We took ourselves for a day out. An antidote to all the crap ricocheting around the world and pinging into the inboxes of the apps on our devices in a torrent of doom and gloom. Every conversation I have these days on or off line involves climate crisis, Brexit, and injustice and inequality. Often in the same sentence. In the case of one of my ‘hippie since the the sixties’ friends, all delivered with more than a dash of schadenfreude. Sort of “I told you to stop consuming but you didn’t listen and now I’m old and it isn’t going to be me that cops the shit” schadenfreude. At the same time our message feeds have been full of texts from our metropolitan, liberal elite friends asking after cabbage picking jobs in France.
Humanity seems intent on trashing the planet and itself with it. It doesn’t bear thinking about so we decided not to and to go and enjoy ourselves instead.
Yesterday was a glorious October day. Misty sunrise followed by cloudless blue skies and bright, warm sunshine. So off we went with a vow of silence on Brexit, politicians of all shades, capitalism and all things other than the present moment and where we were going to eat our picnic.
The alignments at Carnac are ancient. We make intelligent (and not so intelligent guesses) at the place’s original meaning and purpose but since no one involved published an artist’s statement or a funding proposal about its construction we don’t bloody know and probably never will. I like that. I also think my partner’s opinion that it was some kind of prehistoric welfare to work scheme is as likely as any other. ‘Good harvest – lots of underemployed young men – get them hauling stones to build a community centre’.
For me its original purpose matters less than what it has become to us now. What we look at is not what the builders saw either physically or emotionally. The stones have weathered into new forms over the millennia. Our emotional response to them is coloured by our culture.
So each of us relates to the stones in our own individual way. Each person takes from them what they need or want. Every time we look at a painting or a statue, listen to a particular piece of music or read a familiar book our response is conditioned by our own current mental attitude and mood. We see something new or we like something more, or less, or we have a different understanding.
My response yesterday was to see the art in the stones. The sculptural forms and subtle colours of rock and lichen. The play of light and shade. The references I noticed to modern art and undoubtedly the inspiration some sculptors found in the ancient connects us in a full circle of shared humanity. Though where I saw a reference to Klimt’s seeing kiss one of my freer thinking friends insisted on a pair of elephant seals. So that was that one ruined!
The clenched fist – the symbol of protest and resistance. Produced by centuries of weathering and abrasion. In the way that oppression wears down and abrades people’s spirits until they rise up and rebel.
It’s worth remembering that for all its scary present troubles the world is a beautiful place. That humanity contains not just the worst of emotions and impulses but also the best. David’s day was spent studying the small intricacies of life. Filming the crickets and moths and grasshoppers; the way the blades of grass stirred in the breeze and cast shadows on the stones. A bumble bee feeding on a pine cone. Wasps gorging themselves on the fallen cider apples. The way life goes on in and around the big, momentous, things, untouched by them.
I picked up three of the apples and put them on one of the stones to photograph them. Apples have been cultivated since the 3rd millennium BC and have a rich symbolism and history. Associated with the otherworld and the land of youth.
The people who made these alignments would have been familiar with this type of small semi wild fruit. As I stood there with them in my hand I felt the thread of connection stretching back through time. Joining me to the original makers of this place in a way that the stones themselves did not despite the fact they have been there all the time whereas countless apple trees have grown and died and grown again in the centuries that have passed.
Making and Becoming
I spotted a piece of wood with possibilities while we were sitting under some pines eating our picnic. Both David and I were the sort of children who collected interesting objects (feathers, stones, bits of bone, wood, shells, broken bits of machinery, etc., etc.) neither of us has out grown the habit and with his enthusiastic endorsement of ‘that’s fantastic looks like waves’. I tucked it under my arm and brought it home. I photographed it on the tarmac outside the house when I got back so that I’d have a record of it in the state in which I found it. The piece of wood was pretty dirty and definitely not far off crumbling completely.
Found Art is one of my enthusiasms but usually I only photograph it in situ and leave it there. This time I decided to work on it and see where it took me.
I set to work cleaning, treating, sanding, oiling, polishing. A continuation of my ‘Antidote to Doom and Gloom’. The physical act of working on a piece of art is wonderfully absorbing. To begin with I had to pay close attention because it was extremely fragile and the last thing I wanted was for it to break into pieces but by the time it reached the stage of beeswax and polishing it had achieved its final form and the whole process became a meditation. Sitting in the sun rubbing a piece of cloth backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards slowly bringing out the different colours and the patina.
While I was doing this I found myself pondering about the idea of making and the idea of becoming (in the sense of beginning to be). Making contains both the meaning of process of creating and the the essential qualities needed for something. Michelangelo’s statement that ‘Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the sculptor’s task to discover it’ encompasses both meanings. But in the found art piece it seemed to me the wood itself played an active part. It transformed and emerged and the finished piece had its own identity.
The ‘finished’ piece and I use finished only in the sense that I stopped working on it has its own definite character and energy. My hands picking at a bit here, sanding off a rough bit there and polishing it for hours merely allowed this creature to be caught in the moment of its transformation from one thing to another. Certainly not the waves we both initially saw in the wood but an ancient and powerful beast.
It seems to me that making and becoming are inseparable not just in the artistic process but in everything. If we make something without allowing it also to emerge then we have a flawed end result. We risk imposing our intent to make and suppressing the innate form or feeling. So I could have imposed my initial response of waves on to the piece of wood and I might have been pleased with the result. Impossible to know because I allowed the wood to play an active part and it became this wonderful beast raising its head perhaps to taste the air or perhaps to roar a challenge. Everyone has their own view.
I suppose I’m contrasting the idea of making as a conscious act of will and becoming as the opposite process of emergence. Slower and less conscious. Contrasting the yang energy of making with the yin energy of becoming. Ideally the two should work in harmony blending seamlessly together.
Perhaps that is most of what is wrong with the world at the moment; too much making and not enough becoming. Not enough standing back and encountering.
Making and Becoming are words and as such are metaphors which we use to communicate. Each of us will share some meaning in common but I doubt whether any two people have exactly the same nuances and harmonics of reference attached to these labels. That is what makes it so interesting. It is why creative pieces, whether written or visual or aural take on a life of their own once their enabler/maker has let go of them.
Musings on the interaction and interplay between the ideas represented by ‘making’ and ‘becoming’ led to an emergence of some unexpected connections in my mental universe. One of the chaos chains of association led me to Newton’s third law
‘When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body.’ Or ‘for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction’.
It struck me that you could replace action with idea. ‘For every idea there is an equal and opposite idea.’ For democracy there is totalitarianism, for good there is evil, even the idea that the earth is round is opposed by flat earthers, evolution by creationism. I’m sure you get the point. So how does this relate to making and becoming? Is it that one necessarily causes the other because they are the two forces needed in the creative process? One might say the opposing force to making is destroying but destroying is not the only opposite of making. It is quite possible to have multiple opposites. One opposite of making is becoming. Becoming is a process, the same as making but without conscious will. When we give it space it emerges, it pushes back against being made in favour of making itself with the artist as enabler. Letting the work emerge by letting the creative process flow through us. When I write I try to let the characters develop their own voice, their own reality. They ‘become’ and that I think is the secret to the reader believing in them and their world.
I feel strongly that the most rewarding part of being creative is the process. That is what illuminates the mind and spirit and energises the body. The book, the poem, the picture, the song are the by product of this alchemy. The tangible result that we share with others. All of us share in the process of making and becoming because my creation is altered by your observation and response to it and by every subsequent person’s reaction.
So Words are metaphors. Art and Music are metaphors. Everything is metaphor because we imagine a shared reality that we can only describe in metaphor.