Monthly Archives: November 2014

dot 30: fear

What if we thought of fear as an amazing act of the imagination?

– Karen Thompson Walker –

It’s hard to ignore the gnawing of (artistic) fear in my head at times. Not long after an initial mark-making of sorts, fear starts seeping into my mind. The result of this ever-encroaching problem is that I start fearing the result this may have on my creative process. And, as most creatives know, fear is the creative straight-jacket.

Any one that has ever raised a young child will remember the ease at which young children draw their inner stories. And, even though their fears are often extraordinarily vivid, the young possess the ability to link fear and imagination in a positive and productive way that propels them forward in play.

The novelist, Karen Thompson Walker, explores how fear propels imagination as it forces us to imagine possible futures. Instead of needing to ‘conquer’, ‘fight’, ‘discard’ or ‘overcome’ fear, Walker asks us to looks at fear in a fresh way which invites us to think of fear as stories. Sharing the same architecture, both fear and stories have characters (us), plots (life), vivid imagery, suspense, and most importantly, that time is projected forward by the question: ‘What will happen next?’

This takes me to the most interesting part of what Walker has to share:

If we think of our fears as stories, we should think of ourselves as the authors of those stories. But just as importantly as the readers of our fears.

To be honest, I have never considered reading my fears. Like many other people on the planet, I have been encouraged to understand fear as a hurdle to overcome. For me, the act of reading conjures up images of slow-time, openness, expectancy, relaxation, enjoyment, exploration, immersion and listening to what the author has to say. This is not a place of restriction, but rather one of learning and listening to what is to be read.

The painter Lisa Golightly (USA) says that fear propels her beyond and into future imaginative spaces. Reading what she has to say about the work of creativity (‘Don’t put up barriers that aren’t there – just get to work and make something’), Golightly has the combination of temperament that Walker says a good reader requires: the passion of the artist as well as the head-space of the scientist. Golightly is clearly both author and reader here. Following her lead, I am reminding myself of the following as I work on canvas for the first time in 20 years:

A college professor once told me that if I was afraid of something, that meant I had to do it , and that has basically shaped my life.

Reading one’s artistic fear thus becomes ‘am amazing act of imagination’ as Walker predicts.

……………….

  • Lisa Golightly:
  • In Creative Block (2014) edited by Danielle Krysa, Chronicle Books LLC ISBN: 978-1-4521-1888-8

dot 29: thought-listening

Telling stories about illness is to give voice to the body.

– Arthur Frank –

I have just read The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly which is the memoir of Jean-Dominique Bauby, trapped inside his body in what is known as Locked-in Syndrome. In this paralysed and speechless state, it is solely the blink of one eyelid that mediates communication. Bauby’s story is told with the help of Claude Mendibil who painstakingly, letter by letter, using the ESA alphabet in order for Bauby to express himself, patiently waits for a blink of his eye to indicate which letter she needs to select. The letters run as follows:

E  S  A  R  I  N  T  U  L  O  M  D  P  C  F  B  V  H  G  J  Q  Z  Y  X  K  W

One would expect that a person ensnared in their own body would use the singular life-line thrown at them to tell their story of illness, as the sociologist Frank says. Or, at the very least, use the more-than-limited opportunity of communication to express trapped feelings of helplessness, anger, anxiety, frustration and isolation. Yet Bauby does not choose this space, but rather one where his thoughts are brought to light despite overwhelming odds. Using the analogy of butterflies, Bauby’s thoughts are able to surface only when ‘blessed silence’ returns:

I can listen to the butterflies that flutter inside my head. To hear them, one must be calm and pay close attention, for their wing beats are barely audible. Loud breathing is enough to drown them out. This is astonishing: my hearing does not improve, yet I hear them better and better.

I can relate to thought as butterflies, and the preferred silence in which such thoughts are able to be heard. I have become acutely aware of the onslaught of sound and the impact such noise has on my own thought processes, most especially with regards to listening. It would not be strange, I think, to imagine Bauby’s locked-in state as one of solitude and silence. Yet Bauby too must become calm within himself in order to fully listen and hear the barely audible wing beats of thought.

In the process of tracking or tracing my own thought processes, I am also starting to hear better and better. The awareness that my thoughts are an entirety on its own has been nothing short of enlightening! The visualization of this process allows me to observe a kind of mind-traveling. If, as Frank says, that telling stories about illness gives voice to the body, then the story that my thoughts tell is one of movement.

In Living, Thinking, Looking Siri Hustvedt speaks of thoughts  – in the form of essay writing – and the elastic and accommodating manner in which this exists. Using language to describe a very visual occurrence, Hustvedt says:

It can proceed with rigorous precision or meander into surprising terrain. Its shape is determined exclusively by the movements of the writer’s thoughts …

The terrain of my thought-drawings are strongly determined my factors such as mood, memory and sound. Various patterning suggests either tighter or looser thought-tracking, often weighted by a central denseness. The subliminal exploration of this narrative process is, as Hustvedt says ‘a mental movement in time.’

the_girls Mental movement in time (on glass)                                                   Photo: Sonya Rademeyer

  • Jean-Dominique Bauby:
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2008) Harper Perennial Publishers, ISBN: 978-0-00-713984-2
  • Siri Hustvedt:
  • Living.Thinking, Looking (2012) Hodder & Stroughton Ltd, ISBN: 9781444732641

dot 28: discovery

The allure of the hidden propels our will to discover.

– Peter Jenny –

Having spent most of my previous week in High Court in support of a very close family member, I noticed myself becoming increasingly fascinated with the concept of discovery as in the context of civil law. Put very simply, discovery can be understood as being upfront and honest about documents that need to be viewed by the court. It remains a point of interest to me that the term discovery is used to describe a process, which, as an entirely lay person to the legal arena, points towards the digging up of either documents, personas and/or suspect characters. In other words, why not rather use one of many other available synonyms such as detect, disclose, ascertain, uncover or unearth to describe a procedure whereby opposing parties need to produce papers? Certainly, the privilege of attending a case in High Court has enlightened me with regards to the challenges of interdisciplinary linguistics.

Whilst sitting in the formal court-happening, my mind started wandering as to the meaning of discovery in the domain of the arts? As an artist I don’t recall ever mulling this concept around in my mind. In fact, discovery has always just ‘been there’ although I am aware that I have always linked a positive mindset, enthusiasm and excitement with the term itself. Peter Jenny, professor emeritus and chair of visual design at the ETH Zürich in Switzerland, explores what discovery is for artists. Jenny guides the artist to learn to see in order to expand imagination, explaining that discovering in the arts means to ‘open your eyes’ in order to move in and towards imagination. There can be no imagination without the discovery of seeing.

Strictly speaking then, both the arts and the law are propelled by the ‘hidden’. The difference, however, is that the artist has no intention of reaching a final place of discovery as does the advocate in winning a case for her client. For the artist, as Jenny says, visual interplay and tension centers around:

Disguising and uncovering [which] are not exclusive but depend on each other.

Perhaps artists are intrigued by the allure of discovery, not discovery itself?

•••

Peter Jenny: The Artist’s Eye (2012) Princeton Architectural Press, New York.