perfectly useful concentration

What one seems to want in art, in experiencing it, is the same thing that is necessary for its creation, a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration.

 – Elizabeth Bishop, letter to Anne Stevenson, Jan. 1964

In the same boat: It’s very interesting to see how Bishop, in this short and powerful statement, parallels experiencing & creating art i.e. the perceiver & the artist; we are both looking for the same thing – a self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration.

Self-forgetful concentration is precisely what happens in the artistic process–an absorption in the moment, a pouring of the self into the now. We are, as Dickinson says, ‘without the date, like Consciousness or Immortality.’ That is what artistic work and child’s play have in common; both, at their fullest, are experiences of being lost in the present, entirely occupied.

– Mark Doty, The Art of Description, 2010

Maybe it’s possible to – instead of Doty’s “the artistic process” – describe the self-forgetful, perfectly useless concentration as the aesthetic moment, a place where artwork and receiver fuse.

Christo and Jeanne-Claude  Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76

Christo and Jeanne-Claude
Running Fence, Sonoma and Marin Counties, California, 1972-76

The next step could be – and here I’m bringing Damasio into the party – to evolve out of the fuse = become selves (again); to separate emotion from feeling. For neuroscience, emotions are more or less the complex reactions the body has to certain stimuli, say for example art. This emotional reaction occurs automatically and unconsciously. This is what happens in what I termed the aesthetic moment.  Feelings occur after (according to Damasio feelings occurs after emotions) we become aware in our brain of such physical changes; only then do we experience the feeling of pleasure, fear, joy etc.

Mind begins at the level of feeling. It’s when you have a feeling that you begin to have a mind and a self.

In short: Art is about loosing and creating self …

2 comments on “perfectly useful concentration

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