David Bohm and Rouault’s clown

Appreciation of contemporary art doesn’t always come easily.  We “know what we like” and often resist the unfamiliar.  It has always been thus – to the educated eyes of French art connoisseurs in the 1860s the new paintings of the Impressionists were ugly beyond belief.  Yet a mix of curiosity and patience, coupled with a willingness to suspend our preferences, inevitably causes a shift in perception.  Physicist David Bohm was a man with a seriously scientific mind; he was tirelessly curious about the dynamics of creativity and thinking.

In the remarkable collection of letters exchanged between Bohm and artist Charles Biederman,  The Bohm–Biederman Correspondence,  Bohm describes an encounter with one of Rouault’s paintings of a clown.  It’s a fascinating and delightfully honest account of the way the painting literally rearranges his perception, revealing a two-way energetic “flow” between the painting and himself.  He begins by confessing that he found Rouault’s paintings difficult to like, but that a deeper engagement caused his perception to “give way to a remarkable new steady vision which I can best describe as seen in a new dimension.”

 

Georges Rouault - Clown, ca 1937

Georges Rouault, Clown ca 1937

 

I should perhaps [mention] here that my first reactions to modern art were almost entirely negative.  However, in some respects, I have changed my mind.

For example, with regard to Rouault, I first felt that his pictures were very discouraging and depressing.  Gradually, I began to see them in a new light.  In particular, last year in London, I saw a picture of his, The Old Clown …

At first, it seemed to be rather a mixed up set of patches of colour.  But gradually, it began to take shape. In particular two patches struck my eye, one in the face of the clown and another outside him, which seemed to complement the first.  My eye began to move back and forth from one patch to the other, a pulsation was established, and suddenly it ceased, to give way to a remarkable new steady vision which I can best describe as seen in a new dimension.  It was not so much that the clown became visible in three dimensions, this was true but only a minor point.

The major point is that there seemed to be a flow or a current in which the whole being of the clown poured outward to reveal itself, all his feelings, thoughts and emotions etc., and a counter-flow in which the outside (including the viewer) was drawn into him, to emerge again in the outward flow.  It was a very striking experience for me, one that I shall always remember.  Whether the artist intended the picture to be seen in this way, I don’t know of course, I would be interested in knowing whether it struck anyone else in this way.

David Bohm
Bohm–Biederman Correspondence, Vol 1: Creativity and Science
Edited by Paavo Pylkkanen


Charles Biederman


Also see:  scientist meets philosopher (David Bohm in dialogue with J Krishnamurti)


David Bohm, Paul Cezanne and Creativity – F David Peat, a close collaborator and friend of David Bohm, shares insights into Bohm’s creative ideas and process.


 

the mark of non-creating

When we trust our creativity we encounter a supreme kind of enjoyment – an amazement at the natural unfolding of life beyond our ordinary way of looking at things.
– Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

Jigme Namgyel (b.1964) is the present Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.  He is also an abstract expressionist painter.  Kongtrul Rinpoche views creativity as “something very large – the essence of everything.”  His training in the arts began at an early age with the practice of calligraphy, music, ritual dance and other traditional Tibetan arts.  After his introduction to Western culture, Rinpoche became increasingly interested in modern art, particularly abstract painting and the work of Picasso and Kandinsky.  He began painting under the guidance of his teacher, Yahne Le Toumelin in the mid 1990’s.

This post introduces a new page on the site –  a talk given by Jigme Namgyel as a companion to his 2008 exhibition Natural Vitality at Tibet House, New York. Gratitude for his kind permission to share his wisdom and inspiration here!
Enjoy these excerpts, and read the entire talk here.

 

Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

 

Art, when it is free of such notions of beauty and ugliness, ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ can be used to express this complete experience of mind. When art evolves from this understanding it provides the possibility for those who see it to also experience the natural and unfabricated nature of their own awareness.

Imagine a life without music, without sculpture, painting, poetry, theater or dance. The purpose of art is to reflect and enjoy the richness of the world – not just what we think is ‘good’ and ‘pleasing’ – but the entirety of human experience. The primordial instinct to express creativity has been part of the human appreciation of life since the cave men. Creativity expresses itself at the very beginning of life – it could be said that our first cry is our very first song. But we really engage our creativity when we begin to play. […]

When we speak of natural creativity and its expression we are not talking about something separate from our own mind and experience.

