Practical Theory Basic ideation, the apple and the ashtray.
Hmm, now there's an exercise I haven't thought about in years, but seeing as its one of the fundamental techniques that all artists and writers use in order to learn how to hold a thought or image in their minds for prolonged periods of time, I'd be remiss if I didn't at least explain the basic concepts behind the process, so be warned, things are about to get fairly technical, also if you're not comfortable with the idea of self-directed meditation, then think of this as just another form of shadow boxing or training in front of a mirror as that's all image training is, a way to establish the patterns we want the mind to create and the body to follow. And if you're still skeptical well, the Katas used in martial arts were based on this system so the next time you hear someone say float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, this is what they're referring to.
Anyway, basic ideation works a bit differently for artists then it does writers because the path each attempts to follow diverges somewhere in the middle of the process which in turn creates a subtly different set of experiences as an end result, which means being able to reconcile those things in the mind requires us to be both part of the audience and objective observers at the same time. But we'll worry about that part later for now all we have to focus on is the individual exercise that best suits the path we wish to follow.
Now having said that, the goal of the apple exercise, other then to develop an awareness of the process of basic ideation and to create a framework for the images that we wish to draw to fit into since image training and mental representations are simply extensions of this, is to determine in our own minds the aspects, elements and properties of the object in question. This is also why its better to work with an apple as the associations involved are fairly neutral and wont set off any of the mind's mental defense mechanisms the way a lot of other objects would which is why being able to separate the self from the process is so damnably important as if you allow the ego into the equation at any time it will not only override the intention of the exercise but skew the whole process as well. So, with that in mind whenever an artists says, draw everything and anything in order to develop your visual vocabulary this is how you do it. First, defining the three essential aspects of an object means achieving different levels of distinction, recognition and familiarization, or in this case, if you were to hold an apple in your hand and close your eyes, what about it could you say to yourself that would strengthen the image to the point that even if you were to take the apple away, you could still see it in your minds eye. Now remember, the impression of the apple still exists in your memory, all basic ideation does is to give that memory more substance then it would otherwise have. Weight and gravity are also part of the equation as sometimes our thoughts really are that heavy, but let's just stick with the apple for now shall we? Now in terms of being able to anchor the idea of the apple in our minds . . . I said anchor! Don't affix it in your mind, I'm being specific for a reason and yes affix is the preferred term that is used in these situations but an anchor grounds the connection, affixing merely holds the energy in our minds and unless you're already familiar with what happens whenever you stick your finger into the light socket of the universe I don't recommend trying it to find out! Now, back to what I was saying about anchors, when we do sit down to draw, we can either copy the apple itself, in which case we're doing a point to point transfer as all of the information we require is already there we just have translate it into mechanical action, or we can try and transfer the memory to the paper which involves projecting the image in our minds onto the page in front of us and then drawing that. Sound simple enough? Okay let me back up the metaphysical bus here a bit. When drawing an image not only do artists have to act as though the object in question is already there, its just revealing itself, they also have to operate as though the same laws of physics that affect us in the real world applies to the mental realms as well, or some equivalent thereof, so trust me when I say this but I've seen a lot of people who couldn't make that distinction and you know what they eventually went on to become? Architects! No but seriously, they couldn't figure out why their ideas weren't working as not only can an image in our minds be anything we want it to be, it can work any way it damn well pleases as if its just floating through our minds it has no connection to reality. Try anchoring an idea some time, not only will you be able to recall it at will, but you'll find it won't be able to float off as easily and get tangled up in all our worldly desires. So with that said, how do you anchor the idea of an apple? Well there are lots of ways, you can focus on the taste, the color, the shape, the weight of it in your hand, the feel of its skin against your own, the smell, notice how each of theses ideas involves us becoming more and more familiar with the concept of the apple? Well surprise, as they can also be used to mark the distinctions as well. Also they're part of what allow anyone who's never seen an apple before to begin the process of recognition as any idea without identifying characteristics will only make sense in our own minds as perception can often be based on consensus rather then the individual's perspective, and since now isn't a particularly good time to discuss the psychological phenomena known as the collective conspiracy, I'm just going to leave it at that. I will say however that what makes reality real to people can be really weird at times provided you know what to look for and thankfully, this is not one of those times. Now on a less existential level, what all of these connections we are creating to the idea of an apple can be used for can be seen evidenced in terms of the development of the artistic process as once we do become comfortable enough working with the idea of an apple we can then begin abstracting it in all sorts of different ways. By which I mean cubism, fauvism, impressionism, realism, all the different movements in art are just places where artists decided to take their ideas and go off in one particular direction or another, that's not good, that's not bad, its just a matter of personal taste and various other environmental factors where exposure combines with the psyche and the idealized state to create an aesthetic narrative, but that's a way more advanced concept then basic ideation so I've digressed. Now the elements of the apple can be understood by utilizing basic shapes to represent the various transformations it can undergo such as circles, wedges, quarters, cubes, or colors such as red for ripe, polished for sheen, crisp for texture, if you haven't gotten the idea by now, then even I can't help you. Properties on the other hand are based on the associations that are formed whenever we think about what an apple can be used for or come to represent symbolically such as freshly baked apple pie or the fruit of knowledge, both have contextual and cultural associations and both can be used to represent various ideas that the audience can then identify with. Or in other words, I just deconstructed the idea of an apple, translated it into words, and had you the reader reconstruct those ideas in your mind. Its like a form of telepathy only you get to do all the heavy lifting. Spooky no?
