Hi Everyone, I find the current mode of thesis discussions not as productive as they could be–as is evidenced by the difficulty nearly everyone is having in figuring out exactly what they’re doing. So I wanted to share something I read this morning that I thought might be helpful.
Excerpted from a talk by William Kentridge at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago.
- William Kentridge (b. 1955) De Peccato Originali with Three Figures in Procession, 2000
A rational description would be imperfect and arrived at with difficulty. Recognition is immediate and effortless… one does not have to translate what one has seen into a rationalist model before it becomes a usable piece of knowledge.
…I take a sheet of black paper, I tear it into three or four shapes and place them next to each other. Now as a purist I can defy nature, and say these are four abstract shapes of black paper on a white ground, perhaps overlapping. But removing monasticism and dogmatics, things start to emerge. In this combination they are a dog, in this combination, a man with a stick, I tilt the piece forward and he ages, I lean it back slightly and he gains in arrogance. There is a process here of the eye saying, “Let me show you what I know of the world.”… If I had started the other way around, and said “Let me make a shadow figure of someone with a limp”, I would be hard pressed to do it.
The best I can do is to set in place strategies to allow this image of a limp to emerge. When Rembrandt draws his woman teaching a child to walk, or Picasso does the same, they are not saying, “I know what this looks like and will carry it out”, they are saying, “Let me work with a looseness or openness that will allow to emerge what I cannot describe or give instructions for, but I will recognise as it emerges.”
This process is not a preserve of artists, talented or gifted people, it is fundamental to what it is to be sighted in the world, an oscillation between openness and recognition. The exercise I have described works as well with an eight-year old, as with MA students.
I did a workshop with eight-year old scholars at my children’s school. They cut or tore roughly the elements of a vertebrate–a head, limbs, torso, pelvis. And they made a dog doing a somersault, a dinosaur rearing on its hind legs…if we had started the other way, this would have been impossible, of course. None of them could say or draw what a dog doing a somersault looked like, but all could recognize it as it appeared before them, made by them.
- William Kentridge’s “Act IV Scene 7″ from “Ubu Tells the Truth”
… This is not a deep or novel insight — but it is remarkable how we take it for granted, and naturalise our seeing into something purely objective. And if there is one thing that art can make clear, it is to make us conscious of the precept “always be mediating”. All calls to certainty, whether of political jingoism or of objective knowledge, have an authoritarian origin relying on blindness and coercion– which are fundamentally inimical to what it is to be alive in the world with one’s eyes open.
In doing projects at ITP, I’ve felt that rarely do we get an opportunity to fully trust our own creative process because we are constantly asked to predetermine or question the path of this creativity. It is stifling, and undermines the genuine value of our instincts and impulses in leading us to unforeseen conclusions that are illuminating. It drains the exhilaration out of the unfolding process, and makes it strenuous and angstful. In doing thesis, we have the opportunity to discover ourselves as Sighted creatures, in Kentridge’s sense of the word. That this sight is beyond the grasp of the brain, but extends to all tools, means and experiences open to us as human beings. All tools that exist to aid us in our quest to bring our unique message to the world.