Art As Experience
John Dewey writes that spontaneity is the result of long periods of activity. He suggests that is something available only to those who have long been absorbed in observation of related material and whose imaginations have been occupied with reconstructing what they see and hear. Like a volcano, a creative outburst presupposes a long period of prior compression, a transformation of original raw materials.
I am thinking about this as I walk at dusk in my new town, glancing up at the peach colored bulbous clouds. I notice the piercing light falling in chunks on the mesas, the light drops from an approaching thunderstorm, yet I feel acutely untethered to my surroundings, detached. What’s around me fights through the fog of my thoughts, my preoccupations, my dissatisfaction. Moving is nothing new for us; my family has done it many times.
But never before had I moved from a place that felt like home, a place that I wanted to grow into
. Yet here I am, navigating new territory on the western slope of Colorado, five hours west of the Front Range. When we left Fort Collins, I carried with me an acute awareness of my art making being closely linked with my current place.
But whereas before I would find temporary inspiration from a location, I now desire a longer view of a region. Rather than glancing and reacting, I want the work to come from a place of unconscious understanding. But how does this happen in a place that one hasn’t embraced yet?
I return to Dewey. “Subconscious maturation precedes creative production in every line of human endeavor. The direct effort of ‘wit and will’ of itself never gave birth to anything that is not mechanical…(our independent actions and purposes) work together, and finally something is born almost in spite of conscious personality, and certainly not because of its deliberate will. When patience has done it’s perfect work, the man is taken possession of by the appropriate muse and speaks and sings as some god dictates.”
An excerpt by Thomas Merton comes to mind from Writing as a Spiritual Calling
, where he warns of an artist foregoing an experience of great value in order to “interpret” what he/she is encountering in a deeper spiritual realm: "...his art will be tempted to start working and producing and studying the 'creative' possibilities of this experience. The artist will run the risk of losing a gift of tremendous supernatural worth, in order to perform a work of far less value. He will let go of the deep, spiritual grace which has been granted him, in order to return to the reflection of that grace within his own soul.”
It is a common struggle to want to rush ideas forward, to quickly create finished works that will validate my identity and expenditure of time. But in our transition, I realize the task is to be available to this new place though still longing for another.
It feels strangely adulterous. There is an awkward battle ahead against lethargy and disappointment, to stay active and not passive, to let the experience of this current place be transformed into something mature.
Scott Laumann is a visual artist working in multiple disciplines, including "drawing" on specific natural sites, painting, ink block printing, video, and installation. He's completed numerous commissions over the past twenty years and lived in twenty seven different places, most recently in Fort Collins with his wife Alicia and daughter Paloma. He and and wife Alicia have recently founded QUILT, a vehicle that exists to create intentional performance art installations, choreographed objects and multidisciplinary experiences which encourage collaboration, thoughtfulness, dialogue and participation. To view Scott's work and links, visit his website scottlaumann.com
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