DRAWING LIFE by fred hatt


The Verb “To Draw”


Sky God, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Sky God, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Today, on Drawing Life’s fifth anniversary, I would like to invite you to an exhibition (details at the bottom of this post) and to ask the question, “Why is ‘drawing’ called that?

Serrate, 2008, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Serrate, 2008, by Fred Hatt (detail)

The word “draw” comes from Old English and Germanic terms describing various forms of pulling. Sometimes it’s draw, sometimes drag, draft, or the like.

Neon Creature, 2008, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Neon Creature, 2008, bodypaint and photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

(Note: The illustrations between paragraphs are details of my artworks that have appeared in the past five years of Drawing Life. Clicking on the images will link you to the original posts containing uncropped versions of the works. An earlier post with similar detail crops is here.)

Mitchell 2, July, 2011, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Mitchell 2, July, 2011, by Fred Hatt (detail)

We have phrases like draw back, draw forth, draw out, draw in, draw from, draw towards, draw up, draw down.

Street Grass, 2008, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Street Grass, 2008, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

An account can be overdrawn, a character in a play underdrawn, breath indrawn.

Torso Vessels, 2009, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Torso Vessels, 2009, by Fred Hatt (detail)

You can draw a card, draw a gun, draw a conclusion, draw a crowd, draw a salary, draw a carriage, draw water, draw fire, draw a blank.

Waxing Moon, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Waxing Moon, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Supposedly the reason we use the word for sketching, or for making pictures, is because we draw our charcoal (or other marker) across a page. But of course the hand engaged in such action is pushing as much as it is pulling.

“The Active Mirror”,2003, by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing

The Active Mirror, 2003, drawing performance by Fred Hatt, detail of acetate drawing 

Maybe if we called it “pushing” instead of “drawing”, we would think of this artform differently. But the sense of pulling seems right to me in myriad ways.

Earth, 1998, photo tryptich by Fred Hatt (detail)

Earth, 1998, photo triptych by Fred Hatt (detail)

To draw observationally is to draw near to something, to study it as if you could pull its essence into you through your eyes. The artist draws inspiration from the subject. By having a subject or object of study the artist remains grounded in a living relational reality, drawing the spirit of life into the picture.

Vascular Tree, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Vascular Tree, 2005, photo by Fred Hatt (detail) 

To draw imaginatively is to draw images, entities, energies up from the unconscious. It is to find embryonic notions and incubate them, and to coax them out of the nest. It is to exaggerate, to extrapolate, to speculate, to reach into the well and draw up the water of potentiality, to make the unreal visible.

Connection, Healing Hands series, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Connection, Healing Hands series, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

To draw abstractly is to draw upon primeval attractive forces and the structures and processes that derive from them. It is to know hues and shades as pure qualia, to know marks and shapes as matter and energy, to know structures as harmonies.

Towering, 2012, 38? x 50?, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Towering, 2012, 38″ x 50″, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

To share one’s artwork with another person is to attract someone to you not with your looks but with your vision. Even the work of an artist long dead, if it be strong, brings some of those that experience the work close to the artist’s bosom or cranium. The audience is pulled into the artist’s way of experiencing the world.

Twixt, 2011, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Twixt, 2011, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

Of course most of what I’m saying applies not just to drawing per se, but to any really great work of art, be it music or dance, storytelling or performing. Art is what draws us. It draws us out of ourselves, draws us to a new way of feeling. Art draws magical power out of humble, earthy materials. Art calls up the bright spirits and the dark spirits so that they dance for us. Art draws us in. It draws out the creative power that is hidden everywhere and in all. Inspiration means the drawing of breath. Our consumer culture is all about taking in. Drawing is taking in with acute high awareness.

Licking Flames, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Licking Flames, 2009, photo by Fred Hatt (detail) 

Most of our contemporary arbiters of culture think of drawing as a subsidiary thing – a training practice like a musician’s scales, a quick and dirty throwaway tool like brainstorming with Post-It Notes, a messy way of working out a composition or concept, like a plot outline. They see drawing as sketchy, undeveloped, unsophisticated.

Soft Angles 5, 2009, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Soft Angles 5, 2009, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

I contend that drawing is one of the very most basic forms of art, along with music and dance and performing and storytelling. I think it makes more sense to say painting, sculpture, and design are developments from drawing than vice versa, and so drawing must be considered more fundamental.

Adapt Festival 3, 2013, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Adapt Festival 3, 2013, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Those who have followed this blog over the years know that I work with photography, video, performance, body art. I think of drawing as the root of my practice, and the other forms as extensions or variations on drawing. The images accompanying this text are details of figure drawings, doodles, abstract paintings, photographs, and body art. For me they all have some quality in common – a quality that is the essence of drawing.

Window Display in Sunlight, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt (detail)

Window Display in Sunlight, 2010, photo by Fred Hatt (detail) 

Where do you draw the line to define drawing as distinct from, say, painting? Wet media vs. dry? That doesn’t quite nail it. Some pastellists call their work paintings, while ink wash or watercolor sketchers may call their work drawings. Quick vs. developed? That doesn’t work either. There’s a fashion in the art world these days for painstakingly obsessive works using ink or pencil, works that may take longer to make than most paintings, and usually these get called drawings. My friend Lorrie Fredette, sculptor and installation artist, recently made a series of works using sutures, black and white threads sewn into sheets of paper, and she called these drawings. Not all drawings are linear, not all are monochromatic, not all are simple. If there is an essence that defines the art of drawing, it might be directness, or spontaneity, the distillation of energy in image.

