Wednesday, August 26, 2009

ESSAY FIFTEEN Image Story Part Two

You’ll love the view from


When I was a child, my family traveled by car over a great part of the U.S. - I had been to almost all of the States by the time I was eighteen. These vacations involved a great deal of driving, and the trips often lasted weeks. I cannot in all honesty say that I have clear and separate memories of each place we visited; many of the memories are bits and fragments. There are a few, however, that are as clear today as they were then.

When we lived in New York City, I remember visiting a kind of mansion or private castle up in New England, with very elaborately carved wooden doors and when you turned the doorknobs, all sorts of “things” on the door moved. Each door was a complexity of levers; animal and plant carvings, shapes and designs, and all were mobile. I have no idea what the rest of the building was like, but those doors are as real and kinetic today as they were when I was a preteen. Another memory was of visiting a thundering waterfall that plummeted into a dark cave-like hole at its base, and then vanished without a trace. I also remember being somewhere on a bay or sound in one of the Western States during a period when there had been a freak low tide (an ebb tide?) and when we got there, the entire bottom of the bay was exposed for miles - an enthralling glimpse of a forbidden, barnacle and weed encrusted, slimy desert. Boats sitting in the muck, tied to docks fifteen feet above them, standing on tall, spindly legs, anchored in that same muck. A watery door had briefly opened giving me a view of things never before seen.

I don’t specifically remember the locations, and by the time I asked my parents about them (years later) they could not even remember the incidents (my father thought the low tide might have been in Puget Sound in Washington). The memories, the wonder, and the magic that these places (and a few others not mentioned) engendered in me are still real today. Nobody else in my family remembers those wonderful doors (I have a hunch they were somewhere in New Hampshire or Connecticut), and I probably could not find them today if I had to. The point is, I don’t have to because I have this wonderful memory, and I suppose that I am a bit afraid to compare my image with the “reality” I might discover. We went to many other more spectacular places such as Yellowstone, Grand Canyon, The Badlands and Meteor Crater, and I remember them also. They were great, I am glad we went, but they are not magic - they were regular wonderful memories we all have, concerning something we did. These special memories are far more intense and they feel that they live deep inside of me – They feel as if they were places I was meant to visit.

These incidents are my special memory, and in my adult life, I realized that I needed to discover why they are so important. My whole family remembers walking to the top of the Statue of Liberty, but only I own that waterfall. What I remember about those places is probably not the actuality of the place but the super actuality they had. They were more than what they really were; they had a presence that transcended their physical nature. To me, they are not real locations, they are mythic, magic and marvelous, they are special because they are really not knowable. If the real doors were truly spectacular, then the rest of my family would have remembered them, and they would be part of some advertised tourist attraction today.

Let me give you an example of how these Image Stories have entered my art. Many of my black and white photograph deal with rock formations, crevasses, cave openings, and fallen objects that almost but not completely form a blockage. In all of these structures, what has always intrigued me, were the small slits, cracks, and portals that allowed light to enter or pass through. Several years ago, I hung an exhibit of my photography, and its title was “Holes in the Fabric – A Portal to What is Beyond”.

Last year, several writers and I collaborated on a contemporary interpretation of the Greek Play, “The Trojan Women”, that was a rather free form mélange of acting, dance and spoken word. In a bull session, one of the other writers pointed out to me that virtually every scene I wrote revolved around doors. After the fall of Troy, the Trojan Women are locked in a guarded room to await their fate:

A door is such a simple thing. It’s an accessory to a hole in the wall. It opens, it closes. That’s all it does. A door is a hole in the wall, interuptus. Yes, such a simple thing. A hole, with a wooden flap, on a hinge, with a lock . . . and a key. A key? He who controls the key, controls the portal.

I have since gone back, and a great deal of my artistic output over the years - photography, sculpture and writing have been greatly influenced by these Image Stories of mine. They deal with doors, openings and uncovering secrets. Perhaps my motivation for writing ArtQuest is to offer my readers an entrée into the world of creative self-expression.

In Essay Sixteen, (the third segment of Image Story); I’ll present some exercises that may help you discover how your stories can be visualized. As always, I welcome your comments and observations, and if any of you have IMAGE STORIES that you would like to share, I would love to add them to this series of essays.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

ESSAY FOURTEEN – Finding the Image Story

In the previous essay, I talked about something I called the Image Story. As I mentioned, while we have millions of memories stored away in our minds, there seem to be some stories that are different. Rather than merely being recollections of incidents or bits of data, they seem to be strangely important – often far out of proportion to the facts, incidents and people surrounding them. My belief is, that these memories, or Image Stories are important in helping us to become the artist we wish to be.

