Drawing, that thing that most people do even if it’s an absent minded doodle. Drawing, that process that art schools condemned not so very long ago, but is now right back in fashion (it never really went away for most of us). Drawing, that thing that needs constant practice. Drawing, that thing that helps you develop your own language for expression. Drawing, that thing that thing where people say, ‘oh that’s good,’ ‘that’s not right, but mind you, I’m rubbish at drawing.’
No two people draw alike. Your drawings are as distinctive as your handwriting
I have always made myself work. Don’t just sit staring at the daunting, expectant paper. Just put something down – hopefully it wll lead to another thing, and before you know it the drawing may be underway like a slow locomotive pulling out of the station before it speeds down the track. Gerald Scarfe, The Long Drawn Out Trip, Little Brown 2019. https://www.geraldscarfe.com
The moment you put down two or three marks on a piece of paper, you get relationships. They’ll start to look like something. If you draw two little lines they might look like two figures or two trees. One was made first, one second. We read all kinds of things into marks. You can suggest landscape, people and faces with extremely little. It all depends on the human ability to see a mark as a depiction. David Hockney, http://www.hockney.com/works/drawings/2010s
Drawing could start anywhere. A crayon scuffs paper and the child holding it sees a mark emerge. A brush runs along a batten and look, there is a line. Yhe skid of a swung stick describes fine curves in the sand; the effects of our actions interest us and we make further marks. A zone of attention forms. Within this mental zone, whatever dots, edges or curves we produce seem to gang up and find ways of relating to one another- rhythms, behaviour patterns. Julian Bell. Ways of Drawing, Thames and Hudson 2019. https://www.royaldrawingschool.org
If you were to prepare a still life using 5 objects that symbolize what was most important to you in your life so far what would they be?
How would you arrange these objects or metaphors?
Flowers bring colour and a need for light, they offer beauty, smell, seasonality etc. and evoke memories.
Would you photograph them, paint/draw them, make a model of them, just write prose/poetry about them – maybe I’ll draw something from the prose/poetry? The objects are few but the possibilities are up to you
The last sentence is the clue. I’m interested in you sending photograps or documents to me,(email@example.com) to see how they collectively emerge and what is evoked in me as an artist when I receive whatever you offer.
This idea is based on an original idea of Charles and Elizabeth Handy
Let me preface what I am about to say by making it clear I am not taking trauma lightly and certainly not recommending it as a basis for creativity. I believe this period of challenge from the unseen enemy of Covid 19 is quite a trauma for a large number of people throughout the world, and trauma leaves us vulnerable which means other unwelcome stuff can surface. In what follows I’m going to using the word ‘soul’ to mean that unique individuality, or individual essence of us as a human being not only as a thinker but as an organism of emotion and creative potential.
There are positive possibilities and the work of people like Tedeschi and Calhoun suggests that ‘post traumatic growth’ can come as the brain begins to explore creative possibilities to reshape it’self for the future. The mind can reframe, open new up new patterns of thinking.
Deep trauma can throw the mind and body into shock but instead of the mind recovering, the mind remains ‘stuck’ and can repetitively replay the anxiety which is extremely exhausting the mind feeling in state of the chemical flooding that comes with flight, fight, freeze challenges. This in turn can produce a sense of disconnection and immobility – perhaps the mind seeking rest? Anxiety and depression are so closely interlinked and there can be episodes of darkness and inner turmoil.
The idea that human beings can be changed by their encounters with life challenges, sometimes in radically positive ways, is not new, the theme is present in ancient spiritual and religious traditions, literature, and philosophy. What is reasonably new is the systematic study of this post traumatic growth phenomenon through scientific investigation. But lets start at the begining.
“The ‘dark night of the soul’ is a term that goes back a long time. Yes, I have also experienced it. It is a term used to describe what one could call a collapse of a perceived meaning in life… an eruption into your life of a deep sense of meaninglessness. The inner state in some cases is very close to what is conventionally called depression. Nothing makes sense anymore, there’s no purpose to anything. Sometimes it’s triggered by some external event—some disaster perhaps. The death of someone close to you could trigger it, especially premature death—for example, if your child dies. Or the meaning that you had given your life, your activities, your achievements, where you are going, what is considered important, and the meaning that you had given your life for some reason collapses.
It can happen if something happens that you can’t explain away anymore, some disaster, which seems to invalidate the meaning that your life had before. Really what has collapsed is the whole conceptual framework for your life. That results in a dark place. There is the possibility that you emerge out of it into a transformed state of consciousness. Life has meaning again, but it’s no longer a conceptual meaning that you can necessarily explain. Quite often it’s from there that people awaken out of their conceptual sense of reality, which has collapsed.
