|Cy Twombly, Panorama, 1957|
Contemplating Cy Twombly's dark, scratchy, suggestive surface is rather like looking in a mirror in which you notice an aspect of your appearance that you had not paid much attention to before, except that what's at stake here is not a row of molars, but your inner experience. There are moods or states of mind (or soul) that are perplexingly elusive. One often has them, but can't isolate or examine them. ...de Botton goes on to describe the painting in more detail. Then he says:
We are held in the moment of being on the cusp of something. We are about to understand, but have not yet understood. This moment is important because it generally does not live up to its promise. We abandon the process of reflection. Not much of a decision about the personal meaning of love, justice or success is achieved, and we move on to something else. Looking at Twombly's painting assists us in a crucial thought: 'The part of me that wonders about important questions has not had enough recognition. I have not taken proper care of it. But now I see this part of myself reflected in the mirror of art, now I can make more of it.'Oh, I love this! He put his finger on something central to my own art-making process, one that I often feel I have to apologize for. Just hearing someone else describe that feeling of being in the place between understanding and not understanding is liberating for me.
Being comfortable with uncertainty is a theme of another book on my bedside table (I hear James laughing as he reads this - the book is actually in a stack on the floor beside the bed, there being no room on the bedside table.) The Antidote, by Oliver Burkeman, is subtitled Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking, which sounds rather grumpy, but it is delightfully witty and sensible. He considers Stoicism, Buddhism, and acceptance of failure and insecurity as approaches to a more complex, satisfying and possibly happier life than the ones typically offered by self-help gurus. I particularly like his discussion of negative capability, wherein he quotes Aldous Huxley:
Proficiency and the results of proficiency come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, of combining relaxation with activity, of letting go as a person in order that the immanent and transcendent Unknown Quantity may take hold.Yes, being in that place of uncertainty, of knowing and not knowing, being open - that is where art happens.
And finally, as part of my occasional research into matters psychological - I'm still trying to figure out what made Louis Nicolas tick - I came across a brilliant talk by psychologist Joe Griffin, whose Irish accent I could listen to all day long, about his concept of caetextia, or concept blindness, as a more accurate description of autism. His talk is an hour long, and covers all kinds of amazing things like how our brains developed to allow dreaming, how to educate children to be better people and save the planet, and even why knitting permits greater concentration (you will have to watch right to the end to find that out!)
Click here to go to his site and watch the video: The REM State, Caetextia, and the Development of Self-Concept.