Sunday, March 3, 2013

Open Ears

The windmills I saw were modern, but I like all kinds!

February (which thankfully is done) is not my favorite month.  The grey weather combined with the generally deflated spirits of students in the middle of their school year does not make teaching a cup of tea for yours truly.  The sad thing, though, is that when work is blas√©, it’s hard for me to find inspiring topics for a blog post. 

At last, however, intelligent life has been found in the cosmos of my brain.  I went to visit a friend this Saturday, and the long drive in more or less benevolent weather jumpstarted my creativity.  There are grand windmills on the particular route I took, and the sight of their immense white wings turning slowly, gracefully against the sky was too moving to resist.  Now I feel a poem bubbling up, but I have to let it ferment for a while longer. 

Also, while driving I thought about my experiences – such as they were – of the past couple work weeks.  During the course of two days, we had a student teacher attending classes for research.  She provided some very interesting lunch conversation, since she had studied art in college and is now teaching art herself. 

She explained that one of her techniques for getting her students both to enjoy art, and to realize the importance of form is what she called ‘the blind contours.’ 

Apparently, blind contour drawing is a training technique in which the artist puts pencil to paper and then draws an object without looking at his results or lifting the pencil tip from the paper.  Obviously, save for the very expert, the results of such an exercise are not going to be very good, but still the eye is trained to look to the reality of the object, instead of to the imagined shape in the head. 

A drawing can bring forth a poem!
On the particular day when the visitor was discussing the blind contours, I happened to be extremely tired and rather disengaged from the conversation.  However, I was listening enough that the phrase she used stuck in my mind. 

I’ve always had a fascination with blindness, so the idea of blind contours immediately spoke to me.  The words settled into my mind and I could feel them rooting there.  The roots and stem and leaves are now spreading: I’m waiting for what artistic result emerges from the idea of blind contours – a shape felt but not seen…an art guided by truth, not by the preconceptions of my mind.

Whatever comes, though, I’ve already had some benefit.  You see, thinking about the new idea our visitor introduced to me, I realized how fortunate it was that I had my ears open.  The creativity of an artist always has to be open, because who knows when an essential idea might filter into it and set it alight?

Over my mid-term break I spent some time with one of my former students who stands in needless awe of me.  We were talking about bluegrass music and she asked me how I could know so much (I could have asked her the same, since she has a sure and natural grip of science and math, both of which subjects are a bit hazy for me).  I was somewhat at a loss, but eventually said, ‘Well, I listen to what people have to say, and then, when I hear something interesting, I ask them about it.  Later, if I’m really interested, I go and read still more.’ 

That ability to listen to others can be a perfect fuel for inspiration, I find. 

Creativity is like agriculture!
It’s easy in dry spells to wonder if creativity will ever return, or if we can do anything to help revive it.  From my own experience, I’ve learned that often all I need to do is listen.  Even if we don’t realize it at the exact moment, through the open ears come so many thoughts and ideas which twine with our own and somehow catalyze them.  We live in an atmosphere of endless inspiration.  Certainly there will be fallow times, but eventually that atmosphere will bring about a new growth. 

I’ve been managing to keep up a steady pace with editing, so I’ve been feeling pretty calm about my writing, but still – there’s something much more satisfactory about new ideas and new work.  It’s been refreshing to feel my mind working over the idea of the blind contours, seeking the poetic significance of the words.  Perhaps they may become so integrated into my thought that they have an impact on my life.

Since the results can indeed be far-reaching when something slips into the creativity through our daily interactions, it’s a bit scary to live with open ears.  Maybe we don’t want to undergo a transformation thanks to a passing experience.  And yet, if we do resist, how shall we ever change and develop? 

As artists, even as people, we need the exercise of the blind contours – following the promptings of reality and for once surrendering our desire to control the results.  


  1. Speaking of windmills...

    Yesterday, after the second call from MIL, I asked my hubby why his mother felt the need to go to our Sunday dinner at her daughters' early (It was our turn to pick 'Mom' up), but we had household chores to attend. I also asked why does she need to call twice about the same things on the same day... He is a good boy, really. Sometimes much more patient than I, and I listened when he replied; "She needs a different chair."

    Now I'm going to look at your link about 'drawing.' Thanks for your visits, and thanks for interesting posts.

  2. this is really encouraging again Chiara! intrigued by the blind contours - that's almost how I write the first draft of a poem or short story, or even try-out pieces for a novel I'm planning... just write, don't look up, keep the pen on the paper... and then look back and see what has emerged - fascinating!

    1. I write in the 'blind contours' way, too - I find it's the safest way to make sure the inspiration comes through unimpeded. Thanks for the nice comment on the post :)