As you are able to start letting these images into your consciousness, it is only natural to wonder what you are suppose to do with them. Your goal is to incorporate them into your creative awareness, because they contain some of your most fertile seeds - they will supply many new possibilities and suggest many new directions for dance, music, visual art and writing.

STEP ONE: Allow the memory in. You are not required to know anything about it, explain it, justify it, rationalize it or add anything to it. I t is already complete - it needs nothing from you, you need something from it. Resist the temptation to analyze or make the moment productive. Just let it in and enjoy it.

Notes: The goal here is understanding, not information gathering in the traditional sense. Understanding is an internal process, while information gathering is external. To get information, facts are collected, organized and then broken down into discreet bits of data that are then analyzed and framed into a conclusion. This type of organization is great if you are attempting to explain the human digestive processes, the mechanics of a super-nova or even how to calculate long term Capitol Gains. We are not interested in information about our Image Stories, but rather learning how to listen and honor them, for that is a path towards wisdom.

STEP TWO: Establish yourself into the Image. Do not sit outside being a neutral observer, but become the participant you were when the memory/image/story originally took place. You are not interested in an analysis of the details, but an awareness of the moment. Feel it, rather then dissect it.

Notes: There is a branch of advanced physics called Quantum Mechanics that studies extremely small particles of matter and their properties. Scientists are very interested in determining the precise location and the precise speed of these particles, because, since they can’t be seen, that knowledge would go far in explaining much about them. What they have discovered, however, is that the more accurately you determine the particles’ position, the more your actual observation makes it impossible to determine speed (velocity). The act of direct observation of location affects speed in unpredictable ways, and vice versa. This is known as The Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

In a manner of speaking, direct, intense examination of our own Image Stories also changes them into something far less powerful. Our goal is to feel them, let them envelop us and hopefully to fully experience them. It is not their factual properties that give them their power, and it is not analysis that will release their light. In Lewis Carroll’s book, Alice Through the Looking Glass, Alice journeys through a mirror into Looking Glass Land, and she discovers that the only way to approach something is to walk in the opposite direction. If she insisted upon directly approaching something, soon it was so far away as to be no longer visible. Sometimes, the harder we concentrate on a problem, the harder it is to solve. Remember dear old Doctor Heisenberg – maybe he had a relationship with Alice? Are there any doctoral students in Physics out there, looking for a thesis topic?

STEP THREE: Find out where it takes you. As you allow yourself to become more immersed in the mind image you have welcomed, feel the different responses to it you are experiencing. It may not be just pleasant memories - there are questions, puzzles, mysteries, and perhaps danger here. In all probability, there are two different levels of dialogue taking place - one level dealing with satisfaction and reward, and the second, and deeper level, embracing insights as to who you are and where you might be going.





These images reward us, and sanctify our existence. They are with us constantly because the chord they play resonates on the basic sounding board of our soul. These are the images that convey to us how wonderful certain aspects of our life have been. These special, long term memories of people, incidents, locations or relationships are always there, and their power is that they carry multiple messages for us. The most obvious is the personal feelings we have when they are present, because of the built in rewards inherent in recalling these special moments. This aspect of our Image story makes us feel good about being our self.





While there is also personal reward in these responses, there are other levels of these “remembrances” that are even more substantive. When you start letting yourself become immersed in their sensations, you start to realize that beyond the warm feelings there are ambiguities that are also arising out of these images. It is at that level that we find one of our great sources for meaning in our art.

In future essays, there will be some suggestions as to what you can do with the Image Stories you uncover. Remember, in most of our journeys, it is the Quest, the journey itself that has more value than the destination. As always, I welcome any comments, suggestions or insights you might wish to communicate. I would especially appreciate hearing about or reading any Image Stories that you might become aware of, after reading this.

Thursday, August 13, 2009


If you’ve read along so far, maybe you are willing to go along with one of my main tenets, that it is more important for the prospective or developing artist to figure out how to access their own inner spirit and voice, than it is to worry about skill and craft. Technique can always be learned when you need it.

So, how do I find this inner muse? Why do all of us look at a blank page in our sketchbook, notebook or on a computer screen and wonder, “OK, where is all of this creativity?” To hearken back to the old Wendy’s ad, “Where’s the Beef?”

One of the easiest and richest sources for us to explore is our own memory. While memory is vast and all encompassing, I am referring here to a specific aspect of memory that I will call an “Image Story”.

An Image Story is name for your memory of a specific moment, relationship or event in your life that stands out from everything else. While we all have millions of memories, hearkening back to the kid who lived next door to us when we were six years old, to what we ate for dinner last night, most of these memories have no particular importance other than to record the event to which they are linked. A few images, however, are far more vivid, far more important to us - they are images that are never very far below the surface, and seem to represent to us moments of great importance. These are memories that not only recall but help us define who we really are.

