Tuesday, 27 October 2009

The Critical Writings of Geoffrey Hill

Bloody hell. I was just trawling sub guidelines and online zines for the sake of Spoken/Written, when I found myself at the Blackbox Manifold Online Magazine. I looked at a recent edition, and saw that there was a review of Geoffrey Hill's Collected Critical Writings. I have to admit, that despite having all his published poetry available in print in the UK, I haven't yet read the Critical Writings - not out of laziness, but due to its cost and no longer having access to an academic library. (When asking for recently published academic books at a public city library, I was told that, well, I could order it...yes, fine. If I wanted to hear nothing for at least two months, and after that, there'd be no guarantee, and...I didn't ask what had happened to inter-library loans, just left the overworked and cynical librarian alone as they seemed to desire.)
So I was mightily interested to read this review. It was well written and extremely interesting, by Adam Piette, and almost used Hill-esque language in parts. It portrayed the book almost as an indictment of mainstream culture and the paths that literature and poetry have gone down in the last fifty years. The review itself was a remarkable description of the book, and I'm looking forward to knowing how accurate or not I think it is (fully aware of the irony of writing a kind of pseudo-review of, or at best comment about, a review...).
Another of his claims is that Hill (and I could believe that) sketches out an ethical and consistent code of poetic or artistic honour from salutary critique of the mainstream or accepted norm to moral consistency to rigorous profiting by the example of past masters of history. Piette ends by saying that no one pretty much would or could follow such a proposed example or path.
What a challenge to any admirer of Hill's work, also an artistic practitioner who exists outside the mainstream! Who themselves honour philosophy, history and a differing code of 'ethics'. (Making no claims - perhaps we follow some ways because they suit us, like choosing a degree subject in which you will do better than another, finding it in some way 'easier'. Or make scurrilous justifications of your own position, giving it explanations in tall cut letters?)
But I can't help wondering if that's really what Critical Writings says?? Is it really laying down some holy gauntlet proffered to the wary? Or is it meant rhetorically, as being already far too heavy for anyone but himself to lift?

Check out the full review at;

Monday, 12 October 2009

Different Forms of Art

   I was talking with the philosopher of the Collective, about different artforms, and different mediums and skills within those artforms when he argued that terms such as multimedia art, integrated arts (as in mxing two or more artforms), cross art and suchlike were limited terms. He said for instance, that the things that appeared to concern me as an artist were light, colour, and thread. Thread? I asked. What do you mean? He went through the artforms which I am most drawn to or end up using - photography and gels, and light and colour made sense. As did words. But thread? 'You follow through - whether with mazes, wool, wire...' Perhaps 'the line' then, the line that one can make when writing a single word, or the line on which words are written or typed? That would make sense. And liken it to form (which I would argue was also a driving force). And movement as well, although my artworks/craftworks do tend to be static. 
    'It makes no sense,' he said 'to define artists in the way of skills, but rather it should be by what the inspiration is'. I thought about this, and it made a deal of sense, because when I thought about the incredibly broad brush (no pun intended!) used to describe such massively different kinds of artists by calling them 'visual artists' or even those who paint, 'painters', it did seem nonsensical. To call one who paints exclusively in abstract colours with pages of torn books set into paint the same title as the artist who mashes up rocks into paint and then exhibits geological colour charts of linear pictures to the artist who paints war scenes from nightmare childhood memories? 'Yes...' I replied, musing on the idea.
   So what does that make what I do? 'A light, colour and line artist.' was the reply. I think I rather like that...An interesting idea to play with... 

