Saturday, 20 November 2010

Create from a place of no-mind

A friend lent me a book recently – The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I’m not entirely sure where I stand with this fellow. He has some interesting things to say but I don’t like the way he writes (too mystical) and I’m uncomfortable with the way he’s set himself up as a kind of spiritual teacher. His ideas are drawn from many different religions and philosophies including Zen Buddhism, Sufism, Hinduism and the Bible. He talks a lot about mindfulness which I have a great interest in but there are other writers I prefer on this topic; Jon Kabat-Zinn and Russ Harris for example.

I thought I would share this excerpt about creativity from Tolle’s book which relates back to my posts Art practice as meditation? (May) and Doing non-doing (June).

‘The mind is essentially a survival machine. Attack and defense against other minds, gathering, storing, and analysing information – this is what it is good at, but it is not at all creative. All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness. The mind then gives form to the creative impulse or insight. Even the great scientists have reported that their creative breakthroughs came at a time of mental quietude. The surprising result of a nation-wide inquiry among America’s most eminent mathematicians, including Einstein, to find out their working methods, was that thinking “plays only a subordinate part in the brief, decisive phase of the creative act itself.” So I would say that the simple reason why the majority of scientists are not creative is not because they don’t know how to think but because they don’t know how to stop thinking!’

The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Bridget Riley: Flashback

I had an interesting afternoon at Southampton City Art Gallery taking in the Bridget Riley exhibition, Bridget Riley: Flashback. The show covers work from the early 60s up to more or less present day and includes some of her preparatory studies. These, many of which were plotted out on graph paper, took me right back to my to my student days at art school when most of my images were created using mathematical systems. Whereas the other students could be seen carrying sketchbooks, I was usually brandishing a pad of graph paper. Very different from the kind of work I’m making now.

There was a selection of books on Riley for browsing at the exhibition; ten or twelve with her customary op art images on the front. I was immediately drawn to the one with a conte sketch of a woman on the front. It seems that Riley was an ardent portrtaitist and spent her three years at Goldsmiths drawing, drawing, drawing from life. Although her work changed direction dramatically in the early 60s when she began to produce the sort of images she is so well known for, this early experience of looking and drawing has been crucial to the way she has worked throughout her career.

'A great deal is involuntary. At best the drawing seems to unfold
on the paper almost by itself, the hand being directly guided by the eye. Drawing is an exercise in looking: one finds out what can being seen and at the same time one finds oneself having to organise the visual and emotional information extracted. How to sort out and clarify this confusing wealth?'

Bridget Riley, From Life

Cataract 3, 1967

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Less swilling, more forming

I’ve a lot of ideas about my artwork swilling around in my head at the moment; swilling but not forming properly, which probably means my work needs to change direction. Portraits seem to be where I’m at right now but I’m still very much drawn to narrative images. As The Undertaker’s Nuptials seems to have stalled (temporarily I hope), I’m thinking about how I can work narrative into straight portraiture. This has lead me to consider how we all have our own personal stories; who we are, where we’ve come from, what’s shaped us, what’s important to us, where we’re going and so on.

I’m reading an interesting book at the moment – Portraiture by Shearer West. How about this:

‘Portraits are not just likenesses but works of art that engage with ideas of identity as they are perceived, represented, and understood in different times and places. ‘Identity’ can encompass the character, personality, social standing, relationships, profession, age, and gender of the portrait subject. These qualities are not fixed but are expressive of the expectations and circumstances of the time the portrait was made. These aspects of identity cannot be reproduced, but they can only be suggested or evoked. Thus although portraits depict individuals, it is often the typical or conventional – rather than unique – qualities of the subject that are stressed by the artist, as demonstrated in Holbein’s George Gisze. Portraiture has also been subject to major changes in artistic practice and convention. Even though most portraits retain some degree of verisimilitude, they are nonetheless products of prevailing artistic fashions and favoured styles, techniques, and media. Portraiture is thus a vast art category that offers a rich range of engagements with social, psychological, and artistic practices and expectations.’

Less swilling, more forming.

Image: Hans Holbein the Younger, George Gisze, 1532