What am I talking about?

Posted: 24.10.2008

Eduardo Chillida, Wind Combs, 1972-77. Photo: Justin Knecht.

My former art school classmate Joe Barbaccia wrote to ask: what do I mean when I “refer to artists as quantum practitioners?” At best, it will take many of these posts to address that question, but then that’s why I began blogging. Here’s a start:

About 1982, I began to see a relationship between the process I used making monotypes, and the process of zen brush work which I described in “The Essence of Sho.” I found that on a given day, with the same ink, palette, brush and paper I could wind up with vastly differing results. The same black ink would be muddy and lifeless in one example, and crisp, alive, magical and vibrant in another. Not only did it look as though I was using different paper or better materials, but the works also succeeded in moving beyond my expectations in terms of content. Mind you, this would happen one out of a hundred attempts – but it was worth the wait. Zen painters speak about the intention and the moment in which all the variables are united in a state of no mind; with pure intention, magic can happen.

Finding out a couple years later about the Zen calligraphy research made me think that there was a relationship between this centuries-old art and my studio experience; opening a new dimension to me. This was my first example of what I am linking to what we now understand as quantum theory. It’s clearly evident in Bert Irvin’s work, and in Dick Callner’s late work (he and I discussed this a lot from the mid 1980’s). Here’s another thought:

I found that I could never work with a pre-conceived idea (here’s that no mind thing again), but more with a desire to satisfy a deeply felt need. Many of the teachings I had at Tyler ran counter to this way of working, suggesting that an artist would first: get an idea, then execute that preconceived plan. (This method, and the method I used, are both valid ways to make art. In fact, there is no limit on the number of valid ways to make art, but hold that thought for a minute also …)

Around 1994, a student of mine, who was working on a masters in art therapy at Hannemann University Hospital, Philadelphia, came into my studio and said: “I got it. You’re haptic!” According to the research of Lowenfeld and Brittain:

At about the age of twelve or so it is possible to see examples of two types of expression. One is called the visual type, and the other is usually referred to as the haptic (from the Greek word haptos, meaning to “lay hold of”). Theoretically at opposite ends of the continuum, these types refer to the mode of perceptual organization and the conceptual categorization of the external environment. The visually minded person is one who acquaints himself with his environment primarily through his eyes or feels like a spectator. A person with haptic tendencies, on the other hand, is concerned primarily with his own body sensation and subjective experiences, which he feels emotionally. (Lowenfeld & Brittain, Creative and Mental Growth, eighth edition ,1982 p.326)

I recognised myself in this description instantly. (I had been referring to my work as “working toward the visual, not from it”). Although “haptic” and “visual” were used to discuss art therapy for children, I began to see that the whole of art history could be classified as either haptic or visual, or various proportions of both. If you read the notes, aphorisms or interviews of Constantin Brancusi, you see that his studio process is littered with haptic references. He said:

It is not making things that is difficult; what is difficult is putting ourselves in condition to make them.

Eduardo Chillida, the Basque sculptor said:

I believe works conceived a priori are born dead … I cannot begin a work until I have, how shall I say it … (he sniffs the air, like a hunting dog) … got the aroma. The scent of the piece. That is what I follow. Not an idea or form.

I’ll be blogging about both these artists again, but let me make this third jump and propose that haptic is to wave as visual is to particle, or haptic is to Quantum as visual is to Newtonian. Yes, I do believe that from the beginning of time (and increasingly as our awareness of the practices, cultures and artifacts on our planet progress) there have been artists, philosophers, healers and etc. who have manifested their gifts in processes which look strikingly like modern definitions of quantum sciences (read anything by David Bohm, who has written much about the creative process and Stuart Hameroff M.D. who has written a lot about why this Quantum stuff looks like Zen).

This post is not a complete answer, but I’m going to keep trying. For 28 years I have been collecting references, artifacts, quotes, books, experiences and art linked to resonance, frequency, intention, light, sound and more. Are human beings of the 20th and 21st centuries the first to call themselves quantum practitioners, or just the most recent?