The energy put into the creation of art reflects our own richness and in turn communicates this richness to others. When we appreciate a beautiful piece of art it is not limited to the piece itself – we experience the process that the artist went through as well; it is a transference of consciousness. Whether we are an artist or a spectator we feel the creative energy. When it has been formalized into a piece, the artist’s energy has not become the piece itself – but the piece is blessed by the creativity of the artist.

We usually think of creativity as ‘belonging’ to the artist. But in a larger sense creative energy is innate and spontaneously present, not fabricated by hammer and nail. It is unborn, with no center or boundary, yet nothing exists outside of it. The mountains, oceans, the sun and moon, the seasons arise spontaneously from it. What has become ‘our life’ – everything we are and everything we have been since we stepped into this world – is spontaneously present. Our genetic make up – the egg and sperm of our parents – arose from and is encompassed by the creative energy of our basic nature. The great Buddhist practitioner Kunchyen Longchenpa said: “The universe is spontaneously present, who could have created it? It is the grand production of its creative energy.” And all appearance is blessed by it. […]

Just remember, this natural energy created the entire universe – a humbling thought that puts our own artistic creations in perspective!

My instruction from Yahne [Le Toumelin] reflects a discipline that integrates the view of meditation and art: She would say: “When you get attached to anything that emerges on the canvas, destroy it!” I would watch her create something beautiful and then paint over it or scrape off the paint. “Destroy, destroy, destroy.” This is not to say that beauty or attachment to beauty is a problem. Destroying them is not an aggressive act, an annihilation of self or a rejection of experience. It enhances creativity. It is a natural wearing away of attachment and becomes a part of the creative process itself – a way to engage bigger mind. The more I do this, the greater the satisfaction. I am not fixated on creating something ‘good’ or ‘pleasing.’ My interest or focus is on the process of creating and connecting to my natural creativity. The main discipline is to let go. […]

When I have exhausted my fixations through the process of destroying I let the painting be. At this point I have reached what I call the ‘mark of non-creating’ – a state of uncontrived creativity where the artist just steps out of his or her own way. When I find that I have arrived at that point I just drop any activity – stop – and leave the painting right there without trying to improve or manipulate it. I never judge my paintings – I always appreciate and spend time with them because I appreciate where they come from. […]

I feel in awe of the whole process – not in a narcissistic way – but of the expression of this primordial creativity.

When it comes to art, the process we engage in is reflected in its expression. If we trust in the basic nature – it is communicated. If we are insecure and self-conscious – it is communicated. Ultimately, because everything arises from the creative nature of primordial mind, there is nothing that is more profound, miraculous or ‘creative’ than anything else. […]

– Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

Continue reading here: on painting

Image and text ©2015 Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel
http://www.kongtruljigme.com


Relevant links:

Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel at the artisans’ gallery

creative energy : the essence of everything

the art of disciplined freedom


Natural Vitality - Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel

Natural Vitality:
The Paintings of Kongtrul Jigme Namgyel


 

salmon-mind and stream-ing

I would like to offer a warm welcome to the many readers of Phyllis Cole-Dai’s wonderful poetry blog – A Year of Being Here – who followed the links to this website and blog, and who have decided to subscribe. May you find nourishment and inspiration here to accompany you on your way.

This turn of events was uninvited and unexpected. It is deeply appreciated. I offer bows of gratitude to both Phyllis, and Ron C Moss, who made the generous referral.

Recently I posted a piece on another of my sites – wonderingmind studio – which brought interesting feedback from readers whose experience tallied with its theme. I’ve decided to share it here as well, with apologies for the duplication to readers who follow both blogs. It’s a compilation about the adventure into genuine creativity – which always demands a willingness to become hopelessly lost.
I know you know what I mean.


Reflections on creativity, flow, and the not-always-gentle art of unlearning.