They awaken into something deeper. A deeper sense of purpose or connectedness with a greater life that is not dependent on explanations or anything conceptual. It’s a kind of re-birth. The dark night of the soul is a kind of death. What dies is the egoic sense of self. Of course, death is always painful, but nothing real has actually died—only an illusory identity. Now, it is probably the case that some people who’ve gone through this transformation realize that they had to go through that in order to bring about a spiritual awakening. Often it is part of the awakening process, the death of the old self and the birth of the true self.
You arrive at a place of conceptual meaninglessness. Or one could say a state of ignorance—where things lose the meaning that you had given them, which was all conditioned and cultural and so on.
Then you can look upon the world without imposing a mind-made framework of meaning. It looks, of course, as if you no longer understand anything. That’s why it’s so scary when it happens to you, instead of you actually consciously embracing it. It can bring about the dark night of the soul. You now go around the Universe without any longer interpreting it compulsively, as an innocent presence. You look upon events, people, and so on with a deep sense of aliveness. You sense the aliveness through your own sense of aliveness, but you are not trying to ﬁt your experience into a conceptual framework anymore.“
“The dark night of the soul comes just before revelation. When everything is lost, and all seems darkness, then comes the new life and all that is needed.“
Joseph Campbell, A Joseph Campbell Companion: Reflections on the Art of Living
When old patterns are being detroyed, or at the very least feel corrupted, then the mind begins to look for the new. Great therapy gives words to the mind and the sensations of the body. The arts gives expression to that which may have no language, or they communicate in a language not always fully understood and yet offer meaning.
“We live in a time when human ambition is focused on decreasing our dependency on and attachment to the human body. Be it overcoming the physical decay brought on by the realities of aging, enhancing our physical performance via wearable or implanted tools of augmentation, or dematerialising corporal experiences via virtual reality, entire industries and the world’s best technological innovators are working in this field, habitually dreaming up and realising new and varied ways to fundamentally renegotiate the relationship between our physical bodies and our inner selves.“
MAX HOLLEIN – SCULPTOR OF THE MIND, 2018. From EARTH BODY, Thaddaeus Ropac, Salzburg, Austria, 2018
A virus that exists only to replicate has challenged our disconnected world and shown it to sadly wanting. Back in 1969 smart enough to have put men on the moon using technology that today seems laughably simplistic. In 2020 we have technology beyond all imagining in 1969, we have taken ourselves to the brink of mass destruction with climate change and viral infection, now is the time to begin post traumatic growth, using our creativity to positively imagineer a future that feeds your body and soul.
“For anyone who is making something that previously did not exist in this form, is at this point, of necessity an amateur. How can he knowhow this thing is done that has never existed before? Every designer, every artists, every inventor or discoverer of something new is in that sense an amateur. And to explore the untried, he must be an adventurer. For he finds himself alone on new ground. He is left to his own devices and must have imagination and daring. All decisions are his own, and only he is responsible. But though it is he who is in charge, he feels himself only to be an intermediary who is trying to help the not-yet-existent turn into reality.”
Anni Albers, Designing As A Visual Organization. Anni Albers 1965
I love those words of Anni Albers because for me they sum up the scariness of starting to create something, anything new. The feelings of uncertainty, and fear that it will go wrong, the inner voices that bring self-doubt. We are in what W. Timothy Gallway calls the ‘inner game.’ Gallway has an equation: P=p-i
The capital P is about our performance, what we can achieve, and this is our (p)innate potential – what we are naturally capable of, and the I is our own interference – our capacity to trip ourselves up. Our self-talk brings us down far too often. Gallway was a tennis coach who began to realise that whilst coaching technique and physical fitness was important and devising strategies to defeat specific opponents was very sensible, players faced not only an opponent across the net but an inner opponent as well.
“In every human endeavour there are two arenas of engagement: the outer and the inner. The outer game is played on an external arena to overcome external obstacles to reach an external goal. The inner game takes place within the mind of the player and is played against such obstacles as fear, self-doubt, lapses in focus, and limiting concepts or assumptions.”
I mention all of this , not to scare you off but rather for you to know and for me to remind myself everyday, that feeling like an amateur every time I start something new, or build upon an idea, is a very normal place to be. In a creative place our brains are firing excitedly just like they do when about to do anything physically risky, so its no wonder we can feel a mixture of excitement and fear. Feeling excited and disempowered at the same time? It’s a humble place from which to start, but it means that we are on our mettle. The key is draw one’s focus onto the physical and mental processes taking place and to notice it all without self-criticism and see them as the narrowing down onto the task in hand. I will explore this more in later blogs.