Dynamic Receptivity

Estatua de Rodin / A statue by Rodin

There is a dynamic relationship one needs to have with nature. Avoiding passivity is essential to being an artist. One needs to be in an active state of being that can allow nature to speak something new each and every time we approach it. This active state I call dynamic receptivity. My mentor, Deane G. Keller, use to profess that the creation of a piece of art sprung from a combination of two things- “what you know and what you see.” One must approach nature with an openness to the new, that which appears before our senses as true, but one must also approach it with a knowledge that has been searched for and appropriated as one’s own.

This knowledge can be divided into that which can actively be sought after and that which alone can only be intuited. There is a physical and sensate understanding to nature that can be acquired. We can come to know the physical make-up of matter, i.e. anatomy of a person as well as of a tree or horse. We can search for the properties of light and color; the science of clouds and the atmosphere as well as the very materials that we use to create a work of art. I often think of Rodin’s sculpture of the “Centauress” (1887) in Philadelphia. It is a piece that expresses our material being profoundly- It depicts a woman bound physically to a horse, her legs being that of the horse and she is struggling and reaching upward to seek her freedom from her bondage with matter. It depicts what we know of matter but it seeks the flight of spirit that goes beyond our material understanding.There is the physicality of nature but it is the dynamic ascension of the spirit that  brings life into matter. The french philosopher, Gaston Bachelard states that, “By becoming conscious of his power to ascend, a human being becomes conscious of his destiny as a whole. To be more exact, he knows that he is matter, a substance filled with hope.” (Bachelard, Air and Dreams, p.60)

This later type of knowledge can only be found intuitively. It is empathy for all things expressed in and through the material. It includes also the artist’s own personal vision. One can receive training, to a certain degree , on the physical side of matter- we learn how to render and seek out anatomical landmarks, but as regards to our personal vision and our ability to bridge the gap between ourselves and another man through empathy, takes an intuition that cannot be taught. Empathy is a gift. And our receptivity to the emotions of another being must spring from within. Experience of life can open up a sense of empathy for others but it is primarily a sympathetic emotion that is called forth within us through an intuitive understanding of the other- the other being a person, an animal, a situation or event or an experience within nature that speaks or reflects our own self. This reflection of ourselves that we observe in nature, ie. identifying intimately with another, becomes a part of the artist’s personal vision. It is these intimate experiences linked together that come through an artist’s work that we call  an “artist’s vision”.

A place of receptivity, on the intuitive side, is reverie. In reverie we come to intuit that which exists but remains unseen. Reverie brings forth hidden things that at the present moment we have no awareness of- things that are unconscious that are seeking consciousness. Art is as much about doing as reflecting. It is a life of reflection that finds its materiality in the creative act. And there is nothing in the world without emotional content, whether it is evoked by an object in nature or that object becomes a place for the transference of the artist’s own state of being. An artist doesn’t seek to just copy nature but to render that which is within and without containing in the image an understanding of one’s self and the world.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

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