Luke Kirkland’s Journal
St. John’s College, Santa Fe, NM
Table of Contents
- Concept, Model, Monument
- Interiority, Strictly Speaking
- Location and Locomotion
- Asides Incommensurate With the Hypotenuse
- Rembrandt as Motif
- MisBeth: Theories of Miscommunication and Misreading
- King l’Air: Portraiture en Plein Heir
- Notes on Photography
- Notes on Drawing
- Notes on Painting
- Notes on Sculpting
- Notes on Acting
- Dialogue and Daily Practice
It sounded like a joke: six Fine Arts students teaming up with six Liberal Arts students for a month-long, all-expenses-paid adventure to New York, Giverny, Paris, Amsterdam, Stratford-upon-Avon, and London to explore an integration of the two disciplines under the guise of a workshop entitled “Shakespeare, Rembrandt, and Themes of Interiority”. But it was not a joke at all. It was dead serious. In exchange we were only asked to present a body of work verifying our effort towards the programs’ ideals. This modest book is my contribution. And yet I cannot begin to approach closure with this life-changing opportunity or present the fruits of the labor required therein without a hearty round of applause to all those responsible. I offer my extreme gratitude.
First of all, I would like to thank the exceptional Greg Wyatt for imagining such a once-in-a-lifetime experience and for miraculously bringing it to life. In this capacity, his sculpture entirely transcends wax, clay, or bronze and his insistence on all things volumetric, crosshatched, and embedded will become a great testament to living dreams fully. In Paris, as we waited for our train to Amsterdam, Greg looked at me and said gently, “this is happening” and I welled up at the humor and profundity of how that simple statement could sum things up so perfectly. He is truly a character larger than life and I will always think wonderingly at the chance to have spent such time in his company. Thanks goes to Fay Wyatt as well for the opportunity to observe art and success operating at home in such a committed romance—it is a beautiful model to be referenced by all interested in the creative life. And for insisting on going into the Mauritshuis, perhaps my favorite museum of the trip, I am quite indebted to you Fay! To John Gasparach and Alan Roberts, I have nothing but heartfelt admiration at the inspiring genuineness of their concern for education in the arts. Their approach left nothing but more time to be desired; their partnership left nothing but faith in the power of community; their conversation and character left nothing but a hope to add more to my fond memories of them. In Stratford-upon-Avon much respect goes to Paul Edmondson, Stanley Wells, and Dr. Pringle for their extraordinary insight and expertise, and particularly to Nick Walton for his exceeding sensitivity to the group’s participation in his seminars. Thanks also go generally to those guides and lecturers who paid us visits during our travels and who enlightened us in lecture rooms, museums, and buses of our surroundings, of our subjects, and of the profound contributions to the canon of artistic triumph of the works of Shakespeare and Rembrandt. And of course, there is no forgetting Lynne Beckenstein, without whose logistical aplomb, none of this would have ever come into fruition. Her capacity to build Greg’s ambitions into living, breathing itineraries is truly a force of nature. Bravo. But lastly and most importantly, I would like to thank Grant and Martha Franks for trusting a stranger as their nominee to this exceptional opportunity. I must have done something good to come to their attention; whatever it was it feels much less than the experience with which they have rewarded me. And as this trip has far exceeded all expectations, I can only hope to have lived up to expectations they did not have. But even if they had not been responsible for bringing me to the interior of “Interiority”, they deserve every acclaim for being the glue that held every part of this grand excursion together. Without their sleepless attention and commitment to counting this month down second by second in groups of twelve, our maiden craft could very well be flotsam irretrievably scattered amongst the waters we have traversed: the Atlantic Ocean, the Seine, the canals of Amsterdam, the English Channel, the river Avon. so if you ever need a kidney, please ask.
In the end, I suppose the final documents we each produce will be the remaining testament to the greatness of this program’s vision. In reality, this experience will continue to operate long after its conclusion. Entire worlds have reopened for me and if this gloss appears to extend anything substantial, it is only a fraction of an impressive and monumental whole for which you are responsible. And if we have ever seemed critical of the program’s details, know that it came only from an eagerness to contribute to the refinement of something truly marvelous. I hope that our work here in any scant way manages to justify your efforts. But as I expect it will not, let’s just say: “We owe you big time.” thank you.
And so, without further ado…
I doubt the interior. Let us begin at that.