A Lesson in Art

Part 1

   Lately I have had some amazing conversations about Art. With the new fine artist of the atelier, I have been taken through the mystery of how artists create the view in front of them. He himself paints like a photograph, but of course, the painting of the scene adds some strange gloss of magic to it, the colours, whilst accurate to the scene in question, have a super-enhanced quality, as if seen with the emotions as well as the clarity of the camera eye... As all really excellent paintings of landscapes do. And as I have longed to do. But, in a mixture of diffidence and naivity, left myself imagining that painters just went out into the landscape, and, moved by the beauty or drama or quirkiness of the scene, sat down and captured what they saw out of sheer inspiration, as if merging themselves with the visual world alone gave them the capacity to suddenly reproduce it with a heightened accuracy like a photograph or not, but always catching up what was most special about the light, colour or shapes of whatever it was. As if, in fact, it was a state of higher consciousness or meditative spirituality that brought about the effect.
   How could I have been so lazy? to quote the ever-brilliant-with-words Bjork. The artist the other evening was kind enough to give me a short lecture on painting, and which revolutionized my understanding of the matter. He showed me how artists measure - they don't sit down with some wonderful intuition about how to reproduce distance on canvas or other surfaces, they sit down and measure it, obeying rules of perspective, observing in a mathematical way, the dimensions of the scene before them. If ever I knew the technical aspects to which he drew my attention, I had long forgotten, allowing the glamour of art to throw the dust of impossibility into my eyes, and so make sure that not having the confidence to pursue fine art had a fine lazy excuse for it also. Once he had taken the crippling mystery from distances, he then proceeded to mix up a colour to match that of the floor. 
   Again, my stupidity was made plain. How often had I merely thought that to darken or lighten a colour was to add black or white, putting in too much, or when mixing up a colour, ending up with brown sludge? Before only using primary poster paints unmixed and then giving up altogether? And how come - when he made pretty plain that most people came unstuck by using red for red, instead of adding blue to it, that they made shadows grey not noticing when they were blue, and other similar mistakes - how come I, who had not made those common mistakes, who see the 'purple light under the trees' one only gets in January, could have made such an error when mixing paint? 
   Because of course, with the colour and writing workshops, it's a thing I never do. Always alive to bluey purples, reddy oranges, yellowy greens and the like as I am during these workshops, in order to stop people using such terms and introduce them to violets, blood oranges and olives, and aware of what happens when you mix the colour gels which we use for the workshops, how could I have been so wooden when it came to transferring that knowledge to painting? 
   He facsimiled the colour of the floor, using yellow, red, even blue...in a way that I envied. But made it clear, that while inspiration was the motivator to get things right and keep on going at a canvas that took months to do, there was a real science here to fine art. Love of mountains is certainly not - or at least only extremely rarely! - enough to ensure and secure a good painting of them. Technical ability, patience, meticulousness, and more, all were required to achieve the skill and accomplishment which I had - idiotically - dreamt only came from inspiration, and to which I had so long yearned towards. 

Part 2

   It clarified things wonderfully. I now saw that it was a matter of time and effort - and if I put in those things, then I might achieve the thing I had wanted joint-most (along with appearing in Noel Coward and Dario Fo plays! doing site spec performance installation, making arty films and garden design). But when I thought about it, along with a feeling of relief and exhilaration, came a realization. In many ways the things I wanted to achieve with light and colour were better suited to mediums like photography, video, acetate...and words. The mediums I use now. When I thought about the only palettes which I do use, the palettes of the hundreds of words for colour which there are in English...the colours of the stage lights and the acetates, I didn't feel so bad. Or felt - perhaps for the first time, that (now I had a choice! or felt I had) that I was doing 'the right thing', that maybe I am engaging with visual art in the way that I ought to be, and not to chase after skills which would take so much time to learn, in which I could possibly say little that was 'new'...or to know that if I carved the time and will, it could be so, and so love the things which I already do, better, value them more and make more time or space for them. 
   Just as storytelling means that I don't have to be ordered about by a director whose vision for the production I might not share, and have, along with the characters I do love, to do characters in which I can't believe or enjoy, because I don't want to let go in the way that gives you the conviction to play characters you hate or are bored by.
   Yes. It opened a door in the mind that had been shut too long. Grateful thanks to the artist for opening it. Now...where are those gels?   

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Never Alone with a Clone...

