At the weekend I listened to a Radio 3 programme about jazz pianist and composer Keith Tippett. I was struck by a quote from him: he said that when he was doing his best work it came from his subconscious and all that his conscious mind did was to ‘collate’ the results. I can really relate to this image and it reminds me of what I was trying to get at in my last post. I like the idea of collating. It suggests allowing the conscious mind to do what it does best and the unconscious what it does best; like they both have their own distinct and complimentary purposes. I think that sometimes I have the notion that the two minds are like matter and antimatter; that the subconscious is some kind of dangerous, destructive antimatter, which threatens to annihilate in a flash the order and light created by the conscious mind. Maybe it helps to see them working together at different ends of the same problem.
(Dan Fern, the head of graphics and illustration at the Royal College of Art, once said to me when I was a student that some of us do our work and then go looking for what it meant afterwards – I think I’d probably expressed that I struggled to think like an illustrator and follow a brief. I couldn’t help feeling like it was a bit of a helpless comment. When I went across to speak to the painting tutors, I was told that I needed a ‘methodology’, which made me think that making art was like some kind of science – which, reading some artists’ statements, one would think it was. That, by the way, is the archetypical art school experience: being told seemingly opposite things by different tutors – I was also told by my illustration tutor that I thought too much and by the painting tutor that I needed to think more. In a way, in both cases, both were right. It’s also indicative of the differences of the two departments at that time: the illustration and graphics department wanted to be a fine art department and so eschewed anything that smacked of method so as to be ‘free’ like they imagined the fine artists to be, and the painting department seemed to me to want to be a social science department. I remember reading the labels of paintings in one of the painting interim shows and thinking I was reading PhD thesis abstracts. One of the paintings was a picture of a field of cows).
I feel like at the moment I’m going through a ‘subconscious’ phase, because I’m following my nose rather than my head (interesting pair of metaphors!). At some point, I hope, I’ll do some collating and make a bit of sense as well (just following instinct all the time is as dissatisfying as just having rationally thought out ideas). However, I’m learning to stop trying to force that to happen too soon. It feels like being a cat sitting patiently by a mouse hole for an elusive little mouse-thought to pop out, which will make a bit of my project make sense. Don’t pounce too soon! (Irrelevant thought: I once liked a girl who stared so intently when she was reading that she reminded me precisely of a cat staring at a mouse hole).