Friday, September 30, 2011

still in love

Friday afternoon means catching my breath before diving into the weekend's worth of work. It turns out to be a problem that I'm so bad at doing things half-way--but not a big problem.

I am slowly conquering grammar.

There are moments when I think--this is going to be ok. I can do this. Not just this, now, but this, life. We are diagramming sentences in Greek, just like when I was learning to teach English, and I remember how much I love that. A little thrill goes through me; I could actually use my CELTA when I get out of here. I'll have a bachelor's degree. I can go to China. I can have a life.

This week has been hard. You can't leave the past behind you. Yesterday we opened a cow heart, slitting the vena cava to lay it flat, cutting through the rubbery lips of the right atrium and and into the rich dark muscle of the ventricle. It is easier than I thought, up the other side and down the septum, my scalpel forcing away a perfect cross section, just like the model but so much more real, bloodier and less color coded. I have declined gloves so that I can feel the differences between flesh and vein and fat; when I lift it up the blood goes to my elbows, the meat is thick and dripping, and the veins that hang off the top are bloodstained pink. When I close my eyes to sleep, the heart is in my chest but my hands are still trying to rip it open.

So I go downstairs; my friends are talking about seminar. Georgias: better than Meno, we think? The security of military bases in Israel? What goats won't eat? How to get your taxes done? Correlations between dance ability and sexual performance? The big project Y did to clarify the logic Socrates uses about rhetoric and justice? This is a strange place full of strange people, and most of us didn't belong anywhere else. It is good to come home.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Reflections on Study On Automatism

Recently I’ve adopted a new hypothesis about my own art, such as it is—my writing. For me, language feels like a vast interconnected web of meaning. Each word is a node with many roots and branches. When I see the word “fort,” I think of a military base, but in my mind the words “fortitude” and “forbearance” cluster nearby. Not much further along the web, the French connotations of strength and loudness echo. These associations come from my experience with language; I imagine some are legitimately etymological, but many aren’t. I often choose my words specifically for their significance in my web of meaning, and I am never exactly sure how much my web overlaps with anyone else’s. My hypothesis is: perhaps when I am attached to my words, even though they are not as clear to others as they should be, I’m searching for a reader whose web of meaning and perhaps experience overlaps my own.

Perhaps this is why I am drawn to abstract impressionism and automatism. Alongside our verbal language, maybe the world we live in presents each of us with a visual vocabulary; perhaps we each have a web of meaning where we remember how blue is peaceful and diagonals signify mid-motion. Abstract paintings play with visual language closer to the center of the web than most other images in art. I have seen “green” and “round” many more times than I’ve seen “vegetable garden” or “face of a pale woman with dark hair.” As such, these simpler visual components are both more resonant and less precise. It is as if the painter is searching for a viewer whose web of meaning overlaps his own, but rather than satisfying himself with the people for whom “face of a pale woman with dark hair” means quite the same thing as it does to him*, he reaches for a more primal vocabulary.

I found Robert Motherwell’s Study On Automatism beautiful and interesting. It is not large, and the pale green of the gallery walls set off its blue and ocher beautifully. The composition features a strong diagonal from the bottom-left to the top-right of canvas. One of the most striking elements is the high contrast between the portions of the canvas covered in lighter colors and those covered in black. To me the abstract shapes suggest old, geometrically torn paper against a black background, but there’s ambiguity about what is foreground and what is background, and about whether background and foreground are present at all. Like the classic image that can be seen as a young woman or as an old one, we may see ochre over black, or we may see black blocking off ochre—or we may see neither. On top of this ambiguity, there’s a terrific sense of depth. The black is clear and calm, and the shading of the ocher grants the image a sense of nuance; if this is paper, it has been crumpled a bit, and if it is against the black, we may be looking into a bottomless void. The deep warmth of the ocher is balanced by the black, and by the coolness of the gray-blue that looks to be smeared around the lower left corner of the canvas.

Black scribbles across the lighter portions of the canvas, which are mostly shades of golden ocher, are reminiscent of a child’s drawings or first attempts to write. There is a delightful contrast between the playfulness of those scribbles and the obvious adult competence other aspects of the painting demonstrate. As a whole the lines are too straight, the colors too pure, for this to have come from the hand of a child—and yet, certain elements of the painting seem to have been created with such freedom and carelessness that they might as well have been. The gray-blue and white paint in the lower left quadrant once more mimic a child’s work, applied in simple strokes up and down with little precision and little depth that doesn’t come from the context. Additionally, there are places where the black and ochre paint smear into one another and the “paper” edges fade into the black, breaking the strong lines and strong color distinctions that are so striking on first look.

I don’t know much about aesthetic theory, but I guess that balance, contrast, and strong associations—perhaps even in common with the artist—are what make this painting so pleasurable for me to experience.

Friday, September 2, 2011

I will buy you a new life. . .

So. . . finally starting to get my feet here at St. John's. The campus is beautiful. The people are fascinating. The food is awesome; less awesome, I think, if you're less vegetarian-leaning or more vegan-leaning than myself, but it works out well for me. Despite all this, integrating the fantasy with the reality seems to be challenging me a little.

Math is my favorite class, which at least so far consists of playing with Euclid. I find myself relieved to be assigned papers (even papers like the one from my Greek tutor, who requires us to pick a piece from the modern art gallery on campus and write about it) because it's nice to have something so familiar as writing to work on. Seminar started out a little terrible but seems to be rapidly improving; last night someone gave an interpretation that made me want to go back and read the entire Iliad a third time.

I think the part I least expected is the 57 hour work week, and figuring out how to deal with that and not go insane has been consuming most of my time and energy. Since that's what I've been thinking about, that's what you get. :)

Strategies :
-Walk more, carry less. This works out to taking my books to my dorm before meals and picking them up after, rather than carrying them around. . . hopefully, it will result in less pain and a little more exercise.
-Drop the homework at bedtime.
-Make sure I sit with talkable people at meals, find study groups, and hang out after seminar (but not too late).
-Do my PT. :/
-Read ahead on the weekends, to not die on Thursdays.

Previously established rules that are turning out to still be really important:
-Write when I need to
-Try to be outside around sunset as often as possible
-Take the time to practice music, even in little five and ten minute chunks, when I get the chance

I need to write more. Also, I'm gonna go write some papers (which shall probably find their way here) and then meet up with my Greek study group.