Excerpts from “Poiesis and Art-Making: A Way of Letting-Be”
I submit that poiesis is something very much ‘in process’ contemporaneously, that it remains an ‘undercurrent’ striving toward the light of day. As such it is likely to surface in rather surprising forms, not least in ‘found objects,’ ‘ready-mades,’ ‘assemblages,’ or ‘installations’ where the artist’s intuitive faculty – in the selection and compositional arrangement of freely chosen elements – appears uppermost. Here I attempt to highlight the presence of a poietic dynamic in the activities of contemporary art practice from the perspectives of painting, poetry, and music.
Another feature of a poiesis ‘in process’ is its relationship with the concept of praxis. I exemplify their relation from Greek thought, and develop the idea that instead of seeing praxis as the exercise of a practical or intentional will alone, we may conceive its relation to poiesis as bringing about a transforming encounter between the artist and his/her work in the unfolding conditions of art-making itself. I go on to argue that in a contemporary sense we need to re-engage what I call thepoietic act: with that which discloses us as the receivers of the gift of art. This raises the issue of who or what gives the gift of art, and I develop this in both aesthetic and artistic terms. And I conclude that working with the raw materials of the imagination (ideas, concepts, schemata) and those of the material order (paint, clay, or stone), constitutes a means of renegotiating our sense of ‘place’ with a renewed and placeful place of poietic and non-exploitative encounter. I develop the idea that poiesis may be seen in those undertones of creative activity that drive us toward a space of ‘unitary multiplicity,’ wherein the artist, the artwork, and the receiver of such a work are brought forward in all the palpability of their self-presentation.
An artist, writer or musician is at some pains to give a work ‘its head,’ so to speak; for a work has a life of its own, as the abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock once said, and the attempt is to try and let it ‘come through.’
We could say, then, that parallel to the artist’s intentionality, an artwork’s essential features are given in one fundamental operation, that a work makes itself tangible.
As the poet Juan Ramón Jiménez has aptly said, ‘let us think more with our hands.’ It is this thinking with our hands that communicates not just any perceived intentionality on the artist’s part, but a site or space wherein a multiple and unified complementarity of idea and raw material coincide in the fullest potential of their happening. Working with the raw materials of the imagination (ideas, concepts, schemata) and those of the material order (paint, clay, or stone), constitutes for the artist and the artwork a means of settling an Umwelt, ‘a living environment,’ a renewed and placeful place of poietic and non-exploitative encounter.
I have suggested that poiesis will be sensed in those undercurrents of artistic activity that impel us toward a place of ‘unitary multiplicity,’ wherein the artist, the artwork, and the receiver enact themselves in the full complementarity of their self-abandonment.
Derek H. Whitehead
Full article can be found here. Whitehead has made some great points here. I’m jealous of academic writing that looks so effortless and simple, but manages to describe complex theories.