Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Getting the feeling in

Jeffrey Jones said on his site that when he's painting he becomes super aware of sensations - the way things feel on his skin, the smell of the air, etc. That might have something to do with why he was able to get so much feeling into the work, or rather to express so much through it. 

I feel like most of my work is little more than exercises. I don't usually get much feeling into it, or express it anyway, but when I go back and look at my drawings and paintings they always remind me of things - I suppose it's because I mostly draw things and people that I know. I was a bit surprised when going through and scanning my work recently to realize how many of them show places or people I know - it's like a journal of sorts. My life in pictures - handmade pictures filled with memories. I was really glad to have the ones of the restaurant where I used to work because not only is it shut down now (still standing but vacant) but shortly after I did those drawings they gave it a 'face lift' and the whole interior changed drastically I'll always remember it the way it originally looked, and now I have a pretty good record of it (even though I drew it after getting home, strictly from memory - but I did spend some time studying it each day for the purpose of being able to draw it better). I also now have a record of what our uniforms looked like at various times and some of the people I worked with. As well as drawings of the house I used to live in, which also at the moment stands vacant and empty. 

But that's only got meaning to me personally. That isn't the focus of this entry. I'm talking about being able to express a feeling or a state of mind or an atmosphere to viewers. Some artists do this even before they learn the mechanics of drawing or painting. I think Kent Williams is one of those. Myself, I think I'll be able to express myself better as I get better at the basics that I'm concentrating on learning now. It's an old axiom in acting, as well as I'm sure just about every other branch of art - before you can express it fluidly you have to internalize it. Meaning you have to learn the basics so well that they become second nature, and then you don't have to think about them consciously anymore. The conscious mind is a slow, awkward cumbersome beast, and it gets in the way a lot. The subconscious on the other hand is graceful and fluid. It can express things effortlessly. Artists who get caught up in technique and never let go to work through the subconscious will probably have a lot of trouble being able to express anything really powerfully. 

This is why I'm concentrating now on working in color a lot and developing my techniques for it - I'm ready to move out of this awkward 'just learning' phase of painting and move on to where I can paint from the subconscious. In order to get there you have to have some well-developed techniques and methods for approaching color work, and some experience to fall back on. That's what I'm doing now, developing those techniques and gaining that experience. 

I want to talk briefly about the type of person who might be able to express themselves before they know technique. I used to know a guy like this - a friend named Keith that I grew up with. A super high-energy person. Actually he suffered from manic depression, which was probably a key factor, but this guy was like a natural born comedian and actor, always 'on'. His life was like one endless improv, and he'd move effortlessly from one mood to another. You never knew when he was being serious, sometimes you'd swear this was the real Keith but then all of a sudden he'd crack up and go into another improv, revealing that what he had just been saying was all a performance. He drew a lot, and he never bothered to learn any kind of technique - he didn't need to! He could express everything through is lines and shapes. They could be jagged and electric, or fluid and graceful, or staccato or whatever he needed depending on the mood he was in. Though I don't think he was in control of it at all, it was the other way around. 

I seem to be the opposite - I'm a very reserved person who never reveals any emotions even if they're just about tearing me apart. I think I learned that as a survival mechanism when I was young, so people couldn't manipulate me through my emotions (yes, there was somebody who would do that every time). I was never consciously aware of developing this strategy, and it took me until I was somewhere in my 30's or maybe even early 40's before I began to really become aware of why I probably did it. Maybe this explains why my drawing and painting is more about technique than feeling? I don't know. But I am good at creating a sense of atmosphere in my environments. Maybe that's a different way of expressing the feelings I'm afraid to let out in front of anybody? 

I am not saying people who freely and naturally express their feelings or are like natural improv actors on the stage of life can somehow be artists without needing to learn technique - though some of them can I'm sure. I also don't think it's necessary for a person to be like that in order to get feeling in their visual art. I was just exploring the idea of expressiveness in different forms. 

But I hope that as I internalize the process of making art and begin to be able to do it unconsciously I'll start to be able to express feeling through my work more. 
I think I'm the type of person who needs to do it this way - which gives me plenty of time to develop my techniques and practice the basics as I work on gradually breaking through my internal baffles. And I'm not sure it's really necessary to express what I'm feeling - I think it's totally possible to express feelings or moods that you aren't necessarily experiencing at the time. A good artist can do this, just as any good performer can. Or maybe it's more a matter of being able to 'access your emotions' like they talk about with acting. Meaning at any time you can bring up the needed emotion or feeling or mood and let it guide you. 

Interestingly, on a completely unrelated note I was reading an article about the stages of development of self-awareness in children and adults today, just after writing the above, and ran across this extremely relevant section:

"As adults, we do indeed manifest all of the levels of self-awareness developing early in life: from our immersion in skilled actions such as competitive sport which entails a great deal the implicit self-awareness of Level 1 (differentiation) and Level 2 (situation). Interestingly, if one rises to the next levels of explicit self-awareness (Level 3 and above) while engaged in skilled actions such as playing tennis or golf, this transition is associated with dramatic changes in performance, typically a deterioration. Tennis and golf players will tell you that if they step into explicit self-consciousness, erring into explicitly thinking and reflecting on what they are doing, their game tends to collapse. There is nothing worse for tennis players than self-reflecting on the shape of their backhands. The same applies for people engaging in meditation. People meditating and teachers within the Buddhist tradition for example, will tell you that certain states cannot be attained without emptying oneself from self-reflecting mental activities."

 ---- It's really talking about the phenomenon known as Flow. 

Sometimes also called "being in the zone" - it happens a lot when playing sports or video games or anything that requires your full undivided attention and action without conscious thinking . In order to experience flow while painting you need to have already fully absorbed the lessons and practiced to such an extent that you no longer need to think about what you're doing, you can do it on automatic. That's when you can do it without the need for conscious self-reflection, and let the inner artist take over. And I believe that's when Ill be able to stop thinking so much about technique and anatomy and composition etc and just make decisions intuitively, and when I'll be able to really get the feeling in. 

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