Now, on to the ugh, ashtray exercise. Can I just say that writers get the short end of the stick on this one, as not only is the goal of the exercise to develop our vocabulary skills but to help us recognize when and where the proper use of words can affect the reader's experience. Which are all noble endeavors don't get me wrong, I'm stalling by the way, its just that in order to achieve this, artists get to think about happy things like eating an apple, while writers get to visualize themselves devouring the contents of an ashtray. So if that particular mental image didn't just make your taste buds recoil in absolute terror then just imagine how satisfying it would be to come along an ashtray that's been left lying at the side of a building. So tantalizing, so fresh, you pop one into your mouth and savor the way that it bursts upon the tongue while the grittyness of the ash plays along the palette. The sharp, pungent aroma of used tobacco satisfies your senses in a way that leaves you longing for more. Doesn't that just sound delicious? Oh wait, its been raining as well, so not only are you able to get a good chew out of it but you get to wash it down with . . . and I am stopping right there because sweet holy hell there's a reason I haven't done that exercise in years. It is freaking gross! So, now that I've given you the basics of the exercise, let's focus on how english as a language works and some of the syntax and structural mechanics involved in developing a literary style as there is no way in hell I'm going to do a breakdown of that particular scene. I wasn't even really trying by the way, as if I'd really gone for broke more then a few keyboards would be completely ruined by now, my own included. Onwards. There are only three and trust me I've tested this every possible way I can think of, three categories that writers fall into, and personally I don't care which style of narrative voice you're using, first-person, third-person, omnipotent or unreliable as its the actual text itself that determines this not authorial intent, and those categories are Imagism, Realism and Prose. And for the record, I despise Imagism with every fiber of my being as it is the most obnoxious, sycophantic, mealy-mouthed drivel that I've ever had the misfortune to read and yes, its used largely in romance novels but its also employed to great effect in The Great Gatsby so if you want to see for yourself an example of when its being used well, there you go. I'm not touching it as it makes my skin crawl and my brain hurt. Also imagism relies heavily on emotional investiture and the use of soft feminine sounds rather then hard masculine sounds, that's not me being a sexist by the way, that's the officially recognized distinction used by lexicographers the world over when separating low tones from high tones, or to give you an example of it in action, luminescent is considered masculine while pearlescent is considered feminine despite the fact that they use similar intonations. Proper context in a sentence would be the light was very luminescent, compared to the light had a pearlescent glow. See where the emphasis on hard and soft sounds fall, while the high and low tones match up to the specific beats where the descriptors differ in their organizational structure? If you don't then rest assured, I promise to never talk about iambic meter and how it has both limbs and feet nor will I ever get into poetry and begin discussing the breakdown of cantos and stanzas, I use enough math while I'm writing as it is, I don't need to add any more. Now, while you can make use of imagism, realism and prose in varying amounts and measures its impossible to make effective use of all three at the same time because well, they fight each other. Literally. Did you notice how combative my tone became when I was talking about imagism? That's because personality wise imagism is my antithesis as whenever it comes to supporting an argument, I all but refuse to rely on emotion to convince people that my way is the correct way because reality doesn't operate on emotion, fantasy does, and that means if I want to make the reader's experience as realistic as possible, then I'm going to get much better results if I use realism rather then imagism. Prose on the other hand typically sits somewhere in the middle and its what allows us to bridge the two but that's getting further into the principles of sound and the aristotlean unities, and besides, diplomacy is the velvet glove which cloaks the hand of power so while I've learned how to use imagism effectively, when I want to go for an emotional gut punch, trust me you'll feel it. The other reason why you can't use all three at the same time is because each one has a different contextual structure and that means they have very different cadences and rhythms, all of which compete for our attention, so unless you know what sotto voce and mezzo forte are in terms of musical theory then before I get into the really obscure rules english operates on in its written, argot and modern forms, just know they mean softly spoken and moderately loud respectively. Oh, and I just remembered, these categories only apply to writing fiction as whenever we're discussing anything else the definitions involved can range anywhere from objectivism to moral relativism to whatever it is that emojis are supposed to be. I don't feel like getting into the finer points of pictographic representations and the use of ideograms and logograms at the moment so back to what I was saying about imagism, realism and prose, the way we determine which is the most suitable for the moment is dependent on either the audience we happen to be speaking to or the experience we wish to convey. In the ashtray example I used earlier I focused on sensation more then anything else as relying on emotional motivators would've skewed the narrative towards an emphasis on desperation and hunger rather then a joyful sense of play, which would really have turned people's stomachs as part of the goal of being an artist or a writer is to take people into an experience and out the other side, not just open the door, drop them into the thick of things and leave them to find their own way back out again. If they can. Many are the times I've seen stories end with, and then they lived happily ever after, which completely ignores the fact that most of the characters in these stories leave a suspicious trail of bodies behind them and things certainly don't end up happily ever after for the rest of the cast and crew. Just look at the Witch from Hansel and Gretel, some snot nosed kids show up on her doorstep, start breaking off and eating pieces of her home and then when she puts them to work to pay for all the damage that they've done, Gretel goes and kicks her into the oven while she's busy making them a nice dinner. Talk about being ungrateful. But that's context for you folks, it all comes down to who we sympathize with and why. Until next time, have a good day.
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14 October 2016 at 13:35:00 MDT
Practical Theory, an artist's guide to understanding the hidden world of art, is a blog in which I'll be discussing all the weird, strange and semi-mystical things I've encountered while researching the emergent principles inherent in the transdisciplinary nature of art. So if you've ever wondered why art works the way it does, or if your just a fan of seeing if words can be weaponized in a way that can make people's head explode, check it out!