The epistemological concerns taken up in the works of Descartes, Locke, Berkeley, and Hume sought to untangle the difference between what a thing is in an “objective” sense and what we perceive and understand of it by our sensory perception. Essentially culminating in what may be seen as a separation of Church and State of the sensible world, their work drew a sharp distinction between qualities we perceive and the necessary substance in which these qualities must exist. When Kant finally inherits this expedition, those perceivable qualities that exist in and of some substance are the only things that we are able to know; we have no knowledge of the substance “in-itself”. While we may require some substance to bear the sensible qualities we perceive, we have absolutely no access to any information regarding the in-itself other than that it must exist; I can speak of extension, mass, texture, color, scent, etc. and construct in my mind a whole image of the individual object as comprised of these elements, but I cannot claim to thereby have knowledge of the thing-in-itself. We may orient our terminology by this distinction, associating “interior” with the thing-in-itself and “exterior” with the observable qualities of sensible objects. operating under this distinction I claim to no knowledge of the interior. But I will not here deny it. Rather, I doubt it.
If “interiority” exists as a term in its own right, it must signify something different from the interior. But what is the nature of the difference? Looking elsewhere in English for words with the suffix “–ity”, we might use “negativity” as a model. “negative” appears to be a conditional state outside of time that characterizes things in time (e.g. “you’re being very negative right now”), whereas “negativity” appears to be an operation of the negative in time (e.g. “I’m feeling a lot of negativity right now”). The former is something we reference as a condition and which remains beyond the temporal; the latter is something that occurs almost by its own action, That brings itself into the temporal—it appears. Applying this distinction to the interior and interiority, we may say that interiority is the operation of the interior in time, that it is an occurrence and not a state, that appears of its own volition. But what is this operation by which the interior appears? How does it happen?
Most basically, the answer is: by observation. the interior must be observed. Interiority must be an account of the revelation of the interior. And while it has often been spoken of as “my interiority” or “his interiority” it is not some thing that exists inside. Rather, it is an event of some thing that necessitates an observer. But whatever satisfaction we may have of this superficial explanation, it does no justice to what is truly fascinating about interiority. for we may recall from our initial exploration of the knowledge of the sensible world that we ultimately have no access to the interior. Whatever experience of interiority we have, it cannot be of the interior. Rather, it must be gleaned from the exterior and assembled in our minds as a representation of interior processes. In this way, interiority is indeed a bit paradoxical. It is a promise of illusion. But this leads us to a more organic notion.
Our experience of ourselves occurs entirely differently than our experience of others. For we have no access to their interior world except by external cues; the only interior life we actually experience is our own. And yet this experience of our interior life operates almost entirely without external cues—we look at ourselves only in mirrors and so rarely that most observation of our appearance is deduced by knowledge of muscular activity and sensations of position. Thus any experience of interiority is a complete operation whereby the deficiency of the external object—its unobservable internal character—and of the observing subject—its unobserved external appearance—resolve themselves into an occasion for wholeness. Though there are many problems yet to be considered, let this definition orient readers to my usage of the term “interiority”.
Of essential importance to any understanding of interiority is an examination of physical space. What is perhaps most immediately eninternal: lightening about RRembrandt’s portraits is that the revelation of interior activity occurs in a shroud of darkness. As enclosed space engulfs the figure, his subjects are either placed against the darkness and yet appear to arrive from it or they disappear into the darkness and yet remain momentarily. As is evident in a drawing like St. Mark Preaching or a print like Christ Presented to the People, which deny interiority in part because of their openness, Rembrandt’s works rarely, if ever, function as an occasion for interiority without the pervasive darkness of an indoor setting.
Though space does not operate quite as simply in Shakespeare’s plays as in Rembrandt’s paintings, there are very similar operations involved in his plays that accord with and support this conception of the dependence of interiority on enclosed space. Most notably in our studies, we may cite in Macbeth the way that their home operates upon the audience’s conception of Macbeth and lady Macbeth. In those scenes which offer the most insightful glimpses into these characters, we find ourselves privy to conversations, arguments, and monologues all set in what we must imagine to be small chambers, hallways, corners—even if we imagine them in large rooms, the walls and ceiling must hulk over the two as they devise their plots and shrivel into tortuous guilt. The audience inevitably feels claustrophobic. Only when the death of his beloved though estranged wife renders Macbeth’s ambitions entirely pointless does he break out of his confinement. The end of Macbeth and thus of our experience of his interior occurs out of doors; interiority only truly occurs indoors.
