Wednesday, November 10, 2010

How Does a Lie Tell the Truth?

As usual, I will start with a story to describe the relationship between an experience and expression:

Ten years ago, when I worked in Wilmington High School, I entered the building by a side door.  This led me down a corridor and past the main office.  That office had a side door opening out into the hall.  The door did not have a window to allow for viewing the hallway and seeing someone walking by.  Since this could cause an accident, a sign read: “Open this door SLOWLY”.

As I reached the door, a 12 year old, middle-school student rushed through it, and I jumped back to avoid the door.  I exclaimed with irritation, “Your rushing through the door could have knocked me out.  Please be more careful.”

Several months later, I approached the same door, but this time a secret service agent and Hillary Rodman Clinton rushed through the door.  In that instant, I remembered she was there to give a speech about charter school funding, a bill that had passed in Congress.  This time, I jumped back and said, with surprise and humor, “I am so glad your rushing through the door did not knock me out because I am looking forward to your speech, which I am sure WILL be a knock out!”

Both are my reactions to two incidents.  Both restore my equilibrium.  And then I forgot all about these events; they were merely trivial incidents in my busy life.

The relationship goes like this:

Something strikes us (not necessarily literally like my door analogy) and we feel moved, pushed into dis-equilibrium. We react (do something back to the original stimulus).  I lecture the boy; I say, “I am looking forward to your speech” to Hillary Clinton.  If we use a medium of expression, however, we fuel our awareness of what “struck us” with the relevant experiences stored in memory and we “see” into our subject (because we now have subjected the incident, the stimulus, to our interest) and we go to work expressing (pressing out) the meaning we have perceived, thereby creating a whole new thing—not what the subject was—not just our reaction to it, but a whole new experience enriched with new matter imaginatively perceived.

Miss de Mazia sums this up this way:  “The results that impel both us and the artist to expression are the same:  (1) we feel better by being adjusted; (2) we communicate, share; (3) in the process of selecting, of making an expression clear to others, we clarify the meaning of our feelings for ourselves.”  (“Expression,” 13)

Assuming we feel enthusiasm, assuming something moves us, we feel struck.  You can call it excitement or dis-equilibrium. The encounter begins here.  We experience the meaning in an event, a sound, a sight, an incident.  The artist wishes to make sense out of it, figure out why he/she feels so excited.  To share the experience, the artist must translate it into a medium of expression.  And he/she wants to get to it:  the stimulus creates tension and anxiety.  To restore equilibrium, the work must start, the problems created worked out, and the end reached. 

I had an experience, the door swinging open. I reacted:  I lectured the boy. I said, “Oh, so glad your rushing through the door did not knock me out,” to Hillary Clinton. More importantly, from that point on, I walked down the center of the hall to avoid the door.  I changed my behavior.  I grew in awareness of the safe way to navigate the halls of Wilmington High School.  

The artist, however, takes another step.  He/she acts back on the event, changing it, distorting it, bringing to bear past experiences to help give form to this new idea, and translating the event into a medium of expression thereby giving it new matter it did not have before. 

In my case, when I started thinking about this topic and wondered how I could make clear to you how this works, I went running, and halfway through the 4-mile run, I remembered the door episodes. I realized how I could use those incidents to make this point clear. I started playing with them, fleshing them out, providing dialog, different people who could have (they really did not) come through that door and how that would change my reaction.  I used it; I creatively distorted it.  In other words, I lied.

Hillary Clinton did visit Wilmington High School to make a speech about charter school funding because a charter school, The Charter School of Wilmington, a math and science academy, was housed in Wilmington High School. 

But not that day, nor did she come through that door.

I wanted to impress you so you would understand the power of distortion.

That is what creative distortion is: a lie to tell the truth.  I “saw into” my subject, because I had “subjected” that stimulus to my interest. To express (press out the meaning we perceive to create a new thing) definitely requires work.  We create a new experience:  not what the subject was, not just our reaction to it, or what we felt about it, but a new experience enriched with new matter imaginatively perceived.

Let’s look for distortions in a picture.

Look at the following painting.  This time, along with listing the plastic means, the qualities expressed, and the rhythms, list what I “distorted.”  Describe the picture facts that do not look like what you would see in your everyday world.  How do those distortions “inform” your perception?

                                                         Bauman, Truffle Pigs CafĂ©, oil, 2007

In the next post, I will show you how those distortions contribute to your understanding of the picture idea.

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