Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Technology - What Drives Man's Progress, and Notes on using modern technology for letter writing, communication:

It isn't because of the technology that I was able to write a long letter. I can just as easily write all of this by hand, if not easier. True, I'd have to either recopy it by hand to have a copy, or go make photocopies. The reason I stopped writing the lengthy letters I used to write years ago is because of the phone. Long distance got cheap. And for more than 10 years I've been keeping a lengthy ongoing journal. So I'm also ambivalent about writing things twice (journal and in letter).

But it was really fun to see that I could send that article with the picture on and then get responses to it. That was actually surprising. And is it ok to just write a letter and send it out to several people? Somehow that sounds so impersonal. I feel like I should just be posting a letter somewhere so that people can come to it as they wish, respond as they wish.

I don't think it is technology that is to blame for our problems with the results of using it. The problem is in why we want our technologies in the first place. Simple technologies a long time ago came from man inventing and making things to make life better for himself (his tribe, community). At some point it became about amassing power and riches for a certain few - whenever and wherever they started having leaders with huge empires. There were always struggles for power in the upper ranks. (All the way down the line I guess). Man alternated between plundering and trading for riches.

Fast forward to the last 500 years: The American colonies were an outgrowth of that plundering and trading cycle. To make riches though it takes a lot of cooperation. The British seemed to have been a bit better at the game of cooperation for riches for whatever reason. For one thing all the power was not held by the king. The king could only keep his power by keeping his barons or lords happy. The rich men who came over here to further their riches in the colonies did not like it at all when their king started to cramp their style too much. These self-interested moneymen were able to get a lot of people to cooperate in breaking free of their tyrant, in the name of the freedom cause. The push for technology, the industrial revolution, came out of this desire for riches. Technologies keep being invented to make more riches. And I don't think they can exist if there aren't enough people wanting some part of those riches. It is the system of capitalistic and self -interest that enables the technologies to be created, produced and distributed.

I think the reason we have technology is because of our economic systems, which mankind has set in motion so far back. (The issue is so entwined I'm not sure I can sort it out.) And I think the only way a technological way of life can exist is by having a system of capitalism, which always need new markets. I would love someone to prove that I'm wrong there. And I'm now getting frustrated because I don't want to spend the time or energy to explain what I mean in writing. Much as I like writing, it takes a lot more effort than speaking person-to-person, being able to see when a point hasn't made sense and to respond to that.

It's true we just don't have enough of the big picture to really know whether our current ways will end up well. And, what I argue to myself is that the world of human experience is too immense to be experienced in any one age, or type of existence. There are aspects of being, good or bad, that can only be experienced, explored and learned from under specific conditions, i.e. the times we live in. So that is my answer to me on my concerns about technology!

The preceding is an excerpt of a draft for a reply to a friend about my feelings on being comfortable or not in using modern technology. Whether or not I sent it, I don't remember.

I certainly think we delude ourselves that our modern technologies make improvements in our lives. We are not able to see a big enough picture and are only able to compare our so called improvement within a small time frame. Yes, we have an apparent time saving device - but we only need it because we have ourselves created such complicated hurried lives. To be happy is what we most need, I believe. And that quality is something that we can only find within ourselves. It will not come from anything without. We seem to be more and more losing our ability to be happy from within because we are spending our harried hurried lives looking for happiness on the outside. We seem to believe our technologies will help bring us that happiness. Let us at least not fool ourselves about this.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Loose vs. Tight in Art Making and Creativity

One of my students has been hassling me that the work we're doing is 'too tight'. She's trying to loosen up. Why? "Because I think it's more creative" she says.

She prefers, on the one hand, to work from photographs, whether her own or not, over trying to imitate a contempory watercolor, and, on the other hand, uses as an example of past lessons she's liked interpretations of old American Masters (Homer, Inness) or Masters such as Cezanne and Degas. She has also been very proud of her results from my step-by-step watercolor lessons from various instruction books, and has had some framed. She has, on her own initiative, chosen to work from photographs such as Elliot Porter's.

I have asked and asked just what does she mean, because I see too many contradictions between the points she asserts and the examples she uses and her past actions and her own painting results she's liked, to believe her statement has one single clear meaning. Her answer is only "loose, not tight". And, "I don't over analyze. You over analyze too much. You try to get into the nitty-gritty of everything." she said to me in class. Too much? How does one say that? (This makes me so defensive, its so hard to get past.) Perhaps I over analyze too much for someone's preferences. One doesn't want to be that way, ok. That works for one person, not the other, and each to his own. But I'm trying to understand just what is meant here. I want to get inside, to get at the heart of what you mean. Because it doesn't feel like what you're saying is what you mean. That is what I'm trying to see - if the outside is matching the inside. If it doesn't feel right, if it feels incongruent, I will keep looking until I see if it is what it says it is. Is this over analysing? By whose standards? Who is to say something is 'over' analysing? Who decides if something an individual wants to do is too much? Now perhaps it is too much (in this case) for the students in the class, or for her. If it is too much for her, than I have to decide whether or how I adapt to that input. Is it really a problem for the other students? Is it really a problem for her? Does it make a negative experience for her or them? Or, does it contribute to our growth as individuals or as a group? These are the questions I want to consider.

