“It is only through the senses that we experience what it means to be fully human. It is only through the engaged senses that we are able to feel desire and intimacy, the great longing to be fully, and utterly in the world. But it is only through the honest and engaged sense that we will come to appreciate the living world as it truly is, both wildly beautiful and endangered. Cultivating our perceptual capacity is fundamentally related to both the quality of our personal lives and restoring the quality of life on the planet”.
Laura Sewall, Sight and Sensibility: The Ecopsychology of Perception (2000, p14)
“One eye sees, the other feels” – Paul Klee
– To be read as ‘I see’
Paradoxically this essay as a wandering map of sorts for the setting of way markers, findings and paths through the processes, contexts and other thinking that went into the making of recent artworks centered around an outdoor drawing practice. The sense of perception is the guiding principle for this essay as it is the practice and the context of visual artworks of drawings, paintings and prints made outdoors in situ that I am navigating within this essay.
The Process and Practice of How
In the beginning an intention to go somewhere combined with the organisation of supplies and materials essential for a journey that will cross thresholds both physical and mental and that will temporally shift between states that both are conscious and unconscious, so that ‘place and mind may interpenetrate till the nature of both is altered’. (N. Shepherd)
In my interactions with the world more things and various happenings than I can possibly engage with in a single drawing. limitation through bodily stillness and the simple act of attentiveness to place and a reaching out towards an active engagement with the surroundings through making marks in the heat of the moment on paper. contours, outlines and spaces appear whilst the hand lyrically dances from paint to paper to describe its touching and responsive attentions to the world. a process of art-making that is spontaneous and gestural and sustained by a trust in the world as a place of serendipitous happenings. resemblances emerging from a chaos that is mark, colour, shape and erasures. this way of art-making as an attentive mode of listening-to and being-in the world.
“It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look” (Thoreau, Walden, II)
Working outdoors time disappearing, weather passing, light shining and other things happening on the way. a world in constant motion and flux, a life world where knowledge is gained through the doing. As the anthropologist Tim Ingold in his book The Perception of the Environment says ‘we know as we go, not before we go: knowledge is an active, creative, performative process that we undertake by being and moving in the world’.
between the material flux of things and the mental flow of ‘knowing as you go’ the work ostensibly producing itself. As Paul Cezanne noted ‘The landscape thinks itself in me and I am its consciousness’. (1) a universe revealing itself on the end of a paintbrush as ‘something of the life of a place gets into the image’ (Bolt) and once a work is relocated that ‘images leak into the world and produce it in some unforeseen way’. (Bolt, p187)
in the up down rhythmic exploration of both walking and drawing both the fine details of ground and paper and the immensity of the horizon. Sounds are better heard when indeterminately; when the head is dipped or in an upward sun blinded gaze. noises as merging with the modulations of outlines of things and mixed in with the periodicity of weather, light, rhythms and dissonance. this multi-sensed range of perspectives and phenomena as going past mere appearances toward an authentic encounter with a place realised through a symbiotic causal material response and a thinking hand to make, and to bring to the fore, a whole range of metaphors and signs that inform and interrupt in surprising ways. (2)
“Immersed in the visible by his body, itself visible, the see-er does not appropriate what he sees; he merely approaches it by looking, he opens himself to the world.” (Merleau-Ponty, Eye and Mind, p162) (3)
sketches as questions in the process of asking and the true nature of a drawing revealed sometimes only once relocated indoors and others only after a very significant period of time has passed. the field drawings as the residual traces of an experience of a place (not for but as a part of the world) and displacing the artwork from its outdoor place of creation to a building in a city changes it (a cultural enframing) into an institutional context regulated by conventions and codes.
Historical (and Gendered) Legacies of Representing the Land
As a woman working outdoors few women to look at as role models and precursors to an outdoor sited art practice. Joan Eardley, Georgia O Keefe and some members of the Hudson River School being among the few. also that these women, and also myself, drawing outside from life are all generally below, beside or within the landscape rather than above it. that going to far or too high is not practical or possible with children in tow or in the limited time slots available. But also that landscape representation in painting is a tricky subject, its very nature (despite very different intentions and results) often associated with amateurishness due to 19th century travel sketches that resulted from colonialism and European travel in lieu of holiday snaps.(4)
And also , that in the fine art landscape tradition, the legacy of Romanticism has been to emphasise the place of the individual hero (people climbing up, digging into, building on) within nature (to invent the ideal) rather than offering natural environments as subjects with a life essence of their own and therefore on a level par with man. (5) that by placing oneself ‘Beside the Mountains‘ rather than above, (which is the philosophy of ‘going, knowing and growing’, expounded in the meditative writing of walking in the Cairngorms in the book ‘The Living Mountain’ by Nan Shepherd), there is enhanced potential to enhance individual connection and responsibility to the environmental discourses and interactions of contemporary global living. (6)
‘Yet often the mountain gives itself most completely when I have no destination, when I reach nowhere in particular, but have gone out merely to be with the mountain as one visits a friend with no intention but to be with him. Knowing another is endless. And I have discovered that mans experience of them enlarges a rock flower and bird. The thing to be known grows with the knowing’. N. Shepherd
– Witnessing and Ethics of a Land based Practice
in contemporary representations of landscape that an experiential encounter in nature with qualities of the sublime are now infused with the knowledge (fear?) of current environmental discourses and the threat to the earth’s species including the human.
