"It’s not like I have a plan here"

So, recently I had my students watch a video called “Art City: Making It in Manhattan,” that features interviews with several illustrious visual artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Pat Steir, Elizabeth Murray, Chuck Close, Neil Jenney, St. Clair Cemin, Ashley Bickerton, and Brice Marden, as well as many others. Of all of them, I thought that Ashley Bickerton was the one I most wanted to meet. I was interested in the way he described the explosivity of his creative process and his wry sense of humor; he would, I thought, be very amusing to talk to at a party.

He discussed the vexed problem of political correctness in regard to artworks. He said that aesthetics are not easy like the military, which is all about rules; aesthetics are difficult precisely because there are no rules.

Elizabeth Murray said that she begins a painting by “sort of heaving paint on the canvas” and not really knowing what will become of it. She said she enjoys the physicality of that struggle, or “tussle,” I think she called it.

Brice Marden discussed his picture-making process in very Orphic terms; he referred to the drawings he had “been getting lately” as if they were being channeled rather than created. We see him at one point in the video somewhat awkwardly using a long stick dipped in ink to draw, and he says, “It’s not like I have a plan here.”

I drew out several quotations from the video for my students to record responses to. Interestingly, a few of them chose that quotation from Brice Marden. They all felt that “having a plan” could actually be a hindrance to creativity. I keep thinking about that. I recorded responses to their responses, asking whether not having a plan is in itself a kind of plan, and whether the natural limits of materials don’t actually impose a kind of de facto plan on the process of making something.

I often find that my brain generates a lot of plans, although they are not really plans, they are notions based on impulses, not entirely worked through as a proper plan ought to be. And then I find that once I sit down to work, the materials fight my plan and take over, and what I finally end up calling “finished” (probably incorrectly) is not at all like what I had “planned.”

So now that I am into my second movie project, Gary comes and stands over my shoulder asking what the themes are. He really wants my movies to cohere. He says he’s more conservative than I am that way. The thing is, to the extent that they do cohere, that coherence doesn’t really emerge until very late in the process. Sort of like that great essay by Max Ernst on frottage, which did you know also means dry-humping? :-0

Anyway I begin as a hunter-gatherer (thinking here of the description of Rachel Zolf’s Human Resources as exploring “the creative potential of salvage”; I like to think we are all working in a kind of Mad Max landscape at this point), and then look at how the contours of one unit will alchemically react with the contours of another.

I was writing to Stephanie early this morning that my early impressions of the process of “film repurposing” (I don’t think it’s exactly right to call it filmmaking, but then again, why not?) is that it asks for pretty much the same skill set as poetry writing: senses of juxtaposition, rhythm, surprise, etc. But I also wrote to her that many effects that I aim to achieve in text are really much easier to achieve with moving images.

In Folly, for example, because always being caught in one’s own subjectivity is just too sad, I made the poems into plays, or operettas, really, with a multitude of characters giving them their voices. The lines were therefore “nested” into other people’s interiorities. It’s incredibly easy to do this with film, and rather more powerful, I think. All you need is a close-up of a face and suddenly you are looking through that person’s eyes; their character and perspective suddenly pierces the frames both before and after. And the even cooler thing is that in film it’s easier to nest interiorities within interiorities within interiorities so that the person-medium through which one is experiencing the images gets, oh, incredibly layered and wonderfully bewildering. I find I am getting very attached to all these “people” (for they are all “acting” and therefore not “themselves”) I am manipulating and through whom I see. Several of them I’m sure I consider as mouthpieces or avatars for “me” (c.f. my comment on Stephanie’s film narration last month) or at any rate my fantasy of “me.”

I am sure that for real filmmakers this is all yawningly obvious, but this is a new medium for me, so I think I can be forgiven my enthusiasms.

I’m curious, at any rate, what other people think about this notion of “having a plan” vs. “planlessness” especially with a view towards conceptualism (which is, in a way, all plan) or strict proceduralism. I mean, I’m a proceduralist, too, after a fashion, but I’m interested in the way the rules for procedures get FOILED in the interest of aesthetics (or of whim) in the process of making something. Your thoughts?

One thought on “"It’s not like I have a plan here"

  1. I usually start with an idea, a concern, a problem, etc. It can be formal/procedural or about subject matter or both. Then I try to explore where that might lead me and see how it all develops. And maybe the pieces I’m writing in relationship to it are like trail markers rather than directions. That is, I try to read them as a way of seeing and deciding how to explore the problem next.So for me it’s not a plan, which would imply that I know where I’m headed, or planlessness either, which for me would imply that I don’t even know where to start. Plans (in writing) often make me feel trapped. When I’m planless, my bad habits–and I don’t mean writing ones–take over in a big way.

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