The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard. I highly recommend this book, not only to artists and writers, but anyone who is interested in living life with a greater sense of awareness.
“But how can housework be made into a creative activity? The minute we apply a glimmer of consciousness to a mechanical gesture, or practice phenomenology while polishing a piece of old furniture, we sense new impressions come into being beneath this familiar domestic duty. For consciousness rejuvenates everything, giving a quality of beginning to the most everyday actions. It even dominates memory. How wonderful it is to really become once more the inventor of a mechanical action! And so, when a poet rubs a piece of furniture-even vicariously-when he puts a little fragrant wax on his table with the woolen cloth that lends warmth to everything it touches, he creates a new object; he increases the object’s human dignity; he registers this object officially as a member of the human household… Objects that are cherished in this way really are born of an intimate light, and they attain to a higher degree of reality than indifferent objects, or those that are defined by geometric reality. For they produce a new reality of being, and they take their place not only in an order but in a community of order.“
As anyone familiar with my work can attest, I have a deep and abiding interest in geometry and order However, that geometry can feel cold and empty. I am drawn to an ascetic and severe aesthetic of sharp edges and rigid rules. I can feel a lack of warmth in my work and all but my most successful pieces feel defined only by their geometric reality. This summer one of the professors in my graduate program pointed out that all of my work depicts from a distance. Everything is on a distant horizon, shown from an aerial perspective, or abstracted to a degree that it is seen only in diagrammatic terms. I’m not sure what to do with that information yet, but I’m becoming increasingly aware that distance in my natural posture towards both art and everyday tasks. Perhaps if I begin to approach the mechanical gestures of the everyday with that glimmer of consciousness I will find a more intimate reality. Instead of the cold distant order of the theoretical I can find warmth in a community of order.
Detail of a work in progress experimenting with Dura-lar (a translucent surface) over paper. Jacob Rowan. 2016
“One prerequisite for originality is clearly that a person shall not be inclined to impose his preconceptions on the fact as he sees it. Rather, he must be able to learn something new, even if this means that the ideas and notions that are comfortable or dear to him may be overturned…It is impossible to overemphasize the significance of this kind of learning in every phase of life, and the importance of giving the action of learning itself top priority, ahead of the specific content of what is to be learned. For the action of learning is the essence of real perception, in the sense that without it a person is unable to see, in any new situation, what is fact and what is not…
…One thing that prevents us from thus giving primary emphasis to the perception of what is new and different is that we are afraid to make mistakes. From early childhood, one is taught to maintain the image of “self” or “ego” as essentially perfect. Each mistake seems to reveal that one is an inferior sort of being, who will therefore, in some way, not be fully accepted by others…Such a fear of making a mistake is added to one’s habit of mechanical perception in terms of preconceived ideas and learning only for specific utilitarians purposes. All of these combine to make a person who cannon perceive what is new and who is therefore mediocre rather than original.”
~David Bohm, On Creativity
Go buy this book and read it if you’re at all interested in the creative process. His observations apply to the entire spectrum of creative activity, from scientists to artists.
“There is a certain kind of penmanship made in schools which seems to draw around the letters of a word like a wire, and there is another kind of penmanship, much more human, that seems to be the word.
…Don’t become a victim of line.”
~Robert Henri from The Art Spirit
Find a way to make lines express what you see. Lines are not how nature expresses herself, they are a notational system for recording the experience of seeing. Properly employing that system is one of the primary concerns of drawing.
Winter by Bruce Herman
Quote from Bruce Herman: “the artist stands in relation to her art much as a parent does to her child: ‘I have not created you; you came through me, not just from me.’ But for this to happen, the artist must stand in a tradition that lends meaning to her work. Hence, the very uniqueness of the art is a dependent thing—dependent upon a past, even as it moves us into a future…our debt to tradition (whether conscious or not) ought to make us humble enough to acknowledge our debt to one another, as well, in the making and “using” of works of art. We are, all of us, both transmitters and recipients of the tradition as it lives in us, offering us, as we embody it, something authentically new. ”
You can find the complete essay here.
The difference, in very simple terms, between an artist and a craftsman is that the artist serves nature and the craftsman shapes nature to serve his needs. The artist creates to discover and to understand; the craftsman creates in order to meet a specific need (which is in no way an inferior application of creative energy).
Detail from a triptych made in response to the Tower of Babel. Each piece is 10″x40″
I’ve been searching for new ways of giving my drawings depth and a more nuanced surface. The first step in that process was grinding my own ink which allowed me to apply multiple layers and have more control over the intensity and evenness of the black. After that I started adding graphite over the black ink on watercolor paper which creates a shimmering surface that ranges from velvety black to glisteningly metallic depending on the light (see the rightmost piece). At the suggestion of a painter friend I started mixing in small amounts of acrylic ink into the fresh ground ink to give it a subtle tinge of color. I mixed a rust ochre ink into black to create the lower section of the rightmost piece. The two inks separated after a few minutes which created the grainy, earthy quality you see above.
The contemporary art world feels like a river swollen with the deluge unleashed by modernism. It rushes forward inexorable, surging through all definitions of art and breaking all conventions. This energy has opened the flood gates to all kinds of art-making and has washed away the linear progression of “isms” that marked the earlier art world. However, such energy can hardly continue forever. At some point artists must build a dam to slow this forward momentum to a steady stream while allowing the deluge to pool into the depths of a reservoir that will sustain and nourish the community around it. The wild river opened up the landscape and allowed for a global trade of ideas, but our communities need an expanse of art that will nourish them instead of rushing ever forward in the continual movement of art about art.