Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Creative Encounters


The word encounter makes me think of extraterrestrials or those infamous groups of the soul baring sort from the '60's.  But I had an encounter the other evening that didn't involve aliens or confessions. It was a simple event at my own kitchen table where I hung out with some paper and a few drawing tools.  In the final chapter of "No More Second Hand Art", Peter London offers up 12 creative encounters and I chose one called "Going To The Infinite Well".  You peruse your home for an object that speaks to you, look at it until you feel acquainted with it and then draw it from memory in 60 seconds.  That's not too interesting is it, really?  But the interesting part is what happens next. You assemble another 59 sheets of paper, a timer and every 60 seconds you draw another picture, but always based on the previous drawing, not on your ideas about the object. It's a bit like riffing off the chords of the previous image.

It's a long, slightly tiring exercise (and London has a few more steps he does after this but I omitted them, partly because it was late by the time I'd finished this). During the drawing process London invites us to look at our reactions, both body and mind.  Did we run out of ideas, get stuck, feel frustrated, get a second wind, get fresh inspirations? When we examine our 60 drawings and look back at the process he asks: "did you uncover some very old ways of working? new ways of working? How did you handle fatigue? Did you make time into an enemy an ally, or an opportunity?" He invites us to look at the evolution of our work, did it get more or less detailed, more abstract?  What was our mood and attitude like?  So much richness to consider.  And as always how we work in our art-life is a lot like how we operate in our everyday life of the family and greater world.

This is an exercise to help us unearth some things we may not know about how we work and what we are drawn to to in terms of image and material.  We can make unexpected discoveries about our art and ourselves in a process that zips along quickly with its aims to disengage or tire the thinking mind.  And the thinking mind gets in the way of what we know somewhere deep inside, in some authentic way.  The thinking mind likes to play it safe and clever.  In art we aim for the eternal, that which comes from deep inside us and speaks to that same place in others. This is what makes great art great.

Now it's confession time.  In the instructions he asks the reader to assemble 100 sheets of paper.  So um, for the person who doesn't always read the, umm, instructions carefully, well they might have made 100 drawings.  So this imaginary person was pretty tired by the end of the not-so- imaginary 100 minutes.  But it was an insightful experience.  I found there were materials I preferred. The black conte crayon was the filthy hands down favourite.  And I found I liked the irregular marks made by using my non dominant hand. My body decided I should change hands when my left, dominant hand got sore.  I also resorted to larger sweeping movements when my back and arm felt fatigued.  So it was interesting to see how the body entered into the equation with its own suggestions which actually resulted in some of my favorite marks.

It also reinforced my feeling that both in paint and mark I don't like the predictable rounded or squared marks that I often choose with my head.  I like something that looks a bit freer, more haphazard than my tidy mind would often produce. The mind occasionally gave up, but mostly it was busy checking the timer, watching to see if anything interesting showed up on the page, always thinking that it didn't know what it was doing.  It's a tough customer that doesn't like to take a vacation on short notice. It seemed like midway some of the marks were more interesting, like a little crescendo, after the initial predictable marks and before tiredness set in.

So if you are curious, all it costs is 60 sheets of paper and an hour of your time.  You might discover some things you already knew about yourself or some that might surprise you.

21 comments:

  1. thank you for sharing this intriguing exercise. now i must try it for myself.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I look forward to hearing how you find it!

      Delete
  2. Intriguing indeed! Sounds also like a great practice in awareness - being aware of what's around us without imposing ideas and interpretations and meanings. Luscious clarity arises...

    And as you say - art reflects our internal life...

    And Wow - "aiming for the eternal", communicating Being to Being. Love that! (of course :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I was listening to David Whyte last night and he talks about "conversations". One way to think of it is our art and life are always having a conversation?

      Delete
  3. What a good way to get out of your own way. Maybe I'll try a version of this some time. And I love your paintings from your group paint afternoon in your preceding post.

    ReplyDelete
  4. It's true, it's about getting out of your own way! Not always so easy. Thanks! Are you a David Whyte fan? Just noticed he will be in Victoria in May.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember that encounter and it was so important...also the 'forbidden colors' and 'the nub of you'. I was working alone so I skipped the group encounters but I bet they would be wonderful as well. I believe its one of those opportunity books that come into our lives. Thank you for sharing in this post!

      Delete
    2. yes the nub of you is on my list! and I love the idea of choosing the forbidden colours. I'm sure I will get to that one too! It does feel like an opportunity, you're so right. The suggestion came from someone hardly know too.

      Delete
  5. I always enjoy your insights into art books you're reading. I'll have to keep this book in mind.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ah, my latest listening/reading obsession is David Whyte. I will have to write about that too! Do you know of him?

      Delete
  6. I read Peter London's book years ago- it's always been one of my favorites. I didn't do any of the exercises, but his philosophy is brilliant. I did, however, have an assignment in a Master's program to do 50 pieces of art in a weekend. This type of "extreme art-making" really changes the way you look at how you work, and can lead into unknown artistic territory... which is always good. Onward!

    ReplyDelete
  7. p.s. I really had to suppress my urge to say, "... to boldly go where no artist has gone before!"

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 50 pieces in a weekend! and with the knowledge someone was going to look at them, yikes! But same aim to disengage that busy mind.

      And I like your ps. that's the aim isn't it in expressing our authentic voice?

      Delete
  8. What a neat exercise! I may try it using words instead of pictures (can't draw worth a darn). Btw I couldn't find anything on David Whyte's calendar past April on his website.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like the word idea too, David since I move back and forth between the 2. I accidentally discovered the David Whyte engagement on Royal Roads Continuing ed site. I guess I better buy my ticket since I've let the cat out of the bag! The evening talk is even on my birthday so I'm meant to go, right??

      Delete
  9. interesting exercise. i like David's idea of tyring it with words since mostly i am writing right now.

    i love David Whyte. Used to have a tape of him talking/reading but seems to be lost now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. it is a great idea, the word part. anything that helps tap in to that deeper stream is always worthwhile.

      there's a great interview with DW on Sounds True website for free.. I loved it. I just bought "What To Remember When Waking"

      Delete
  10. Ooo... I really like the idea of the "Going To The Infinite Well" exercise--hugely inspiring. I'll be browsing the house for inspiration this weekend. A bit like shopping at home--eco-friendly. ;o) Happy Weekend, Carole ((HUGS))

    ReplyDelete
  11. Great name isn't it "going to the infinite well". love to hear how your well trip goes. great weekend to you and hugs in return!

    ReplyDelete