Material Memory

In my last blog I spoke about the ability of matter to evoke the imagination of the artist allowing him to not only take matter and give it new form, but also to transform himself and the world. But I am curious about the connection between matter and memory. Memory, like matter, is the basis of an artist’s ability to express. Memory attaches itself to matter in many ways. One’s memory recalls images- images of material objects that carry significance. Memory holds these images allowing them to live in the mind and soul of the artist. Memory allows the images to gather, collectively, reinforcing a sense of meaning. They are magnetic, a larger image gathering to itself smaller related images creating a conduit of thought. When images gather together in this way, the artist feels more compelled to listen to them. They take on an import that seeks expression.

As one is engaged in matter, the very act of painting and observing, memory is constantly recalling related images in its storehouse. This storehouse contains not only first hand memories of the artist but also those of the collective unconscious. These collective images give one’s own memories a context- they are images within a greater myth. One’s personal image fits within a larger story. It is why we are inherently attracted to myth. One’s vision is a smaller chapter in a larger work that includes all men and all things.

Although this is the case, it does not diminish one’s personal memory or personal images. Instead, the path between memory and image travels two ways. It moves one towards a greater myth but also returns one to one’s very center. There is an outward movement that ends in oneself. This movement gathers strength and momentum as it cycles to its return. This is the same movement that occurs in reverie- one’s thoughts gather around an object and travel beyond it connecting  all sorts of images to that object making it evocative and memorable- creating significance.

The strength that returns upon the image is meaning. Without memory, one could not gather the import of understanding necessary to create. Creativity hinges upon the power of the image to evoke upon the viewer’s heart a memory residing deep within. Art touches that hidden memory, through the very matter which is the art piece, and calls it forth and joins to it a superabundance of meaning.

There is a collective memory that the artist taps into as well. It resides in the works of artist’s of the past, their material productions, creating a lineage of memory upon which the living artist is placed. Robert Henri called this “living” memory, the Brotherhood. One could call upon these artists of the past to help and guide one in the present.

Without memory one could not hold onto an image. Without matter, image could not be embodied. Image is the very materialization of meaning held between memory and conscious perception. Image embodies “…the oneiric forces which flow unceasingly through our conscious life…The earthen objects we work return an echo of the inner forces we expend on them.” (Gaston Bachelard, Earth and Reveries of Will, pps.3 and6) These oneiric forces we recall out of memory and materialize them through the art, the craft, the manifestation of both our conscious and hidden life.

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.

3 thoughts on “Material Memory”

  1. A beautiful and evocative image. Your painting and writing really brings to the fore what a truly spiritual endeavor creating and looking at art can be.

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