Warning: really long blog coming up. (I had to do a really long poetic walk this time).
The quote opening my blog of 29 August was from The Zen of Seeing: Frederick Franck. Intrigued, I sent for the book. In parallel with my discovery of the book, I had begun exploring in pencil the watery, waterlilied space of the pond in my new garden. And had found myself drawing without looking at the paper. It is not the same, but it reminded me of automatic writing.
The Zen of Seeing is presented in the author’s handwriting. He explains in the foreword it’s because his book is, “… a love letter, and love letters should not be typeset …” It was going to be a book that demanded intimacy. The book fell open on a section in which Franck advises drawing without looking at the paper. Can you hear those synchronous cogs grinding into motion?
When next I was able to sit in front of my waterlilies, I saw that I hadn’t drawn without looking at the paper in my previous drawing, but from time to time, had looked down on and corrected the drawing into a semblance of what I was looking at. Unconsciously, I had been looking for physical verisimilitude and engaged tricks I knew from academic drawing. I was re-visiting a road I’ve travelled in the past that had driven me away from the love of drawing. I saw that I should have been drawing a love letter – to waterlilies.
Franck explains even this. Opening his first-ever workshop with a lecture, he posed a rhetorical question: “Who is Man, the Artist?” and answered it: “He is the core of everyman, before he is choked by schooling, training, conditioning until the artist-within shrivels up and is forgotten. Even in the artist who is professionally-trained to be consciously “creative” this unspoiled core shrivels up in the rush toward a “personal style, …”
As a child, I drew and drew. I have a faded childhood image of sleeping in a bed made up in a bath. In later life I learned this was because I persistently ruined the wallpaper in every room, by drawing on it. I was enhancing every room with skirting board-level friezes of my drawings. I could do little damage confined to the bathroom. (I must have been a very determined draughtsgirl to have deserved incarceration). Drawing made of me a problem to be solved by removing me from society.
By the end of my fine art degree course, drawing had become an agony. I hardly draw any more. The university’s Fine Art department had the reputation of being largely hands-off, of letting the student develop in his/her own way. The concept is benign, but there’s a flaw. This approach fails to dig out the student’s own pre-conceived ideas and misperceptions. I had already developed a notion of how I was supposed to draw. Before arriving on the course, I had been ” … choked by schooling, training, conditioning.” I needed de-programming. I was left to kill my love of drawing. I think I should have been made aware that I needed to love first my subject matter/to find subject matter that I loved. I might have discovered then that in drawing (as in all endeavour) love is the goal.
I made my way back to the pond and set about Franck’s exercise in drawing without looking at the paper and the second image here is the result. The drawing bears neither resemblance to a pond, nor to waterlilies. It is closer visually to automatic writing. It is not automatic writing. Or is it? Reflecting on the exercise afterwards, there was some other engaged, in drawing only by looking at the subject matter. You can’t not engage with the subject matter. What happened in that terra incognito between the eye and the hand? I think it’s love.
Some of this unknown land has been mapped, in terms of science. In A Painter’s Eye Movements: A Study of Eye and Hand Movement during Portrait Drawing (Miall and Tchalenko) I found this in the conclusion: The artist’s actions are essentially driven by the picture’s progress—they are goal oriented.
Drawing by looking only at the subject has a different goal. My drawing is a (poetic!) map, tracing only my walk through the subject. It’s heading towards an act of love, for if I suggest that drawing should be an act of love, walking I also suggest should likewise be (and in fact is) an act of love and not just for the terrain. I’m looking forward with new enthusiasm to exploring drawing again – making my mark, through love. When I approach mark-making from now on I will attempt to become again the child that had to be shut up in the bathroom to stop it from being destructive – to stop it from loving and mark-making.
Franck goes on to say: “SEEING/DRAWING is … a way of inscape from the overloaded switchboard, (his metaphor for the “non-creative environment” … that constantly bombards us, overloads our switchboard with noise, with agitation and visual stimuli.”) Seeing/drawing “…establishes an island of silence, an oasis of undivided attention, an environment to recover in …” Here, drawing parallels meditating. From this view, I see that as I draw I will become aware of surfacing thoughts and memories. In meditation, these would be acknowledged but allowed to move on as distractions from the goal. In drawing, they may end up incorporated into the work; as part of the journey to love.
That first day I began drawing again, drawing the pond, I had my usual sense of imprisonment, my out-of-loveness, with the process. Then the means of re-gaining my freedom and love had fallen into my hands – almost at the same time – in the form of Franck’s book. Those synchronistic cogs were to continue to grind when I stumbled upon another relative of automatic writing, the monocondyle. I read, at Evangelical Textual Criticism:
“Recently a student of mine came across this subscription to 1 Timothy in Greg.-Aland 1977 (Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana ms. laur. Plut. 10.9): The problem was how to interpret what is in the frame on the picture, a so called monocondyle, a conventional scholarly term formed from the classical Greek adjective μονοκόνδυλος, “having but one joint” (said of the thumb). The term designates a word or sentence written without lifting pen from paper. Monocondyles occur in Byzantine MSS [dating] from the 10th century [onwards].”
