Breathing Lesson

(N.B. I dedicate my post this week to my dear friend and inspiring colleague Dr. Kate Love, an expert in the field of ‘artist/writer’ or ‘writing as practice’, and who sadly passed away yesterday morning.)

Writing is important, and writing your weekly Blog is very important, but you also have to breathe, and in fact you have to breathe before you can write.

You have to be alive and reasonably well to do so.

At the age of 32 I had a kind of mental breakdown. I had just found my way back to art college after 10 years searching in the wilderness for what I knew I really needed, ART!

I had to join the course in the second year as I had already completed a year of a degree from which I dropped out and so couldn’t get a grant for that year (yes, this was just before fees and loans kicked in).

And the course was HARD! Hard in that I was asked to spend the summer suddenly immersed in mind-blowing (in my case, literally) postmodern theories and difficult to decipher, multi-layered writings, like those of Walter Benjamin, Hal Foster, Jean Baudrillard and Michel Foucault.

And DOUBLY HARD in that a Fine Art degree, at that time anyway, left you almost entirely to yourself to quite rapidly work through a huge and impossible seeming series of immense questions concerning art, yourself and what on earth ‘your art’ might mean and might be.

Nevertheless, it was the right place for me, and supportive in that it provided the context and structure I needed for my volcanic mind. But at the same time, it was a very public place for the very self-conscious person I then was, and of course undeniably competitive in that special way that artists are and must, it seems, always be. i.e. no matter how sensitive, generous and good hearted artists might be, they can’t seem to help guarding their inventions like a vixen proud of its cubs. One very seasoned artist friend once told me “… as a person I am very nice, but as an artist I am a monster”, and I think that, if we are honest about it, there is a lot of truth in that, a truth that we need to confront if we are to be rounded and honest as artists.

Now, I am running out of space, time, and perhaps testing your patience dear reader, and I have only just begun to introduce my theme of ‘breathing’ here. Suffice to say that, just as the terrifying creatures in H.G. Wells’ ‘War of the Worlds’ turn out to be susceptible to plain-old, ubiquitous water, so the only solution to my mental problems turned out to be breathing.

Yes, after 32 years on this earth it was time for me to learn how to breathe, and particularly learn how the way we breathe unarguably informs the way we think and feel, and furthermore profoundly influencing and determining both body and mind.

Now in middle-age, with old age on my horizon, I have come to note that many more basic things about living, that I had taken for granted all my life, turn out to be things that I need to consciously learn, or re-learn how to do. This includes eating, speaking, sleeping, walking and even using the toilet.

There’s something old and wise about this realisation that, not only do we not know everything and will never know everything, but that we do not even know the most basic things and need to constantly learn and relearn them.

And then there is also of course something very child-like about all of this.

The problem, it seems to me, is that hubristic in-between phase, when we are no-longer toddlers and not yet veterans of life, when we mistakenly believe we know how to live and how to do things, and when we are vain enough to believe in ‘knowledge’ per se.

Now, it’s time to forget all that. Before you write, speak or presume to make art, first breathe, learn to breathe, improve your breathing. Perhaps you could even look at the painting techniques of Lee Ufan for inspiration.

https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/lee-from-line-t07301

From Line 1978 by Lee Ufan born 1936

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