Friday, 3 April 2009

Finding the space

ESF-ERIH Archaeology Expert Panel Report

Why do my tulips never fit the page or canvas? nearly every time I have drawn or painted tulips in a vase they don't fit. The tulips feel cramped or the vase fills the space and there's no room left. It feels as if I love to paint the flowers but can't allow myself the space they need. After the last experience I thought maybe I needed a smaller brush and a bigger space but, while reading about the body and how Chinese calligraphers write and draw through their bodies, I came to see that the problem lies elsewhere.

First I read about "the body proper" which is a phrase from phenomenology, a kind of old, antique phrase where the adjective proper follows the noun in a kind of French fashion and also means something other than what it appears to. The idea is that we inhabit our bodies and experience the world through our inhabited bodies, in fact we can only know the world from inside our bodies. We then have to imagine how it is to be someone else; from the inside of our bodies we see the outside of their bodies and imagine their internal life. Not only that, but our bodies only exist and understand through our activity in physical space, so that all this is dynamic and spatial. These ideas fit with what I know of contemporary cognitive science -- embodiment as trying to eliminate false boundaries between mind and body and world; proprioception as the feeling of oneself from the inside; theory of mind as the process of understanding about other people.

And in art, the importance of this is that when we paint or draw something we are using our embodied, proprioceptive, spatial, understandings. Perhaps I cannot draw the tulips because I do not understand, from the inside of myself, how the tulips and the vase and the table they stand on occupy their space? It's as if I know the petals and the shape of the flowers, but what I don't know is how they fit into the space around them.

So today I tried to get to know these things better. I walk around the table. I think about the cylinders in space formed by the round table going down to the floor and up to the ceiling. I feel the vase, actually a jug, cold and round in my hands. I walk around the table. I feel the flowers, the stalks thrusting forward and outwards, their heads full and falling slightly. Then I tried to paint all of that, the space and the flowers, not just the flowers.

I added the light as more solid material in space -- oblong slabs of light from the small window.

This feels much better! although the flowers are still too big for the vase..


artistfriend said...

Wow!! a 'whimsical plant' moment?
so full of SPACE, and so dynamic. Fabulous.

lizbeth said...

The tulips in their space really shine. I love the sense of light filtering in. Great. Also like the atmosphere of the chestnut buds by the pond and your description of how you got closer to your subject.