Monthly Archives: May 2008

The Rainbow Bridge

Lots more thinking going on this week. Lots more making connections and developing ideas. The result of which is the following:

1. I need my art to serve a purpose beyond myself, and that purpose should be peace.

2. I see a need to teach others how to use art to find and reflect on themselves – and to stop seeing art work as a commodity made by a talented few, and instead focus on art making as a tool for exploration and discovery.

3. I will never be able to put 1 and 2 into practice unless I get over my excruciating shyness around new people and my incorrigible habit of judging everyone.

On the issue of peace, I don’t mean the peace-sign kind of peace. Or the Nobel kind of peace. Or the tie-dye shirt variety either. I am not narcissistic nor deluded enough to believe I could be a Martin Luther King Jr or a Kofi Annan. I don’t have their qualities of leadership, courage, persuasion etc. But I can work on a personal level with people. For whatever reason I have the ability to find satisfaction, meaning and purpose in the process of art-making, and I think I could help others to find these things. I have to be honest and say that my motivation is entirely selfish – I want to meet and find others who can and do mine their “soul”. Soul-mining is my drug of choice. I feel happy and connected and hopeful when soul-mining with others. My goal is not World Peace. It is finding these moments of connection.

When I was studying Eng. Lit. at university we were required to read Howard’s End by E. M. Forster. I had one of those soul-shifting moments when I read the famous line, “Only connect…” and understood it’s significance both to the story and to my own life.

Interestingly, I just re-read one of the passages relating to this theme in the book:

“Mature as he was, she might yet be able to help him to the building of the rainbow bridge that should connect the prose in us with the passion. Without it we are meaningless fragments, half monks, half beasts, unconnected arches that have never joined into a man. With it love is born, and alights on the highest curve, glowing against the gray, sober against the fire.”

Sound like right-brain/left-brain unity to anyone else? But here’s the actual passage with the exhortation to “only connect…”:

“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect, and the beast and the monk, robbed of the isolation that is life to either, will die.”

Obviously, in this passage, Forster is imploring us to connect opposing forces within ourselves. But in the book there are other lack-of-connections that he brings to our attention, especially the lack of connection between people, and the reluctance to be humble enough to allow what is “other” to touch us.

Wow. Too many words, not enough images.

Who wants to see where I went with the bubble drawings?

Here they are in progress…

And here are the final results, with 3 layers of drawings for each piece – obviously I still have to figure out how to frame them:

And here’s me starting to explore other possibilities for presenting the same idea, but this time 3 dimensionally. The “canoe” shaped part is made from gauze and stiffened by the application of a thin layer of epoxy resin. The bubbles are cut out individually from the vellum drawings and arranged inside the “canoe”. This is not a complete thought by any means. I will probably experiment with adding additional gauze layers:

The other elements of this piece, besides the gauze and the vellum, are the shadows. Right now, I don’t know what I want to do with them, but I like them and will try to manipulate them so that the 3D shapes and the 2D shadows will “collaborate”.

Incidentally, having just expounded on the virtues of connection, it struck me that my bubble-blowing antics could stand as a metaphor for connection. As you can see from the photos below, I started blowing bubbles next to each other so they create a “chain” of individual bubbles, all trying to retain their own shape and integrity, but nevertheless touching each other and dependent on each other – connected. At some point they begin to burst, one by one, and collapse into each other, leaving only a beautiful inky record of their once-fragile shell. Pictures really are worth a thousand words.

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In my right mind.

A number of things have come to my attention of late concerning the right hemisphere of the brain and its special talents. These encounters have come in the contexts of art, education, science, spirituality and economics. And it’s got me thinking that there must be something worth exploring over there. The only problem is, I don’t quite know how to direct myself over to that side of my brain. It’s one of those places that one simply finds oneself in from time to time, without really knowing how one got there. And I’d like to draw a map, because I’d like to show my students how to get there without the use of narcotics. Explaining what it is like, in hopes that’ll head them in the right direction, is like explaining snow to the Maasai. Sounds fascinating, but gets them no nearer to an actual experience of said snow, and doesn’t really relate to life as they know it.

The few times I’ve tried to get my students there have been met with self-conscious giggles and confused, skeptical frowns. They look at me like I’m some crack-smoking crackpot, and the few who at least try to do what I suggest are obviously only humoring the weirdo at the front of the class.