The extreme openness of King Lear appears to support an opposite claim. For the majority of the play’s action occurs out of doors and we experience Lear’s interior primarily in open fields and blasted heaths. But that experience of Lear’s interior is itself a question. We see several rants and speeches given by him, but no intimate soliloquies: we would expect such moments from Shakespeare’s main characters. And though we may approach his person briefly inside his home at the play’s outset, he so quickly behaves out of character that we have little substance to point out as Lear’s true self. Ultimately, Lear as we know him entertains the suggestion of “nothing” and becomes such by succumbing to it. And in this capacity, our interpretation of space succeeds. For King Lear generally suggests an apocalyptic implosion of space facilitated in conjunction with Lear’s madness. Essentially, space becomes Lear’s psyche and his madness occurs in direct relation to a negation of internal and external space. The scene in Gloucester’s barn, with the hope that rest will return Lear to his wits, suggests this recuperative capacity of enclosed space and its ability to reconstitute the interior; it anticipates Lear’s recovery in Cordelia’s care. Out of doors, interiority is dissolved; indoors it is preserved.
We may apply this formula to the play-going experience as well. For as we saw in our visit to the Rose and the Globe, the theaters where the Lord Chamberlain’s Men performed were roofless cylindrical structures, with multiple tiers of bleacher-style seating surrounding a standing-room only ground level. On the one hand, the basic fact that acoustics in open spaces are much more difficult to isolate than in enclosed space may surely contribute to our concern that Othello at the Globe was the least captivating play seen on our trip. But might it also be that unenclosed space deters intimacy and precludes an experience of interiority?
Another condition interiority depends upon is stillness. The figure in motion is not an occasion for the revelation of the interior. Perhaps more than any obscure coloration or blurred form, that slight revolving gesture of the arms in Rembrandt’s Homer renders the figure impenetrable: 3000 irretrievable years are balled up in that space between his hands. Likewise, the backwards motion of Rembrandt’s early painting of the Sacrifice of Abraham reveals nothing insightful about the patriarch while his engraving of the scene twenty years later injects a frozenness that negates the apparent motion of the moment and allows us into Abraham’s blinding inner terror. Though in Shakespeare, this notion is more difficult to approach, we may at least note the propensity for actors to slow their work down to a near halt during their most poignant lines. Speed rarely conveys deep internal conditions; slowness largely does.
Can we imagine our states, break-neck paced through the streets of the vast and sky-shrouded New York or Paris or Amsterdam or London? doDwe wonder that we felt so relieved to be in museums and restaurants and giverny’s country houses? Are we surprised to have retreated into Stratford’s bed and breakfasts to recover our own interiors from the blows of gaping space?
We slowed and stayed inside to save ourselves.
Let there be a right triangle. Let the acute angles be labeled “start” and “end”. Let the “start” location represent the point of departure for a discussion of the revelation of interiority. Let the “end” location represent the attainment of some degree of understanding of interiority. Let the sides of the triangles be the only pathways from the “start” to the “end”.
We are simply to find our way from the “start” to the “end”.
Based upon the challenge’s requirements, there are only two viable options: along the hypotenuse and along the two sides adjacent to the hypotenuse. The former is a direct path along a straight line between the two points; the latter is a longer path that moves away from the destination and then returns to it. regarding the length of these paths, their distances are incommensurate with each other. If we are concerned about time or simplicity or directness of route, the choice seems clear: we travel along the hypotenuse, avoiding the sides, which are other beasts entirely.
I propose this illustration as a means to discuss the mechanics of “Shakespeare, Rembrandt, and Themes of Interiority”. For while the program in part asked of its participants to inquire into the persons and works of Shakespeare and Rembrandt with reference to this concept of interiority, the two function entirely different from each other. In Merleau-Ponty’s discussion of painting, we read what is apparent already: Rembrandt provides us with a very clear and distinct sense of interiority by providing an occasion for vision to penetrate into the work, the world, and ourselves simultaneously in a moment of wholeness. Shakespeare, on the other hand, is not a painter, however painterly his words might be. We do not access the interior of his characters in as whole a way as in Rembrandt’s work—it is as if, wearing their insides on their sleeves, they awkwardly butt up against the audience.
Nevertheless, this difficult experience of interiority is not a problem of Shakespeare; it is a problem of drama and the theatrical medium. As we noted in the previous section, the pace of theater is one obstacle. the actors move to and fro, spitting out lines excitedly and animatedly—we have little time to pause and experience them. This is not necessarily the actors’ fault. In large theaters, vocal projection and large movement are necessary to convey to all of the audience the character’s condition.
