Monday, August 18, 2014

The Genuine Article - Following Your True Path

Illustration: Gustav Klimt. 'Medezin', 1897.

I think a lot of people today are looking for the genuine article in many forms of life including the creative arts. Perhaps for the first time in our human history we have today an extremely articulate world population, one that is fully aware of when and how they are being fed with formulas and pretences, understand when something is untrue, lacking in integrity. Although we can hope that the world of 'me' is slowly passing into the world of 'we', it has been a long time coming and may well take a long time to pass, but things are changing faster than we believed possible and although the media is still dominated by stories of greed and self-interest, it is an industry that is finding the shifting parameters of human perspective difficult to keep up with.

Today, in our pre-packaged, market-tested, no-risks world, there is a yearning for the individual, a need to connect with a personality, someone that promotes their unique perspective, that sees the world beyond what has been created for them to consume. The creative artist, in whatever field, that can connect with the world with integrity, rather than a marketing spin, that can have a genuine vision, rather than a common formula, that sees the need to help and inform others before self, is the creative artist that is needed for this twenty first century. This will indeed be a century of turmoil and distress, but it will also be a century that sees the rapid growth and expansion of the human spirit.

Illustration: Ivan Bilibin. 'Go I know not whither and fetch I know not what'.

Our expanding consciousness has the potential to transform who we are and who we are seen to be by others across both this century and into the next. The creative arts have a big role to play in that transformation, whether amateur or professional, whether working in art, design, or craft, working with materials as diverse as textiles, wood, metal, stone, or tools such as pen, brush, computer, or even the human body itself. All are vital and all can be numbered as vital, but only if integrity is part of that vision.

That is why it is important to understand and follow your true path and more importantly still to have faith in that path, no matter what others might say to the contrary. As already stated, we are fast travelling from a 'me' culture to a 'we' culture, from a culture that is competitive to one that is collaborative, from one that is confrontational to one that is understanding, from one that is oppositional to one that is supportive, from the singular to the holistic. The values treasured by the we culture are also ones, that on the whole, are valued by the creative world. 

Illustration: Percy J. Smith. Opening pages of Charles Lamb's 'The Child Angel'.

To be fair, there is an element of the ego-driven in the creative arts world, there always has been, the ideal of celebrity first, artist second is one that parts of the media tend to latch on to as the norm in the art world. However, I have rarely met with that myself. Many of the people I have met in the creative arts world through the guise of The Textile Blog, have been genuine, supportive, understanding, appreciative of others and certainly supportive of those wanting to enter the creative arts world. This lastly is one of the most important elements and vital for the future health of both the industry and humanity.

If more people can be encouraged to enter the creative arena, in whatever guise, and more importantly still, be able to make a living through their creative art work, then the values and unique perspectives of this creative artistic world can become he mainstream of society, rather than that of the minority. The positive holistic approach that many artists have towards humanity and to the world at large, is one that needs to be both encouraged and expanded, and rapidly so. We need to be able to transform the broken divisive system we have and shift the emphasis of the future away from 'the way it's always been' to 'the way it could and should be'. 

Further reading links:

Monday, August 11, 2014

Complexity and Simplicity, Viewer and Viewed

Illustration: John Hopper. Single flower, 2014.

Each flower and each leaf that we see is a complex phenomenon in its own right. There are so many individual machinations that allow a leaf or flower to appear in the material world, to inhabit a space, however fleetingly. It is part of a process of layered sophistication, a moment in time that comes together to produce the end result, flower or leaf. However, despite the allure and wonder of its internal complexity, each leaf and flower also has an equally alluring and wonderful outward projection of simplicity.

Often the sophisticated layering that has produced flower or leaf is lost to all but the species involved, to outsiders the beauty and poetry of its external simplicity is what really draws the attention. The seemingly effortless projection of simplicity is perhaps nature's greatest achievement. A tranquil moment where the entire universe comes together in one simple expression of flower or leaf. 

The same could be said for creative artwork. Individual artwork is most often built up in a complexity of layers, from initial inspiration and intuition, through a series of speculative sketchbook ideas, experiments, and so on. Only finally is the piece produced in full. Often the finished work is admired for the 'simplicity' or 'effortless' message, or reaction of its final projection, rather than for the complexity of its journey.

Illustration: John Hopper. Found ceramics, 2014.

"From complexity is produced simplicity" is perhaps a fitting mantra for the creative process, but turn that mantra around "from simplicity is produced complexity" and you get an equally valid mantra that encompasses the same artwork, but from another perspective. The initial idea, the beginning spark was probably the simplest and fastest of creative moments, all the complexity after that moment was used in order to make that simplest of sparks a reality. The same tranquil moment is achieved where the universe comes together in one simple expression of one individuals completed creative artwork.

There is one more angle of perspective that has to be considered, whether in nature or human creativity, and that is the role of the observer. There is much in modern philosophy and increasingly in science, that tells us that the observer could well be the most important element in the momentary relationship that is, for example, the flower or the leaf. There is strong, but complex theoretical evidence to say that without the observer there would be no flower or leaf. 

Leaving the complexity of philosophy and science aside, we can say with some certainty that artistically and poetically the relationship between the creation and the viewer is an important one. The moment when both the viewed and the viewer come together is one that is both magical and singularly unique. A moment that can never be repeated, never regained.

