If there were an award given for making an effort to educate
people about art, I believe that it should go to Malcolm Morley,
a 75 year old artist who lives in New York. He invited a group
of doctors to come to a gallery and discuss art, calling it
an "art-appreciation club for doctors." He is doing
for a live audience what I attempt to do in cyberspace with
Morley chose the work of Joan Mitchell to launch a discussion
with the doctors, including some who had treated him for a broken
hip. They looked at the artwork and asked questions, which was
Morley's plan: "I found that a lot of doctors were interested
in art, but didn't know how to do anything about it."
"Does an artist plan a painting?" asked one of the
doctors. Morley answered, "You discover painting by doing
it." If you were to insert "poem" and "poetry"
into the question and answer, you would come to a major similarity
found in both means of expression. One of the basic tenets of
creativity is discovery and surprise, and you need to be in
there "doing it" in order to have it happen.
That is not to say that there is no planning involved in making
a poem or a painting. Reading hastily written notes and bits
of conversation or hearing the sound of a rhythmic line in my
head often precedes the moment when I sit at my computer to
discover if there is a poem worth pursuing. There may be pages
of research that might indicate I planned a poem, but that is
not the poem.
In the decades I have been writing, I have learned to listen
as the poem develops, and too much planning interferes. I have
grown comfortable with disregarding the hours spent following
one lead when the poem seems to be intent upon going in a different
direction. I step aside and allow it to grow. I can step in
and trim or add later. So, to paraphrase Morley's answer: "You
discover poetry by writing it." A poem that starts out
being about turtles ends up as one about fertility. That happened
in the process of writing it. Any and all information about
turtles was folded into it, sometimes disappearing like egg
yokes into cake batter.
One could argue that artists plan to a great degree. Packing
your car with paints and easel and heading for the mountains
could indicate that you were planning to make a landscape. But
you don't know what is waiting for you on that mountain. Your
plans are general: "I'm going to see what happens."
With the light. With color. With some aspect of the setting
that demands attention. A tree or a rock might end up as the
star of your painting.
You can't plan, so you get there and begin. You are in the same
boat as I am when I walk into my studio and step up to a blank
canvas. Because I paint from my imagination directly onto my
canvas, I can't plan ahead. I begin to paint.
If you walk by my studio, you might hear me chanting Cezanne's
advice over the loud music: "Paint, don't think."
I step back again and again to see where the piece wants to
go. Too much planning might interfere with the lively exchange
between me and the paint.
Like surgeons, we lay out our tools for writing or painting:
notebooks, computer, sketchbooks, palette knives, brushes, rags,
paints. We begin, and like surgeons and their attendants who
rely on their bird's eye view and monitors, we pay attention
to the patient's reactions. And we never forget that there may
be some surprises in store for us. In fact, we look forward
Next month, I will continue to explore the similarities and
differences between creating art and poetry. Contact me, email@example.com,
if you would like to get in on the discussion.