At the beginning of 2016, I went with a group of friends to see “Kamakura, Realism and Spirituality”, a show of Japanese medieval sculptures at the Asia Society of New York. The work exhibited in the show left us all in silence. We all shared the impression that some particular quality, something beyond the form and craft was transmitted through most of the pieces, a kind of silent knowledge, a quiet clarity and openness.
A very particular, very fine and very alive quality was embodied and transmitted through these ancient wooden figures sculpted by Zen Buddhist monks more than a thousand years ago. It seemed to us that maybe something about the quality of presence and devotion of the monks to their craft might have made this possible. After this experience, I became interested in understanding what this particular quality was, and how is it possible for an artist or a piece of art to embody a sense of “Presence”.
Recently, I have had the good fortune to know the theater director Peter Brook1, and the opportunity to speak with him about “Presence and Creativity”.
What follows, are some notes from two conversations held on October 2016, in Upstate New York, that Peter Brook generously allowed me to record. (The original interview was much longer than the one being presented here.)
October 22nd, New York:
I wanted to talk about creativity and presence. Presence, as the quality of life that can be experienced on both ends of a creative experience. Both as a viewer who contemplates a piece of art, and as an artist as a quality of “being” through which the process of creation occurs/happens.
Yes, I think that the first thing that is quite clear is that “presence” is, in fact, invisible. It is something that we can talk about after we have experienced it, but there isn’t a moment in which you can put your finger on it and say: “Ah!… There is presence”.
It is just like silence. We can’t really talk about silence. We can’t describe it. But when all sorts of obstacles are removed, silence appears by itself.
If your mind is full of garbage, if an inspiration came you wouldn’t recognize it anyways. So you have to practice a quiet, empty mind. I gave up the intellect entirely.
Agnès Martin (Lance 2003)
I don’t really trust ideas, especially good ones. Rather I put my trust in the materials that confront me, because they put me in touch with the unknown.
Now, what is important, for what we are looking for, is that no good artist starts with what today is called “concept”, which means a pattern in your head, and you set up to bring it into the world. That isn’t true. Concepts are the end result. When something appears, that becomes the concept. A sculptor for example, looks at a piece of wood. You and I passing by would just see a piece of wood. But he takes his knife, his chisel and begins to work. He knows, and senses, that what he is looking for is already there. And it is in the act of taking away what is in the way that the form I try to paint what I have found and not what I look for. In art, intentions are of little importance.
In India, there is Ajanta and Ellora2, where you see a temple that is not built upwards, like every other temple in the whole world. The people who To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing.
Picasso The painter unfolds that which has not been seen.
Paul Cezanne Art does not reflect what is seen… It makes the hidden visible.
Paul Kleebuilt the temple started from the top, and they started digging, gradually taking away what was covering the temple – not recreating a temple from the past – , a temple for them that was waiting to be revealed. And gradually, in that process of digging, digging, coming back for months, years of work, all the structure of the great temple is The way in which truth comes to presence is, according to Heidegger – a state of Disclosure – not an action, but a passion.
Jaime Labastida (1997)revealed.
Now, whether you say that it is the gods who speak – whether it is religion – , these are all useless philosophical discussions. What we can know, is that this is process that we are talking about.
This process of revealing is very clear in the examples of subtractive processes. How, do you think, can this revelation take place through an The idea of revelation might relate to the Heideggerian concept of world disclosure (Erschlossenheit), which according to Nikolas Kompridis refers as much to the disclosure of new horizons of meaning as to the disclosure of previously hidden or un-thematized dimensions of meaning.
Nikolas Kompridis (2011)additive process? (Which is the case in painting, theater, music, and many other art forms).
There is a French film about Picasso (Clouzot 1956) 3. In this film, the director put his camera on the other side of a piece of canvas, and Picasso came onto this side. You can see all the movements of his brushes, and you can see he made a line, and then, because of that line being there, it made him think of adding another one, and because he had added another one, a third one was necessary; and then having the three, he suddenly realized that you didn’t need more lines, but just this little I think inspiration has to do with creation. The creation of the world, creation of life anyway.