Part 1

   And least time of all for doing the things on which one's heart hangs - making new textworks, a bookwork, new chapbook of non-serial poetry, a short story booklet, fashioning a small cabinet of curiosities, wire, leather and acetate craftworks, visual art and craft related pathways, poem-in-a-boxes, making moondials...getting to a philosophy conference to finish a collection of geometric poetry, and finishing 'Porlock and the Monad Machine'. And doing them all to stave off the inner voices 'well - you're not much of a garden designer! or a fine artist, still not professional at photography and your films - minutes of them, such as they are! are hardly worth putting on YouTube! Pah! call yourself an artist??? I thought THAT'S what you said you wanted to do!' To fend them off saying, 'we must do what we are good at, and what's at hand, branch out from what we know, try new things, but never just launch out blindly into something that's clearly a dream, with no knowledge or forethought - it is good to make anything, and I must make what I can and have the materials for - go away! with your impossible targets. Why are you bothering me? Is is not hard enough to sell books and get gigs and funding to support the newsletter, make a living?' 

Part 2

Some people want to do everything. Others want to do nearly everything. A clone or several would suit many folk, especially creative ones. Sometimes I get hypnotised by all the things which I want to do, which include; video maker, actor, visual artist, sculptor, multimedia artist, crafts including jeweller, glass maker, blacksmith, too many skills to list, architect, garden designer, interior designer, lighting designer, set designer, photographer, contemporary dancer, choreographer,  musician / composer, pianist, harpist, opera singer, maze designer, folly builder, shell artist, live art / theatre maker, site specific artist and performer, and lastly novelist, poet, performance poet, text artist... Why lastly? It sounds stupid, but the things that are hardest to ditch or to value are things which people have told you you're good at. Words. Since school people have said as much (though 'recognition' is something else again). But of course things we most value are the things in which we have least confidence that we have striven hardest towards trying to become - visual art in this case. 
   How can one possibly do them all? How can one pull off the Jean Cocteau stunt of making films, making art, doing all kinds of stuff and still writing books so good that other people would be proud to be known for just the one - whether the poetry of 'Tempest of Stars' or the novel 'Les Enfants Terribles'? Some would say that it's all contacts, opportunity and money. Once you're well connected and loaded, it's easy, just to have an idea is to have the power to follow it up...given talent, true enough up to a point. (However that is not to denigrate in any way whatsoever Cocteau's genius. He is undoubtedly one of my own major influences and completely gifted). And everyone else? Well, in order not to suffer endlessly - and uselessly - from a restless soul, I try and combine arts and make little corners and spaces of time to follow up things so that they don't spill over into work, but also so that I don't end up hating work - Spoken/Written for instance - for not allowing me the time to do what I wish I was doing instead. I may not be an actor in a theatre company say, despite my drama training, but I bring all my acting instincts and accents to being a storyteller. When I do get a show on an indoor stage, I can bring my lighting and set up the visuals, thereby pacifying the inner set and lighting designer struggling to get out. I may not be paid for my photographs, but I can put them into slideshows, use the skills to set up shots for the shows, the Collective website, the works of the other artists. The charm of that never wears off. With visual art, I have now collected so much stuff it would be a crime NOT to make stuff! so decals, braids, all kinds of small things are happening in odd moments, encouraged and enthused by the rest of the Collective - one of whom taught me just last weekend how to make willow rattles! With all kinds of things brought together because of the Collective, I find myself surrounded with new materials - leather, wire, fabrics, card, and it would seem churlish not to make things. So, it happens. And the visual textworks, the nearest to 'artworks' that I did during a writing MA at Plymouth U., well they too are more likely to get new friends made to stand beside them. Dance / movement can be brought into storytelling or performance poetry given the right context. Every digital camera pretty much has some sort of video setting - what's wrong with a film three minutes long? or five? It's just getting the shots organized. A matter of making some time. If you felt the need, even a YouTube to share them on! I'm also trying to carve some headspace to finish the Cabinet of Curiosities - using historic design quirks as inspiration... Anyone can sing (well almost anyone!) and everyone gets better with practice. So practice! There's a new keyboard player/artist living in the atelier, and the Collective has a garden designer, an architect, a jeweller, a fire dancer, a textile artist...And what we each have, we all share! Do you know, I think things aren't so bad...?