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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Using Tools: Conscious or Unconscious?

Responding to last week's post about rhythm, Diana asked: "Do you think this is something most artists do consciously or unconsciously?"

It's an important question and might point to why some artists resist compositional principles altogether. My initial answer is what I always say to my students: Learn it but don't think about it while you're painting. We must stay unconscious of the tools while we're using them, else we loose spontaneity. That might sound a bit counter-intuitive, but it's necessary.

To illustrate, think about Mozart's pen moving at break-neck speed, musical sounds registering in his brain with each notation and chord shift that became visible on his blank score sheet, how each sheet filled and looked like spots from a major bug race to anybody but a musician who could read it.

A sheet from a Mozart manuscript. Have not yet been able to identify from which work.

I don't see what we do as painters as being much different.
But here's the sticking point: Mozart was not born knowing how to write music just as we are not born knowing how to read or write an English sentence or how to compose a painting. Mozart studied and learned the language of music and the principles of composing music. And because he had learned it so well, he could write it without thinking, in an unconscious mode, within the form he wanted it to take.

And so the conscious thinking must precede the creation, must be a part of the learning process. It goes back to the right-brain/left-brain theory: the right brain can function at its maximum only when the left brain has first functioned at its maximum. The left brain learns a skill, principle, or technique well enough for it to become habit, and files in the unconscious mind. The right brain then has this stuff accessible to use while engaging in its creative activity. All this can happen over a period of time or while engaged in an activity--the left brain identifies, then the right brain responds and expresses.

It's heathly for artists to do analytical activities using the left brain to learn and to store skills and knowlege in the unconscious mind. That's why to learn the compositional principles will free an artists to be more creative so long as consciousness of those principles doesn't interfere and stiffle the process.

What we want in the long run is wholism: we want the muse to guide us as we respond directly but we also want to know what we're doing. Another analogy is a race car driver who has learned and perfected the skills of driving so that while in a race, the response is unconscious but quick and controlled. That's wholism.


Diana Moses Botkin said...

You've explained this so well, Dianne. I always learn something from what you show and tell!

Linda Blondheim said...

I like to think of our design tool box as the underpinning or foundation of our possibilities. We know we have the solidity of this knowledge at our disposal but the more adventurous free spirit lifts us above the foundation to create the top floors.

Dianne Mize said...

Thanks, Diana. It's that ole teacher in me that just won't retire, but then my college students used to beg me to write a book. I guess that's what I'm doing.

Dianne Mize said...

Good point, Linda. That's somewhat an extension of what I'm saying here. One analogy I used with my students is that the design is like the structure of a house. We see it only as it's being dried in, but without it, the house could not stand or have form.

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