 

Ohara Koson 1877 – 1945, Leaping Salmon in a Rapid, Ukiyo-e, 1910

 

Invitations – via courses, retreats and workshops – to “learn how to be in creative flow” are as ubiquitous as those promising “breakthrough experiences of awakening”. I’ve been around both ballparks long enough to have become very sceptical of these claims and promises.  Red herrings are strong swimmers and prolific breeders. Especially when their favourite tucker – yummy money – is flowing.

Can creativity be taught?  Can “awakening” ever be an experience?  These questions are intimately related but I’ll focus on the first one, since this blog is primarily about art and creativity.

My experience, both within my own practice and as a teacher of visual language, constantly confirms that genuine creativity can unfold only when there’s an abandonment of everything one has learned about it.

 

I am trying to check my habits of seeing,
to counter them for the sake of greater freshness.
I am trying to be unfamiliar with what I’m doing.
– John Cage

It seems to me there are two types of “flow”, but only one is truly creative.  One occurs when I’ve slipped into an eddy of old patterns and processes – those that brought me pleasure and profit in the past.  I know where I’m going; it’s easy.  It might even make me feel satisfied that I’ve had a good day in the studio – for a while.  I call this type “phony-flow” for obvious reasons.

Then there’s the other kind of “flow”, the kind that’s hard to write about because you weren’t there when it was underway.  It involves encounters and experiences with the Unknown, and a kind of gracious movement that is closer to stream-ing. When you look at what was created during the movement – whatever your mode of expression might be – what you see astonishes you.  You know without a shadow of doubt that you didn’t do it.  And yet you recognize that this is your most authentic work.

 

I don’t really trust ideas, especially good ones.
Rather I put my trust in the materials that confront me,
because they put me in touch with the unknown.
It’s then that I begin to work…
when I don’t have the comfort of sureness and certainty.
– Robert Rauchenberg

 

Creativity, by definition, implies a leap from the known to the unknown.  It is not the same as innovation, which has its feet firmly planted in the familiar.  Nor is it the same as invention, which implies a desired outcome or end product.  It has no pedagogy or curriculum.  There are no maps of the territory.  The only strategy we can employ, if we are earnest enough, is that of finding out what sabotages its natural expression.*

 

Whatever I know how to do, I’ve already done.
Therefore I do what I do not know how to do.

– Eduardo Chillida

~

I am always doing that which I cannot do,
in order that I may learn how to do it.
– Pablo Picasso

So my personal reaction to courses claiming to cultivate skills to access creative flow isn’t an enthusiastic one. I’m just not interested in exploring notions others might have (no matter what their pedigree) of ways to free my inner artist.  If anything is called for on my via creativa it’s the exile of that artist-ego with its accumulation of ideas, certainties, and its insatiable need for recognition.

Using the metaphor of a stream, it’s easy to understand that “flow” only moves downstream.  And as everyone knows, the source is always upstream.  Floating along in the flow is fine; it’s recreational and maybe allows a brief escape from stress – witness the huge popularity of doodle-books and colouring-in books.  There’s a place for this, of course, but let’s not kid ourselves that we’re being genuinely creative.

 

Remember, a dead fish can float down a stream,
but it takes a live one to swim upstream.
– W.C. Fields

If you ache for the authenticity, the unknowable and artist-vaporising creativity of the Source, forget about flow.  Abandon the “how-to” red herrings.

Adopt salmon-mind.  Make your way upstream.  You know the way – it’s imprinted in your cells.

Leap those rapids. Outwit those hungry bears.

 

My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful,
the more narrowly I limit my field of action
and the more I surround myself with obstacles.
– Richard Diebenkorn

How do we fuel our quest upstream? By dismissing irrelevancies (as Buckminster Fuller advised); by finding the questions that have no rational answers yet haunt us nevertheless. By spending a great deal of time in solitude and silence watching the mind’s desperate and insistent groping for certainty, affirmation, context. By the way of unlearning; by abandonment of our pet theories and preferences. Our courage in this quest will inevitably deliver us to the sweet dark pool of ultimate unknowing, and, worn out from the challenges to our sureties, we’ll drop our eggs.  We’ll sink.  The Source will reclaim its own.