The awkwardness of dramatic dialogue presents another obstacle. We rarely encounter statements in plays that sound like natural utterances. And we rarely bare our inner thoughts and emotions in such explicit fashion. Furthermore, in any production, we first have a pliable script in writing (one adjacent side of our triangle) and then we have a director’s and a company’s interpretation of it (the other adjacent side). We never really encounter “the play” because “the play” does not ever actually exist. It evades us.
There may be no more eloquent way to say it than that there is just something more immediate in painting. And the notion of interiority we experience with Rembrandt is entirely different from any we experience in Shakespeare. Though Shakespeare is chalk full of poetry, perhaps more lyric poetry would better approximate the immediacy of painting. Should this program continue to develop new topics and titles, perhaps even more appropriate pairings might be possible. I would propose a dance and sculpture pairing if it did not exclude the Liberal Arts and therefore preclude the intention of the organizers.
The first time we saw the Jewish Bride I must admit I was not blown away. We spent some time sketching it onto our blocks of plastiline for a potential sculpture in the round. But as soon as I saw it in real life, I knew this was going to be one of the top highlights of the trip. Van Gogh had reportedly said he would trade twelve years of his life for the chance to sit in front of that painting for two weeks with only water and crusts of bread. It was something like that at least. But I can understand why he would have been so captivated. The composition itself is simple enough: a man and his wife in front of a dark background. But their expressions are so sweet and loving and even slightly embarrassed to be painted in such a tender moment. The technique is particularly striking as well. The man’s sleeve bulges out in blobs and chunks of heavily textured paint while other lines of his garment are scratched away. Yet what really makes the painting so magnificent is the incredible coloration. The man is dressed in a bright yellow and the woman is dressed in a bright red. The background is a palette of browns vaguely depicting some home furnishings of some kind, a plant maybe. But while we may consider red-browns and yellow-browns of all sorts that would match the colors of the garments, the browns somehow subtly, even coyly evade concord with the yellows and reds. They clash ever so slightly, creating a soft sense of disorientation. no wonder certain members of the group reacted so strongly to the painting!
The most profound experience of painting on this excursion for me was Rembrandt’s Homer. When I first looked at it in the Maruitshuis, I found it to be perhaps Rembrandt’s strangest painting. I moved on for a while and when I returned, chose to sit and write what I saw—drawing it seemed to be an impossible task. That was when the painting opened itself to me. In the muted tones and blurry lines, the withered past becomes the folds of garment, skin, beard, and background. All is far and faint and splotchy. Rembrandt summons three thousand years of oral tradition as if Homer were an aged, feeble genie in a lamp, shrouded in smoke and mystery. His mouth groans open more like the grimace of the elderly arriving to locomotion than the efforts of a poet forming words. The blind poet’s mouth is even as dark as his obscure eyes, pairing the enigma of his insight with the invisible workings of his authorship. His left hand seems to circle inwards and upwards as his right hand circles forwards and downwards as if to carve a sphere of empty space from the air in which to put his speech and simultaneously pull his words from their deep recesses in his chest. He wears a cap on his head and a band on his brow like a yarmulke guarded by a girlish halo, like his memory wrapped in his poetry. On his right shoulder, the gold repeats as a highlight, glowing like a little muse angel nude reclines on that curve where the body’s architecture meets its motion—she whispers in his ear and “speaks in him the anger”. And all of that speech is but a faint tan streak that curves out from his mouth like a horn to the hunt. Homer is penetrable only to reveal its impenetrability; it is the anti-model for interiority. Its profundity transcends.
The dynamic between Macbeth and lady Macbeth proves extremely difficult not only to interpret in reading but to imagine in acting. Whatever goes on within them is so intimately bound up in what goes on between them that the method behind their ambitions seems only explainable in their attachment to one another. Neither ultimately want what they do, but they do it anyway. The only way I can approach an understanding of their relationship and of their motivations as characters is by some inquiry into their interactions as false readings and miscommunication.
I imagine a warrior in love whose work in the field is of so brutal a nature that he fears to frighten away his most prized possession. I imagine a wife in love who fears she may lose her husband if she does not hide her own delicate nature. In this model, each character hides what he/she is behind what they think the other wants to see. When lady Macbeth says that she fears Macbeth’s heart is too full of the “milk of human kindness”, she says it as if projecting her own feelings of insecurity onto her husband. When she reads into Macbeth’s face, she anticipates what she thinks he must be preparing. And as she is so prepared to receive her warrior husband, he reacts surprisedly but shyly to her suggestions. He does not expect her to be so eager to facilitate the murderous business at hand and must remain strong in the face of her inquiry. And so the two slowly become what the other does not want of them and what they do not want of themselves, but all to satisfy their beloved.