Agnès Martin (Lance 2003) half circle here, and then he saw that if those were there, they were calling for this color, and then this color, and you can see the growth. It follows the same principle as baby in the mother’s womb: we see how it is gradually developing, and the mother can only discover her baby in the moment that the baby appears in the world, until then nothing but Only when he painted did he vanish to become just a hand, a brush, that served a seeing far beyond the normal eye.
Peter Brook (Segal 2003)X-ray images and things like that. You can’t feel the nature of the baby until the second he comes out.
All of this means that everything depends on something – that is the real thing we can talk about – that is, the quality of the My hand is entirely the implement of a distant sphere. It is not my head that functions but something else, something higher, something somewhere remote. He neither serves nor rules, he transmits. His position is humble and the beauty at the crown is not his own. He is merely a channel.
Bad artists only have ideas, rules, techniques. A better artist, a great artist, is in a state of openness. People give credit to the creators, but creation does not come from the person, creation comes through a person if the preparation and the space is there.
We No one can have an idea once he starts really listening.
John Cage (Sontag 1969)talk about “space”, “inner space”, “space in that”… If now, for example, you are writing and listening – what is listening? – You are listening For Heidegger… Poetry is a way to “listen”, to hear the command of silence, to open to being… Listening not to me but to the logos…From the depths of being comes silence. To hear the silence means, then, to understand the meaning of the logos of the being.
Jaime Labastida (1997)with something in you that is making a little space. If you are thinking all the time about the questions you want to ask me, you wouldn’t be listening. And I see this when I give an interview, for instance on television. I see the interviewer is not listening. He is thinking about the next question, even thinking If you go into solitude with a silent heart, the silence of creation will speak louder than the tongues of men or angels.
Thomas Merton(1955)“Am I taking too long, would he have time?” All of those thoughts. But the really good interviewer is really purely listening, and “pure listening”, that is what you can call the “presence of a person”. And this presence can also roll out of me if I am being asked something.
This process is the same in music, and it is the same in the theater. The actor, for example, has his space full of ambitions, fears, excitement, all sorts of things. But the space is not empty, and all that we wish to do is gradually to clear away We become preoccupied with the trivialities most. Leaving an empty space adds another dimension. So you leave a space. And this empty space leaves room for the relationship between oneself and this other vibration to take place. Otherwise, it is impossible to come to anything real.
William Segal (2003)what is in the way. To create an empty space, full of an emptiness that is vibrating. (Brook 1968)
We say silence, and emptiness. But there seems to be something else that is needed for this fine receptiveness to take place, for this living vibration As John Cage suggested, there is silence, and then there is silence. That is to say, not all silences are equal. Or, to put it another way, silence is not merely the absence of sound, not simply the recognition or quality of lack. In fact, silence shifts and changes qualitatively according to our openness and sensitivity to it.
Anthony W. Lee (2009)to appear. ’Cause this silence that we are talking about, is not any kind of silence, I mean there is also a deaf-mute silence, an empty space that is infertile.
Yes, I have written a book called “There are two silences”—“Hay dos silencios” (1999). It is not enough to seal our lips,
we’ve got to listen to the silence, let it utter to us
that which of ourselves we quiet.
Hugo Mujica (2015)The essence of it is that in silence, there are two phases: There is a silence that is death, silence of dirt, dust, stone, dead bones in a cemetery. That is a dead silence. And there is a living silence, which we have encountered, for example in a great cathedral. When you go inside a cathedral you are under the presence of a living silence. Silence never ceases to imply its opposite and to demand its presence. Just as there can’t be “up” without “down” or “left” without “right”, so one must acknowledge a surrounding environment of sound or language in order to recognize silence.
Susan Sontag [(1969)Then you can call it God, you can call it Allah, you can call it the Holy Ghost, but that is not what you are looking for. You are looking for the fact that presence takes many forms, because it doesn’t take forms. But presence exists in many, many conditions. Here, in the center of this room, it is empty. If you look at it now, there is no life in it, there is a dead emptiness. But if around this table there was a really vibrant group of people, this space would have a living presence.
True emptiness does not differ from form.
Wolkentor Berg (App 1994)
You said that presence has no form but it can be transmitted or embodied through many forms. The drama of every art is that although we are called to presence, the only tool we have to respond to this call is form (shapes, words, movements, sounds, ideas and so on). How do you think this relation is possible? How can form open a space in itself for presence to emerge?