These images are important. They are special, and their importance seems at first glance way out of proportion to what actually took place. They are often not major events such as marriage, a death, or a birth of a child, but for some reason they have that sort of significance. They are incidents or situations that “pop into our conscious”, unbidden, for no apparent reason. They may involve an action on our part, they might be linked to a trip or social happening, or they could exist as an isolate, and yet to us they feel like they have significance. They are important, even if we are not sure why.

One aspect of these images is that they are always personal. Although there may well have been other people who were present, we suspect those people do not place the same importance or value upon it. These are incidents that seem to rotate around us, and they are memories that focus our own feelings turned back upon ourselves. We know that although the specific event may seem commonplace in the telling, the reality is that there is far more than what is apparent. They are multi-layered and deep.

They feel like they are benchmarks - that they are epochal events, and that they define something important. Psychologists refer to a “peak experience”, an event or happening that is so significant that it is elevated far above mere normalcy. These Image Stories have that personal quality. Other memories and incidents are compared to it to establish a priority of importance and significance.

They also represent personal turning points in our lives. Though they may not have felt significant at the time, in retrospect we realize something happened here. They are defining and clarifying, they are crossroads traversed, bridges built, and rivers swum. They could represent the dawning of a new realization, a change in our direction, a new viewpoint or opinion, an introduction of a value or a belief. They are a confirmation. They are an affirmation of belief and self. They are the moments we learned to know ourselves a bit better or understood ourselves a bit more deeply.

They are important because they are such an integral part of who we think we are. We would be a different person if we didn’t have that memory, if we hadn’t lived the life that formed that memory. They are a window that allows us to see something beyond and something within - something worth knowing, seeing, understanding and certainly remembering.

OK, now I have offered a brief description and definition of the Image Story, and in the next section, I will offer some suggestions and guidelines as to how to find them, and what you can do with them. For now, let yourself wonder a bit about what I am getting at, and perhaps play with some of the thoughts that might emerge.

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. Giorgio de Chirico

The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery. Georges Braque

You are lost the instant you know what the result will be. Fernand Leger

Monday, August 03, 2009

ESSAY TWELVE – The Very Idea!

“Wow! Where do you get all of your ideas?”

For many people who dream of becoming an artist, the actual “idea” seems to be the most elusive. Where do you get that initial idea, the spark, and the inspiration - the “AHAH” light bulb over the head? To the non-artist, or the aspiring artist, those amazing, creative flashes of insight seem arcane and magical, and in truth, those catalytic moments are one of our most precious commodities. They are the source, the inspiration and in all probability, the reason that we do art in the first place. Out of nothing, something. . In viewing or reading the finished art piece, the initial idea, the starting point, is invisible, while all of the other aspects of the work of art are quite visible and easily evaluated. When looking at a completed work, often it is what we don’t see that was the inspiration and its’ reason for existence. The creation of art is often the result of joining idea and object.

To help, I’d like to draw a distinction between idea and subject matter. The subject is what you see, what is in front of you. Children’s pictures and stories are heavily loaded toward subject – a house, a tree, my cat, etc. In primary and elementary school, these simple subjects were what we relied upon, but when we got into secondary school or the university, we discovered that we were expected to abandon simple nouns and adjectives, and deal with abstractions – our writings and images were more sophisticated, and hopefully, richer. Something to consider – when we abstract, we take something obvious and concrete, and alter it in some personal or symbolic way. One result of that alteration or transformation, is that the origin may not be immediately recognizable. Even though it may have grown from that same house, tree or cat, the point of origon may no longer be obvious. A cat, whether or not it is a realistic image of little Puffy Poo, licking his paw, or an unrecognizable swirl of color or sound, that represents little Puffy Poo racing around the bedroom with a sock, is a subject. An abstraction, is not an idea, it is merely a different kind of cat. Ideas are far, far more powerful.

It is tempting to feel that as we move through our prosaic lives, we encounter nothing of import, nothing of merit – certainly nothing worthy of being our “art muse”. A wonderful example appeared on a blog entitled Tales From the Overground, written by a young woman in London. She is a self-described “hobo” and she collects stories, incidents and observation gleaned from her travels about the city, and the following overheard dialogue she transcribed is a wonderful potential art source:

The teddy bear

"Oh Andy he's such a lovely bloke, I call him my teddy bear."

That's nice I thought as I absent-mindedly eavesdropped.

"I mean seriously, he is such a lovely bloke.” Her friend made a sound like "hmmm"

"He has just got out of prison though". Her friend turned to her.

"Oh yes" she said”, what did he do?"

"Manslaughter. Although don't know how they got it down to that. He did reverse over the bloke. Twice"

"God!” Said her friend.