The experience of interiority here is not as simple as we might like. There are incorrect insights, dissonant wholenesses, insides working against outsides. And in this formulation, macbeth may be in part a warning against poor reading of ourselves and others.
What is most efficacious to me about King Lear is that despite the rampant tragedy in the deaths of so many of our prized characters they are at least redeemed by being brought back to themselves. In Othello, for example, the tragic characters move away from their typical behaviors, become what they are not, and are left to suffer the new hell of remorse for their wicked deeds. It is thoroughly unsettling and untranscendent. But in King Lear, characters move away from their typical behaviors, become what they are not, and then return to themselves once more to suffer in their natural states, largely uncorrupted.
If the king holds a kingdom together, and the monarch’s absence is that stolen axle that sends the carriage reeling, Lear’s rage seems to set in motion the falling away of the other characters from themselves. Cordelia is disowned. Kent becomes a beggar. Edgar becomes a madman as “Edgar I nothing am”. Gloucester becomes a blind man abandoned. Lear becomes, as the fool anticipates, “Lear’s shadow”. Lear’s preoccupation with nothingness leads himself to a nothingness of personality—and no soliloquies for that matter. And the world falls apart with him.
But when Lear begins to identify those who have suffered their time away from themselves, the drama shifts. Meeting the blinded Gloucester, Lear says “I know you”. And though he is not miraculously healed, Gloucester at least becomes himself once more. Gradually this motion brings Edgar back to him and Edgar becomes a son again, allowing his heart to “burst smilingly”. Edgar then asserts himself in his duel with Edmund to reclaim his life from his half-brother’s machinations. When Lear has rested and wakes at Cordelia’s prompting, he claims he sees his daughter and renews his relationship with her. She becomes his daughter once more, his favorite and most beloved. And finally, he acknowledges Kent as he approaches death and so Kent becomes his faithful attendant in his explicit capacity. Each disenfranchised character becomes himself or herself again at Lear’s simple “I know you”.
Interiority thus becomes an issue of definition, intimately tied to others and bound to their knowledge of us. And while the massiveness of Shakespeare’s tragedy seems to demolish all hope and reduce existence to nothingness, this ebb and flow of identity seems to reconcile the tragic action for us all by giving ourselves back as well.
By no means am I a photographer. Playing with cameras was always a fun activity when I have had the opportunity to do so. A couple of years ago, when my Mother gave me her ‘70s Pentax Spotmatic, I found myself shooting photos on trips and whenever I could afford the costs of film and development. By chance last fall, my scant experience in photography, graphic design, and web design landed me a job as “Media Manager” at a rug merchant in Santa Fe, which basically entailed photographing the rugs, editing them, and maintaining an inventory of rug images for the use of the sales staff. In March, as a birthday present in preparation for my departure, I received from my Mother and Grandmother a digital camera intended for the purpose of documenting every photographable element of the trip for friends and family in the States. Orienting myself first to the mechanical functions, then to the unique capabilities of the camera, I found myself preparing my eyes for the forthcoming immersion into the visual arts. And so while I have been long estranged from visual expression in drawing, painting, and sculpture, my interactions with the visual world have been developing through the lens of a camera; with so much to document on such an incredible dash through Eeurope, the camera, promoted by the ease and convenience of its use, naturally became my primary tool for visual expression.
What caught my attention more than anything was views of roof-planes and wall-edges slicing across the sky. Whether clear or cloudy, the sky was primarily an open empty space walled off and secluded from mass by mass. This breaking of empty space became a muse I looked for from every sidewalk and every window. But more than mere breaking of space, I looked for harsh angles, sharp symmetry, and rigid perpendicularity. And while geometry thus developed as a primary factor of attraction, it was really the suggestion of straight lines intersection each other and space and the edges of the viewfinder that was necessary for me to pull out my camera. Buildings needed not have clear edges and lines and were often preferred only approximating; ornamentation or imperfect construction were breaking elements as well. In some lighting situations, the buildings shown forth brilliantly; in others the sky shadowed the buildings into dark grey blocks. In some situations, photographs of people employed the framing tactic of the architectural photography by balancing face-filled edges and corners with weighty expanses of open space. Strict symmetry thus alternated with forced asymmetry; discovering a widescreen setting for my camera threw the range of those extremes much wider.
