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:

5 comments:

barbara judge said...

You express such insightful thoughts -- ones that give our mind an exercise in simplicity and complexity and viewer and plant -- this whole expression can be applied to all of life. Thanks -- barbara

pansypoo said...

its seeing what you are looking at or rarely noticed. i fully support weeds that show up in the yard/lawn.

Frances said...

I first noticed this particular posting a few days ago, and promised myself that I would return to have a careful read. I have been rewarded for my return by your very interesting thoughts, wonderfully expressed.

Isn't it rather remarkable that such moments of observation and sharing of moments have been going on for many many centuries? And that all that time artists have been inspired?

Best wishes.

Heather said...

As an artist, I feel that my role is to be a conduit for the creative force. For a viewer to recognize that force in what I produce, makes it all worthwhile.

John Hopper said...

Thanks for your comments on this particular article. I know that I seem to be getting further and further into territory that perhaps might seem a little philosophical, even spiritual, rather than practical, but I do think that it is important to think more about why we have gravitated towards the creative arts, what they mean to artists and non-artists, and perhaps more importantly, what they mean to the future of our species and planet. All good and powerful stuff, and hopefully, well worth continuing to write about.

Anyway, thank you all for your input, it is so much appreciated.