For Bill, all experience was one: sound meant silence, movement was part of stillness. There were no divisions: dividing was just a way of thinking.
Peter Brook (Segal 2003)
All forms and objects are practical and they are useful. But they are just a starting point. If I need an empty cup to put tea in it (tea does not call for a cup and the cup itself doesn’t call for tea either), but we know that both the cup and the tea are We are aware that the conductor is not really making the music, it is making him - if he is relaxed, open and attuned, then the invisible will take possession of him; through him, it will reach us.
Peter Brook (1968)necessary. When the tea is in there, I can taste it and I can tell you right away if it has quality or not. Then it is a living experience.
We can say the same about theater. We have a stage that is completely empty, then one person comes on to it, another person comes, a beautiful woman comes from the other corner. A man turns to her and says “hey” — “oiga” — and at that minute something can begin to create itself and either be blocked by a million things or can begin to blossom. And in the same way, with a painter, an actor, a dancer or a musician.
Remember the piano concert the other night?4 Inspiration is there all the time for anyone whose mind is not covered over with thoughts, and concerns…Of course we know that an untroubled state of mind can not last, so we say that inspiration comes and goes, but it is there all the time waiting for us to be untroubled again.
Agnès Martin (2012)The pianist doesn’t tell himself to make himself present, but it is through years of work, and thought, and understanding how to work with his body and fingers, that through his body came something that became this thing that we call sound. He isn’t calling it. He is in a way looking, listening, making his listening finer, more sensitive. And then, within it, and with our self as well – because we were bringing our presence to his presence – between us, a presence appeared, a presence was born. We didn’t make anything, because presence cannot be made and yet, presence is It is my belief that every one of us is a vessel that contains a very great energy which goes unattended… there is something in us that is waiting to be called. And if we attend to it, if we acknowledge it, we will then be in touch with a force that can illuminate…. When one is still and one listens, then one begins to be in touch with this mysterious element which is within each one of us.
Segal (2003)born continually.
This morning, you talked about three things. The Buddha Heads, Giacometti and Henry Moore.
Yes. It is a hard question, this invisible and undefinable, and yet very real something that we call presence. If we look at sculptures of ancient Buddhas heads, one can see that any beautiful Buddha – that is, a really fine Buddha, sitting perfectly in position – when we look at his face, without any philosophical or scientific explanation, we can see in the stone and feel through the stone that he is breathing. That is just a direct experience that anyone can have. Because with a little imitation Buddha, you see exactly the same lines, the same elements. Only Silence can reach that dimension of reality that is too deep for words.
Thomas Merton (Shannon 2000)Even if you compare two photographs, they are identical. And yet it doesn’t breathe, and so the presence is not there. It is as simple as that. There are many, many Buddhas all over the The efficacious art work leaves silence in its wake.
Susan Sontag (1969) The silence of eternity prepares for a thought beyond thought, which must appear from the perspective of traditional thinking and familiar uses of the mind as no thought at all.
Susan Sontag (1969)world. With some of those truly beautiful Buddha statues, one can feel a life, a presence, a spirit, a breathing. Those are all different ways of saying the same thing: the Buddha is dead material, but has become living material, because something is in a certain way animating it5.
Now, one must come back to the fact that presence is a marvelous theme I believe that universal knowledge is everywhere around us… you only have to tune out all the noise around you. In order to do this, you have to exhaust your own system of thinking, and your own energy… When your brain is so tired of working that it can no longer think – that is the moment when liquid knowledge can enter.
Marina Abramović (Levy 2016)because it puts us in front of the great unknown. But the unknown is the most active, positive, miraculous thing. It is something that cannot be grasped with ordinary, everyday language. It cannot be grasped by scientists or philosophers, but very simply every one of us can experience it.
I remember having that exact same experience when visiting a show of ancient Buddhist sculpture some months ago at the Asia Society. And it was the most Any expression of quality is the result of this relationship between two opposite worlds, between two levels of reality.
