Tuesday, January 30, 2007

My 3-Year-Old Could Have Painted That

In college I wrote a reader-response criticism of a Jackson Pollock painting. If you know reader-response, and if you know Jackson Pollock, you can imagine what a circus act that paper was. I think I got a B (probably inflated). I was never very good at papers that couldn’t be fudged with creative writing, but I remember the experience of researching Pollock very vividly. The thing that caught my interest was Pollock’s description of creating his paintings. (If you don’t know, his are the ones that look like paint spattered all over the canvas.) Pollack—or his reviewer (I forget which)—said that the creation of the canvas didn’t involve much artistic skill (the spattering of the paint) but that, once the canvas was covered, then the artist was necessary, because it was the artist who selected which part of the canvas to frame. It was the selecting of what to point out, emphasize and frame that was dependent on artistic skill (more than the actual creation of the work).

I’m seeing that this philosophy of what an artist does applies to writing as well.

I’ve been reading The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros this week. It’s a delightful book. When I set it down, I think, “I could have written this.” And I could. The little character studies and vignettes are very much my style (which is why I’ve been switching to poetry lately—I’m more interested in freeze-frame scenes and character studies than over-arching plots). But I’m not stupid enough to miss the fact that it’s the selection and arrangement of material that makes Cisneros so successful. And I’m not sure I am skilled enough to pull off something similar. (It’s nice to know it can be done, though.)

So I guess I’m saying that I think that “seeing” is a major part of being an artist. There’s doubtless a place for technical skill, but without that artistic vision there is really nothing to say.
And artistic vision is the one thing I doubt about myself. I think that too often I am too left-brained. I control. I over-analyze. My poetry is often overwrought, uptight. Once in a while I’ll catch a little artistic view, but never as often as I’d like.

I think that probably I could nourish this sensitivity to things and improve it. I can’t deny that the month I spent writing a poem a day taught me that I can be more welcoming to the muse and see more poems around me when I have to. But I wish there were other things I could do (aside from smoking pot or something). Maybe listening to more music, taking more walks. Mindfulness training might help, too, which I’m doing through my meditation. I wonder sometimes if taking a break would help or hinder—that is, if I took a month (or year!) off of writing and dedicated it to just living mindfully. Would I open myself to more inspiration? And would limiting or eliminating my writing help me live more fully?

Or is the reverse true—that knowing I’ll be writing a poem soon make me more aware of what’s going on around me?


Jennifer B. said...

Interesting thoughts. I like your ideas of how to improve artistic vision, but do you think you could stop writing? (You're not going on hiatus too are you?) I imagine you would miss it terribly. I can understand how being preoccupied about writing could prevent us from enjoying the moment we're in. Seems a question of moderation and balance. Wish I were better at it (writing AND balance!). I think weekly massages and a personal chef would go a long way to opening up my artistic vision. What do you think?

Sprig said...

Dearest Eunice, Everything helps writing---walking, reading, being mindful, writing. Breathing helps, too. But never fear, you really are a writer. You always have been and you always will be. It is your own kind of writing that you do, and that's good enough. In fact, that is the very best kind. Keep breathing and thinking and walking and doing yoga, and those thought patterns will come out in your writing. Love, K.

Darlene said...

The personal chef, especially. I can't believe how having to come up with something for dinner each night dulls my senses.

Hey, Sprig! Nice to see you around here. How's your own writing coming? I've been thinking about Bouillon Soup . . . Quote from Jon yesterday: "This song reminds me of a train whistle. And that reminds me of Pocatello. And that reminds me of the bakery. And I'd like to go to the bakery now."