‘Shooting from the Hip’ 12 – 24 Septemer 2014
As part of the show we are very please to have been able to commission this essay to accompany the exhibition from Bristol based art historian and writer Lizzie Lloyd.
Iteration through Intuition
Shooting from the hip is all about the quickdraw, about setting in motion.
It is a sharp intuitive reaction. An act played out in the moment, this moment.
A lone, whistling trill rings out in anticipation.
Shooting from the hip is nothing if not decisive but then acting upon emotional responses, we’re forever told, is a risky business, it leaves us exposed. So, when we make art or write about art do we stand back? Do we consider, appraise, weigh up or (the heart sinks) formulate a plan? Should we know what we want to make before we make it? Can we really know what we want to say before we say it? If we can is it really worth saying? Or rather, do we not feel what we feel as we feel it? And, like shooting from the hip, do what we do as we do it, like actions ‘constantly checked and constantly renewed’? Vernon Lee or Violet Paget said this about empathy in 1913.[i] We’ll come back to her in a moment.
So in writing about art, what if, instead of positioning ourselves authoritatively, stand-offishly, at a remove from the art we’re thinking about, we come closer to it by empathising with it, slipping into association with it? The act of intuitively and indirectly reflecting its form and content is a way of being with it, getting to know it, courting it. Surely if our response is just intuitive it would become too inward looking, too subjective for anyone to care? But intuition is just a short step away from empathy.
In fact, it’s interesting to note that empathy in German is Einfühlung meaning ‘in feeling’ or ‘feeling into’. Both empathising and acting intuitively are instinctive, both, to some extent, internalise and represent the ‘merging the perceptive activities of the subject in the object of perception’ as Vernon Lee put it.[ii] Thus, when describing a scene we might happily remark that, ‘the mountain rises’ even though the mountain clearly does not rise, it just appears that way to us. Lee is at pains to show that the phrase ‘the mountain rises’ is not just about human perspectives, as if humanity were the centre of the world. It is not all about us as static, impermeable beings. Lee writes:
‘When we are engrossed in looking at the shape […] of that mountain we cease thinking about ourselves exactly in proportion as we are thinking of the mountains’s shape. What becomes therefore of our raising or lifting or rising? What can become of it (so long as it continues to be there!) except that it coalesces with the shape we are looking at; in short that the rising continuing to be thought, but no longer to be thought of with reference to ourselves (since we aren’t thinking about ourselves), is thought of in reference to what we are thinking about, namely the mountain, or rather the mountain’s shape, which is so to speak, responsible for any thought of rising, since it obliges us to lift, raise or rise ourselves in order to take stock of it.’[iii]
So if we allow empathy and intuition free rein, perhaps this represents our raising ourselves, as vulnerable a position as that might be. Is this ‘shooting from the hip’, impulsively reacting to a mark, a word, an utterance, a colour, a rhythm, a gesture (one’s own or someone else’s that has gone before)? And in reacting, to what extent do we absorb or in Lee’s terms ‘merge’ with the thing to which we are responding (our trigger)?
Of course, impulsiveness and spontaneity have clear precedences in art. Paul Klee said of drawing that, ‘A line comes into being. It goes out for a walk’.[iv] Where the line is continually responding to the marks it makes in the moment. For Susan Sontag her writing — even, most controversially, her non-fiction and criticism — was always ‘fiction’. Writing, she says, is like going ‘on an adventure for the next sentence’.[v] In art of course, shooting from the hip is rarely a direct straightforward point-blank range quickdraw. Rather it is like a series of quickdraws, a series of immersive reactions: one minute it’s slowed down a hundred-fold, the next, it’s compressed, then stretched out or sped up as the roll of thoughts and marks break…
Slowed down quickdraw.
Images, ideas, colours, and words spill over,
Here they go,
gathering themselves, weaving their way sinuously:
First lost, under a heavy blanket of sea.
Then waywardly writhing.
First clumsily fumbling — as unseeing and un-thinking as the beady eyes of that rabbit,
Then tentatively putting forth word after lone word at a time. Enacting, falteringly.
First an aching, desperate, necessary tugging at your ugly innards (the insistent call of expectation resounding).
Then a fulsome release. Relief. It’s not that bad, after all.
I gesture to you across the room.
Across landscapes of layered networks; grids reassembled,
making and unmaking, converging and dispersing.
Across the quiet grandeur, a trio of huts abandoned.
They are ours, yours and mine, our silenced poetic refuge.
Across harrowing figures, facelessly intent on avoiding my gaze.
I’ve seen them before these sorry forms.
Across outlines, soft and angled, that slip-slide their way between two and three dimensions.
Across further figures standing defiantly to attention,
though they look set to crumple under the tangible weight of clay on clay.
Across the unbearable lightness, puckered growths,
stained, oversized and balanced precariously.
If I breathe out will you topple? If I prod you will you tear?
Across the sonorous dot-to-dot; the vocal and visual patterns of the-to-the.
Chain reactions set off by the brief ordinariness of The stretching out to vital The.
Across a bundled pedestal, wound tight in a riot of discarded and disregarded tapes and wires. Is this the end?
I gesture to you.
Here is my baton.
Lizzie Lloyd, 2014
[i] Vernon Lee, The Beautiful: An Introduction to Psychological Aesthetics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1913) p. 69.
[ii] Lee, p. 57.
[iii] Lee, p. 63.
[iv] Jürg Spiller, The Thinking Eye (New York and London: George Wittenborn and Lund Humphries,1961) p. 105 cited by Robert Kudielka (ed.) Paul Klee: The Nature of Creation (London: Haywood Gallery, 2002), p. 51.
[v] Jair Rattner, ‘Sontag diz que ha uma superpopulacao de escritores’, Folha De S. Paulo 28 May 1988, A-31 cited by Sohnya Sayres, ‘Susan Sontag and the Practice of Modernism’, American Literary History, 1 (1989), 593–611 (p. 610).
Lizzie Lloyd is a doctoral researcher at the University of Bristol working on Subjectivity and Writing Art Histories. She is a translator and has worked on books about Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. More recently she co-translated ‘Thought Thinking: Studies in the Philosophy of Giovanni Gentile’ which is forthcoming as a special double issue of the Collingwood and British Idealism Studies and as a free standing book (2015). She is a freelance art writer, writing commissioned essays to accompany contemporary exhibitions. In 2012 she co-founded (and continues to co-convene) Art Writing Writing Art (http://artwritingwritingart.tumblr.com) an active research cluster based at the University of Bristol which focusses on the overlapping intersections between art writing and art history.