Of course, I usually fall back on good old Betty Edwards and her bag of “right-brained” tricks. But, really, these only tell half the story and get you half way there. It’s one thing to learn how to draw by using right-brained skills, but its another thing entirely to actually understand the significance of where you are and what you’re doing while using these skills.

If you have no idea what I’m yammering on about or why I’m wasting everyone’s time bleeting about right-brained-this and left-brained-that, read Daniel Pink’s “A Whole New Mind”. He was Al Gore’s speechwriter (no, not during his bid for presidency, but during his vice-presidency), and is currently a contributing editor to The New York Times, Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Wired. I came across his book during an in-service training day at school, but didn’t pick it up until a week or so ago. In brief, he theorizes that because of outsourcing to Asia, huge developments in technology and automation, and the abundance of cheap and reasonable-quality goods and services, us Westerners are going to have to change the way we think in order to maintain a competitive edge in tomorrow’s world. Most left-brained jobs (i.e. logic-based jobs) will be done by computers and highly-qualified (and much cheaper) Asian workers (in Asia). To survive and succeed, we will need to learn to use right-brained skills such as design, storytelling, symphony, empathy, play and meaning-making. Yeah, I know it sounds like something a sandal-wearing new-ager would say, but Pink is far from that.

His article in Wired

So, I’m going to take a class next month that will hopefully help me plot the route to my own right-brain, and then set myself the challenge of translating this map into a kid-friendly brochure complete with directions, color photos of where I went and what it was like, and an explanation of why they should visit. All of which will be very difficult because, as I’ve learned from trying to write my artist statement, it is almost impossible to use left-brained skills to explain right-brained experiences. Perhaps it should be a graphic novel?

And how does all this relate to my art? Well, a lot of what I do when I paint requires me to fish around in my right-brain. I have to have a sense of “the whole” – an ability to see all parts simultaneously. I also have to trust my intuition when making decisions. Now, I’m no scientist, and I don’t know how to define or quantify intuition, but I do know it exists and I do know it has something to do with seeing and understanding nuance and suggestion. It’s a “knowing” that is difficult to explain. I don’t mean hokey intuition – the kind where you know someone’s going to call you right before they call, or the kind where you know your sister’s pregnant before she does. It’s just some weird mechanism that guides you to a decision or an idea without your brain getting in the way (well, your left brain at least).

And then there’s synthesis – making connections between, and pulling together, disparate things. Case in point – recently I’ve been intrigued by parallels between metaphysical and macrocosmic mechanisms, such as the development of self-identity in humans and the formation of a planet. Images of indefinable shapes and shadows became superimposed with opaque, solid shapes that anchored and “trapped” the shadows within my paintings. More on this in a future blog.

And finally, in dealing with time, the right-brain is concerned with the here and now, where the left-brain looks backwards and forwards. The act of painting requires one to focus on the here and now. You are juggling a number of variables and making creative decisions all at the same time. Your mind leaps from the entire composition to the tiniest detail and back again in a fraction of a second.

Here’s an example of me having to be in the here and now:

I made these marks by blowing ink bubbles through the end of a straw onto vellum and then trying to drag the bubble across the surface while simultaneously inflating and deflating the bubble. It was interesting that if my mind wandered while doing this I would lose control of the mark and the bubble would pop. Obviously, the bubble had a natural life-span and would always eventually pop anyway. It was almost like a lie detector, but it detected distraction instead of deceipt. Here’s a close up of part of the drawing:

As you may have guessed, this is, in fact, two ink drawings on vellum, one behind the other. Next step? No idea. I’ve tried sewing pieces together but I’m not happy with the result. Any suggestions?

I suppose I need to sit with them for a while and root around in my right brain to “intuit” where I should go next. Given that I just banged on about my ability to synthsize disparate things I think my next step will be to reflect on the qualities of these drawings – their essence – and then see if my mind chooses to see and make connections with some other unrelated thing. Maybe that planet idea again? Maybe I can map the progression of my ability to control the ink in a series of repeated drawings, and then somehow the final step will be to punctuate the process with a solid paint shape in the final drawing?

We’ll see what happens. I just had a bad day of painting in my studio and I’m feeling a little under-talented and discouraged. So it goes. Thankfully, this is usually how I feel right before I freak out, do something extreme to one of my pieces, and then make an exciting discovery. But euch! The moments leading up to that point, when you almost come to a grinding halt and give up art forever, is excruciating. It’s kind of like depression. You just have to remind yourself that “this too will pass” and then wait it out.