“Monocondyle, [monokondylos] … a word or sentence written without lifting pen from paper. Monocondyles occur in Byzantine MSS [dating] from the 10th century [onwards].” Tommy Wasserman
Bibliotechnique Nationale de France: L’aventure des écritures: La calligraphie: “D’un seul trait c’est ainsi que l’on pourrait traduire le mot grec savant monokondylos qui désigne à l’époque byzantine et postbyzantine une écriture enchevêtrée, faite de boucles et de courbes et dont la caractéristique matérielle essentielle est précisément la continuité parfaite du trait : aucune séparation ne vient interrompre le tracé de la plume sur la page.” With apologies for my translating abilities:
© Bibliothèque nationale de France: Traité d’arithmétique (Page from an Arithmetical Treatise): Byzance 1350-1375
“The Adventure of Writing: Calligraphy: ‘With a single line’ is how one could translate the Greek word Monokondylos which in the Byzantine and post-Byzantine eras was a sort of tangled writing, a writing constructed of buckles and curves, the essential characteristic being the continuity of the line: there must be no interruption in the mark being made by the pen on the page.“
“Affecting most often a few words only at the end of a document or book, this style of writing seems to have appeared in the Byzantine domain towards the 10th century BCE. The origin of the monocondyle seems to be in documentary writing, in Acts or Diplomas public or private, in which most often the monocondyle is found in the names of the signatories.”
“The originality of the mark-making guarantees the authenticity of the signature and thus the Act.”
Cette fonction rend parfaitement compte des caractéristiques principales du monocondyle ; virtuellement illisible et donc inimitable, le monocondyle doit rester déchiffrable et visible. Réduire la transparence du signe sans détruire sa signification, voilà la délicate opération que doit accomplir le scribe. Again excusing my translating abilities: “This function accounts perfectly for the principal characteristics of the monocondyle; virtually un-readable and thus inimitable, the monocondyle must remain decipherable and visible. To reduce the transparency of the sign without destroying its meaning, this is the delicate operation which the scribe must accomplish.”
Maybe the most important aspect of the monocondyle is that it was used to embellish biblical text and was, in this light, an act of love. Here’s a link to the web site of textile artist Stéphanie Devaux (Stéphanie Devaux Textus) who has made art working with the monocondyle.
In the monocondyle I am reminded of Paul Klee’s definition of drawing, quoted on Artsy as “An active line on a walk, moving freely, without goal.” Klee: Pedagogical Sketchbook. I was interested to read: Klee studied nature obsessively, and took a particular interest in the branching forms of plants, organ systems, and waterways. In his lectures, he described these patterns with scientific specificity, mapping mathematical equations and arrow-filled diagrams on the board. He explored how seeds sprout, how leaves develop ribs, and how lakes break off into streams, almost always ending with an awe-inspiring assertion about the magic contained in nature’s growth and development.”
It occurs to me that mark-making by way of the monocondyle is drawing by use of all available resources until they are completely exhausted. The carrying-out of the mark requires an astonishing number of skills. Some would be (in no particular order) conscious looking/seeing, contemplation, planning, forethought, weighing up, physical materials and knowing their extents and limitations, timing, concentration, balance, self-knowledge/examination, spiritual/emotional state. It occurs to me also that drawing in this way, whatever the end result, would be totally honest. The crudest and shortest of marks is honourable, if it is the best one can do at that particular time, with the resources available. It is also a way of drawing that acts out a good rule for living.
On the metaphysical level, the monocondyle by my definition, points I suggest to a parallel between the mark-making of the artist and that of The Great Originator, who/which would have an infinity of resources. Originator can (and did) draw the perfect monocondyle (the whole of existence and Us!) and infinitely and maybe it would be useful to consider ourselves as at origin, each one of us, perfect monocondyles – an absolute drawn by the Originator without lifting the pen from the page. Any mark made by an artist emanates from and is an extension of the artist. Each of us, therefore, by this logic, would have to be an emanation and extension of the Originator.
I didn’t invent this idea (ha! as ever); it’s stated in different ways in religious teachings. Christianity: The kingdom of God cometh not with observation. Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17.
Hinduism/Krsna: It’s written in the Bhagavad Gita (Song of the Spirit) that God dwells in everything. The Upanishads reveals that God is hidden in all living beings.
As an aside, yet also synchronous: scanning the Gita (Song of the Spirit) I found: One’s inferior natural work is better than superior unnatural work. One who does the work ordained by one’s inherent nature incurs no sin. I seem to have echoed this when I wrote, above, that: The crudest and shortest of marks is honourable, if it is the best one can do at that particular time, with the resources available.
The path that had led me to Klee’s definition of drawing was bifurcated and re-tracing my steps back to the crossroads I took the second road less travelled (for there are always more than one, you know) and soon found myself lost among the Seven Bridges of Königsberg (SBK). Königsberg, once part of Prussia and now Kaliningrad, Russia, is situated on both sides of the River Pregel and includes two islands connected to each other and the two mainlands, by seven bridges. SBK is also a mathematical problem set by Leonhard Euler in 1736 and which gave birth to a new branch of geometry known as Graph Theory. Of interest to me artistically, was that Graph Theory prefigured Topology, which deals with the properties of space preserved under continuous deformations, such as stretching, twisting, crumpling and bending, but not tearing or gluing. The Mobius Strip would be a form of this nature.
I was warned not to confuse Topology with Topography (the study of the shape and features of land surfaces; or with Tomography (an imaging method which combines slices or sections of a form and used in disciplines such as radiology, archaeology, quantum physics). I won’t heed the warning, as they all apply to drawing, to looking and seeing, to mark-making, as they are all just different ways of trying to see and understand the world. I see it as a warning to inspect my waterlilies from more than just the linear.
I will finish with some marks I made recently using a rusted trowel I found under a hedge. I swaddled it with a length of silk from the Bursa silk market in Turkey and bound it close against the rust with rubber bands, left it exposed to the elements for a week, spraying it every day with a vinegar/water solution.
Here’s another warning: drawing can be dangerous. I accidentally walked into the pond in the dark the other night. Oy, oy, oy, it was cold. The pond’s hip-deep in the middle.
Having had to spend much of 2018 setting up (including building with my own hands (as well as my husband’s) an extra exterior room) in 2019 I will be progressing a project to develop artwork from ideas expressed in some of my blogs and then compile the results into small books. And other projects. I’m looking forward to 2019.