Non-sense

Let me pick up from my brief post of yesterday, which concerned in part the value of asking the nonsensical rather than (or in addition to) the rational question. What led me to that topic is the recent death, at age 101, of artist Dorothea Tanning, whose work–both visual and textual–is often considered surrealistic.

Surrealism goes in and out of fashion, and I am not planning to comment critically on its aesthetic value; but I will say that I have admired and been influenced by artists working in the surrealist oeuvre and that I enjoy the way “nonsense” and  “non-sense” can lead to juxtapositions of ideas and images that have proven fruitful for my own creative work process.

The nonsensical question may follow along the lines of:

How does the sunflower feel when a bird feeds on it?

Non-rational, because the sunflower does not–as far as we know, in the rational/sentient way–feel anything emotionally; the jury may be out on whether there are tactile receptors in a sunflower that can feel anything physically. To answer the nonsensical question in this case requires a kind of metaphor or animation of the inanimate. (We could also argue the inanimate status of a sunflower seed-head.)

Further nonsensical inquiry could lead us to “What does the goldfinch say to the sunflower?” or, more nonsensical still, “What would a sunflower say to an electric guitar?”

Non-rational prompts can provoke interesting results in the process of creative thinking.

Back to Tanning. Her life itself was a creative process. Check out the biographies of her that are popping up online in response to her death. While I am not a fan of all of her work in her various media, I love her vivid and exciting explorations. Here’s one of her early, less-experimental works that appeals to me because of its imagery. I identify with this painting.

“What would it feel like to wear a nest on one’s head?”
As a poet, she was strongest in the area of visual figures (no surprise there). I’m running out of time now, so I will close with an excerpt from one of Tanning’s poems:
There was a time
of middle distance, unforgettable,
a sort of lace-cut
flame-green filament
to ravish my
skin-tight eyes.
I take that back—
it was forgettable but not
entirely if you
consider my
heavenly bodies . . .
I loved them so.
Heaven’s motes sift
to salt-white—paint is ground
to silence; and I,
I am bound, unquiet,
a shade of blue
in the studio.
(The entire poem, “Sequestrienne,” is here.)
For another surrealist whose poetry is not always classically surreal, see my posts on Eluard .
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