Illustration: John Hopper. Ivy leaves, 2014.

To be aware of the singularity of that relationship, that unique balance of viewer and viewed, is to understand what life on the planet is all about. Life is full of never to be repeated moments of unique and intimate relationships. One individual's momentary harmony between viewed and viewer is different from another's and so on for seven billion individuals.

Watch the silent flight of a butterfly in a shady wood, meadow, or busy high street; it shouldn't make a difference which scenario you choose. Agreed, the ambience will certainly be different, but the flight of the butterfly will still be the flight of the butterfly, regardless. Nothing can take away the shared moment between you and the butterfly, the silent flight and your observation of that silent flight. That is a unique and personal moment in time, a singular relationship that belongs only to you and the butterfly.

The same is true for creative artwork. The relationship between viewer and viewed is equally intimate, special, and unique. It is not something the artist has any control over, nor would they wish to. To place a piece of creative artwork, in whatever discipline or field you choose to, into the public arena, is an act of intimacy and simplicity. An act whereby you are allowing the viewer to share a tranquil moment with your own intimate insight, your own intimate imagination, your own intimate understanding of the universe around you. Its simplicity is in the act itself. In that moment here is only the relationship between your perspective of the universe and that of your viewer.

That is pretty heavy stuff, and not everyone appreciates what an effort projecting those intimate moments between viewer and viewed can often take, whether you are an amateur or professional, it's all the same. That you continue to take them regardless of blunt and often ego-led criticism, misplaced understanding, bewilderment, or just plain old indifference, is a credit to this world of the creative arts and those who call it home.

Further reading links:

Monday, August 04, 2014

Creative Art: A Shared Projection of Individual Perspectives

Illustration: John Hopper. Perranporth beach, Cornwall, 2014.

Individuality is an important part of who we are, our uniqueness is an expression, a creative perspective of the self. Although much is talked of the negativity that can be the ego, I think personally, that characteristics and experience of the individual are important. It is perhaps when the ego comes to dominate every aspect of our lives, taking over all external perspectives and projections, so that every individual can then only see the external world through their own lens, seeing that as the only one that matters, and therefore ultimately dismissing all others, that it becomes an acute handicap.

Despite sharing this planet with seven billion other humans, as well as countless billions of other sentient species, we still often phase them out of our thoughts, sometimes even out of our perceived existence. It often appears as if we live under the self-delusion that because we are unique, we are therefore all that matters. 

So much of what is wrong with the planet has to do with that very perspective. The projection of self-interest and self-worth can often override any form of meaningful interaction and binding connectivity with the complex world we find around us. If we fixate on our own immediate self, our needs, and wants, then life for the rest of the planet automatically becomes secondary. This is a truly skewed and distorted version of the world, one that we as a species have placed at the centre of our perspective, and certainly, at the centre of the view we wish to project for ourselves and for others.

Illustration: Natalia Goncharova. 'Khorovod', 1910.

Personally, I don't think humans are naturally self-centred and mono-focused, I think those values are ones promoted by the society we have created around us. I do believe that we are naturally wired for meaningful interaction and connectivity, that we are naturally and spontaneously generous and compassionate, and that we thrive in a world of harmony and balance. 

These values admittedly, as already stated, are not perhaps the ones seen as central to contemporary society, a society that we have inherited, and one that we seem to insist of continually perpetuating. However, the true values of connectivity, generosity, compassion, balance and harmony, are the ones we will need if we are to heal the planet and regain our humanity.

So where does the creative arts come into this? Although the creative arts world has its fair share of self-serving, self-indulgent, and mono-focused individuals and egos, it is after all a reflection of contemporary humanity, importantly it also has a perspective of its own. Although by no means unique to itself, the creative arts community does have a natural tendency towards support and understanding of the personal perspective of the individual. It also has, through the process of positive criticism, a tendency not to pre-judge or to dismiss; all and everything has value on at least one level.

Illustration: Max Pechstein. 'Auf der Sudsee, insel Palau' 1917.

The creative arts has a need for balance and harmony, both in the external as well as internal world, a sense of quiet and stillness within yourself is the perfect place in which to start valuing and appreciating the external perspective of the world. 

Finally, the creative world is one in which connectivity is and should be seen, as everything. Whether we are connected to our fellow artists, or connected to the sky, the earth, the water, whether we observe the silent movement of a butterfly's wing, or the equally silent, but no less extraordinary smile on a human face, all are intimately connected to us, as we are to them. 

This unique perspective however, should be shared by all of us, not just the few. To see the world as an artist does would do so much to heal the world, and the only way we can do that is to shift the focus away from self-indulgence to self-understanding. As soon as we see the connected world as it really is, each and everything adding their uniqueness to the whole, then we stand to lose the ideal promoted falsely by society that the individual's immediate material wants are all that really matters. 

If we can take more pleasure in the shape of a cloud, or the chuckle of an old person, than in whatever new promotion we are being told that we have to purchase to be whole, then the world is on the right path. If that path can be found through the conduit of the arts, a form of human expression that has been with us since we have been human, then it is time to use that natural part of the human psyche in order to mend our ways and heal the wounds that we have inflicted on the planet and our fellow species, but perhaps more importantly still, to heal the wounds we have inflicted upon ourselves.

Further reading links: