Monday, October 31, 2011

Artist Point of View

Here is a set of quotes from the book, ``Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,'' by Betty Edwards, that fascinates me. It is from ``Chapter 5: Drawing on Memories,'' in which Betty Edwards explains the reason most people stop drawing at the age of 10-11 when they try to make their drawings look more realistic, but confront an inherent dilemma of representing a real image via unreal shapes!!!!

This topic is also interesting to me, because for me the process was somehow different. I did very real drawings at very early ages. At age 4 or 5, for example, I draw a horse head (from a photo or painting) that was so real that my father kept it for 20 something years. (Until he lost it in one of our moves, around the time of the peak of my first depression phase.)
I have a faint memory also that someone explained the concept of ``perspective'' in drawing for me when I was little, around 6 or 7, and I tried afterward to implement it in my drawings!

By around age ten or eleven, children's passion for realism is in full bloom ... When their drawings don't come out ``right''---meaning that they don't look realistic---children often become discouraged and ask their teachers for help. ... ---p.78

Say that a ten-year-old wants to draw a picture of a cube, ...

...the child must suppress knowing that the cube is square and draw shapes that are ``funny.'' The drawn cube will look like a cube only if it is comprised of oddly angled shapes. Put another way, the child must draw unsquare shapes to draw a square cube. The child must accept this paradox, this illogical process, which conflicts with verbal, conceptual knowledge. ... ---p.79

If verbal knowledge of the cube's real shape overwhelms the student's purely visual perception, ```incorrect'' drawing results---drawing with the kind of problems that make adolescents despair ...

    The painter who strives to represents must transcend his own perception. He must ignore the very mechanism in his mind that create objects out of images. ... The artist, like the eye, must provide true images and the clues of distance to tell his magic lies.'' ---Colin Blakemore, Mechanics of the Mind, 1977

From childhood onward, we have learned to see things in terms of words, We name things, and we know facts about them. The dominant left verbal system doesn't want too much information about things it perceives---just enough to recognize and to categorize. It seems that one of its functions is to screen out a large proportion of contextual perceptions. This is a necessary process and one that works very well for us most of the time, enabling us to focus our attention. The left brain, in this sense, learns to take a quick look and say, ``Right, that's a chair ...'' But drawing requires that you look at something for a long time, perceiving lots of details and how they fit together, registering as much information as possible ... ---p.80

Is this somehow related to my previous observation that developing an artist point of view requires working with specifics?

... adult students beginning in art generally do not really see what is in front of their eyes---that is, they do not perceive in the special way required for drawing. They take note of what's there, and quickly translate the perception into words and symbols mainly based on the symbol system developed throughout childhood and on what they know about the perceived object. ---pp.81-82

``I must begin, not with hypothesis, but with specific instances, no matter how minute.'' ---Paul Klee   

What is the solution to this dilemma? Psychologist Robert Ornstein suggests that in order to draw, the artist must ``mirror'' things or perceive them exactly as they are. Thus, you must set aside your usual verbal categorizing an turn your full visual attention to what you re perceiving---to all of its details and how each detail fits into the whole configuration. In short, you must see the way an artist sees. ---p.82

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Here and Now

A quote from ``The Inner Game of Tennis,'' by W. Timothy Gallwey:

It is perplexing to wonder why we leave the here and now. Here and now are the only place and time when one ever enjoys himself or accomplish anything. Most of our suffering takes place when we allow our minds to imagine the future or mull over the past. Nonetheless, few people are ever satisfied with what is before them at the moment. Our desire that things be different from what they are pulls our mind into an unreal world, and consequently we are less able to appreciate what the present has to offer. Our minds leave the reality of present when we prefer the unreality of the past or future. To begin to understand my own lapses of concentration I had to know what I was really desiring, and it soon became clear to me that there were more desires operating in me on the court than simply to play tennis. In other words, tennis was not the only game I was playing on the court. Part of the the process of attaining  a concentrated state of mind is to know and resolve these conflicting desires; ... ---p.89, The Inner Game of Tennis

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Taking Clear Stands

There is a notion of ``taking clear'' stands in life as a way of knowing who we are. I have already quoted, and discussed, a similar concept of ``being specific'' from both the acting book (The Actor's Art and Craft) and the writing book (Writing Down the Bones). Here are quotes from the writing book, the chapter, ``Make Statements and Answer Questions,'' that discuss two related ideas. Make clear statements and answer questions.

In the early seventies there was a study done on women and language that affected me very deeply and also affected my writing. One of the things the study said was that women add on qualifiers to their statements. ... In their sentence structure women were always looking for reinforcement for their feelings and opinions. They didn't just make statements and stand behind them. .... They needed encouragement from outside themselves. [Similar findings for minorities.]

Another thing women did in their speech was to use a lot of words like {\it perhaps}, {\it maybe}, {\it somehow}. Indefinite modifiers. ... ---p.110

The world isn't always black and white. A person may not be sure if she can go some place, but it is important, especially for a beginning writer, to make clear, assertive statements. ... Making statements is practice in trusting your own mind, in learning to stand up with your thoughts. ---pp.110-111

After I read the article, I went home and looked at a poem I had just written. I made myself take out all vague, indefinite words and phrases. It felt as though I were pulling towels off my body, and I was left standing naked after a shower, exposing who I really was and how I felt. It was scary for the first time, but it felt good. It made the poem much better.

But while you are practicing writing, do not worry if you see yourself using those indefinite words. Don't condemn yourself or be critical. Just be aware of it. Keep writing. When you go back over it, you can cut them out.

Another thing you should watch out for are questions. If you can write a question, you can answer it. When you are writing, if you write a question, that is fine. But immediately go to a deeper level inside yourself and answer it in the next line. ---p.111

Don't be afraid to answer the questions. You will find endless resources inside yourself. Writing is the act of burning through the fog in your mind. Don't carry the fog out on paper. Even if you are not sure of something, express it as though you know yourself. With this practice you eventually will. ---p.112

Monday, October 17, 2011

Neutral Interest

There is certain beauty, very subtle and at the same time profound, in these quotes. Or, I simply love them :) It is indeed a superb example of my previous post, Extraordinary in Ordinary, and shows how paying attention to small details and connecting with them deeply creates something extraordinary from the simplest events in life.
From ``A Gate at the Stairs,'' by Lorrie Moore.

Once Mary-Emma was changed and sprinkled piney and dry with some silky herbal rice starch, I carried her downstairs, stepping awkwardly over the plastic baby gates. I found myself saying ``Wheeeee!'' and ``Upsy-oopsy.'' Mary-Emma just looked at me with neutral interest. It was a look I'd forgotten and never saw anymore in grown people. But it was the best. It was fantastically engaged: scholarly, unjudging, and angelic.  ---p.134

In the warm-up house I rented us both some skates---Sarah had left a twenty on the counter for this---and then we stepped out onto the nicked and bumpily formed ice. I propped Mary-Emma up, bracing her with my legs, and scooted her around. It was all new to her and she laughed like it was a joke. Her skates were double-bladed, and when I let her go she could glide a little on her own but them made off with a choppy step just running artlessly across the lagoon until she would hit a yellowish carbuncle in the ice and fall forward, her swimsuit cushioning her landing. She would then lie there staring into the cracks of the ice; beneath it were wavy weeds and lily pads frozen cloudily in place as if in a botanical glass paperweight. ``Fish!'' she cried to me, and I went over and she was poking with her mitten at the ice, believing the flora to be fauna. ``Well, kinda,'' I said. She was happy, the sun was shining, and she got up again and took off in her choppy gait. She had great spirit for this sport---it seemed to come naturally to her---and then I remembered her birth mother, who had spent her Saturdays skating with the nuns, and I thought, Well, of course. ---p.138

The Extraordinary in Ordinary

There is something light and refreshing about doing small, pointless tasks in life, for example, sweeping dead leaves off an outdoor area in Autumn when you know that the area will be covered again within a day, if not less.
I felt sad and depleted this weekend, Saturday afternoon and most of the Sunday, and I felt such a loss of energy last night that I had to drag myself everywhere. Today started late, around noon, but I had energy to do things, work-related and stuff around the house, and I realized how beautiful it is to be able to do small, pointless chores. There is extra-ordinary in the ordinary as the following quotes from ``Writing Down the Bones,'' by Natalie Goldberg, show so elegantly:

I looked and looked in wonder. ``How could I every write about these vast expanses and mythic rituals?'' ... We think of detail as small, not the realm of the cosmic mind or these big hills of New Mexico. That isn't true. No Matter how large a thing is, how fantastic, it is also ordinary. We think of details as daily and mundane. Even miracles are mundane happenings that an awakened mind can see in a fantastic way.

So it is not merely a materialistic handling of objects that is the base for writing, but using details to step through to the other side---to the vast emptiness behind it all. ....

Original details are very ordinary, except to the mind that sees their extra-ordinariness. It's not that we need to go to the Hopi mesas to see greatness; we need to view what we already have in a different way. It is very deep for the Hopis to have a snake dance, but it is also one of their festivals that has been performed every other year for their whole lives. ... If we see their lives and festivals as fantastic and our lives as ordinary, we come to writing with a sense of poverty. We must remember that everything is ordinary and extraordinary. It is our mind that either open or close ...

The snake dance was made up of detail after detail with extreme concentration; it had to be that way---the snakes were in the Hopis' mouths. We who watched thought it was unfathomable and fantastic because it was new and foreign. It was also ordinary and had been done for hundreds of years. In order to write about it, we have to go to the heart of it and know it, so the ordinary and extraordinary flash before our eyes simultaneously. Go so deep into something that you understand its interpenetration with all things. Then automatically the detail is imbued with the cosmic; they are interchangeable.

... We are all interwoven and create each other's universe. When one person dies out of his time, it affects us all. We don't live for ourselves; we are interconnected. ... We have a responsibility to treat ourselves kindly; then we all treat the world in the same way.

This understanding is how we should come to writing. Then we can handle details not as individual, material objects alone but as reflections of everything. ... Understand that when we write about a cup or a mesa or the sky or a bobby pin, we must give them good attention and penetrate into their heart. Doing this, we all naturally make those leaps that poetry talks about, because we are aware of the interconnection of all things.  ---pp. 95-98, Writing Down the Bones

Monday, October 10, 2011


Truth will come back at you. In the form of your genes, your habits. Your past will catch up with you. You fuck things over and you think it's over? Things will fuck you back. You step into darkness? There is no way out. You look into abyss? It will reach and pull you in. You can run as much as you want. There is no running from yourself. You meditate, practice, pray for salvation? You are alone and there is no escape.


Friday, October 07, 2011

Love is gratefulness

Love is the single indication of being truly alive. We have unlimited capacity for love. From hundreds of people we love throughout our lives, most never notice us. If we have a free soul, we may express our love to a handful of them, and most of them won't love us back. It is natural to feel rejected, but do not stay there. Love is about being open and vulnerable. And, even though it is absolutely necessary, yet it is not enough to appreciate only those who love us back. We must acknowledge those who never notice our love and those who do not love us back. We should be grateful to all of them for providing us with this amazing opportunity to stay alive and remain human. Be ready for being hurt. Love is opening your heart and embracing the pain. No one said life is pure joy. If anything, life is about being hurt. Embrace life. Be grateful.


Previously, we saw the importance of ``being specific'' in our interactions. I have even made that idea into a simple exercise (Link: Next, I provide some quotes on the issue of ``justifications''. This concept is still new to me and I am trying to digest it :) Again, from ``The Actor's Art and Craft,'' by William Esper and Damon DiMarco.

I want you to think about something. ... Consider how important justifications are to your craft. It's only when the actor asks the question 'Why?' that he becomes truly creative.

Every good actor must be intimately acquainted with the specific reasons that would motivate him or her into a specific action. Keep in mind that reasons are personal and differ drastically from one person to the next. ... ---p.97

You will never be able to tap the deepest wells of your individual talent until you really explore your own personal justifications. You must ask yourself: What excites me? What repulses me? What would make me kill? What would cause me to walk barefoot over a field of cut glass from here to San Francisco? What would I give up everything for? What would make me jump off a bridge? This is the work of actor. This is the work of artist.

I say that all art is based upon this type of speculation. Michelangelo once speculated, How would I go about releasing the magnificent form of David from this block of stone. ...

The sheer power of speculation! Remember, for an artist it's never a question of `what if' that matters. It's always a question of what might be that stimulates the actor's imagination. Life will never be as wonderful or as terrible as you can imagine it to be. Ernest Hemingway once said that imagination `is the one thing besides honesty that a good writer must have. The more he learns from experience, the more truly he can imagine. If he gets so he can imagine truly enough, people will think the things he relates all really happened.' The same could be said for actors. ---p.98

IT'S NOT ...

.. ``It's not your spread, and it's not how strong you are, and it's not how fast you are, because you have all those thing...