Monday, January 10, 2011

use of memory and John F Carlson

9x6 pastel and watercolor
There's a small water drainage site near my home. Yesterday I sat there at sunrise and just watched. The sky was an odd very light grey- a pinkish green, like a curtain, with a slice of yellow at the bottom. My favorite moment was when the sun broke through the trees like a big pinprick.
One of the rules for my memory game is absolutely no cameras can be with me.... too tempting. Only a small notebook or sketch book. I also am now making myself wait for at least 12 hours before I can begin painting. I keep tightening the rules. heh.
John Carlson has an excellent chapter on "Painting from Memory" in his Carlson's Guide to Landscape Painting. I think you will find this thought very interesting. Carlson says,
"I am inclined to believe that all creative work is founded upon our earliest impressions, the time when the eye looked with unclouded freshness and candor upon the world! These impressions (rejecting nothing, passing judgement on nothing, accepting all), after ripening or mellowing with time into a subconscious treasure trove, form the principal wells or founts of inspiration for the grown man (or grown woman). From these we select. We see something that stirs our soul with creative desire, because we recognize or remember subconsciously an old experience.
It is because of this that we may be said to paint or write, or act what we ourselves are in every movement and every thought. What we are is not the result of present experience alone, but the aggregate past. In other words, we see and feel certain things today because we have previously seen them in our most impressionable years. We add this to our present "facility" and organizing faculty, which can only be acquired in mature years. Our visions take form, gathering volume as they move, and they mould themselves, sometimes sublimely, into present expression. The artist himself is often surprised at he finished work of art. He can not tell "how it happened" nor could he repeat the feat at someone's bidding.
It is because the memory revives the dormant and stimulates action, that painting from memory is here so urgently advocated. In painting, the memory will be discovered to be very meagre at first. Difficulty will be found at retaining anything. But with practice the practice will be surprisingly strengthened, not as a mere camera lens, but as a power in discerning the significant factors behind common place experiences.
....As we progress, our work becomes more intensely absorbing. We almost live in a world apart. In memory work we relive our experiences and the effect they have produced on us.
So what do you think of that idea?

11 comments:

Deborah Paris said...

I think Carlson got it exactly right. But then, you already knew that :)

In the almost 20 years I have been reading and teaching from Carlson, I have always found it interesting that artists find that last chapter so intimidating. If you have absorbed the lessons of what goes before it, it is the most freeing and will produce compelling, authentic work. But, then, you already knew that too :)

Lisa Le Quelenec said...

Hi Loriann, I hope you are feeling better today.

I found a copy of this book a few weeks ago in a second hand bookshop on a bargin shelf. It's fast becoming one of my most treasured books. I'm slowly reading and re reading chapters and absorbing. Lots of absorbing.... and making lots of notes in the margins. I read Deborah's comments with interest, I'm just over half way through.

I see each new piece of work that I do as a sum of all the work that has gone before. Each fragment of painting, experimenting, doing, looking, listening, reading... nothing is wasted. Doing is the most important for me. It is interesting to look at old work and retrace the journey that you make as an artist.

Karen said...

I find that when I work with memory in the studio, it's as if I'm completely transported, in feeling, back to the source of the memory. Amazing! Like Carlson said, you can be completely absorbed.
I also find how puny my memory is when I go to enlarge a small plein air in the studio...how much information is lacking, in my sketch, and in my memory too...
more practice!

Nika said...

I think he's right. Painting from memory seems daunting right now. However,I completeley understand how it works and have faith that if one does it much of the time, a different world will open up.
Lorainn, you have inspired me to try, we really have everything to gain by employing this method. And perhaps not just in painting.

Linda Foltz said...

Hi, Loriann. I find the Carlson idea intriguing--especially as I'm getting to an age where I realize that some of my conscious memories are perhaps suspect.

You are helping me to see as an artist sees--and I'm seeing that there are many more aspects to memory than I'd thought.

Your experiments are yielding something primal. Love that yellow streak!

You're feeling better, aren't you???

Caroline said...

I believe my 'journey through winter' paintings simply flowed out from my memory. I remember feeling quite out of sorts by the experience as it was all very new to me. Thank you for sharing the Carlson passage I am still wading through the book but as usual I tend to get lost by looking for ages at the paintings more than his words! I am such a poor student, I hope Deborah isn't reading this!

I do hope you are feeling better you posted on the sky class that you were going to be laid low this week, I hope all is well?

SamArtDog said...

Your posts are beginning to linger longer. I read this at dawn today, and I'm still thinking about that idea. Absorbing.

jane minter said...

your painting is striking loriann ...i enjoy trying to paint from memory ..i'd like to read carlson book having read your post here...wishing you a happy new year.

loriann said...

Hi Deborah, Reading and rereading Carlson is always amazing. Each time I get it on a new level and you are so right the last chapter is the BEST. Indeed synthesis of the first chapters is very important before taking the next step. Thanks for your comment.

Hi Lisa,
Thanks for your well wishes.
You had a good find in that second hand bookstore. Carlson is the bible of landscape painters. And you are so right DOING is the most important thing. Keep on making your beautiful paintings.

Hi Karen, Being transported...I like that way of putting it. Memory truly s the real essence.

Hi Nika!

You definitely are ready to take the leap and you will love the new world it opens up to you. I'll be checking in on you to see your progress.

Hi Linda,
Carlson's thoughts about memory are appealing on many levels. I wonder what would happen if you tried to open your memory to your creative side once again.

Hi Caroline!
I will check back to your site to see your journey through winter paintings. And you by no means are a poor student. As for laying low that begins on Thursday.

Hi Sam, Carlson is a FEAST. Keep savoring him. yum.

Hi Jane,
Thanks about my painting. Definitely get Carlson. If there is one book in the world a landscape painter should own it's Carlson. Enjoy and happy new year to you!!!

Joan Breckwoldt said...

Oh Loriann, what a beautiful painting and thank you so much for your post. I have that book and I need to dig it out. You have convinced me (by YOUR work, not the words from Carlson though I think they will be helpful when I read more in his book), anyway, I am so inspired by your work that I am going to try this too. It's a bit scary to try something like this but what am I afriad of? Paint?
Joan

loriann said...

Hi Joan, Thanks for your comment and kind words. You are so right...what are you afraid of...paint? Once you get over the hump you will love it. It IS the most freeing way to paint. Because there is nothing in the way(photo, the scene) the painting speaks to you with ease. What could be better than that?