Paul Reynard (2000)striking show I have seen. If I was quiet and receptive enough, I could experience the transmission of a certain quality of life, a kind of silent knowledge, a knowledge without words or concepts. I have seen many Buddhas and they don’t have this extraordinary quality. One can feel that it is maybe related to the presence of the monk that makes the sculpture, to his own contact or participation with this living knowledge, with this living presence. But it is really something impossible to explain.
It cannot be explained. And yet, we have something in us that corresponds to this word that no dictionary can tell you – but we know what it means – which is “quality”. Something that has more of that quality and something that has less of that quality. Only living experience can tell us this. And there is no use talking about art, music or theater in any form unless we recognize these different shades of quality. That is essential.
Inspiration is absolutely elusive in the way that it cannot be taught or managed or controlled.
Agnès Martin (2012)
We know that this “*quality of presence“* is impossible to control or manufacture – there is no possible recipe one can follow to achieve it – but how can you prepare for that event to happen?
You prepare like in the kitchen. You have to prepare your ingredients, Everyone discusses my art and pretends to understand, as if it were necessary to understand, when it is simply necessary to love.
Claude Monetand then you put them on the necessary heat, and something is transformed. If we are artists – again, painters, musicians, actors, performers, The essential thing is to work in a state of mind that approaches prayer.
Matisse Nothing can be accomplished without love.
Matissedancers, – who care, we are talking about the same thing. There is the first step: young people that want to be dancers, who want to be filmmakers, they go to school and there they learn techniques, information, experience.
If you look at 19th century art, there are beautiful things – like the Van Goghs — when a man’s love for sunlight, for certain mountains, and for certain nature comes through — or the Italian artists Manifesting takes place from Spirit. It doesn’t take place from form, from the physical world.
Picassoof the great period of the Renaissance, starting with Giotto, after Giotto we see a real pure — and this we also find in oriental paintings and tapestries – that beautiful care, loving sensitive care, that goes into every detail. For me, one of the great words that we have as a sign, is the word detail.
I have seen great connoisseurs looking at painting of the great Italian period, looking at old Rembrandts, looking at the great period of painting of Holland. They say you can actually see the quality of the brushwork. Now, you have to be a very sensitive lover of art to be able not only to look at a painting of Rembrandt and feel this, but if you look very closely, you can also feel that that love and care is not something that lies on the surface.
All art schools take their pupils to museums to make copies. And that is very important. The copy of the superficial detail won’t have the sense of detail of the brushwork, that needs something way beyond the student’s capacity. And beyond that, the love of every detail in the work and in the person which gives a painting that presence that makes us come from all around the world to what you are expressing you saw in your visit to the Buddhist sculpture show.
Presence is a marvelous theme, because we don’t need to talk about it too often. As I said, it is invisible, and nobody can define it, but we can feel it, and we can feel it particularly when is not there. If we once felt it, then we know when it is not there.
At a certain point of my life, I was deeply influenced by a book that I read in my early ages of Matila Ghyka, I actually see the painting in my mind. But to get from this little tiny painting up to a 5 by 5 foot scale.. Because if you make any mistake in the scale, it doesn’t work out….It doesn’t look very hard, but it is. How wide four blue bands will be, according to the inspiration. And how much is left for the white bands. It’s hard.
Agnès Martin (Lance 2003)a Romanian lover of art, who wrote a book on what is now still known as the “Golden Section” (Ghyka 1978). This book is purely about proportion. You can see that painters as Leonardo, – or any great Renaissance painter – prepared their canvas with certain lines in order to give a proportion to what they were doing. And then they thereon would paint freely.
We can feel a certain sense of presence there is in numbers and proportion. Certain relations between certain numbers touches one in a deep way. The same can be seen in musical harmonies, because here you can see that within it there is a relation between two and three, and nine, and six, all those which makes the shape and the rhythm. So that is proportion, and proportion leads to presence.
There are proportions — as mathematics, as a function of the intellect, calculating, planning, and projecting. And there is also this image that you give of Picasso, feeling, and responding, in the freedom of movement. You can also see this search of free movement without calculation, the feeling of participating in a bigger and natural flow, that we see not only in Picasso and Sumi-e painting, but also in Tai Chi and even in dance and theater. What do you feel can be the search within movement, that is free from the grid of structure and calculation and yet that may be sensitive to the emergence of harmony within itself?
