Evolving Images: Catanese in Process: #4

"An Effort in Collaboration":
Immediacy and the Slowness of Time

Story Evolution

A dialogue triggered by Grobstein's
Writing Descartes ...

Evolving Images: Catanese in Process: #5

For those who may be interested in tracing how the present arises from the past, a little geneology: the grandfather of this conversation is Paul Grobstein's Writing Descartes. Its more immediate parents are Revising 21st Century Education, "Listening to Oneself," and The Accessibility and Assailability of Pictures. Those with no interest in back-stories can easily read on. And all are warmly invited to join in further conversation.

Just wanted to e mail you because I read Sam's response to you and thought it was exciting and think that it would really intersect well with the art dialogue--I guess what we've been talking about all along... it ALL links... but I was wondering if maybe Sam could say what he thought about putting art online as opposed to in a gallery setting... basically the assailability and accessability issue. So maybe you could ask him? He said "but we have cut off our bases, cut off the individual genius because now everyone has a similar mindset"... I agree with you (and Sharon) that the time to learn and share is necessary--and that ultimately an effort in collaboration is quite productive... evidenced by the fact that Serendip has been occupying a lot of my thoughts lately--But maybe somehow we are all building cathedrals which have less and less stained glass--Are we building structure without art? I want more of what Sam thinks... I want him to push more in the direction that he's going even though my impulse is to disagree in many spots- am I corrupted having spent so much time in the Petri dish?

I know that what I feel after I post something on Serendip or e mail you or anyone is this need to get a response--a need which I don't feel when I'm working alone, in a studio or just reading or writing- this need for immediacy which is not inherent to me at any other time... If my work is up for so many eyes to see... I somehow need to know what they are seeing-- (and I know that the nature of the response is not full and total... the number of people who see and the number of people who comment are two different numbers). And the time waiting for a response is spent worrying rather than being creative. If I'm working alone I don't have this pressure... It's like the internet, all the joys of sharing--all the amazing intellectual/fun activity MUST by their very nature rush the participant. Or perhaps certain participants? More introverted participants? This is why I've stopped posting on the forum. I cannot go slowly... I cannot give myself room to breathe and digest ideas- I am too nervous about protecting something fragile that may have been revealed in a post or elsewhere... using all the words that I can to be as truthful as possible--to be seen with the best story... and if I break for a little bit I feel guilty...so that is why my break has been somewhat total-- But that is not right either-- The image that just came to my mind is that Serendip can be like an intellectual stimulant drug... you've got to keep coming back-- it creates good experiences but can also be habit forming so that one forgets ...the wonderful slowness of not worrying about people looking...the beautiful loneliness of art. Will you tell me what you think? Or what Sam thinks?

I'm interested, too, in what Sam thinks of this interesting connection you've made between his image for individual creativity, "stained glass windows," and your art-making. But he'll have to speak for himself. What I think, Elizabeth...is that you are a great pusher-backer. I find your questions very clarifying--and here's what you've just clarified for me.

I was very much struck by your description of how the compellingness of Serendip conversations take you away from the creativity, and lack of worrying about others' responses, which occurs when you are making art. I had yet another dinner with the Burgmayers recently. We talked a lot that night about our very different responses to these sorts of on-line dialogues. They strongly prefer in-face conversations; on-line work is much less compelling for them than it is for me. I left their house wondering what exactly it is that so compels me about this sort of work (the record of this summer's compulsion is pretty strong!). I'm realizing that what draws me so powerfully may be precisely what puts the Burgmayers off: it's the absence of all those in-the-flesh details....which (and here's the real nugget) opens up space for more (to me) *interesting* and creative things to happen.

What's really intriguing to me here is the rub/difference between us (which may well be more largely relevant, as we try to understand better both the uses and limits of web-based work): for you, the on-line interchanges limit your freedom--to explore, to be creative--because you find yourself preoccupied, fretting about what sort of response you'll get. For me, just the opposite seems to be happening: the on-line interchanges open up all sorts of freedom to me to explore and be creative, because it's there that I find myself so wonderfully fed, and led on, by

good questions like yours.

Dear Great Pusher Forward--
I'm amused and delighted to be called a great pusher backer. I'd be interested in knowing the pace which we'd be traveling if our separate attributes (concerning pushing) were combined. As with everything on Serendip, your thoughts have triggered new ones in me and YOU'VE made me realize some new things about myself also... one of the great pleasures of corresponding with you this summer!

