When teaching I am sometimes amazed at how quickly a student grasps a new idea or technique. Things can be light and quick and art-making seem quite straightforward. Returning to myself the register becomes heavier, it’s another gear and it grinds. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a slow worker (uncertainty and incompetence have also taken their toll) Printmaking is a slow medium, and things seldom go as planned, at least not as I’ve planned, maybe there’s a grander plan I remain unaware of. I like the name of the Printmaking studio – ‘The Black Church’ – the devotional and the forbidden, a place for worshiping the dark. There is a print workshop and publisher in London called ‘Hope (sufferance)’, an even better name, hope and sufferance, it’s always like that, and in that order, hope and sufferance.
During a recent studio visit Kate Strain and I talked about ‘seriousness’ in making art, we identified a holy trinity – rigor, thoughtfulness, and awareness of context – as important criteria for identifying seriousness. I’ve been mulling over the ‘rigor’ bit, what do we mean when we use the term in art-making?
Usually the notion of rigor makes me think about being true to something. Rigor equals honest endeavor. But doesn’t the term also suggest something rigid, harsh and stiff? Rigor can imply insensitivity; in botany for example the term denotes inertia. It can imply inflexibility, after death the body succumbs to ‘Rigor mortis ‘, the ‘stiffness of death’!
Maybe ‘rigor’ could be replaced in the sacred trio by a less exacting quality, suppleness perhaps, or openness. Is remaining supple and open (and calm – there is a sign in the Black Church that reads ‘keep calm and print on’) a more effective strategy, and one more in keeping with art’s (and life’s) vicissitudes?
3-Triúr (In Search of Musical Form), a documentary made by Dónal O’Céilleachair was shown on RTE during the week. The film followed three musicians, Peadar Ó Riada, Martin Hayes, and Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, recording together. The sessions took place in Ó Riada’s house (and in particular in his dad’s – the late Seán Ó Riada – small study)
Introducing a piece Peadar Ó Riada remarked, “There ‘s no melody in this tune, the melody is in the structure”
Later Martin Hayes quoted an old saying, “ After seven repetitions comes a great truth”
Caoimhin Ó Raghallaigh is the youngest of the three and was less disposed to talking. He did explain how he learned a new tune, how he listened to it played again and again, in order to, “Let the structure sink deeper, and the letting out of it freer”
During a physical examination this morning the neurosurgeon asked if I had lost any “crispness of perception?” Admiring the phrase seemed to spur him to increasing heights of eloquence. I learned how the spinal cord and spinal nerves are protected by a column of “cavity blocks” (vertebrae), they “live within a house of bone”. We looked at my scans, cerebrospinal fluid and the nucleus pulposus were mentioned, medical terms can be worrying or reassuring depending on the countenance of the speaker. The surgeon seemed optimistic. Finally, standing up from his chair, he exhorted me to “go and live your life”, and assumed the position of Superman about to take flight.