Friday, October 18, 2013

Tabula rasa

"Man is a creature who walks in two worlds 
and traces upon the walls of his cave
the wonders and the nightmare experiences
of his spiritual pilgrimage."

-- Morris West

Discovery of the very first "A Face A Day" blog 10-18-13

"I've always thought that one of the most intriguing moments in human history 
was the birth of artistic imagination."

-- Kathryn Lasky

"One of the strangest things is the act of creation.
You are faced with a blank slate -- a page, a canvas,
a block of stone or wood, a silent musical instrument.
You then look inside yourself.
You pull and tug and squeeze and fish around
for slippery raw shapeless things that swim like fish made of cloud vapor
and fill you with living clamor.
You latch onto something.
And you bring it forth out of your head like Zeus giving birth to Athena.
And as it comes out, it takes shape and tangible form.
It drips on the canvas, and slides through your pen,
it springs forth and resonates into the musical strings,
and slips along the edge of the sculptor's tool onto the surface of the wood or marble.
You have given it cohesion.
You have brought forth something ordered and beautiful out of nothing.
You have glimpsed the divine."

-- Vera Nazarian, The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration

Female Figure (or Sibyl with Tabula Rasa), 1648
Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velazquez 

Okay, so I may be stretching the "disguise" theme a little bit. But it's my blog, so bear with me.

Today's "disguised" face is a blank slate disguised as a cave wall decorated with my silly attempt at a prehistoric cave drawing. My son Leo found this flat, smooth piece of slate when he was out squirrel hunting last week, and gave it to me as a gift. He said he figured I could come up with something creative to do with it.

Smart kid.

Even though today's nod to the primitive origins of artistic expression is light-hearted and simplistic, it is a subject I take very seriously, because I encounter it daily. Here's the scenario: 

I need a face for the blog, but ideas have dried up. My mind is a blank. My creative tank feels empty. I wonder, will this be the day I don't come up with something?

Then something burbles deep down inside. I see it. I watch it. I observe it as it wiggles, as it swims, as it crawls to the edge of the primordial pond and drags itself onto the shore with its little tail and flippers. It sprouts legs. It stands upright. It walks. I let it go where it wants to go, do what it wants to do. Out of my "nothing," the once-blank slate is filled.

I am neither an anthropologist nor an art historian, but the way I see it, despite our evolutionary advances over primitive people from the dawn of humanity, we have a lot in common with our ancient ancestors when it comes to art. Because the way I see it, artistic expression is not an intellectual thing. It's a visceral thing. It's a gut-level thing that rises up out of our own inner primordial ooze. 

Our minds may be superior to our prehistoric ancestors', but our guts are the same. Our hearts are the same.

In my experience, intellectualizing the creative process -- thinking about it too much -- kills it. I've found that I have a much higher success rate if I just let it evolve and stay out of its way.

I love the quote at the top of today's post, from Australian writer Morris West. It reminds me why I do what I do, why I make the pictures that I make. It's the same reason cave dwellers drew on their walls. It's why they picked up a rock or a burned stick and scraped and rubbed and drew images (sometimes crude, sometimes extremely sophisticated) for others to see.  

It's why I pick up my camera.

It's my way of saying "I was here, and this is who I was while I walked the Earth."