Saturday, 13 November 2010

Something for Nothing

Trap (after MD), ©Jim Hamlyn 1990

One of the most extraordinary things about art making is the degree to which serendipitous, unexpected and illuminating connections and discoveries occur unbidden. But can we really claim authorship for things which are not wrought by determination, vision or technical mastery? Is this not a deception of both ourselves and our audience and is it not, likewise, a duty of all creative individuals to fashion significance from the raw materials of their craft and to prove themselves worthy of all they conceive? If so, then surely no discovery, of any kind, can really be claimed or attributed to the ingenuity of human agency. Most artists would argue that it is the sensitivity which they have sharpened over years of practice that allows them to "see" the connections and make the discoveries for which they claim ownership. This sensitivity then, is one of the principle skills of the artist: the ability to perceive and to ensnare the fleeting fortuitous miracle of chance - the intangible breath of inspiration as it glides almost imperceptibly by.


Tamsin said...

I like this. And why is it so important to claim ownership in the first place? Ownership seems to be about something quite different to the process you're describing - perpetrating a kind of fraud, even, and perhaps manifesting a disconnectedness that's likely to stand in the way of the sensitivity you're talking about?

J. Hamlyn said...

Ahh, yes, ownership – that’s a tricky little fish isn’t it?

Perhaps an analogy might help. Imagine a fisherman with a net full of fish. Does he own the fish? Perhaps not, but just for the sake of argument let’s imagine he does in the same way an artist is the author of their work. Perhaps, once in a while the fisherman catches something very valuable but unremarkable in appearance which, not recognising it’s value, he simply ditches back in the sea along with all the other odds and ends the net brings up. Did he ever own that thing? Momentarily perhaps yes, but mostly no.

I guess I mean ownership in the sense of recognising something and embracing it as a register of one’s perception. If we don’t claim such things there’s a good chance they’ll simply slip away.

I realise though that this leaves completely untouched the issue of perceptions and insights which are attributed to artists for which they never claimed authorship or awareness. That’s another fish entirely.

J. Hamlyn said...

Still thinking about this - it strikes me that there's an important distinction to be made between claiming ownership and taking responsibility for something. Parents don’t own their children, but having children is something for which parents are responsible – in both senses of the word.

An Author according to the academically unmentionable Wikipedia “is broadly defined as "the person who originates or gives existence to anything" and that authorship determines responsibility for what is created.”

But creativity isn’t always about originating or bringing things into existence, it’s also about discovering or rediscovering what has been neglected, missed or misunderstood. As makers we can take responsibility for what we make but we can also take responsibility for what we recognise and wish to emphasise even if we didn’t directly create it. But this is where it gets a little complicated because the use of the word responsibility here only refers to one of its senses. It’s like a foster parent who takes responsibility for a child. The difference is the same as that between origination (“bringing into existence”) and accountability.

But perhaps discovery is a special case of origination: a bringing to light which requires the skill of perception and the confidence of insight.
It’s interesting though that the issue of legitimacy still lingers on and is especially highlighted by the question of whether we can be held responsible for that which is attributed to us but which we didn’t recognise nor claim responsibility for?

Tamsin said...

Gosh, you have a mind like a tent, as someone once said to me (and I didn't know what to do with that comment!!). I was still thinking about these ideas too, and thinking that I was being a bit pedantic.

I am very interested at the moment, though, in the idea of sensitivity and response, as some kind of distinction from 'being good at art' or something, which sees the art coming out as being a result perhaps of specialness or cleverness; 'different from normal folk'ness... I guess this might be what you say here about the idea of origination? So, rather than seeing art as originating from some unique source inside the artist, it might be seen as being brought into view by the artist? Who, as you say, does indeed have responsibility for this. Mmmm. You make me think.

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