Tuesday, 29 May 2012
For the time of necessary decision
The mind of time is hard to read.
We can never predict what it will bring,
Nor even from all that is already gone
Can we say what form it finally takes;
For time gathers its moments secretly.
Often we only know it's time to change
When a force has built inside the heart
That leaves us uneasy as we are.
Perhaps the work we do has lost its soul
Or the love where we once belonged
Calls nothing alive in us any more.
We drift through this grey, increasing nowhere
Until we stand before a threshold we know
We have to cross to come alive once more.
May we have the courage to take the step
Into the unknown that beckons us;
Trust that a richer life awaits us there,
That we will lose nothing
But what has already died;
Feel the deeper knowing in us sure
Of all that is about to be born beyond
The pale frames where we stayed confined,
Not realising how such vacant endurance
Was bleaching our soul's desire.
Monday, 28 May 2012
It's now a week since I came back from the six day Discipline of Freedom workshop in Wales, with Paul Oertel, Nancy Spanier, and Kath Burlinson. I have so much to digest, and need some time to work out how I might usefully share some of what I learnt there about creativity.
So many of the ideas would be meaningless without the wider context; a context which provided easy acceptance, a sense of security and space, and an understanding of creativity as something much bigger than the individual.
I thought I might perhaps take one idea at a time, and say a little about what that idea meant to me, and how it helped me. I won't be attempting to summarise what happened at the workshop, or to represent Paul Oertel's teaching or ideas.
Today I'm going to look at a sentence in my notebook that says 'focus on your unique expression'.
Inherently paradoxical, 'focus on your unique expression', as I currently understand this, is not an inward-looking, ego-based matter. It's more an attempt to 'get out of your own way' - of distracting or subduing the mind (analysing and judging) and the ego (panicking and screeching) - so that you can find your way to a place where you're no longer 'trying to create', but instead 'looking to see what's there'.
This, to me, is somehow the opposite of technique (although technique is its servant). It's not about 'level', the 10,000 hours, or learning the rules of metre and rhyme. It's not about how fast your fingers can move, or whether your words can compete with Beckett. It's about making a space for your own words, the words that emerge from your experience, your idiosyncratic positioning; all the millions of things that you have seen and heard and felt and done, which, if given the space, will emerge in a way that could not be produced by any other person in the world.
These are the words that come out when you think no-one is going to read what you write, the notes that you play when you're sure no-one is listening. At these moments there's no spectre of whether or not you will be judged to be 'good', no dreaming whether or not you will be seen as 'talented'; at this point, there's no judgement at all, just a putting down of what you see before your eyes. The challenge seems to be how you make the right kind of space within yourself to be able to see these things, rather than producing something that is forced and more consciously 'created'. Then you need to make another space so that things produced in this way can live, rather than immediately being crushed by self-criticism and self-sabotage.
The place where this can happen is not a little blocked-off pit of self-obsession and isolation. I see it as the opposite of that. It's a place where the idiosyncractic shape of each individual is able to open up into a much larger form, made possible by diminishing thinking and ego-activity. In his or her larger form, the individual is able to allow larger currents of nature and humanity to pass through them (rather than the individual mystically generating 'creativity' from an internal source), allowing their idiosyncracy to shape and colour these currents in particular ways. At its best, work generated in this way connects the artist to the larger world, and to their audience (as opposed to being an internalised, self-referential kind of thing); sometimes through connecting the audience to their own sense of themselves as part of that larger world of nature and humanity.
Wednesday, 9 May 2012
Monday, 7 May 2012
Yet again, I've just begun to make some kind of progress in terms of settling into a pattern of work (I mean, with the work itself, not just a routine of working), and I find myself about to go away again. In the past, at least, every time I've gone away somewhere, I've come back with a new perspective, carrying new experiences, in a new mood. And I start doing completely different paintings. Sometimes this has been welcome, a way out of stuckness. Sometimes I look back and wonder what would have happened if I'd just carried on with the thread that, at least three times, was just beginning to emerge when it got broken and replaced with something else.
After having done this recent painting I have a sense that things are not going to be quite as volatile, not so completely lost in the dark. The past three years have felt utterly wild, as if I was throwing out a huge net as far and as wide as I could. Wading through treacle, walking on a tightrope, whateve metaphor you care to name. All underpinned by a horrible sense of insecurity, as if the whole thing might just vanish one day in a puff of smoke, and I would wake up at my desk in the university, business as usual. With this recent painting, though, which I've played around with for weeks, I feel a tiny stirring of real hope. As if I've caught a whiff of the thing I've been going after. I'm not going to attempt to put it into words, couldn't even if I tried. But whatever it is can't be captured 'conceptually'. It isn't an idea, and it isn't improved technique. It can only be known through the working, through the not giving up, and through not trying to articulate it using language.
