Thursday, October 15, 2009

Drawing my think

It is the natural instinct of a child to work from within outwards; "First I think, and then I draw my think." What wasted efforts we make to teach the child to stop thinking, and only to observe!
-- Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

I'd like to continue these thoughts on the way that art communicates through signs. Marks are signs. Any drawing is made by a translation from visual experience, or inner experience, and a mark made to represent it. Herbert Read writes that our Paleolithic ancestors did this as a way of signifying connections they felt between remote events. The first images, then, were made as part of ritual, a way to influence remote events through the felt connections. The hunt will go well and game will be had; rain will come and the crops will produce. In this way, the image co-arises with rite and precedes language. This was specifically the birth of written language in Shang dynasty China through oracle bone inscriptions.

We live in very different times, and we are flooded with images. With what rites have these contemporary images anything to do? Mostly shopping and terror. We are made to believe in facts. But facts have no heart beat. Facts are not truth. We are persuaded to believe promises. How are promises kept?

Here's another piece from Coomaraswamy:
...there was a time when Europe and Asia could and actually did understand each other very well. Asia has remained herself; but subsequent to the extroversion of the European consciousness and its preoccupation with surfaces, it has become more and more difficult for European minds to think in terms of unity, and therefore difficult to understand the Asiatic point of view.
This is a subtle criticism of European (and by extension American) viewpoint that we take for granted, can't even see. What does he mean by European extroversion and a preoccupation with surfaces? Railroading spatial perspective and glisteningly "real" objects? Extroversion = imperialism? David Hockney makes a similar point in his movie A Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China. (See John Berger's Ways of Seeing for more on what was painted in Renaissance and Baroque Europe and what it all meant.)

Commaraswamy continues:
It is just possible that the mathematical development of modern science, and certain corresponding tendencies in modern European art [he was writing in the 1930s] on the one hand, and the penetration of Asiatic thought and art into the Western environment on the other, may represent the possibility of a renewed rapprochement. The peace and happiness of the world depend on this possibility.
Matisse and others looked back, as though across the ocean of 400 years of European art, to the art of Mediaeval times, to Persia and Mogul India, to Africa and the South Pacific, to Japan and China. To unity. Matisse speaks of this in a couple of his essays, notably his L'exactitude n'est pas la vérité.

More next time on the issues of abstraction and meaning.

Here's a couple of my pieces (both 21" x 21", mixed media on paper) that will be on view from October into November at Marylhurst University for the annual alumni show:
Summer River

This and a few other mixed media pieces came in response to a small reproduction of a watercolor in Art in America. The news brief had to do with the piece, in the collection of I-forget-which-museum, having been disproved as an O'Keefe original, as had been claimed. The monetary value was effected, but not at all its artistic or spiritual value.

Deer Park

I study calligraphy with Lei Danxin (aka: Terry Louie). We copied this poem, Deer Park, by Wang Wei (701-761) countless times. Below, a translation by Gary Snyder. Follow the link for an example of the calligraphy of Honami Kôetsu (1558-1637). He often worked with images by Tarawaya Sôtatsu (died 1643) and other artists of the Rimpa movement in Momoyama period Japan. Kôetsu’s calligraphy was my inspiration for this piece.

Empty mountains:
 no one to be seen.

Yet - hear -
 human sounds and echoes.

Returning sunlight
 enters the dark woods;

Again shining
 on the green moss