Thank you for the images of mine that you've chosen put at the top of this site! That's quite interesting also--having one's work used to illustrate different points, to tell different stories.

Somehow, I think it's relevant here...(given the title of the page) to say that time, clocks and watches make an appearance in my artwork with frequency. Two installations ago, a wall of a cardboard box included transparency paper with clocks drawn on it. These clocks were drawn upside down and (some) with their numbers scrambled--a manifestation of my musing about the idea of transcendence and quite reflective of my struggles with time. My mother sometimes says to me "your problem is that you work as though you have an infinite amount of time. Why don't you just get the damned thing done and have some fun!?" This comment is one that I've pondered from many different angles. I've come to the conclusion that I'm usually having more fun while engaged in the damned thing, than afterwards. I leave the adjective "damned" in there because that's where the wisdom lies. Condemned? Doomed? I'll add process oriented. I've decided that those projects which I spend a great deal of time on can indeed be considered to be damned. Ideas are slippery, charcoal is smudgy, my spirit is inherently fragile;... throughout my life, I plan to be engaged in many damned projects.

Now for "you work as if you have an infinite amount of time." I've decided that I do often work as though there is an infinite amount of time, because I'd like for there to be. I had a teacher who always used to say "not to get overly metaphysical, but the problem here is that you are seeing time as a linear concept." This was his answer to a lot of questions which didn't seem to be related to time at all. His statement always felt, well, metaphysical in every sense of the word. But it's made me think about the pacing of things, what's acceptable, what is more conducive to fastness, slowness and what the implications of seeing time as...say...circular would be. And it seems related (albeit somewhat tangentially) to the way that the internet seems to rush--how the mass of information and the need to digest it all and to protect what one adds to the "petri dish" is an issue for me.

In terms of the time/creativity/individuality issue, Sam's ideas etc....I have some new thoughts as to why I might be responding in the way that I do....They came from pondering my early childhood. I used to build forts in my living room (out of whatever I could use; sometimes just blankets). I liked these forts because they were an excellent way to block out people that were around...an excellent way of making the world smaller and zooming in on certain details....For instance I enjoyed the feel of an afghan on my nose and the way the light, reflected through this afghan would shine in little patterns on my legs. Sometimes I would involve my stuffed animals in the process of building the fort but there could never be more than one or two of them in the fort with me at any given moment. I chose which could come in very carefully and then I'd talk to the chosen animals and hear what they had to say back to me. They always had a lot to say. [To digress briefly, I still engage in dialogues with inanimate objects....Is this not what painting is? When asked how he felt about blank canvases the artist Richard Diebenkorn said "I put a few arbitrary marks on it [and those marks] start me on some sort of dialogue." Sometimes the activities which we determine are more adult in nature are really just different forms of the same things we were doing as kids. no?] Ultimately I got to the point where I would only bring in one stuffed animal (and only sleep with that one also). He was a small bear named Theodore. He was the best to talk to because he was the smallest, not as puffy or cute as the others, indeed the most manageable, wise and sophisticated. Theodore was something I had to make my world smaller, a single thing to focus on, just like I could focus on and enjoy the smaller things in the forts which I'd build.

This is how I still tend to see the world. The world still feels a bit too large for me, the people in it still too overwhelming. For my own sanity, I need to look for smaller things to focus on--to carve out smaller spaces. Focusing in on smaller things works well when it works but sometimes it simply doesn't. We do not live in a world of smaller things and in spite of whatever my personality is more intrinsically, I'm also excited by bigger things--larger ideas, associative ideas, combinations of thoughts and images, the paradoxes of being. Sometimes it's difficult for me to go with one thing at a time. I often find myself gasping for breath, absolutely delighted at all that exists (especially what I've discovered that exists through coming to Bryn Mawr and engaging with sites like Serendip). But gasping takes its toll. As Sharon said, one needs to breathe.

I recall a part of Camus's The Stranger where a character is pondering the fact that if he had only lived just one day, he'd have enough to occupy himself in prison for quite some time. He fixates on the same newspaper article every single day while there. I see very many things to be relevant from individual words in books, to personal interactions, to asphalt. This feels about 1% wonderful and 99% exhausting. Suddenly I'm focusing on a lot at a time, feeling a lot from people at one time or trying to and things get muddy and muddled. That sometimes causes a retreat inward, a conscious effort to ignore details--a shutting off of creativity--a shutting out of the physical world and retreat into the world of my own feelings.

