Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Drawing from the river of life

                       Drawing from the river of life

The other day I took my granddaughter down to the river to do some drawing. We have been drawing and painting side by side since she was little and as an ex art teacher it has been an instructive process for me. Knowledge can be quite restrictive when routine takes over from exploration, and I benefit from looking over her shoulder to see what a creative mind can come up with when it has not been channeled by a set of established procedures.

Today we sit beside the river and draw companionably together and talk about how the act of drawing itself opens up an awareness of a host of associated observations. The feel of the sunlight on our faces, the flow of the water as it slides over the river rocks carrying the first Autumn leaves to the sea, and its whisper of sound which is nearly drowned out by nearby rapids, and all the little inner thoughts that surface like fish in the stream. Drawing can be a meditation, a time out of time where we can be aware of simply being alive and part of the larger world.

Some days I draw to record as much detailed information as possible, but today I look for the essential lines and forms only. Picture making with pencil on paper is different from photography in that it is so much easier to select detail, to emphasis or eliminated certain information. It also means that the marks I make can become a pattern in themselves, sourced from nature but part of an independent structure - a new thing in the world that does not rely on verisimilitude. A photograph is so 'like' we do not pause to think about it, but a drawing calls on us to participate, to puzzle over it for a while. One might make a comparison between a documentary news report and a poem: information versus feeling. I draw, and in the process the river draws me in.

When I later pick up my camera the mood is still with me and I find myself being very selective; carefully composing for lines and forms, shadows and light and colour relationships, which are the visible signs of a deeper vision, a deeper awareness that flits in and out of our everyday minds but which I have focused today. This Fall day on the Englishman River has risen like a high tide in my consciousness thanks to drawing. This Fall day with my granddaughter, together, drawing from the river of life.                                   

  • Drawing turns the creative mind to expose its workings. Drawing discloses the heart of visual thought, coalesces spirit and perception, conjures imagination; drawing is an act of meditation. by Edward Hill in The Language of Drawing.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Tweeking the photo so it will be closer to the truth - as you saw it, or how you feel about it.

The most 'real', and yet highly selected in angle and subject matter

Andre Gide once said that in writing one must go beyond the simple event and emphasis and underline what it is you want the reader to take from your story  - " go further". Now, if we think about that a little it makes sense, a story is highly selective and emphasizes certain aspects and ignores others. A play or film is a highly artificial product (even a documentary) even though it may seem to be about realistic events. And so it goes in poetry, and, perhaps not so surprisingly, also in news reportage.

The original image as captured. I have chosen to peer through the maple branches
and place them out of focus.

The same image but cropped and adjusted to emphasis the yellow light of dawn. To my mind I have corrected the camera capture to convey a 'truer' feeling of the dawn moment.

Selected from a million possibilities
Black and white leads us to see and understand
 from the same colour image.
Obviously music is highly artificial and when the composer includes thunder and donkey brays we get a little nervous. Painting cannot help being tied to the two dimensional surface, and various technical aids have to be used to represent a three dimensional world. Many painters emphasis the surface qualities only and abandon any pretense of three dimensions. For them the surface is reality.

A tree in the forest, but photographed more abstractly. 
Photography has a difficult relationship with 'truth'. 'Seeing is believing', we say, and the photograph is seductive in its mechanical ( 'the camera cannot lie') recording of what is before it. And yet a good photograph is also highly selective, just like a news report. We see what the photographer wishes us to see. We are guided. Angle of view, type of lens, selection of subject matter, and so on pervert any chance of having a 'true view' in the conventional sense. Even if we were there ourselves we would have a selected view guided by our own conventions.

Nearly all black lines and forms,
and yet we see what it is.We feel the tangle,
 the confinement
The other morning while taking photographs down at the shore I took a series of images that involved peering through foliage and tree trunks. My viewers cannot choose to select some other view. They must look where I have pointed. And then I process the images to emphasis certain qualities. A dawn photo takes on a yellow cast that is stronger than reality. Like Gide, I am making something artificial to give a heightened feeling of the place and time. To my eyes this is more 'true' than the 'reality', just as a story can be.

Monday, September 21, 2015

The gale.

Yesterday was a windy one, perhaps not suitable in our forested landscape for walking around without body armour and a hardhat, but Heather and I walked out to Beaver Point and caught the full force. We watched a sailboat struggling along in the distance until it reached the lee of land. There is something exhilarating about being in the midst of such dramatic forces of nature. Being ALIVE!

In the sheltered bay the wind made sharply ruled ripples, and overhead the clouds screamed by close overhead

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The mugger of Ganges Harbour

Saltspring Island has just about everything. This morning I saw a megayacht, but then that is normal, but the crocodile was interesting..... And then I remembered a Kipling story called 'The Mugger of Mugger Ghaut' and put Ganges, our island village and Ganges, the Indian river together. A 'mugger' is a crocodile. So, in a twisted sort of way, that crocodile swinging in the breeze in Ganges Harbour has some kind of logical right of place.

Ganges, our village, was named after HMS Ganges, which was built in India and stationed on the Pacific Coast around about the time that places were being named. Up and down this coast we have many Royal Navy place names. 

The village of Vesuvius is named after HMS Vesuvius, Fulford Harbour and Baynes Peak after admirals, and the original name of Saltspring ( or Salt Spring ) was Admiralty Island.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sunrise, Indian Point.. Light, in photography is just about everything.