Towards the end of the trip, my fascination with geometry moved from explorations of perpendicularity and parallelism towards an examination of perspective. Blocks of buildings narrowing into the distance with recurring roof structures such as chimneys and telephone lines—these shots seemed like images occurring when two mirrors are placed facing each other. And yet, as was the case with the previous shots, merely the suggestion of such perfect recurring images caught my eye; the imperfections were added bonuses.
In past mathematics coursework, the geometrical work of Euclid, Apollonius, and Lobachewski have been exceptionally intriguing both as lessons in logical reasoning and as exercises of the imagination in pure space. This former interest surely informs the way I think about photography or at least points to some attraction in me that is satisfied by the geometries of both mathematics and photography. As this attraction continues to evince itself, I expect it will continue to emerge in future work. My past fascination with the moments when lines in motion turn from nonparallel to parallel to nonparallel again or, even more so, when a rotating conic section transitions from forming a circle to an ellipse to an hyperbola to a parabola—these are considerations that may inspire new photographic projects.
But I will continue to explore portraiture and photographing whole groups of people as well. for more than anything, photography has taught me the limitations of forced effort and become a practice of seeing the world and of letting it be seen as all it can offer without imposed restrictions. Its lessons are equally applicable to the world of things and the world of living beings and photography will continue its tutelage as long as I pick up cameras… which I hope will be a long time indeed.
It had been nearly eight years since I took up a pencil seriously. We first set out drawing a lemon we had cut in half; though this was no success in drawing, it was a reminder of the work to be done to remember the feel of the art.
Camie Davis’ visit to the group was the first set of insights into my new encounter with pencil and paper. First of all I noted how she held her pencil—not through her index and middle fingers like a pen but sprouting out between her thumb and coiled fingers. She managed this technique in such a way that let her motions be free but naturally precise. It seemed a practice of using an implement of force gently, which was why I found myself describing the grip as a fist holding a knife or a bat or some other weapon. The whole arm participated, not merely the hand. Her sweeping sought to trace out the best gesture of the figure and define the body’s envelope. As she continued into more detailed work, she spoke of carving into the page as if it were a relief sculpture. The darker parts should be carved deeply; the lighter parts should be left untouched.
Half of the challenge of drawing was simply remembering how I used to draw; the other half was realizing how I want to draw. Regarding the first challenge, I quickly remembered that I would work beginning with detail and move from one place to the next, never really assembling the gesture or envelope of the whole. Watching Camie helped me away from that habit towards something more organic. I stopped being so exact and “handy” in my drawings by holding my pencil like she did and letting the feeling of drawing be one experienced throughout my whole body. And where I once would have drawn lines to define outline, I began to avoid outline and work only with light and dark.
Though Alan and John reinforced these lessons to some extent, Camie’s focus on extremely realistic detail was left behind. This let the full freedom of the technique come alive as grander gestures developed darker lines, deeper digging, more sincere motions of the body. Of all the musical instruments I have played, the drums always felt so immediately satisfying as a release for my long limbs and my composed physical presence. This new method of drawing soon became an analogue to drumming that I celebrated enthusiastically. And how nicely even the words work together, drawing and drumming!
Though all of the exercises Alan and John had us perform, none were more enlightening than the overwhelming success of the drawings we did with our non-dominant hand. In almost every case, the work was the most profound offered by the artist. We were all astonished and eager to resume the practice on future occasions.
Among the most notable issues encountered in drawing is the conflict between line and likeness, between the form and what’s seen. And while I had immediately been reintroduced to drawing with an exploration solely of light and shade, the possibilities pure line enjoys for the representation of form aside from light and shade are something I hope to explore as I continue to draw.
My father painted houses all my life, so the colors and the mess and the smell and the tools of painting are things with which I feel very comfortable. For most of my childhood I worked with acrylics and oils here and there. But as with drawing, remembering how I used to paint and how I want to paint was to be a difficult project.
We began with a lesson in color theory that I had somehow never gotten. Alan’s explanation of primary, secondary, and complementary colors provided me with a very convenient reorientation to painting, though I felt a little frustrated to endure the subsequent mixing exercise. I have never been good at practicing fundamentals; I am always too eager to get to the creating part of art. The next day we embarked on our mission of copying one of the Rembrandt reproductions. After setting up, it seemed I got the last pick of paintings to copy. But I was in luck. Aristotle With A Bust of Homer sat waiting for me. I got to work.