Back to fort spaces and their relationship to the internet (before I forget). I never built forts with things that could literally talk back to me...that is things with vocal cords and typing fingers, that is other human beings/ friends. I was very used to the building of forts being a personal experience. When I was smaller, no one really cared what I did inside those spaces and that was very good for me at the time. They were spaces where I could be uninhibited, where there would be no critique or evaluation of what I was doing.

The internet (or Serendip in particular) is like a giant fort where everybody plays or where all of the individual forts come together. And this excites the part of me that wants to move quickly--the part that wants to share the little patterns of light on my legs with other people who might find it interesting or exciting. But playing with so many people is also very daunting. Most of the other kids are quick (and very talkative), not slow like me (not as easily affected)--how can I keep up and stay calm? How can I possibly know all of what's going on with what other people are building? And what if something touches a part of me that is too sensitive...that's not ready to be shown to the neon lights of the world. What if someone finds it and says look, this is cool--we'll use it?! You suggest that the fort have windows? But...what if right now I'm only ready to be building one with small mirrors?--

Much much worse, what if I say something that offends another fort-builder? It's easy to do...words are symbols, just signifiers for emotional truths, larger truths. They cannot by their very nature be entirely true or complete. I must be looking constantly, I must be on watch to correct that problem...but I have to correct the problem without the clues that a person's face or body language can give me. The internet brings with it the notions of faceless masses all building together--How wonderful and how terrible.

So what would be the solution to living in this fast paced awesome evolving world? For me first and foremost it involves be thankful for being challenged to do so by all-- being thankful for the people who are helping me to grow.

Anne, you've made me very uncomfortable this summer-- this has lifted me out of my fort and make me think in ways I would have not naturally allowed my mind to go-- I've shared more than I would have had I not been pushed forward. I've learned more on a personal level as well.

I think it'll always be my nature to retreat and take time to do my own creative work, to make things that I do not share or do not share right away--to carve out breathing space where I can really make art before sharing--to push back. But I also know quite deeply that the ideas that exist in the world outside of me are much bigger and more exciting than anything that could go on in my mind-- that certain experiences can and should be shared and that stepping out of myself will always be a tremendous learning experience (even when it's uncomfortable)...an experience which will in turn enhance the work done when I step back.

I look forward to new opinions, am open to changing mine and am excited about continued involvement in the big public conversation that bubbles and bubbles along.

I want to re-sound three keynotes in all (the richness of what) you said, Elizabeth, which might function as "springboards" for others to talk about their own varied experiences in these realms.

The first is this matter of time. As you know, I've asked, elsewhere, for space to speak out of the world as I experience it, as a "block universe" where time is a manifold, all past experiences simultaneously present/available/useable/potentially shareable. I've learned that my desire to do can be off-putting others, who are uninterested or unwilling to deal with all the history I bring into these conversations. So: like you, I know what it's like to feel overwhelmed by the allness of what is/what interests me; I know, too, what it's like when others feel overwhelmed by the allness of who I am/ what intrigues me....

....which brings us nicely to the second "note" of note to me in all you said: this matter of how to select, how to "rectify," how to "filter" out all that is-and-interests us. We talked a lot about this in the brown bag series on Meaning, Information and Noise this past spring. I came away from those conversations knowing four things for sure: that

The third of the "notes" I want to (re)sound/rebound has to do with your strong sense that, while engaged in this process, you have to be "looking constantly" for fear that you will offend others who are engaged in building "forts" different from your own. My way of handling this concern comes from a course I took years ago in the Quaker process of "eldering." I learned there that each of us

can express with authority the 'truth' as we see it in a given moment, knowing that our speaking will provoke others with different viewpoints to correct us. We can feel free to speak, because we know that we will be corrected, that revision is always possible, indeed always necessary...Susan Bordo explains the process:...."all ideas...are condemned to be haunted by a voice from the margins...awakening us to what has been excluded, effaced, damaged...this is, of course, the way we learn." Teaching to Learn/Learning to Teach (63).

(For more on the "why" and "how" of this process, as it plays out in internet forums such as this one, see both The Practical Use-Value of Serendip's Web Forums and The "How" of Story-Sharing.)

Paradoxically? What I'm learning, here, is that collaboration works best--moves the furtherest/accomplishes the most--when we do "rub against" one another in ways that don't assault, but do assail...in an interrogation that, in the slowness of time, we may come both to appreciate and to understand.