"No but seriously he is lovely. You just can't push him or he'll loose it"

"The thing is" said her friend "There will always be someone to push him"

The woman paused "I hadn't thought of it like that"

saturday, february 28, 2009

posted by unpaid intern at 10:28 am

On the surface, if you happened to overhear this, it is easy to dismiss the conversation as nothing but silly chatter between to young women. However, if you listen more closely to these few lines of dialogue, just think of the wonderful insights you have gleaned. You could write many paragraphs about the “girlfriend”, her judgment, her neediness and perhaps her grasp of reality. The heart of any good piece of storytelling is conflict – just what will be the reactions of the girl’s confidant? Will she try to break them up? Will she succeed? Imagine writing eight to ten more lines of dialogue where you allow the “listening” woman to present her ideas to the girlfriend, and how those ideas are received.

Story telling is one of the core concepts of any art, not just writing. When you take the actuality of the overheard conversation, and transform it into what might be or what you want to be, you have started the process of abstraction. This is one of the steps necessary in proclaiming yourself an artist. The good news is that subject matter is all around us. Look, listen, and carry a small notebook.

Looking, listening and observing are a start, but it is only when you make those snippets you encounter your own, do they start to have meaning and impact. I’d like to narrate a brief story:

I was teaching a yearlong art class to 15 and 16 year olds. We had started a unit on painting, and after covering some fundamentals; their assignment was to create an acrylic painting, based upon something that was deeply important to them. I promised they would never have to reveal the source of the idea, nor talk about what the painting represented to them– our only critique would be based upon what the rest of us could see. We had talked briefly about abstraction and the use of symbols, but the style and choice of image was up to them – my only restriction was that it couldn’t include somebody else’s story – Superman, Harry Potter or a copy of the latest Anime’ character.

“W”, who was the most promising artist in the class, divided her canvas in half horizontally, and the top, she carefully painted flat light blue and the bottom flat dark blue. Precisely in the middle of the “horizon” line, she painted a small, almost childish boat. Since this class was fourth period, immediately before lunch, it wasn’t unusual for kids to bring their lunch to class and stay and work. She did, and worked on her painting, never changing or adding, just going over what she already had. She finally told me during lunch one day, that the boat was Noah’s Ark, during the 40 days and nights rain.

A bit concerned, I mentioned to her that the assignment was to focus upon some deeply held personal belief, fear, memory or dream and not someone else’s story I asked if she was deeply religious, as perhaps her belief was her subject and the explanation for her imagery. She mentioned she was not religious, and that she had rarely been to church. Since the nature of my assignment meant that I was not allowed to dig, deeper into her idea, I gave her some pointers on perhaps making the water more dynamic or some detail to the boat, but basically, she worked non-stop, without any obvious change.

One day, while we were alone at lunch, she opened up. The boat, the Ark, represented her. Inside the boat, where we couldn’t see them, was her family. Her mother had been spiraling down into a deep depression for the past three years, and rarely came out of her bedroom. Her younger sister was becoming a social butterfly in seventh grade, and W was afraid she was also becoming very sexually promiscuous – perhaps due to her absent mother. Her father, unable to cope with his family life, rarely came home before nine or ten at night, and spent most of the weekend at the office. W saw herself, as the only salvation for her family, and she prepared meals, cleaned, took care of the rest of the family and tried to hold off the advancing waters of destruction. She was Noah, saving mankind.

Let’s go back to subject matter vs. idea and inspiration. The subject matter for W’s picture was simplistic, childish, and frankly trite for a 16 year old. Had she not finally shared some of what was inside, I obviously would never have known, and in all likelihood evaluated her project rather harshly – she obviously didn’t try very hard. Just as obviously, I now knew that her painting was as filled with passion, fervor and feelings as intense as any painting I have viewed, but also her passion was bound tightly in restraints that attempted to hold off desperation and destruction.

While over the next few weeks I was able to get her to visit with one of the schools councilors, and her family received some much needed help, I would like to return to the subject/idea topic. Without her information, I would never have known what was behind the deceptive simplicity of her work, and in truth, as her teacher I might well have given her a less than stellar evaluation. Because we had a warm relationship, I was able to understand a great deal more about the child and also her art, even if I had not been aware of the painting’s meaning. But, even if I had never discovered any of the layers of meaning, hidden in that simple painting, W would still have had the experience of presenting something of herself to the world, and knowing the satisfaction of real creation.

Over the next few essays, I would like to suggest some ways that anyone can access dreams, memories or feelings that will supply them with more ideas than they can ever use. And if, like W, you are afraid that by revealing, everyone will know your secrets, that is not the nature of art. Her painting was plain to her, but until she felt safe enough to give me a roadmap, a Rosetta Stone, it was just a dopey little boat on a bland sea.

If anyone out there has stories that they would like to share, I would love to read them. And, as usual, if you have comments, criticisms or suggestions, please either post publicly or send me an e-mail.