Our eggs will hatch, some of them, and be swept downstream to spread the news: it is possible!  It is possible to return to the Source and leave the old life there.  It is possible to dissolve into the stream as it makes its way to the Ocean; to rest in and as its stream-ing, as its authentic expression, without any concern for or notion of, whether we’re “being creative” or not. (If that question is still arising… keep swimming upstream.)

Then we can speak of “flow” – because we’ve experienced that it’s exactly what we are. The one who thought they could (or couldn’t) find it, could tap it for artistic purposes, could promote it or become an expert and sell it – that one was the saboteur all along.

Until salmon-mind set it free.

 

I find my paintings by working on them…
…it is through the making of the paintings that I have many discoveries
which are different from ideas.

~

Painting is a long road.
The beauty to me is in the not knowing where one is going.

~

Perhaps we do not need to understand it all.
– Lawrence Carroll

 


* The series of e-books empty canvas – wondering mind was compiled with this mission in mind.
You can download them for free at wonderingmind studio.


Image: Ohara Koson 1877 – 1945, Leaping Salmon in a Rapid, Ukiyo-e, 1910


From the bookshelf: Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists by Kay Larson


 

Agnes Martin: "I paint with my back to the world."

Agnes Martin: I paint with my back to the world.
The last word.


 

the daylighting has begun

The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art:
Daylighting an Underground River

Today, a review of Charlene Spretnak’s new book The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art, written by the indefatigable, inspirational Deborah Barlow and reblogged from Slow Muse with her kind permission.

 

Charlene Spretnak: The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art: Art History Reconsidered, 1800 to the Present

 

Charlene Spretnak is a scholar who has blended interests. She has written books on ecology, ecofeminism, politics (she is a cofounder of the Green Party in the US), art, and spirituality. With a formidable CV and a demonstrated knowledge of art and art history (she has taught art history, inter alia, at the California Institute of Integral Studies), she is not a member however of the anointed art world cognoscenti.

Which is probably why she could write the book I have been waiting to read for years.

The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art: Art History Reconsidered, 1800 to the Present, is a much needed counter punch to the predominant narrative about modern art that has squelched this particular story line. While Spretnak does not embrace a conspiratorial view as to why the spiritual has been eliminated from the etiology of contemporary art, she is very thorough in demonstrating that the denial has been both deep and wide. By going to original sources and finding statements made by many prominent artists, both historical and contemporary, she successfully uncovers a significant interest in the spiritual aspects of art making.

As Spretnak begins to unravel this buried story line, she asks a number of her friends—John Walsh, the director of the Getty Museum at the time, and art historian Peter Selz—why the spiritual was frequently denied or squelched. Both answered that question with the exact same words: “We just weren’t taught that way.” With a generosity others might not embrace, Spretnak points to experiments in psychology that have demonstrated that “once someone is educated in a particular frame of reference during his or her formative years, subsequent events and information that do not fit within that framework often do not register.”

Spretnak does nail a few particularly guilty parties, deservedly. Alfred H. Barr, Jr, the first director of the Museum of Art, curated an exhibit called Cubism and Abstract Art in 1936. In that show Barr presented an entirely formalistic interpretive framework for the new art, influenced as he did so by Heinrich Wölfflin‘s principles of “scientific art criticism.” Barr asserted, amazingly, that cubistic and abstracted art arose because “the artists had grown bored with painting facts, that is, naturalistic forms.”

Although his exhibition displayed numerous paintings by artists who had published clear statements about the metaphysical meaning of their art, those were not referred to in his essay in the catalog. The spiritual dimension was simply removed from serious discussion of the art. Not only was this exhibit influential in New York but it then traveled to six cities. By the 1950s the entire history of modern art was framed by the premises of formalism…In this exclusively formalist narrative, the subject matter of the paintings, whether it may have been spiritual or otherwise, is entirely beside the point.

And then of course there was the legacy of formalist art critic Clement Greenberg.

The general attitude that denies a spiritual dimension in modern and contemporary art has, according to Spretnak, “wobbled” a bit in the last few years and is less severe than it was in the 50’s and 60s. But Ken Johnson, writing in the New York Times in 2005, still observed that “Academic art historians and critics still tend to discourage talking seriously about the spiritual in art. But considering how many artists continue to be motivated by spiritual urges, however the word spiritual is defined—this is something worth discussing.”