My girlfriend is a painter and I often like to watch her working. She rarely uses brushes, preferring to apply large globs of paint with her palette knives for the thick textures it creates. Immediately, I knew I wanted to work towards Rembrandt’s heavy tones with thickly applied paint. So I took her cue and left the brushes alone. As with drawing, the free motion of the arm and body thrilled me and, combined with the energy of the coffee running through my system and the forceful encounter between palette knife and palette and canvas, the whole experience was immensely physically satisfying. At times it felt like dancing. Though oil paint dries very slowly and was still very wet for the next day’s work, the reactions between the paint were quite interesting to work with and resolve. Again as with drawing, the painting process required that I leave the lightest areas for the end; with such wet dark paint it would have been a mess to try painting whites on top of darks and it often was nevertheless. Rushed to finish in time for the critiques, I slapped Aristotle’s face on in five minutes and left the room. When it came back in view next, I felt extremely happy with the work I had done in a such short time. the way the light hit the surfaces and the way the colors worked with each other from a distance actually captured what I hoped to achieve in the project. Furthermore, learning the capabilities and weaknesses of the palette knife was greatly rewarding. Unfortunately, it had clearly no chance of surviving much longer. In travel the wet paint smeared and smudged and dried into a disappointing mess. I learned to let go.
Though oil paints are something I will surely use more with in the future, after seeing Kim’s and Greg’s use of watercolors in their pen and pencil drawings, I hope to experiment with that type of painting in the future as well. There are some simple photos I took that would be very conducive to watercolor reproductions.
At the outset of the program we were given a block of plastiline and some soft red sculpting wax. And while we had some brief experience with the plastiline in New York, we were not able to dive into our materials very deeply until our sessions in Giverny.
Sculpting had been one of the more appealing forms in my Fine Arts background. During grade school and middle school, my art teacher assigned a great deal of projects with clay and papier mache. By high school I had more experience in building and firing and glazing than most and was able to build on that experience in pottery classes. In my year at the University of Colorado, besides the Art History component of my humanities major, I took a beginning sculpture class that mostly produced modern experimental pieces with almost no classical influence. On the whole, sculpture attracted me greatly.
When we received harder green and brown waxes in Giverny, I found my preferred medium in the brown and stepped into sculpting mode. My first project was a spoon relief that developed as a sculpture doodle of sorts but that became a very informative exercise in position and structure. In another silly exercise in technique I tried to build a toothbrush out of the soft red wax, focusing all of my attention on how to represent bristles. In addition to my architectural photography, these projects had me wondering whether I liked tall, thin tools as well as tall, thin buildings because of my tall, thin frame. It seems probable. As happy as I was at least with the spoon, these two were also destroyed in travel.
But when we were offered the chance to build a small relief that would be cast in bronze, I took the project very seriously. In only a few days drawing, painting, and especially sculpture had already begun to teach me more about the natural world I encountered than any science had in recent memory. It was an intimate lesson in the nature of things. Both confounded and inspired by the anatomy of the hand, I sought to build a small likeness of the back of my left hand, working quickly and diligently on our deadline. The brown wax continued to be my favorite. It required work and rewarded you for it. It did not stick to your hand or fail to retain the form of hard lines like the red wax. Though I was unable to photograph it before sending it to the foundry, I was very happy with the outcome of the model. Working with the proportions required, I employed my photographic aesthetic of cutting off images by forming the hand without a wrist or tips of fingers. It just slightly rose out of the clay as if from water. And its irregularities of position were ultimately more enticing than other attempts to make it seem more life-like.
After that experience, coming across some of Rodin’s comments on motion in sculpture was an incredible revelation. He said that motion is created by presenting the figure in several states at once. A sculpture that aims to represent a model accurately as in a photograph does not produce motion; it produces an even more abstract representation devoid of motion. Rather, by representing several slightly unnatural positions in conjunction with one another, the sculpture begins to move. Though I wondered how that motion occurs— does the disjunction inspire motion in ourselves such that we force it into a more natural motion—the observation struck a chord. It helped explain why I respond to Rodin in particular, but also to all kinds of sculpture that avoids naturalistic human representation; it explained why I liked my hand sculpture as it was.
