Sunday, November 26, 2006

Converting materials

Although you would not know it from the last few entries, the subject of this blog is not "things I do to avoid doing the writing I need to do." I have actually spent a fair amount of time writing in the past few days. However, I have spent a lot more time on a flood of email, Compendium work, web publishing, and general messing around on computers. I don't get to do this very often, usually only on vacations (the last time, really, was last Xmas break), and almost all of it was stuff I was happy to get done (long-term residents on my to-do list), though many hours were spent in things like searching through old XML files and .sql backups on 3 computers to find Compendium stuff I'd done a few years back (I did find most, but not all, of what I was looking for).

One of the things I got done was finding and rehabbing some of the fictional stories I'd done in Compendium in 2003, putting them up on the web, and creating some materials to surround them. The result is here.

It all does go together, though. The writing I'm doing -- going back through my notes on Dewey, Schön, Wright/McCarthy, and others and trying to write something coherent that relates the ideas to where I'm going with my PhD work -- is making me think hard about what I am really seeing and saying there. One problem I always have in doing such work is that nearly every line by the original authors seems so insightful and compelling (and so beyond what I could come up with) that I want to quote them all, and then my writing becomes just stringing together of what others have said. As Dewey puts it:
"The abiding struggle of art is thus to convert materials that are stammering or dumb in ordinary experience into eloquent media."
(Art as Experience)
In my case it's my own thoughts and ability to bring coherence that are stammering and dumb, but in the working over of all the stuff, the struggle to get it to make sense and mean something, they do, usually or at least often, get somewhere. And all this messing around in html, xml, Compendium, etc. that I've done over the last few days, will hopefully be at least a step on the path to making something eloquent. Not just, or only, procrastination.


ptah said...

As Dewey says.. the struggle of *art* to transform... eloquent etc, he does not mention the artist. The artist, the human, the signifier, the flotsam and jetsom. Other commentators have equally profound descriptions, Goddard describes the artist as no more than a reflective surface - bouncing back a reality for others to conjugate - implying that the artist may not even be aware of the art, but by their nature and personal drive happen to stand in the direct path of the 'stammering and dumb' expressions. The reality they then reflect - energised - having gained more meaning thru the process.

Al said...

Dewey sort of moves around between talking about the artist, art, artwork, etc. One of the things I really like about his writing is that he does, much of the time, talk about what feels to me like the personal experience of both making and perceiving artwork -- how it actually feels.

A few examples --

"When excitement about subject matter goes deep, it stirs up a store of attitudes and meanings derived from prior experience. As they are aroused into activity they become conscious thoughts and emotions, emotionalized images. To be set on fire by a thought or scene is to be inspired. What is kindled must either burn itself out, turning to ashes, or must press itself out in material that changes the latter from crude metal into a refined product."

"A lifetime would be too short to reproduce in words a single emotion"

"the artist finds where he is going because of what he has previously done; that is, the original excitation and stir of some contact with the world undergo successive transformation. That state of the matter he has arrived at sets demands to be fulfilled and it institutes a framework that limits further operations. As the experience of transforming subject-matter into the very substance of the work of art proceeds, incidents and scenes that figured at first may drop out and others take their place, being drawn in by the suction of the qualitative material that aroused the original excitement."

"Sense qualities are the carrier of meanings, not as vehicles carrying goods but as a mother carries a baby when the baby is part of her own organism."

"The true artist sees and feels in terms of his medium and the one who has learned to perceive esthetically emulates the operation. Others carry into their seeing of pictures and hearing of music preconceptions drawn from sources that obstruct and confuse

" Oftentimes the union of old and new, of foreground and background, is accomplished only by effort, prolonged perhaps to the point of pain."

Plenty more of this ilk here.