How that word is defined IS an issue. At a time when religion and spirituality take on so many connotations, it can be problematic. “Some feel the term spirituality has been so stretched out and bounced around by pop culture and the media that it has lost any substantive meaning.” Wisely Spretnak turns to her friend, artist Richard Tuttle, to craft a more useful definition:

Given the vague, and sometimes trivializing, uses of the term in recent decades, I appreciate the artist Richard Tuttle’s comment to me on this matter: “What I want more than anything is a definition of spirituality that is trustworthy.” Indeed—and to be so it must necessarily extend beyond a focus on the self to a sense of our embeddedness in the larger context: the exquisitiely dynamic interrelatedness of existence, the vibratory flux of the subtle realms of the material world, and the ultimate creativity of the universe. The cosmos is infused with an unfolding dynamic of becoming and a unitive dimension of being. Spirituality is the awareness of and engagement with that unity and those dynamics.

Over the last nine years of writing Slow Muse, the theme that underlies so much of what I have covered is in line with Spretnak’s definition of spirituality. This book codifies the many urgings, intuitions and personal proclivities that I have tried to assemble in the content of this blog. So of course I have marked up and underlined every page of this small book, and I read it through twice as a way of grounding Spretnak’s arguments into my nomenclature. Many of her chapter heads are useful categories for moving through a landscape that can feel a bit muddled. Esoteric spirituality, allusive spirituality, the spirituality of immanence—these are useful terms.

This isn’t a book for just browsing. There is so much of value on every single page. The quotes Spretnak has uncovered from several of my favorite artists are ones I’d like to memorize as a way of reminding myself what this mysterious process is really about—not just for my kind of art making, but for the art making of so many others as well.

Once the evidence is truly acknowledged, the history of modern art looks quite different from the proscribed narrative. It is less a linear account than a richly varied landscape, made verdant in numerous places by the great underground river of the spiritual in modern art. Hence the aim of this book is rather like the process in ecological restoration known as “daylighting” underground streams by removing the cement culverts that enclose them and allowing them to be seen in their natural habitats.

I can’t imagine a single reader of Slow Muse [or The Awakened Eye] who wouldn’t love this book.

Finally, the daylighting has begun.

Deborah Barlow

Read the original post at Slow Muse

 


The Spiritual Dynamic in Modern Art: Art History Reconsidered, 1800 to the Present
– Charlene Spretnak


equivalence: the perennial trend

minor white and the quest for spirit


the fluidity of sacred structure

Within Intersections, no clear boundary or separation exists;
our moving bodies change the nature of the pattern
as we walk freely through its dense silhouette.

 

Intersections, Laser-cut Wood, Single Light Bulb, 6.5′ Square Cube

In the Intersections project, the geometrical patterning in Islamic sacred spaces associated with certitude is explored in a way that reveals its fluidity. The viewer is invited to confront the contradictory nature of all intersections, while simultaneously exploring boundaries. My goal is to explore the binaries of public and private, light and shadow, and static and dynamic by relying on the purity and inner symmetry of geometric design, and the interpretation of the cast shadows. The form of the design and its layered, multidimensional variations will depend both on the space in which it is installed, the arrangement of the installation, and the various paths that individuals take while experiencing the space.

The Intersections project takes the seminal experience of exclusion as a woman from a space of community and creativity such as a Mosque and translates the complex expressions of both wonder and exclusion that have been my experience while growing up in Pakistan. The wooden frieze emulates a pattern from the Alhambra, which was poised at the intersection of history, culture, and art and was a place where Islamic and Western discourses, met and coexisted in harmony and served as a testament to the symbiosis of difference. For me the familiarity of the space visited at the Alhambra Palace and the memories of another time and place from my past, coalesced in creating this project. My intent with this installation was to give substance to mutualism, exploring the binaries of public and private, light and shadow, and static and dynamic. This installation project relies on the purity and inner symmetry of geometric design, the interpretation of the cast shadows and the viewer’s presence within a public space.

– Anila Quayyum Agha

Intersections is on view September 24 – December 6, 2015 at Rice University Art Gallery


Sourced from the artist’s website: anilaagha.com and Vimeo.