I want to know why it is more creative to be 'loose'. I have seen so much technically proficient 'loose' painting that I find insensitive, commercial if you will, a kind of mechanical almost robotic feel that masquerades as unique free work. Such work looks like it's churned out, comes off a production line. I don't see the soul in it. I see that the artist knows how to do it, to do it well, like a cake decorator can ice a cake in his sleep. But there is no real depth of feeling or meaning in it. Oh, but the work is loose and splashy. To me this is not more creative. I think you can be just as creative, alive, and loose inside as small a speck as you can see and move inside of as you can within the biggest space you can manipulate in. I think it has more to do with letting go, giving your all and being in the now/moment, being one with the space/environment of the work, your tool, your mind, your body (which is also your tool). Being 'loose' does not have to do with small or large movements. It has everything to do with commitment, directness, confidence, abandon ie. going for broke or stepping off a cliff and hoping you'll be caught in time, trust and risk taking.

And I have seen 'tight' work that is loaded with feeling and meaning and creativity. Is architecture loose? Is it creative? That depends on the building. It doesn't even really matter whether an architectural idea was first created loosely on scrap paper or tightly in a computer program or where have you. It just matters that the building works, that people find it moving, that it stands the test of time. A movie - how can a movie be loose? What determines whether a movie is creative? Being creative takes so much more than looseness. 'Looseness' is of the least importance.

And, until the camera came along, no art was 'loose'. Sketches were loose, but they were not considered in those terms. They were considered studies and plans for the actual work. They were not even considered unfinished because that stage of the work was never even an actual part of the final piece. Are we saying we then also saying that all the art created before the camera was not creative? Certainly the sketches and drawings of the old masters show more of their roughness than their smoothness, perhaps allowing us to see more of the artist's thought process.

Looseness is only one form of expression and as such is not more nor less creative than any other form. Jazz is loose - its created on the spot, in the now, its spontaneous. But there are good and bad jazz players. What determines the creativity and value of the playing is not the looseness but the player(s)'s ability to soar, to bear the soul. Creativity is not limited or even tied to looseness. The Mozart pieces we hear now are not Mozart playing. But his creativity lives on in the pieces and even manages to show through when played by poor players. Of course we'd rather hear it played by an artist who lets the spirit shine through. And that is so vital in creating art - letting the spirit shine through.

Ironically, having such a limited definition or judgement for creativity and looseness is the very thing that keeps one from expressing that creativity and looseness.

Can one teach someone to be loose, to be creative? I don't think so. Neither is it something one has or does not have. I think it is something one just decides to be or to allow (or to stifle). People squash their creativity all the time just with their beliefs. But their creativity is always inside them. It doesn't go away. Perhaps it comes exploding out some unwanted way because it was held back too long. It is a force of nature. It just is. It belongs to all of us, to all of Life, and to all beings.

Now, what I think my student is really wanting or saying, is that she prefers a certain kind of look and that is en plein-air, or direct spontaneous painting, and she prefers to deal with only certain subject matter. And yet even here this doesn't make sense to me, I don't get it. ..........And what is this she's said several times in a disgruntled or denigrating tone, "I don't want to paint Animals" as though animals were a substandard subject matter in either her rule book or the art world's rule book.

If you decide ahead of time that only one way is permissable or creative, than we choke off the avenues to get there. You have to have a lot of ways to get there. The only reason to limit the way to get where you want to go is to expand and find more options within a limitation, to see how much can be created out of it - not because it is the only way to get there. You stifle creativity (and in turn, looseness) if you judge that 'a' is not good, or 'b' is not creative or 'c' is not allowed, etc. etc. you restrict creativity far more surely that way than restricting the size of physical movements restricts creativity. Because you are denying the nature of what Life and Reality is. Creativity exists in the mind, is a state of mind and so is freedom. Freedom just is, it has to be. Freedom exists, must exist in and under any circumstance or it is not freedom. What is freedom if it is something handed to you? Freedom is the birthright of existence and can only just be taken, assumed as the nature of existence. If we are all not free by nature, we are just puppets or machines. I don't believe life can work that way (as a machine) or that there is any purpose to life working that way. There would be no purpose to living if that were the case. Why we even consider it an option that we should live as a puppet or machine is beyond me. Or why we would want to live if we believed we were puppets or machines - again, incomprehensible to me.

