Saturday, November 29, 2008

Sense and Sensibility

Making art is a matter of sense and sensibility…
Sergei Eisenstein, the film director, said his process was based on “careful planning” (sense) and “brilliant improvisation” (sensibility).

Sense can be taught – the basics of composition and design, color theory blocking out and sewing together (though these days that seems to be increasingly sticking it together!!).
This be taught reasonably quickly though considerable practice is required for the skills to become fluid.

But sensibility… is a much more gradual process..borne of experience and of opening oneself up to the visual world and one’s reaction to it…

To be able to improvise requires the sensibility to see things in a new and fresh way – an economical stroke that sums up feeling, or pulls out something we’re usually only half aware of. “Art is always an extension of self” ….(Anne Truitt)…

Is sensibility inborn? Can we nurture it by careful tending of awareness of the senses, and the reactions to the sensory input – the making of new memories and the connections to old one? This, of course, will be a gradual and slow process. Robert Genn (quoting Malcom Gladwell) remarked this week that it took thousands of hours of obsessive dedication!

Creative Improvisation is not a random spontaneous act. It is a magical childish hope to think it might be so!! (believe me, I’ve been there!) Successful improvisation is the result of technique being so well practiced that it is almost unconscious…plus the imagination to devise all the possibilities as a conscious mental act and then pick out those that will work with each other in harmony to elucidate the key idea. A musician doesn’t improvise by just blowing or playing random notes that happen to sound wonderful…she or he knows the melody forwards and backwards, the key structure, the harmonic structure, and all the possibilities for variety thereon. They choose their notes with exquisite care and sensibility – similarly a dancer her steps , or a football player his movements on the field!!

This is how Anne Truitt describes her creative process:
“It sometimes happens unexpectedly..a series of sculptures may present themselves somewhere that seems high over my head in my consciousness. They simply materialize, whole and themselves, in a rather stately way, and stand there, categorical in their simplicity..sometimes a single piece will appear..I cannot make them all”

At this point she is examining all the possibilities and has to choose which will be the best piece to make.

“Other pieces result from a more or less conscious concentration on a particular area of emotionally charged personal experience – a person, say, or a series of events, or a period in my life. I have some small degree of control over this kind of formation in that I decide whether or not to accept it…the force of my concentration can also be directed toward single visual events: a glimpse of radiant space, a plant in a lake, a juxtaposition of weights and shapes that matches, touches off , some powerful resonance in me. Certain sensory experiences elicit, draw forth into clarity what visually they only infer. The laws they exemplify seem to spring from behind them, organizing a whole of form and color that lies just beyond what my senses apprehend.”

When asked where she thought art came from she replied that she “thought it possible to put oneself in the way of art much in the same way that cloistered devotees place themselves in the way of religious experience. Art comes, if we are blessed with a little touch of grace, into the highest part of the mind…but we have to pay attention to that area in order to notice the grace, or even perhaps to attract it”.

Is it that “paying of attention” that leads to fabric cut and sewn becoming something more? Is it the sensibility with which we work on the piece that leads to its having greater qualities? If this is so, the more sensibility – the greater sensitivity and awareness, the better the piece.
In our art quilt education, as well as learning the technical bases for quiltmaking, we should also focus on becoming more aware of what we are feeling, thinking and doing as we work on their quilts. May we develop both Sense and Sensibility!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!


Margaret Cooter said...

Thanks for this. As well as "paying attention", thoughtful analysis of what works and doesn't can help develop sensibility and receptiveness - but there needs to be a space of time. Years ago I was struck by an oriental artist saying that when she makes an ink painting that she feels is "good", she immediately puts it in a drawer for about three months before looking at it again and seeing whether it still speaks to her that way!

Sarah Ann Smith said...

Yes..the paying attention! This is far more gracefully put than I have phrased it.... that creativity is somewhat like rabbits: you get one, then you get another, then you get a lot!

And my favorite definition of luck: preparation meeting opportunity --you have to be ready to take advantage of what comes your way. Sometimes you are aware, but life happens and you can't. Other times, you are asleep. Then there are those joyous moments when you catch that glimpse and off you go.

Also, I'm so glad to hear that someone else also finds pieces that spring fully formed into their minds... sometimes mine just appear like that...

Thanks as always for an interesting post, Cheers, Sarah