Monday, June 21, 2010

conversation with Helena: blue sky thinking?

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I just found the following on a post at The School of Life blog. If you are into reading the likes of Alain de Botton on all sorts of things from everyday life and the not so everyday it might be worth trotting over to this curios blog for a peek at their categories and approach to philosophy. Its very readable ...even  flirting with wisdom for our age ... certainly there's something to chew on. Why I titled the post "conversation with Helena" is that Helena is owner of the gallery where I have some work at the moment and our late night exchange after the opening of the group show ran along lines that I noticed this post picked up on...I recall remarking Joseph Beuys' famous statement "everyone's an artist" needed revisiting...and here Sue Hubbard picks up the thread with "Beuys didn't mean everyone has the potential to be a Picasso."


Blue-sky thinking, finding the inner you; if you look up ‘creativity’ on the internet you’ll be bombarded with sites to help you get in contact with your creative potential. I blame Joseph Beuys, that modern art guru of fat and felt, who claimed “everyone is an artist”.  Now we all feel we have something to say. But do we? Of course Beuys didn’t mean everyone has the potential to be a Picasso.  Motivated by utopian beliefs, culled from Romantic writers such as Novalis and the anthroposophy of Rudolf Steiner, he believed in the power of universal human creativity to bring about revolutionary change.  The psychoanalysts had a slightly different take. Hanna Segal saw art as an expression of the depressive position and the task of the artist as the creation of the world. Great art could be defined by how well it created another reality. In this world the artist mourns for lost relationships and experiences that have given meaning to life. Segal cites Proust who, on meeting some long lost friends, saw how frivolous they’d become. Realizing that his former world no longer existed he set about re-creating that of the dying and the dead. Art, therefore, becomes a form of mourning, where loved ones are given up in the actual world and re-created in an inner one.
Melanie Klein took these ideas further. For her art was a form of reparation for destructive infantile rage against the abandoning mother. While for the psychiatrist Anthony Storr reflective solitude was an essential component.  The cliché that genius is akin to madness is not so far off the mark. Artists, particularly poets, are known to suffer from a high rate of depressive illness. So no, creativity is not about ‘blue-sky thinking’ but about destruction and loss, transformed into art through the arduous creative process.
Sue Hubbard recently published ‘Adventures in Art: selected writings 1990-2010’ (Other Criteria) while we are talking about The School of Life have a look at this.... if books have ever been important to you... as in really important...made a difference in fact....then look at this!
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NOTE: been very busy planning more things, events and so on... so this is very quick blogging...  see ya!


Altoon Sultan said...

Since I'm interested in philosophical musings about art and life, I read the post from Sue Hubbard on blue-sky thinking with interest. But I disagree strongly with the conclusion that art is about destruction and loss. Loss, yes, in the sense that we are trying to keep hold of the evanescent and therefore hold onto passing beauty. But her take––which partakes of the old cliche of artist as sufferer––is in general so much more negative than I feel; for me art is a celebration, an expression of deep pleasure––pleasure in the sense of inner feelings of peace and satisfaction, not thin fun-times––and passing that pleasure on to others. Yes, to create another world, one that enables others to see the world as it is with more clarity, understanding and deeper feeling.

Sophie Munns said...

Hello Altoon,
Im afraid I posted this without elaborating on the line the conversation with Helena took because of not wanting to reveal too much or stir up a particular line of that in recent years has been quite a hot topic if one dared not tote the popular line of "we are all artists". I make a distinction between "we are all creative" and "we area all artists" and sometimes its best not voiced I've learnt.
Meanwhile I rather overlooked the other part of this article as it was not the focus for our exchange. I wanted to connect others with the School of Life and its wide-ranging material and contributors
I'm not sure we really know what she is getting at as there seems to be a series of selected writings over a 20 year period and I wonder if they are all so similar as the few mentioned or otherwise.
Probably I would likely agree with you. Never a fan of Klein, Storr's 'reflective solitude' resonates but without the 'genius akin to madness' notion.
Looking again at what she is saying I am reminded of Kay Redfield Jamison's book Touched With Fire- Manic Depressive Illness and the Artisitic Temperament. That book and its author seemed to get quite a bit of press here over some years, even quite recently, and people quote it quite often.... which is neither here nor there except it suggests that its a popular line of thinking. I've not read the book and have really only caught national radio interviews.
I very much relate to your view of art as a celebration and expression of deep pleasure. I think its really interesting interpreting work to see what lies within it. Sometimes I think some of the depressives create the most splendid and joyful works... and the opposite can be true too. Perhaps the 'Blue shy thinking' not only refers to content and lightness and brightness of works as it is to the willingness to pass through something and gain some of those age old truths and understanding about the nature of life... in all its phases.
We humans have such enormously varied ways of responding to life and finding our way.... I know that I have not made sense to (some) other artists at times... where I once might have felt to alter a direction I was taking now its unlikely I would bother....unless something really spoke to me.
The good thing about something like this is it allows contemplation and debate... and that is always a positive thing!

Altoon Sultan said...

I think I reacted so strongly to the blue-sky post is that I'd been recently thinking about why I disliked the work of Marina Abramovic so much: getting to art through pain and threat seems very distasteful to me, just as getting to enlightenment by subjecting the body to pain seems a poor way to go about it. I also don't care for Beuys' shamanistic idea of the artist. And has anyone studied manic depressive illness among doctors, or teachers, or policemen? I know probably hundreds of artists and only one among them is a manic depressive.

As for "everyone is an artist", years ago I remember conversing with a worker who was replastering my building in NYC and telling him that his craft was as valuable as mine (the "everyone's an artist" line), but he demurred. He insisted that what I was doing was of a very different degree from his work; he saw it as of greater value. Isn't that interesting?

Sophie Munns said...

I think you made a most valid point Altoon.... and no doubt for very considered reasons.
What has been most interesting about the last half of the 20th century to the present perhaps is just how much everything has been up for grabs.
I can think of so many things that I stood firmly on then stepped away from. 20 years ago I too toted 'everyone's an artist'... only to realise years later that there were layers of distinctions to be made for a great many reasons. I should dig out one of the best articles I have read on this and email it to you... can I find it Altoon?? Not probably this week.
The artist you cite is unknown to me but I sense i would not be drawn to this. all. But probably my least favourite thing in recent times at the other end of the spectrum to that genre of work you describe... is the "slap and dash I'm an artist" phenomenon.
In this respect i think the tradesmen have something to teach...that is the necessity of doing the humble apprenticeship.
There will always be the bright sparks who burst into life as full fledged artists at a young age but many, most (?) need to go through their apprenticeship I believe before getting their business cards and heading gung-ho out there to seek attention.
As one who is probably too fond of the apprenticeship phase I have enjoyed the luxury of letting ideas grow and develop at an organic rate ...slowly...slowly. However this way of going along could have more fans.
I read the other day of someone eminent - an artist who lamented the lack of novels and poetry on younger artists bookshelves now.
Interesting stuff Altoon!