“The origin of surprise is the break (the pause, the rupture) between one’s sensibility and one’s powers of representation… The recuperation that follows the break between one’s sensibility and one’s representational capability leads to sublimity and the subsequent feelings of admiration and/or responsibility, allowing for the intertwining of aesthetics and ethics… The roles of aesthetics and ethics—that is, the roles of artistic and moral judgments, are very relevant to contemporary society and business practices, especially in light of the technological advances that have resulted in the explosion of visual culture and in the mixture of awe and apprehension as we consider the future of humanity.”
Jadranka Skorin-Kapov in The Intertwining of Aesthetics and Ethics: Exceeding of Expectations, Ecstasy, Sublimity
by presenting edge places as subjects within aesthetic artworks that they become visual calls (performing a cultural action on the world) for people to leave buildings and experience places for themselves. To spend time connecting, immersing and entangling, themselves first hand and to create openings through this for personal journeys of transformation and an expansion of care and concern, as Henri Thoreau notes “a man has not seen a thing who has not felt it.” (Journal, 2/23/60) (7)
that privilege (access through money, education and culture) also plays a part in journeys and in experiences of them. In ‘The Great Outdoors Scene’ (8) from the film Trainspotting the films socio-economic lens turned onto the subject of landscape appreciation means that that what you and depends on where we are looking at it from; the ‘where’ being the site of the body and the gender, class, ethnic factors etc. that dictate its experiences and its understandings of the world.
also that in current western society people often look to edge places for the ‘rural idyll’. But that spending time by yourself beside a mountain or in any other rural setting, is never the escape or promise of well being and perfect focus that it might romantically pertain to be. Spending time in these places harsh weather conditions, midges, challenging socio-economic conditions and tragic ruinous histories not to forget the awfulness and debilitating effects of cabin fever.
Sometimes the outer ‘‘ is not enough to convey everything that becomes known or experienced in a place. Sometimes the inner ‘‘ is better conveyed through other art forms such as writing. Sometimes the complexity of a situation or place needs two . (9)
The audience joins in the conversation and through them things that were previously hidden. the creative process continue even though the practical work is done.
The title ‘Art Proceeds Without A Map’ is inspired by an interview (The Guardian) with the poet Kathleen Jamie where she relates the feeling (after finishing a book) of the dismantling of the self that has to occur before she feels able to take on a new ‘set of interests, ideas and concerns’ in the interview she states that ‘it seems to me that if you know precisely what you’ve done, or are going to do then it’s a project. Projects are not art. Art proceeds without a map’. This essay was inspired by a need to reflect on a process of ‘knowing as you go’ in the creation of artworks during my masters course; a means of making that was a journey without a map. through reflection and language this essay has become a backward sort of a map and an attempt to dismantle the old self to make way for the new.
(1) Merleau Ponty called Cezanne’s paintings ‘auto figurative’. They were not representative windows onto the world but brought themselves into being.
“The painting relates to nothing at all among experience and things unless it is first of all auto figurative.It is a spectacle of something only by being a spectacle of nothing, by breaking the skin of things, to show how things become things, how the world becomes world. The worlds instant is still hurled towards us by his painting”. (‘Eye and Mind’ 130.)
(2) This way of making also challenges the current domination of technology such as cameras, satellites, drones etc. as accurate ways in which to view the world.
(3) Belonging a theory of being is Heidegger’s phenomenology in which human being is defined as a Da-sein, a ‘being there, with the crucial message being that any reference to a human being has to include the environment, the thereness of which they are a part.
(4) Jeanette Winterston wrote in an article noted Eva Hesse’s terror of being dismissed as merely decorative, of being pretty, pleasing, easy on the eye calling it a gender terror. For Hesse the special problems of being female meshed with the overriding aesthetic of transgressive art: don’t be nice. https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2002/nov/13/art.artsfeatures
(5) “The philosopher who seeks knowledge through experience should therefore not be surprised to discover beauty and order in natural phenomena. However, these properties are not projected onto nature from an external perspective—rather, they emerge from within the self-maintaining processes of organic life. And the entire environment, the “living earth” itself, has something like a life of its own, containing but not reducible to the biotic existence of animals and plants (Walden, XVII). This is what he elsewhere describes as the “slumbering subterranean fire in nature which never goes out” (“A Winter Walk”)”. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/thoreau/
(6) Ecology here is shown in its original meaning of belonging, oikos (eco) meaning house. Objects and concepts that might ordinarily be seen as remote or unrelated are shown to have a power and possibilities for expression which can present themselves as alternatives to routine, object directed, goal directed perception.
(7) This is a form of care in the sense that what is experienced does not occur as an object that one can throw or walk away from, but as a part of a network of interests and concerns that that resists acts of separation and isolation. Timothy Morton writes in ‘The ecological Thought’ that nature is often thought of as “a reified thing in the distance, under the sidewalk, on the other side where the grass is always greener, preferably in the mountains, in the wild, when it should be a way of thinking in which every thought has coexistence and interconnection as its foundation”
(8) Synopsis:- The friends having just arrived at Rannoch moor train station sit on a bridge looking toward the mountain path while an exuberant Tommy strides out towards the expanse, saying ‘Doesn’t it make you feel proud to be Scottish?’ to which he receives an expletive filled outpouring from Renton about all the reasons why it doesn’t and why he being Scottish ‘is shite’.
(9) The text/ image bookwork Genius Loci – The Walk to the Cave was made in realisation of the need for a multi-modal form of art-making about an experience of a place.