Even in action, the stillness is always there. The point is that we don’t listen to it. It doesn’t make any difference what the action is. In the background, in the interior of oneself, there is always this vibration, this energy that can change things ultimately and transform them in an upward direction.
William Segal (2003)Yes, of course. All that we are talking about and all this analysis that we are doing is about preparation, student work. It is very important, but it is just preparation.
Every dancer will tell you that, if while they are dancing, they try to think of what was said in the class “do this, don’t do that”. Then it’s gone. The moment is lost. You dance with the joy of freedom. But, somebody watching is touched without The more technique you have, the less you have to worry about it. The more technique there is, the less there is.
Picassoknowing it, because there is proportion. We must not even think of it. If it is in you, through your preparation, it will guide you. If it isn’t in you, you won’t I never calculate. That is why those who do, calculate so much less accurately than I… The best calculation is the absence of calculation.
Now you talk about sensitivity. I have seen highly priced artists, painters — highly priced. But you and I, we are not touched. We say “yes, it is pretty good”. They wish to do their best, but inside – the inside that leads the hand, the inside of the eye – that careful, loving, sensitivity is not there, because it is love from where this comes. People ask me, “Don’t you ever run out of ideas?” In the first place I don’t use ideas. Every time I have an idea it’s too limiting, and usually turns out to be a disappointment. But I haven’t run out of curiosity.
Robert RauschenbergSo you just see the outer shape. Presence, “pure shape,” — can touch you, but you don’t have to try to do this or that. You have to understand, know, learn and work, but when it comes to creating, When the thinking is exhausted, then is the time for inspiration.
Agnès Martin (2012)one must be absolutely free.
But coming back to the two other people that we talked about this If I think, everything is lost.
Paul Cezannemorning, Giacometti and Henry Moore.
Giacometti is a wonderful artist that everyone respects. In the museum of Basel, there are two rooms dedicated to his statues – which are all about finely observed human beings, usually in movement – and there is such a quality in the ones, that you see lifting a hand or putting a foot forward, and you can feel the life of that foot moving forward, even though they are not actually moving.
One of the rooms is absolutely exceptional. It is a small room, and there are about ten objects in it, and they are all figures caught, like in a photograph, within a movement. But, the person that put them together in this gallery just placed them so, that you could feel an invisible relationship: The moments of inspiration added together make what we refer to as sensibility defined in the dictionary as “response to higher feelings.” The development of sensibility is the most important thing.
Agnès Martin (2012)that, if there was someone lifting his hand to there, and here on this side, there is someone just taking a step in that direction, the distance between them is just right and as you circulate between these ten or twelve figures, at every moment there is a living flow, not only within the figure, but within them all. I have never seen anywhere an exhibition in a museum or a gallery of that quality, because you felt the presence not only of the object, but something that filled the whole room by something that has only one word: Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.
Talking about the possibility of presence in proportion, there seems to be a relation like if there was some kind of vibration or tuning that one could do in the relation of things, for creating some note, or resonance in the space6. As an architect, this is very evident; the vibration of space and the different notes that one can create by changing just a little bit the distance, size, or an angle. The whole quality of space is transformed and the effect on our bodies is totally different.
Giorgio Morandi, drawing 1958
Exactly, exactly! It is a tuning. That’s why I have seen that relation in shape and space, that’s why proportion could help. In Bologna, there is the Atelier of Morandi, where they show his last seven or eight years.
In the last period of his life, he was too weak, or too ill to be able to paint. But he had at his table a series of carefully chosen little objects, and he would spend hours and hours doing what for him was an enormous pleasure – moving them to see what would be the most living relationship – just for himself, not to be recorded. And that never ended, there was no conclusion – he was exploring.
Morandi is a great example of the fine tuning in painting. All his work is about these little relations of positive and negative spaces, little subtleties in texture, small shifts in tone, hue and value.
Exactly. But you see, when he couldn’t paint any longer he could still European thought expects no less than happiness and truth from presence, from intimately penetrating it or unveiling it from a distance; it makes the reign of presence coincide with plenitude. Were it only to strike us in a flash, presence would illuminate and fill.
