I believe that all great art holds the power to dissolve things: time, distance, difference, injustice, alienation, despair. I believe that all great art holds the power to mend things: join, comfort, inspire hope in fellowship, reconcile us to our selves. Art is good for my soul precisely because it reminds me that we have souls in the first place.
We stand before a work of art and our spirit is lifted by it: amazing that someone is like us! We stand before a work of art and our spirit resists: amazing that someone is different!
…Perhaps the most radical suggestion we can make about ourselves is not that we are not different. Or even that we are. But that we are both.
– From The Question of Light: Tilda Swinton’s speech at the Rothko Chapel
I don’t really want to tell people how to interpret my poetry. I want people to do some work and climb in there amongst the vowels and stanzas, try out the fit of the words, imagine the spaces, dive from the apostrophes and hang off the commas. I want the piece to be fluid for you in the way it moves around you and where it comes to rest inside you. Or perhaps it will just drain away.
At school when we were told how to interpret a piece of writing I sometimes wondered what the author would say about what they apparently meant. Sometimes I don’t want it to be absolute.
And then I look at abstract art and realise that meaning really starts to emerge and evolve for me when I’ve been invited in. I find talking about art with someone who more readily processes it gives me that invitation, a starting point, some doors through which to enter the piece.
I looked at some abstract landscapes today at an Elisabeth Cummings exhibition and I liked the colours and the marks or I didn’t, and that was kind of it. Until I asked a practicing artist what she sees and likes. She likes it so much she has to close her eyes, it’s too much. Sometimes I get that from words.
Her words noted the layers that move in front or behind, creating the movement you would experience in a landscape where the light is moving and you’re moving and the landscape is moving. Suddenly the canvas had depth for me and was no longer just canvas, it was place.
We talked about how for some people there is processing in their brain, maybe in their subconscious that allows them to readily experience the abstract landscape in the way my artist companion does. That you might see abstract landscape as a dialect of the language of painting, and poetry then, as a dialect of writing. It’s one translation, and different translations may be more accessible or may inadvertently shut you out. We may prefer a scientific representation of landscape that catalogues the leaves and the trees they danced from. Or as with Cummings’ works, we may be better engaged by the patterning in abstract that is present but not causing order or stricture. Access and assess as you will without restriction or imposition.
The way I could draw as a kid (okay and as an adult) was stick people, and like with Lego where I religiously made the same house in the same way every time, I could draw a square, triangle, oblong doorway, cross for window add a chimney with a cloud that was smoke. It was always daytime. There were usually birds drawn with the letter m. I quite liked join the dots.
But it’s not always about joining the dots. Sometimes I think you have to relax the immediate urge to recognise. To be prepared to start to discover before you see definite shape and pattern. Be fluid in touching shape, form, meaning, colour, location, and pause. No unconsidered filing or automated unifying into a schema.
I’m interested in this as metaphor for the human condition and for how we are with one another. Confrontation, conclusion, discovery, harmony, dissonance, sympathetic contract, empathetic comprehension, can take time and begs openness. Give me human, give me different, give me abstract, give me outside of social norms, give me eccentric and lots of dialects even if I won’t always understand them and even if they will be ever changing.
There’s changeability more readily apparent in my own abstraction but it can be uncomfortable when I suspect it’s more mess than clarity and I want to be a more representational landscape, as if that will mean I look more firm and set and acceptable. But there’s fluidity in people and of life itself, by its nature. Sometimes we’re trying to hold the seams closed so the fluid doesn’t escape or change our shape. Pulling up the skin on my thigh, pinching closed the hole in my side, hoping you might miss the patterns, and with grace you will touch the marks without judgement.
Let me anchor my thoughts about you loosely with space and wings to move me, knowing you may add more strokes and marks on the canvas, create colours, opt to scratch through and reveal, paint white radically. And let my winged anchor be agile and true and make its way there to be in the depths of who you are, not what someone else deems you should be.