Saturday, November 14, 2009

Agnes Martin: With My Back to the World.

This is a wonderful woman and painter I had never known
of before watching a documentary on her on Sundance.
I recommend it with all my heart if you have a chance to see
it & if you have any connection to art & matters of the spirit.

I think I like the woman more than her paintings (which
are grid works mainly, simple, geometric, but with a
hand-made child-like touch). Watching the documentary
led me to allow her paintings to tune into me because
they were made by her & because of the way she
talks about them & how they come to be & what they
mean to her. (I actually applied her ideas on horizontal
planes while I was suffering in a dentist's chair the
other day. It allowed me to meditate the discomfort away,
distribute it along the mental plane through my tooth!)

She is often painting as she talks & answers the filmmaker's
questions. She speaks in the most simple way, sometimes with
an almost awkward childlikeness, but the content is so
surprising & radical, extreme. She speaks such a personal truth,
but it is true for me, too, when I listen from my purest
spiritual & artistic aspiration. I fear that some things
she says, in print, will seem arrogant. But in the documentary,
listening to this simple old woman in all her gentle halting
humility, I let in what she says in a way I never would if
she were aggressive in any way.

There's no real way I can convey the quietly powerful impact
of the documentary, but it was one of those introductions to
an important person I will long remember. She gives me courage
to follow my path. Here are some of the things she said:

"I don't believe in influence, unless it's you, yourself,
following your own track."

"I have never painted a grid that had squares,
because a square is sort of harsh & aggressive,
but a rectangle is more relaxed. The square is like
some people that you meet, the over confident & aggressive.
The rectangle is softer, more agreeable."

"The underside of the leaf,
cool in shadow,
sublimely unemphatic,
smiling of innocence.
The frailest stems
quiver in light,
bend and break in silence.
This poem, like the paintings,
is not really about nature.
It is not what is seen.
It is what is known forever in the mind."

"It doesn't matter where I work,
New York, New Mexico, anyplace, it's all the same.
The environment doesn't have any impact on my work,
because I don't paint nature, or this life, I mean,
on earth. (laughs)
It took me 20 years to paint what I wanted.
I didn't like the paintings.
They weren't what I wanted.
I didn't show em, I didn't sell em, for 20 years.
I had to work at something else, you know.
But finally I got the grid, and it was what I wanted.
Completely abstract, absolutely no hint
of any cause in this world."

"There's two parts of the mind.
The intellect--the servant of ego.
It does all the conquering, and all that sort of thing. (laughs)
The intellect is a struggle with facts.
The scientists, they discover a fact, and then
they discover another fact, that's related.
They make a deduction from all these facts.
Well, in my opinion, that is just guesswork,
and so completely inaccurate.
You're certainly never gonna find out the truth about life, (laughs)
guessing about facts.
I gave up facts entirely,
in order to have an empty mind.
For inspiration to come into, if your mind is full of garbage,
if an inspiration came,
you wouldn't recognize it anyway.
So you have to practice a quiet, empty mind.
I gave up the intellectual entirely.
I had a hard time giving up evolution (laughs)
and the atomic theory (laughs),
but I managed it. So, I don't believe in either one.
And I never have any ideas,
I'm very careful not to have any ideas
because they're inaccurate."

"You have to paint by inspiration.
For something new, you have to have inspiration.
Somebody's got to sit down & really want it.
That's all you have to do.
You don't have to make any effort.
Just not change your mind or anything.
I think that everybody should know what they want,
because life is built on it.
Say that you wanted to fly.
You sat down and you just really wanted to fly.
See, that's what the Wright brothers did.
It gradually came into their mind to make an airplane.
What came into their mind, that's inspiration.
I think that the aim of people is wrong,
and education, all this about ambition,
striving forward.
You know, I believe in sitting around waiting for inspiration.
I think that all aggressive behavior is wrong.
You go out and attack things,
like an army attacking.
I think aggression has to be given up entirely.
All this hard fast life, go go go, drive.
I'm absolutely convinced that with a soft attitude,
that you receive more.
The red is not dark enough
so I'm just going to darken it."

"You can see that I'm a pretty speedy painter.
You have to be in this climate. It's a very dry climate."

"It's very hard to quiet your mind.
You have to go slower and slower,
and then stop.
Then your mind is at rest.
And then you have to not try hard.
The best is when I was looking for the truth.
I found out the best way is just look around,
you don't see anything (laughs).
You have to be in the mood for the truth.
It's a happy state of mind,
very small happiness.
You stay alert.
You don't see anything,
but you don't have to,
you just stay alert and then it comes into your mind,
what to do.
You say, 'What can I do?'
and then you wait.
And sometimes you have to wait a long time
for an answer, and for an inspiration.
One time I went five months without,
I had to wait five months for an inspiration.
I almost died off (laughs).
You can tell people who live by inspiration.
They say, "I'll have to sleep on it,"
some kind of decision.
When you go to sleep, your intellect goes to sleep,
and your mind is clear."

"You look at the sky and it's perfect,
and then you look further and it's beautiful.
You enter into it and all that.
Beauty illustrates happiness.
The wind in the grass,
you know how happy the grass looks.
And the shining waves following each other.
The blue sky is a different kind of happiness,
the dark night another.
There are an infinite number of kinds of happiness.
All illustrated by beauty.
When you look around, you see it on all sides."

"I can see humility, delicate and white.
It is satisfying, just by itself.
And trust, absolute trust, a gift, a precious gift.
I would rather think of humility
than anything else.
Humility, the beautiful daughter.
She cannot do either right or wrong,
She does not do anything.
All of her ways are empty.
Infinitely light and delicate,
she treads an even path.
Sweet, smiling, uninterrupted, free."

"I've read all the spiritual stuff.
I have my own.
It's just an everyday experience."

I have to stop. I could write the whole thing down.

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