Saturday, 19 March 2011

The Co-Creativity of Hand and Mind

The following is the text portion of a presentation I made at a staff research meeting (a “pecha kucha” in fact) held a few days ago at Gray’s School of Art. The theme of the meeting was “The Co-Creativity of Hand and Mind”:

“Nothing ever conceived of, was made by thought alone.”

I found myself saying this during a tutorial recently in an attempt to encourage a student to take more risks and learn from the process of making rather than simply thinking about making. There are forms of thinking, one might argue, that are only possible when we work with certain materials in certain ways. We literally think differently when physically engaging with materials and processes such that when we cease to use those materials and processes we become divorced from their associated forms of imagination.

But with the rising costs of materials and the increasing financial pressures upon students, is it any wonder that they seem ever more unwilling to learn from the messy and uncertain arena of experiment, failure and discovery? And is this process of making, of testing, of production - and by association - of acquisition, consumption and disposal as benign and impartial as we might ideally wish it to be?

It strikes me that whilst our thoughts and imaginings - these ephemeral products of consciousness - are an undoubted gift, in this culture of objectification and quantification we’re often unsatisfied with - and even distrustful of - the intangibility of imagination. We seek externalizations and evidence: measurable, concrete, palpable realities. We’re unconvinced by ideas without form, by words without effect, and this sets up a challenge for all of us who consider ourselves dreamers as well as makers: what manner of impact do we desire upon the world and what price are we prepared to pay for it, or rather; what price are we prepared for the world to pay?

When we speak of the co creativity of the hand and mind, of course the hand is simply a metaphor for describing our interactions with the world and our manipulations of it. We touch on things and we are, in turn, touched by them: by the impress of the world. We feel our way through a sensory and somatic landscape that subtly and profoundly registers our presence and invites our contemplation. Our minds are formed and informed by nothing but sensory impressions and our manifold meanderings through memories, dreams and imaginings. Embodied Knowledge is the only knowledge we will ever truly know, for our bodies are the only interface we possess.

Much of what we create can be divided in two ways: as an extension of our senses or as an extension of our capacities. These two impulses are by no means the same. We extend our senses in order to gather data and to locate ourselves in the world more precisely. The extension of our capacities takes the form of toolmaking and our manipulations of the environment, to bend it to our will and to locate ourselves in the world more comfortably. Our senses reach out into the world in order to perceive it for what it is despite our presence. Our capacities, on the other hand, reach out into the world to make our presence felt. Our senses gather what comes to them unimpeded, whereas our capacities reach out to grasp, to manipulate, to possess and to consume. What our senses take makes no impression save on our minds. What our capacities make is nothing but impression, influence and impact. The impress of the world upon our senses is as intangible as emptiness, whereas the impress of our mind upon the world can be seen and felt in the entire constellation of existences that live and die by the hand of man.

But there is, perhaps, another less sinister and therefore more hopeful aspect to our capacities: we have the ability to give, to share, to transform and probably most importantly of all, to protect, to defend, to heal and to nurture.

And these thoughts raise another more encompassing question: in a context where learning emerges in large part through the consumption of materials, energy and resources, where should creativity and pedagogy reside within this fragile ecology of hand and mind?


Fred McVittie said...

Great post, many thanks.

J. Hamlyn said...

"So here’s the paradox: creativity is the only solution to the very real problem of creativity."

John Clark said...

Enjoyed that a lot!

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