On listening and on not listening

by Geoff Hall on December 16, 2011 with comments

Is there a difference between hearing and listening?

Yes, I believe there is.

In the Judaeo tradition, hearing was not simply an auditory act; for if you had no impediment, you could hear God speak through the prophets. However, there are many times when we are informed that they did not listen to the prophet, they did not take it to heart; they did not act upon it.

Well, that’s all well and good for God and the prophet, but what about our work as artists? How do we hear what people say about our work? How do we listen and take to heart what is said to us, often in the public domain? We must hear, but we must be wary of taking everything to heart.

Chris has told me that we are searching for an audience, for people who share in what we’ve published with ‘Spiritual Direction in a Postmodern Landscape’. There have been those who have dismissed what we’ve released as being against publishing standards (Wilderness), or that some don’t understand it, therefore it must be badly written! These are not the people we have been writing for, we hear what they say, but we have confidence that we are going to meet a need in those who have been marginalised or rejected by the Institutions of Spirituality or the Secularised galleries.

What we’ve done with the books is to focus on a journey rather than a destination; we start with The Wilderness and the Desert of the Real, which is personal and intimate; its attention is solely on an artist’s experience of attrition, of isolation but it also resonates with a longing to pursue a relationship with God despite their Institutional rejection. It is a book of fragments, for the Wilderness is a place not of fine-sounding, academic concepts, but of picking up pieces to aid us on this journey in preparation for our departure from the arid terrain and into the Postmodern ‘Desert of the Real’. The artists who have read the book understand this without explanation it seems; however the non-artist appears to have looked for an expansive tome of eriditous pontification. Alas, I have disappointed some people!

The Cultural Way of Being outlines the need for a spiritual community to flourish, so that the artist can have a culturally transformative impact. Eschewing the distorting forces of Individualism and Institutionalised Spirituality, we begin to understand that we do not need to walk alone. ‘Being’ an artist is the focus, not the ‘doing’ of art practice per se. We are created to experience, perceive and make sense of this world in a different way from an accountant! This spiritual community offers a different context for a walk with God.

Translating the Invisible Wind offers that longed for spiritual philosophy and it plants the seed for a ‘spirituality of resistance’ by rejecting the much flaunted cry of exile, proclaimed by so many disillusioned and culturally dislocated theologians! I put forward that this is not such a time, but as with Jesus, it is a time of Occupation and that it warrants a different, more subversive cultural response, for gone are the hallowed bastions of Christendom.

The Artist’s Autobiography took me by surprise, because I’d conceived it as the pastoral swansong of the series. It is in many ways more than that, as it goes on to ‘clear the ground’ by proclaiming Jeremiah’s calling ‘to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant’. 

Why did I write the books? 

Because I was listening.

I have mentored artists for close to 11 years; stood alongside them at times of discouragement and encouragement and listened to what they have been saying. Through this, I understand that I’m not alone, that they are not alone and that together we can flourish.

I was asked recently if I reviewed my work as a filmmaker. I think that this came from a negative conception of the artistic act; that what one sees on the screen, (or canvas, or page) is a linear process, of getting down what God has inspired and that it needs no further tweaking, re-forming, re-fashioning. The creative act is informed by thinking and rethinking the concept, or percept, of chipping away at the proverbial rock to find the beautiful horse inside it!

In reviewing my work, who do I listen to? Well, I start with God and move out, but not everyone has a voice you can trust, nor are they someone you should listen to.

My first film (‘One‘) was a black comedy about the madness of Imperialism and was set just after the First World War. For this I located the characters in a Military mental institution for those who had suffered psychologically from the effects of trench warfare. The audience in the USA loved its Englishness and the preposterous view of the world according to the failing British Empire! 

Michael Polanyi wrote that we should look not at the finger but where the finger is pointing; he used this metaphor to talk about how a metaphor works! This is how we should read art, not just as a multi-coloured surface, or moving figures on a screen, but as a perceptual means of understanding the world through suggestive means.

Guess what happened? Some read this film as taking the piss (sorry, that’s the only way of putting it) out of mentally ill people. When asked about it, one of the actors said the critic should bear in mind that three-out-of-four cast members had suffered from mental health issues – indeed one had been institutionalised! All the actors thought it was just a funny film, that it was looking at the madness of warfare and Imperialistic territorial claims. 

Do we hear such comments?

Yes. 

Do we listen to these critics and change the way we make films?

No! 

For the creative act is not a democratic process. Whatever you produce, someone somewhere will be upset, annoyed, curse you, misunderstand you, but you may get some who actually bless you, who understand that you cannot read any art-form literally. This, for film, is what you get when your critics have indulged their imagination with too much social realism. Notwithstanding this, it is Robert Bresson who reminds us in ‘Notes on the Cinematographer’ that realism is “the vulgar imitation of nature”!! It’s not just a cheaper way of producing a film, a budgetary concern, but a philosophy of life (call it Neo-Marxist or Socialist)!

If I take to heart the comments of people who are unknown to me, pay attention to every voice that offers an opinion of my work, then I won’t make a thing again, or if I am mad enough to follow their advice the work will lack focus, lack coherence. The effect will be like a thousand voices simultaneously shouting at you from the Screen and with the same volume.

As Heather Distant-Taiwo pointed out to me one time, art is about the future, for you start with a blank sheet of paper! The element of time in film, in art is central. Whilst we point to the future, we also make time stand still, we arrest its flow.

How? 

Because, like anything which seizes the attention of our imagination time stands still when we focus upon it! A good film doesn’t offer an escape, but we beckon it into our world. It enters ours as a friend and holds us there. This happens because of the coherence of the work; disbelief is suspended by the lucidity of the particular vision of reality on show. The story can offer you a credible alternative, the possibility of a paradigm shift from your world to the renewed world being revealed, in front of your eyes.

Such coherence doesn’t come about in isolation but through the aforementioned spiritual community; from the conversations undertaken during the creative process, from people who share the vision, or as Chris (Lorensson) would say, from those who get it, from the ones who don’t need persuading, from those who love you and your work and wish to participate in the worlds you create. They want to walk with you on the journey. (The artist should always be open to company when they set out on a walk). In other words, your audience and your artistic peers and not the hit-and-run critic who like the sound of their own voices too much to listen to your response.

What does this kind of conversation look like? 

The best way of showing artists is through art, through means of perception. Below is a link to a piece of music by John Coltrane (Ole). (I was introduced to this work by my friend and the designer, Barry Dunnage). This is what I mean by conversation, as evinced in the responses of the musicians using saxophone, drums, piano and bass. Listen to what they say and be inspired. Listen to their voices and not the ones who curse or criticise your work through the ‘clashing cymbal or banging gong’. Don’t mistake their voices for Love.

http://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/ole/id50236314?i=50236319 

Peace, Love and a Happy Christmas,
Geoffx

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