on Matisse's 'exactitude is not truth' explored one aspect of this. Even if you're concentrating on improving your accuracy and materials skills, it's eventually going to dawn on you that you're inventing everything, even if you're trying your best to make your graphite create something that looks like a photograph. At some point, you're going to see colours where someone else would say there was only white, or you're going to decide that a slight distortion improves your composition. Many people gradually move away from the accuracy of their training, and begin to explore aspects of shape and colour that somewhere, once upon a time, they saw (though perhaps as likely in a dream as in the visible world) but for some purpose other than trying to photographically represent that shape and colour as it was originally seen.

And that's exactly why it's so hard. Because every day you have to reach into yourself, and at the same time  reach out into the world, and create an entirely new space. You have to actively frame some aspect of a momentary experience; work something into being from an instant's unbounded consciousness in a physical world of light and space and feeling. Every day you have to find the courage to try to fix a trace or capture a feeling. It's so much easier to wash the kitchen floor.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

collective drawing

At a recent meeting of the creativity group, we decided that we were going to experiment with tonal drawing; focussing on looking hard at an egg on a white piece of paper, and exploring its tones without the use of lines. In the preamble to doing this, talking about people's different experiences of drawing, someone suggested that before we start on the egg, it might be good to play around with pencil and charcoal. At this, she whipped out a roll of lining paper and stretched it out on the coffee table. Everyone put the sticks of graphite and charcoal they had brought on the table (it's amazing how many people in the group seem to have secret stash of materials, despite apparently not having done a great deal of creative work in recent years...) and the group, as one, just started drawing. We were like a flock of birds suddenly seeing food on a bird table on a wintry morning. As natural as breathing... when only minutes before, the business of 'drawing an egg' had been causing some people a bit of anxiety...

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

funky paintings

Sarah Mann was one of the original members of our creativity group, but she moved away earlier in the year, seeking the sea. She's just sent me these two gorgeous little paintings.  I find it absolutely amazing to see what starts to come out of people as they begin to focus on their creative work...


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