I have been thinking a lot about people for whom instablity and insecurity are very "real" risks. The open space of Serendip is NOT risk risk- 1) because there is choice 2) because there is no element of physical harm that can occur when one enters empty space. One can enter a no man's land where the participant is almost guarenteed to emerge without battle wounds. To emerge and go back and have it be joyful is maybe only something that can happen for people who have the privledge of devoting time to the mind and creative process--I never had any sort of instablity/insecurity that many children/adolescents in the world deal with on a daily basis but I do feel somewhat new here...new to the mind being so wonderfully embraced- creative efforts so supported. It's very fairy tale- like. But of course when you're in it--you forget right away what the not fairy tale is (or was).

I had my first extroverted educational thought process moment ever in your class....Although it is not widely accepted as something acceptable I very much like the Myers-Briggs classification... was the first to teach me that the word "introversion" existed... before everything that I was was "abnormal" against everything that everyone else was- "normal"....Here's where I enjoy somewhat of a closed system...fun to think that the entire world could be reduced to 16 basic personality types....I am an INFJ :-) You ever do this?

Nope. I've always hated that sort of systemizing/regularizing of all our idiosyncrasies.... and I've got problems with the whole notion of "normalizing"--identifiying it/knowing you fit it (or don't). I've just finished reading Eugenides' novel Middlesex (which Gus Stadler and I will use this fall in Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Sex and Gender. Here's my favorite passage:

I was begining to understand something about normality. Normality wasn't normal. It couldn't be. If normality were normal, everybody could leave it alone. They could sit back and let normality manifest itself. But people--and especially doctors--had doubts about normality. There weren't sure normality was up to the job. And so they felt inclined to give it a boost(446).

I get a great deal of pleasure from horiscopes etc.-- just to put a frame around what pleases me...forts, boxes...freedom within closed space? (I'm thinking about the wonderful dialogue with Wil Franklin that you pointed me to).

Um--my preference (as per Paul and Jody's dialogue) is for "springboards"--something solid enough to push off from, but NOT boxed in!

I was watching my little cousins today. We were playing with marbles. Carrie Jean (7 years old) was telling her brother (George Thomas who is 4) that he had to spread the marbles wider so that everyone (the three of us) could get to them. He kept putting them in little rows in front of him and although he was trying to be dutiful and spread them apart more he couldn't understand just how far apart Carrie wanted them. Finally she intervened and to prove her point put them all over the place in the room... really far apart, some even out of the room. Then George Thomas started to get really upset and said "but I can't even SEE all of them." Carrie Jean just laughed. To me this felt a little bit like our internet, Serendip conversations, opening space up vs. keeping things really close to oneself. George Thomas could make more of a line (a pattern) when the marbles were up close to him but the wide open space created a greater accessibility (in Carrie Jean's terms). We stopped with the marbles when the two of them started throwing the marbles at each other and at me.

I was also trying to explain to George Thomas what my pallate knife was used for. He was playing with it like it was a kitchen utensil. And finally he asked "what do you do with it." I said, "you spread paint around and make interesting pictures." He said "then you make dinner?" And I said no, "it's just for paint." And he said "so you can't make dinner with it?" I said no. Then he kept mumbling to himself "you just spread paint with it." Then finally he said "What's it for to just spread paint with it? Why do you spread paint with it?" That was a pretty logical question (although he needs to work on his syntax a bit) but I couldn't really answer it...made me think about practicality issues...dinner is very practical...spreading paint isn't necessarily. It was much more fun for him to pretend he was making dinner.

But! here's what is cool. He DID use it for paint eventually (on his own). The two of them were painting on the porch and his sister was making a nice representational painting of a flower and I hadn't realized that the pallate knife had also made it to the porch. George Thomas stuck the pallate knife in the paint and smeared paint over Carrie's flower. Then she got upset and George Thomas looked at her and said, "this is a pallate knife... you just spread paint with it." Carrie Jean looked at me and I said, "Your brother is absolutely right." Felt a little cruel to do that; given he'd just (from her perspective) destroyed her picture, but it was so perfect.

You're a good storyteller, Elizabeth--and your stories are so often such apt illustrations. What's "perfect" (for me) about this one is the way it works to describe not only what you flag explicitly--the way Serendip works to open up spaces--but also its description of the serious use of play: how it can enable us to learn the applicability, to both creative and practical ends, of what we may think as impractical....Bravo for your cousins and you!

See the on-line forum for continuing conversation and to leave your own thoughts.

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