Arriving at this place, I find myself discriminating between two kinds of (many) instabilities. The first, my experience of the last few years, is a lostness that reaches down to the level of identity; a constant niggling that questions whether the practice I'm involved in is worthwhile, possible, sustainable, good enough, ever going to find its way, etc. After doing this painting, just for a moment, I feel my toes touch the bottom of the pool. I will float up again. I'll lose my sense of it from time to time, and, as I'm heading down towards the deep end, I will probably lose it quite severely sometimes. But, for the first time, I've felt something solid.
Shamelessly playing with these bodily metaphors, I also see myself hanging on to a thin ledge with the tips of my fingers. The instability is never going to go away. That seems to be what this process is: intrinsic instability. But it's as if up to now I've been exercising my finger muscles, so that I can at least try to hold on to the ledge. From now on, I hope, I'll still be hanging there, but I'm hoping that my muscles will be a little more up to the job.
Sunday, 6 May 2012
I've just found out that the cottage I'm going to be staying in next week to do my workshop with Paul Oertel offers residencies to artists, dancers etc. I thought this might be of interest - it sounds like a wonderful place to get away from it all...
Wednesday, 2 May 2012
This is the link in Jim's comment on my previous post.
It will be almost a month since you wrote to me and you have possibly forgotten your state of mind (I doubt it though). You seem the same as always, and being you, hate every minute of it. Don’t! Learn to say “Fuck You” to the world once in a while. You have every right to. Just stop thinking, worrying, looking over your shoulder wondering, doubting, fearing, hurting, hoping for some easy way out, struggling, grasping, confusing, itchin, scratching, mumbling, bumbling, grumbling, humbling, stumbling, numbling, rumbling, gambling, tumbling, scumbling, scrambling, hitching, hatching, bitching, moaning, groaning, honing, boning, horse-shitting, hair-splitting, nit-picking, piss-trickling, nose sticking, ass-gouging, eyeball-poking, finger-pointing, alleyway-sneaking, long waiting, small stepping, evil-eyeing, back-scratching, searching, perching, besmirching, grinding, grinding, grinding away at yourself. Stop it and just DO!
From your description, and from what I know of your previous work and you [sic] ability; the work you are doing sounds very good “Drawing-clean-clear but crazy like machines, larger and bolder… real nonsense.” That sounds fine, wonderful – real nonsense. Do more. More nonsensical, more crazy, more machines, more breasts, penises, cunts, whatever – make them abound with nonsense. Try and tickle something inside you, your “weird humor.” You belong in the most secret part of you. Don’t worry about cool, make your own uncool. Make your own, your own world. If you fear, make it work for you – draw & paint your fear and anxiety. And stop worrying about big, deep things such as “to decide on a purpose and way of life, a consistant [sic] approach to even some impossible end or even an imagined end” You must practice being stupid, dumb, unthinking, empty. Then you will be able to DO!
I have much confidence in you and even though you are tormenting yourself, the work you do is very good. Try to do some BAD work – the worst you can think of and see what happens but mainly relax and let everything go to hell – you are not responsible for the world – you are only responsible for your work – so DO IT. And don’t think that your work has to conform to any preconceived form, idea or flavor. It can be anything you want it to be. But if life would be easier for you if you stopped working – then stop. Don’t punish yourself. However, I think that it is so deeply engrained in you that it would be easier to DO!
It seems I do understand your attitude somewhat, anyway, because I go through a similar process every so often. I have an “Agonizing Reappraisal” of my work and change everything as much as possible = and hate everything I’ve done, and try to do something entirely different and better. Maybe that kind of process is necessary to me, pushing me on and on. The feeling that I can do better than that shit I just did. Maybe you need your agony to accomplish what you do. And maybe it goads you on to do better. But it is very painful I know. It would be better if you had the confidence just to do the stuff and not even think about it. Can’t you leave the “world” and “ART” alone and also quit fondling your ego. I know that you (or anyone) can only work so much and the rest of the time you are left with your thoughts. But when you work or before your work you have to empty you [sic] mind and concentrate on what you are doing. After you do something it is done and that’s that. After a while you can see some are better than others but also you can see what direction you are going. I’m sure you know all that. You also must know that you don’t have to justify your work – not even to yourself. Well, you know I admire your work greatly and can’t understand why you are so bothered by it. But you can see the next ones and I can’t. You also must believe in your ability. I think you do. So try the most outrageous things you can – shock yourself. You have at your power the ability to do anything.
I would like to see your work and will have to be content to wait until Aug or Sept. I have seen photos of some of Tom’s new things at Lucy’s. They are impressive – especially the ones with the more rigorous form: the simpler ones. I guess he’ll send some more later on. Let me know how the shows are going and that kind of stuff.
My work had changed since you left and it is much better. I will be having a show May 4 -9 at the Daniels Gallery 17 E 64yh St (where Emmerich was), I wish you could be there. Much love to you both.