François Jullien (2009)explore this endlessly with just a few objects that he loved on his table. And by just moving one, it opened up a whole new set of possibilities (just like what we talked about with Picasso). Day after day, it was never the same, never fixed. But when he found it, the presence was there.
Until now, we have been talking about this living vibration of presence through detail, through this fine tuning, through subtle care. But for Giacometti, or for many other artists, like the Abstract Expressionist artists presence was equally important. Although, these artists were looking for presence in a more expressive way, not only through the finer energies that are within us, but also through the “rough” energies, which also need a place, because they are in us, they are in nature.
How do you think both forces can be included in the creative experience? And what do you think is the place for the “rougher” energies, and for that need for expression in relation to what we are talking about?
Of course, if you are only looking for the fine, it becomes weak.
Yes, and pretentious and purely aesthetic. The aim is life.
Let’s take for example the marvelous paintings of Hopper. Here you see that he brings his own best sensitivity to what he loved: So much of every art is an expression of the subconscious that it seems to me most of all the important qualities are put there unconsciously, and little of importance by the conscious intellect.
Edward Hoppera simple room in a bar with a window. Looking for that whole range, from the rough – the rough being the texture of everyday life – and within it, the light of something that goes through the rough fabric and, like light, gives us a new radiance. Because Presence and Radiance are inseparable. The radiance comes from proportion, Luminosity is a reflection of a higher world, which sometimes enters your world and my world through a face, through an apple, through a painting. It is always here, this luminosity, but it’s so densely hidden. Luminosity is all around us in everything. The painter, with a certain quality in himself, is able to evoke this on canvas.
William Segal (2003) The second big surprise Bill handed me was from his drawings, which aptly got called “transparencies”… The clear light, is just transparency… it is a light that does not fall on objects, but comes from within them, casting no shadows. It is a self-luminous, non-dual awareness and presence.
Robert Thurman (Segal 2003)from light and shadow, from loving care; and if the artist is too hurried, or he is too pretentious, or if he is too ambitious, (this are natural human characteristics, we are not here to criticize them) but one can see then that the quality of the object is not the same.
Now, let’s talk about Henry Moore. We went to visit, with Henry Moore, his studio outside of London. He was working on these large female figures, one of which he had just finished working on. And he told me this simple, beautiful, intimate little words; he said: “You know, when I am working on this, all the time I am thinking on my mother, whom I loved dearly. Because she had very bad arthritis. She had great pains in her back. So, during the last years of her life, I would go to see her, and she would ask me to take the creams that were made for her, and rub them gently into her back. And I would always do it. So when I work on the back of a woman, I remember that feeling of touching, with love, my mother’s back.” He said this from the heart. And if you look at the sculpture from the front, it was one thing, from the side another, and then, when I think one’s art goes as far and as deep as one’s love goes.
Andrew Wyethyou saw the back, you could see that the back was like the face of Buddha: it was alive.
Talking about Henry Moore, if you compare his treatment of form with Michelangelo, for example, or with Rodin, or Anish Kapoor, you can see a certain kind of evolution of forms throughout history. While we have probably all been trying to talk about the same thing – the same human questions and experiences – , we have done it through radically different forms. How do you see this “historicity of form”?
Form is number two. As simple as that. And this is the terrible thing in The purpose of art, I believe, is to reveal the existence of a different level of reality, a reality that is beyond form.
Paul Reynard (2000)universities and art schools. Which start with form.
What we are looking for (always with the help of form) is to see what illuminates it. And we would see that what illuminates form takes on a value. If we are listening and following life, life is in movement all the time, and form changes all the time. So, every great artist of every great period is The different styles I have been using in my art must not be seen as an evolution, or as steps towards an unknown ideal of painting. Everything I have ever made was made for the present and with the hopethat it would always remain in the present.
Picasso Don’t try to be original. Be simple… and if there is something in you, it will come out.
Matisse Variation does not mean evolution. If an artist varies his mode of expression this only means that he has changed his manner of thinking.
