I have always been deeply interested in the shared ‘processes’ between creative practitioners. An observation of the prominent role improvisation plays behind my painting practice led me to explore similar processes in other creative fields and equivalents between disciplines.
As I write this article I am sat in my study with the soothing melodies of Miles Davies’ ‘A Kind of Blue‘ providing the accompaniment to my writing. When painting, the simmering, bubbling tones of ‘Bithces Brew‘, or the rythmic layering of Ornette Coleman’s ‘Free Jazz‘ acts as the collaborator in which to respond to, and develop a ‘dialogue’ for the painting. The connection and crossover between visual art and music, (Abstract Expressionism and Jazz in particular) are evident for all to see. Look no further than the album cover of Coleman’s Free Jazz featuring a detail of Jackson Pollock’s ‘The White Light‘ 1954.
For those familiar with my blog and my general ramblings, will be aware of the prominence and significance in which the composer; theorist; writer; artist; philosopher; and all-round general ‘thinker’ – John Cage holds to my work. Just a glance on the wikipedia page devoted to him gives an idea of the far reaching impact of his work. For me, Cage epitomises the term ‘artist’, due to his mastery and seamless approach to his creative practice. This approach shadows my own interests in working alongside, and learning from other creative practitioners and their working processes. Cage’s development, and subsequent use and application of ‘chance procedures’ and ‘indeterminate processes’ to both his visual and audible art forms serves as a lesson to us all, and one which could be of benefit to us all in enhancing and maximising our own working processes.
The ‘Beat poets’ of 1950’s New York, to more contemporary writers as B.S Johnson, and Mark Danielewski – all employ intriguing processes either in the creation of their art forms, or demand them of the viewer in order to experience them. The ‘cut-up technique’ made famous by the ‘beat’ William Burroughs in his ‘Nova Trilogy‘ of books was first introduced to him by the painter Brion Gysin who used the technique to create his collage paintings. Gysin employed the technique from Tristan Tzara and ‘The Dadaists’ who first coined the processes to make poetry and drawings.
In the context of writers and novelists today, The author Thomas W Hodgkinson writes in the article; ‘Could method writing be the future for novelists‘, how he employed techniques more associated with actors to help with the writing of his latest novel. He writes;
“I wrote the bulk of my new novel, Memoirs of a Stalker, whilst lying flat on my back in one of the cupboards in my home. There wasn’t even room for a laptop, so I had to write it on my mobile phone,”.
About a man who breaks into his ex-girlfriends house and lives there for months without being noticed, Hodgkinson adopted such an immersive technique in order to fully embody the mindset of his main character. As the article discusses, although more associated with Oscar winning performances by the likes of Daniel Day Lewis, who learnt to track and skin animals and fight with tomahawks for his role in ‘The Last of the Mohicans’, – why could such a process not prove as successful and beneficial for a writer as they do an actor?
The Black Mountain College in North Carolina promoted such a collaborative and sharing philosophy toward creative practice. Founded in 1933, the college’s main manifesto was that the arts should be central to any liberal education. Although only active for 24 years, the college was notable for its success with many of its alumni playing major roles in their respective fields, including painters Josef Albers and Willem DeKooning, composer John Cage, and dancer / choreographer Merce Cunningham amongst many others. Accounts of experiences at Black Mountain paint pictures of the greatest creative minds of the time undertaking discussions and collaborations lasting hours sometimes even days with participants dropping in and out as fatigue and energy levels dictated.
Although over half a century ago now, such an approach remains as relevant, and the prospect as exciting today as it must have done fifty years ago. Although lying in the bottom of a wardrobe may not be relevant for all creative activities, passing an eye over neighbouring creative disciplines can be only be a positive thing and might help generate insightful discussions if nothing else.