The past and the future in the act of making

As an artist, I think a lot about what I’m going to do; the actions I will take on materials.

But what about where these materials, where I, am coming from?

This is a change of perspective which shifts from thinking about the future to thinking about the past. Rather than considering ‘how will I transform this?’ it is ‘how have I arrived here?’

Looking at a de-process I suppose…

I was listening to a fantastic podcast episode from the podcast ‘Orange Juice for the Ears’, interviewing Timothy Morton. He says at one point:

feelings are from the future… ‘cos feelings are sort of like thoughts and ideas but you don’t know what they are yet, right. Whereas ideas and thoughts are just like the receipt that sort of pops out of the cash register of a thinking or feeling process

Timothy Morton from

I love this idea, a kind of organic unfolding that comes from acting, a discovery that can always surprise you.

All of this thinking concerns control. If you rely on the ‘receipt’ from the cash register to make and do, the outcome is (far more) predictable. You understand why you are doing something and where an act ‘should’ lead you. I’m underpainting this painting background red, because it will produce exactly this effect which I want to use again – an example of a receipt type action.

Acting from a feeling, however, relinquishes control, because you don’t know where the action will lead or most of the time why you’re doing it! A feeling is telling me to glue this drawing to the canvas, I’ve never done that before and I don’t know if it will ruin the painting or not! – a feeling type action.

This way of acting takes a strong level of trust in oneself, which takes practice, and nurturing a quiet and steady form of inner listening.

It is only after I have listened to my feelings and acted on them, that the reasoning behind why I did something emerges. Sometimes this is clear immediately after, sometimes months down the line. And in trying to figure the reasons out, I ask myself that past centred question: ‘how have I arrived here?’. And it is only in asking this question, and attempting to answer it through reading, writing and talking, that I can understand what I am doing.

I speak of this way of making as if I have it mastered, but the truth is, when you’re in the studio and in your own head, listening to a feeling can be very tricky. It’s not always comfortable to act on feeling when the world mostly tells you to be rational and thinking-driven. And don’t forget every every material you use costs money, which is time, which, let’s face it, as an emerging artist you don’t have much of. All of this amounts to a constant test, but one that gets easier with practice.

I feel I am just at the beginning of trying to unravel the hows and the whys in my art practice of which this writing chisels away at, so I’ll get back to you on this one.

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