Picassoaware of the constant changing forms of life. This is why, for contemporary painters and musicians, writing music in the style and form of Stravinsky or Bach does not make any sense. Those were forms that were very right for their period, and after everyone follows this, and calls it “art history”. But then, comes a time (and Picasso was the best example in our time) when someone feels “No, we can’t go on today doing these naturalistic as we have for fifty years. There is something new to be revealed. Let’s try to find the form for it.” And one sees – Picasso is the best example – developing and looking all his life, and in his work, throughout his career, as his form changing throughout his lifetime all the time. Not because he wanted to change the forms, but because life was changing around him.
If you had a group of people, like what you do in theater, to search a new way of painting. You are there, confronted with a white canvas. How would you approach this quest?
Very very simple. Everything comes back to very simple words that we learnt when we were children: “Trial and error”, what we call the rehearsal process. Everything that I am opposed to — which is what I call “deadly” theatre — a director arrives on set after having worked out in detail, what everything must be. Paintings are but research and experiment. I never do a painting as a work of art. All of them are researches. I search constantly and there is a logical sequence in all this research.
PicassoThe director and his assistant say to the actors: “Alright now you get up on this line, you cross over there, you sit on the table. And a light will suddenly come through that window”… For me, a director and the group of actors must prepare. They have to prepare the instrument, prepare the body, doing exercises. But what is most important is to try and to be ready to say: “I have tried it and it´s no good. We must look again”. Nothing of that is wasted, it is a process of trial and error.
People have seen in my work what they call simplicity. And I have warned every young person: “If you start with simplicity, you will get nowhere”, Art is the elimination of the unnecessary.
Picassoyou have to go through this process of trial and error, and elimination. And then what is left…, is just like preparing something in the kitchen, you get rid of what becomes rubbish until you are left with something of fine taste.
Now, if you see – and this is the most important thing for your work – that presence is a by-product. Presence, for all we have talked about, is always a potential, but it won’t arise unless all the conditions are right. But if you start by saying “what we need is to find presence”, then you have no chance.
One can see that it is not possible to control the appearance of presence in our work, When I was looking for truth, I found out that the best way was, just look around, and you don’t see anything. But just be in the mood for truth. It is a happy state of mind, very small happiness. And you stay alert, and you don’t see anything. But you stay alert. And then it just comes into your mind.
Agnès Martin (Lance 2003)we can not “manufacture presence.” So we are left there, alone, with no tools, in front of our lack of openness, our lack of sensitivity, in a total nullity to respond to this call for participating of something higher than our personal limitations and subjectivities…
Yes, but wait. Because everything is, only in relation to something else – other ways, your self-criticism is meaningless. So what has to be there, developed over and over again, is a sense of quality.
Through continuing to paint, there will come a moment where there is an opening which can teach what I cannot speak about. As if one suddenly knows something – maybe not much – but you know something that you didn’t know before.
William Segal (2003)You make a gesture, whether you are an actor or a painter, and then youlook at it and you say: “Yes, that is the idea, but the quality is notthere”. And you start again.
The pianist has to do exercises. He is not looking for something magical or mysterious. He is just looking to recognize – as he plays and as he listens – something in terms of quality, of a “pure quality”, of a better quality, of a finer quality. Because there is always in us, a very intimate sense – like a call – that there is a better quality.
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Lance, Mary. 2003. « Agnes Martin: With My Back to the World ».
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Peter Brook is an English theatre and film director who has been based in France since the early 1970s. He has won multiple Tony and Emmy Awards, a Laurence Olivier Award, the Praemium Imperiale, and the Prix Italia. Known for movies like “Lord of the Flies” (1964), “Marat/Sade” (1967) and “Meetings with remarkable men” (1979) as well as many theater plays, as “Mahabharata”, 1985, and “Battlefield”, his last play that was presented in New York a couple of months ago.↩
Ajanta and Ellora are one of the largest rock-cut monastery-temple caves complexes in the world. The sites present monuments and artwork of Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism from the 2nd century BCE to about 480 or 650 CE and from the 600-1000 CE periods respectively.↩
He refers to a piano concert played by Laurence Rosenthal↩
It was an experience comparable to the one I experienced when I noticed the absence of a presence in the body of my deceased grandfather, an experience that impelled my research.↩
The different “vibrations” that Agnès Martin can create with arrangements of very subtle distances between parallel lines are an excellent example. This repetition of lines over different distances becomes a visual instrument, generating different notes on the space that one can feel while looking at his paintings.↩