Note: I will be experimenting with posting thoughts here that may or may not be fully worked out. These will be works in progress or may just stay as they are. This writing surely has lots of contradictions in it and maybe doesn't make sense. Perhaps no one will understand any of it.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Starting a New Blog and My Neighbor

Larry, A Storyteller

I've spent the last hour setting up this blog on blogspot because over at Tripod Lycos they recently went over to a new blog software which has wreaked havoc with existing blogs. This was several weeks ago but the changes for individual blogs have only taken effect gradually. I now have the new software and it doesn't seem to work with my browser. Now that I set everything up here, it looks like that may be the same case here. The only function buttons I see in the toolbar are spell check and photo insert. Aargh technology. Why we believe that our lives are improved with it is beyond me. Yes I'm compelled to it but more because it is the language we are currently all (most of us?) swimming in, not because it is inherently better. I so wish we would understand that it is always the magic that things come back to/boil down to. Its the intent, the desire that makes things happen. We can try all we want to force something to happen the way we want it to but it always comes back to things having to work magically smoothly together. I think.

The painting here is a tribute to my downstairs neighbor Larry Gamage. He died last Saturday night, July 8, 2006. He was a Storyteller with a voice like Johnny Cash. His siblings and relatives are the ones who can sing and harmonize. Larry (and his family) all claim he couldn't carry a tune. I know that is not true because I'd hear him singing along to his stereo system and he sounded right on. I think that his voice was so low and the others (all girls) with their higher voices were too hard to harmonize with - he never learned how. So of course he couldn't sing in that context. But he liked to do singsong? voice while strumming his guitar (which he also never learned to tune), and I believe he wrote quite a few songs. A storyteller though, that is what I think he was so gifted at, the simplest story about anyone or anything, surely exagerated for drama but always captivating the way he told it with his voice so compelling.

We used to argue seemingly whenever we ran into each other. Neither of us could seem to give in. We didn't have that much in common so we were usually talking about daily things. My car's muffler has a hole. Well its because of this. Why? I disagree. I think its because of this and this. I always had the impression that he thought I was not qualified to know anything about anything - whether because I am female or because I am me and my thinking I knew something just irked him. And of course in a way, that was what I was thinking about whatever he was stating was whatever current truth. Somewhere though it also seemed that deep down inside it was because by my challenging assumptions I was spoiling the story. Telling the story was always most important. To challenge the story just ruined whatever spell was going. And I'm such a literalist in some ways that I won't let things stand if I don't think they're accurate.

We argued vehemently five days before he died. He had just told me he'd been given the official word from the the doctors of how long he might have left to live. I had understood that he'd already told me this weeks before, so I acted somewhat matter of factly in response to this. He then admonished me that I shouldn't be concerning myself about some situation outside that I was in the process of trying to straighten out. And we argued about this, I trying to defend my position, he insisting I should stop acting that way. I thought he was trying to give me guidance that I'd be happier if I stopped paying attention to what goes on around me and just let it be. Hmm. We parted in good humor about getting so heated. I said I'd miss arguing with him. He said don't start that. But soon after, I realized I was very aggravated about this, as I so often was with our arguments. I just couldn't believe that my point of view would not be considered. It would irk me so much everytime that I would keep trying to get my view across. And he would keep on not considering that I might know something too. It was laughable on the one hand, but still.

That night, 3 am. July 4th, I woke to an apparent firecracker going off in our yard. It was louder than it should have sounded. And again. Was that a gunshot? I opened my window to peer outside. Then I saw a few lots away a bit of fireworks go off. Downstairs Larry's daughter opened the door to look out. We exchanged comments about the noise. I could hear Larry inside wondering if it was gunshots or firecrackers. Then he asked us if we were alright. I said "No, I'm still pissed!" and meant it because the earlier incident had been rankling me ever since. I had felt when I opened the window to look that I was not supposed to be doing that according to his earlier admonitions. His daughter relayed my words. We all chuckled.

I saw him for a minute July 4th when I came home from my day at the festivities where I had been set up selling my cards and prints. His daughter was on her way out to celebrate the holiday. He and I exchanged a few words about how it had been. That was Tuesday evening. Friday night into Saturday he was gone. I had not seen him again. He had gone peacefully and painlessly. That was another thing we had said to each other when he'd told me of the time sentence - he'd said he was in no pain and he was at peace. Early Sat morning (night) his daughter came up to tell me he was gone.

To me it is a kind of miracle that we can just disappear. It is just about as miraculous as birth. Again, I think it is magical.