I drew this this morning after a session of Authentic Movement. It’s a kind of moving meditation, a group practice of discovering the impulses to movement within your body, following them wherever they lead you, and responding in the moment. The practice called Authentic Movement was developed in the 1950’s by Mary Starks Whitehouse, a student of choreographers Mary Wigman and Martha Graham, and developed in later decades by Janet Adler, Joan Chodorow, and others. My friend Peter Honchaurk, who studied the form with Adler, introduced me to it twenty years ago, and ever since then it’s been one of my essential practices. Nowadays I’m part of a peer group of Authentic Movers, and we meet once a month in Prospect Park in Brooklyn to move and witness together. Many people treat the practice as a form of somatic therapy, but for me it’s always been most essentially a way to stay in touch with the creative spirit that resides in the body and in the relationship between the inner world and the world outside.
The drawing above is an expression of the connection with elemental energies that I felt moving in the park. The remainder of the pictures in this post will consist of a collection of my doodles, most of which are done while at work, riding transportation, or talking on the phone, not in connection with Authentic Movement practice. Illustrations are in random order, so the relation of text to images is mostly coincidental. (Earlier posts on the art of doodling are here and here.)
In Authentic Movement we usually move with eyes closed. For a person like me, extremely visually oriented and, if not quite intellectual, at least mental, consciousness tends to reside mainly in the head, with the body serving as the vehicle to move the head around in the world. When the eyes are closed, awareness naturally shifts downward into the body. Eyes-closed orientation relies not on visual cues, but on contact with the ground or floor. Proprioception and tactility supplant visual/intentional navigation.
If you’ve followed this blog for a while you may have gleaned a central theme, that I treat visual art as an art of movement, like music or dance.
All organic forms, the bodies of plants, animals, and people, the shapes of clouds and of the land, emerge from dynamic processes of movement and growth.
To draw is to feel form back into the movement from which it arises.
You can get to know a landscape by roaming about it, feeling its texture with the soles of your feet and its contours as gravity reveals them to you.
A blank piece of paper is a fairly homogenous landscape, so roaming about it with a brush or pen or pencil is an exploration of the hills and valleys of your mind more than of the paper.
Authentic Movement takes place within a space defined by the “witnesses” who observe the “movers”, and with their attention create a protected circle where the magic can happen. A doodle happens in a space defined by the edges of the paper provided for it.
The doodle grows into the two-dimensional space of the paper as a growing houseplant expands within the space contained by its pot.
If you’re dancing in a space, of course you can keep going back and forth over the same little patch. When you’re making marks, you have to keep moving into territory that hasn’t been marked yet, as a plant’s roots must penetrate the as-yet unoccupied dirt.
In movement or in drawing or doodling, you are always responsive to sensory input. Marks or gestures may arise from internal impulses of nerves or emotions or imagination, or they may come from hearing a bird or feeling the wind.
This approach eschews concepts and plans. There is no preconceived idea one is trying to portray. There is simply a flow of moments, shapes that flow into other shapes, images and impulses arising in the mind, in the body, or in the world.
Of course, shapes are seen as things, and the imagination picks up images and runs with them, so free improvisatory doodling or moving is not necessarily strictly nonobjective, but I try to keep representational elements ambiguous, so that I retain the freedom to reinterpret them.
Most of these doodles are made without any particular idea in mind, but once they’re done it is much easier to come up with descriptive titles than it is for my figurative drawings. There is nothing like mindless abstract movement to inspire the imagination!
Organic movement is all about curves and spirals, meanders and branches, echoes and fractals.
How does electricity move? How does blood flow?
How do a flower’s petals unfold? How do a tree’s limbs reach out and out, penetrating a space of air?
How do you slip on the ice? How does water carve a canyon?
How does the wind wriggle through a gap? How does a weed expand a crack in concrete?
How do dividing cells accrete into a spine? How does heat make light ripple in air?
Why do arteries look like trees? Why do trees look like lightning? Why does a river delta look like a tree?
I want the movement of the hand to reflect the natural movement of growing things.
I want the movement of the hand to reflect the movement of the mind.
I want a drawing to grow like a plant grows.
I want random things to come into the drawing just as random things enter into any experience, any environment in the world.
I want to create not by fiat, but by adaptation.
The movement of the mind does not stand apart from the world. Like the movement of the body, it happens only within a world that has forces and pressures and countercurrents and resistance. To make is to engage.