Four AM. and we decide since we are awake we might as well have morning tea and get our day underway early. So it was that I was hiking down the trail to the sea at Indian Point just at sunrise and experiencing the transition from cool dawn to the brilliant warm light of early morning. We are regularly told that photography is all about light, but seeing is believing. The yellow washed over everything, warming the leaves already turning and falling because of our long summer drought, the bleached beach logs, and light sliding low into the shadows under the canopy of branches of the dark forest behind the shoreline.  

Friday, September 11, 2015

The Quail in our house.

This morning I heard Heather's shrill call “Bill!!! and I began to run towards the house. Half way there, she said it was not an emergency but anything extra she said was lost in the shrubbery. Finally I understood that some California quail had wandered through the open living room door and when Heather came into the room they all flew up into the air and crashed against walls and windows. One dead, one unconscious and several more hiding under the furniture. Feathers, poops, scattered about.

How to get them back outside? We tried getting behind them and shooing them towards the open patio door but that just made them more anxious. Finally I managed to pick each one up and throw it up and into the garden. Even the unconscious male daddy recovered. Just one lifeless mother's body to place carefully into the bushes.

Quail are a returning species on our wooded hillside above the farm fields and blackberry jungles down in the valley. Along with this little family came neighbour's cats and we watched the family get smaller and smaller. Still, the young kept growing and now there are three young and one father with his jaunty topknot and smart suit still standing guard.

Of course they have their natural ways of dealing with danger and that is to fly up and glide off into the bushes. It is only when the living room hemmed them in that instinct betrayed them. Walls, windows are outside their native knowledge.

I wonder if human beings are caught up in the same evolutionary trap? We have a limited view and predictable responses that have also served us well for millions of years. When to fight, when to flee, an ability to deal with clear and present danger, the tendency to group together with our backs against the wall, make threatening gestures.... The trouble is, as for the quail, put the danger in too broad a context, beyond our instinctive thought horizon and all we can still do is wave our arms and shout when we should be thinking very clearly. Getting the quail to walk quietly back out the door they came in was impossible, so what do you think, are we doing the same within the confines of our planet?

Holding their little bodies in my hand, feeling their frantically beating hearts before my arm lifted and launched them into the air was a powerful experience for me, Knowing that this is 9 -11 today, seeing the Syrian refugees stumbling ashore on Lesbos, knowing that this is only the tip of the iceberg of change, sensing their beating hearts as they struggle ashore through the waves; what will it take for me to first understand and then adjust my way of seeing and behaving? What will it take?

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

“I know what I like.” the average person's art critique?

The other day I looked into a galley show of a community painting group and I was impressed with how much talent was shown there. So many average folks with so much potential, but shackled somehow in their ability to go beyond the obvious. What was this all about? I spoke with one exhibitor and asked to see his work. I quickly realized that he was resistant to going deeper. He also painted abstracts he said, but when I mentioned that he might find Hans Hofmann, a pioneer abstract impressionist, worth looking up in the library I got the brush off. It was clear that there was a special class of artist represented here in this man, the amateur painter for whom membership in a kind of leveling group trumped personal challenge and accomplishment. As if mediocrity was the lodestar to which he had hitched his wagon.

Recently I read an article by H.W. Janson called 'The Mirror of History' which discussed the origin of “ I know nothing about art, but I know what I like.” A remark so common we laugh, but which has an interesting history behind it.
In the 18th century a revolution in ideas proposed that democracy, the rule of the common man versus hereditary privilege, was worth fighting for and that “The peoples voice is the voice of God.”That 'simple man' was the ideal man ( and the simpler the better, as Janson says). What applied to ethics and politics extended to the arts as well. So the old Renaissance idea that good art was based on both craft and theory and which presupposed that only the educated minority who could master theoretical knowledge could understand and make art was dangerously out of fashion ( as in, “off with his head.”). The simple ' I know what I like' was the new democratic ideal. And what people liked was generally a realistic and later photographically precise picture of the world.

Perhaps then, what I experienced in the local gallery was a logical development of this democratic impulse to simplify what was art and resist individualization. And in this amateur show we could see where this 'every-man is equal' could lead to. I suspect that the twin drivers of 'art for everyone and everyone is an artist' plus the commercial factor creates a lot of 'art' that is not art judging by the old Renaissance ideas of craft and theory. The problem only emerges when we get confused between old and new ideas about art.

And yet there are a lot of art historians and art critics who attempt to bring knowledge and understanding to everyone. Those library books I mentioned to the artist in the show were just across the street, and free for the reading. There really is no excuse, even in this democratic age for determined ignorance. His kind of art drags everyone down and art along with it.
Why should you think that beauty, which is the most precious thing in the world, lies like a stone on the beach for the careless passerby to pick up idly? Beauty is something wonderful and strange that the artist fashions out of the chaos of the world in the torment of his soul. And when he has made it, it is not given to all to know it. To recognize it you must repeat the adventure of the artist. It is the melody that he sings for you, and to hear it again in your own heart you want knowledge and sensitiveness and imagination.
The Moon and Sixpence.
S. Maugham

 I found this quote and include it to illustrate that the arts are a powerful tool for communication and that pictures, for example, can be so much more than formula driven 'oils' or 'watercolours'.