This lesson became a guiding instruction in a sculpture in the round of King Lear with the fool on the heath. I tried to contort his body as much as possible to try to create that sense of motion. Structural questions became of large concern as I struggled to build Lear’s cloak into a supportive element. And trying to represent wind and rain became another great challenge that Greg’s lessons in cross-hatching helped in part to solve. Inspired by the production of King Lear, I placed the fool crouching beneath Lear’s cloak, frightened and shielding himself from the elements. To balance that addition I added a lighting-stricken tree stump to the other side. Despite being fairly satisfied with the outcome, that project was ultimately yet another lesson in letting go—I had to destroy it to bring the plastiline home.
Though we never tried acting out parts from the plays, watching the plays and considering what goes into a good performance led me to wonder about interiority with regards to actors on a stage. overall, our group found the performances in othello and macbeth lacking in power as compared to the deeply moving version of King Lear. one of the biggest complaints was the feeling that emotion was mostly expressed through volume. While in most cases, hearing the actors was not a huge problem, they rarely used the audience’s attentive observance to their advantage, seizing silence and bidding baited breath.
Even gestures seemed unrefined to a large extent. they seemed almost obvious. In this realm, Ian Mckellen’s acting was a revelation. every movement seemed the opposite of what you would expect, but was perfectly expressive. In his more animated moments, Mckellen’s movements looked like they followed well after the impulse. you could see the delay: his mind would command, his torso would thrust, his arm would jump out dumbly. that kind of subtle mastery of body seems a profound mark of genius in acting. I am so glad to have witnessed it in the flesh.
Beyond great mastery of technique, successful art requires great mastery of self. for the disciplines of practice and perseverance are the only guarantors of productivity. the daily practice of artistic expression, the examination of theatrical performances, seeing and reading with a careful eye—these are daily disciplines incorporated into lives of artists. But as fond as we are of dialogue and discussion, we rarely consider an artistic discipline in those modes of expression.
When we draw or paint a picture or write an essay or poem, we have a document in which we may confront ourselves and which can be extremely telling of who we are as individuals. But recall those moments when we hear the message we left on the answering machine or see a video of a conversation in which we participated. often the reaction is one of embarrassment or shame. And this reaction should be equally as telling as the reaction we have to our tangible work. Why? Because it shows that, despite the amount of speaking we do every day in every type of situation, we rarely encounter ourselves in conversation. We rarely see or hear a document of how we sound, what our gestures are, what our phrasing is. We rarely are our own audience. But we should be. We should practice dialogue. towards that end, I would like to propose some observations I have had during discussions in this program.
Because it does not follow naturally from the immediately preceding comment in a conversation, raising one’s hand throws an otherwise organic discussion off track. By appealing to whoever leads the discussion, it initiates a conversation solely with that leader as a figure of authority. this shows little concern for what others are saying and little investment in the group project.
It has been noted that for Shakespeare’s plays to be successful in his time, his poetry would have had to be understood relatively well by the audience. perhaps watching plays is difficult because we do not know how to listen as well as people once did. similarly, the popularity of psychoanalysis may, to some extent, be characteristic of a culture that does not listen to one another well; we might learn best from psychoanalysis how to listen once more.
Of all dangers to good conversation, the subtlest and most divisive is overuse or improper use of the sentential prefix “I think”. While it may be perceived by the user to be a declaration of a particular stance, “I think” expresses nothing more than doubt. for by appealing to an incomplete cognitive process and not to a state of knowledge, it immediately exclaims “I am uncertain about the following statement!”. It effectively transforms any statement into a question. the “I think” is only thinking out loud, the desire to hear one’s own voice without understanding what it says. It splits oneself into a speaker and a listener that are not in communication with one another and dissociates the individual from himself. In such a light, the Cartesian mantra “I think, therefore I exist” becomes a foundation for a whole slew of problems. While this may seem to affect only the speaker, it has a very powerful effect on participants in the conversation. for it relegates all others’ comments to an opinion the thinker does not take any more seriously than his own, which is not very much. And while it may be considered a courteous qualification of an idea with which not everyone may agree, it undermines the entire purpose of conversation, which is a communal endeavor in search of true knowledge. there is plenty of room for individual opinion, for unique points of view, for different stances. But unless the “I think” is used explicitly in the spirit of uncertainty, it only promotes discord. It may be much more descriptive and beneficial to the group project to use alternatives such as “it seems” or “I feel”.
Unless conversation becomes an art that speakers feel inclined to practice, we do great injustice not only to our minds and mouths and ears, but to our friends, families, and communities.