Double Exposure, 2007, 30? x 60?, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Double Exposure, 2007, 30″ x 60″, by Fred Hatt (detail) 

What do you call an artist whose primary focus is drawing? Draftsman? That sounds to me like someone who makes schematics and blueprints. Calligrapher? Graphic artist? Designer? Cartoonist? Sketcher? Delineator? Depicter? Tracer? Doodler? Those are all subsets of drawing. “Drawers” usually refers to either sliding storage compartments or underpants, so that doesn’t quite fit the bill either. I have seen some use the term “drawist”, but that seems to me an awkward construction. I think I will have to settle for calling myself a drawing artist.

Coral, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt (detail)

Coral, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt (detail) 

If you are someone who draws, or who loves drawing, let me know in the comments section what drawing is all about for you.

Henry, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

Henry, 2010, by Fred Hatt (detail)

If you’re in the D. C. area you can see one of my original drawings in the exhibition “Melange“, curated by Iurro, at Artspace 109, 109 N. Fairfax Street, Alexandria, Virginia.Artists in the show include Rachel Blier, Peter Bottger, Joren Lindholm, Scott McGee, Paul McGehee, Jitka Nesnidalova, Tea Oropiridze, George Tkabladze, and Tati Valle-Riestra. The opening is Sunday March 16, 3 to 6 PM.  The show will be up March 18-May 10, 2014.


Drawing (the Bow) and Releasing (the Arrow)

Archer, 2013, by Fred Hatt

Last week I reread a little book I first read around twenty years ago. This post is a look back at how that book influenced me in my art practice. (The illustrations between paragraphs are details of artwork that has appeared previously in Drawing Life, and clicking on the images will link you to the posts containing uncropped versions of the works.)

Sheen (detail), 2010, by Fred Hatt

Sheen (detail), 2010, by Fred Hatt 

Zen in the Art of Archery is German philosophy professor Eugen Herrigel’s account of his experience studying archery in Japan  in the 1920’s under kyudo master Kenzo Awa. Awa taught the traditional Japanese art of the bowman as a spiritual practice aimed at transcendent mastery. Herrigel’s terse and eloquent account, which can easily be read in an afternoon, was one of the first attempts to make Eastern philosophy accessible to the nonspecialist western audience. His choice to approach the subject through practice rather than theory helps to show the roots of mystical ideas in down-to-earth realities. The accessibility of the writing has made this book a popular and often-imitated classic, though Herrigel’s own reputation has justifiably suffered because he later embraced Nazism. It reveals the limitations of Herrigel’s understanding – he never got to the supreme Buddhist virtue: compassion. The book, though, makes no moral or political claims, remaining simply an account of a particular approach to the learning of a craft.

Centered on the Feet (detail), 2012, by Fred Hatt

Centered on the Feet (detail), 2012, by Fred Hatt

In my youth and young adulthood, I read fairly extensively (for an amateur) in the literature of mysticism and esoteric philosophies. The first book that set me on that path was probably the Tao Te Ching (or Daodejing), a 2500-year-old masterpiece of aphoristic poetry that opened my eyes to a way of being in the world utterly unlike the modern Western consensus reality. Zen in the Art of Archery introduced me to the tradition of teaching these perhaps unintuitive ways of perceiving via the practice of various crafts or artforms. The movies have offered a pop version of this teaching method through their portrayal of Kung Fu masters and Jedi Knights, but the arts need not be martial – the Way is also taught through the bamboo flute, the calligraphy brush, through dance, poetry, yoga, flower arranging, sand painting, or the tea ceremony.

Drawing (detail), 2012, by Fred Hatt

Drawing (detail), 2012, by Fred Hatt

By approaching these ideas through a practice in the physical world, we understand them not as doctrines that must be taken on faith, nor as mysterious metaphysical mumbo-jumbo that relies on awe for its power. We experience them in our own bodies, interacting with tangible objects and the immutable laws of physics. The practice of a craft, no less than the practice of meditation or prayer, cultivates the spirit.

Dance of Hephaestos (detail), 2012, photo by Fred Hatt

Dance of Hephaestos (detail), 2012, photo by Fred Hatt

My early encounter with Zen in the Art of Archery convinced me that I could use the practice of art to transform my own perception of the world, to transcend the illusion of the separateness of ourselves and the things of our world. Science or philosophy can reveal the oneness of reality to our reason, but only the practice of an art can make us feel it in our bones. Herrigel’s book gave me important insights into how that might work. It sets forth a particular idea of what constitutes “mastery”, but one that can apply to various disciplines of art, craft, or athleticism.

Cathexis (detail), 2002, body painting and photo by Fred Hatt

Cathexis (detail), 2002, body painting and photo by Fred Hatt

Herrigel practiced archery over about five years under Master Awa. Mostly, the study involves endless repetitions of drawing the bow and releasing the arrow. The practice of shooting goes on for a very long time before a target is introduced, and even then the Master never looks at the target, but always at the student, at the quality of his attention and breath, at the relaxation of the muscles. He allows the student to struggle and fail to the point of despair before introducing any “zen” approaches to the seemingly insoluble problems the student faces, and even when such ideas have been mentioned it often takes a great deal more practice before the student begins to grasp them.

Claudia Quick Poses (detail), 2012, photo by Fred Hatt

Claudia Quick Poses (detail), 2012, photo by Fred Hatt

“You must hold the drawn bowstring,” says the Master, “like a little child holding the proffered finger. It grips it so firmly that one marvels at the strength of the tiny fist. And when it lets the finger go, there is not the slightest jerk. Do you know why? Because a child doesn’t think: I will now let go of the finger in order to grasp this other thing. Completely unself-consciously, without purpose, it turns from one to the other, and we would say that it was playing with the things, were it not equally true that the things are playing with the child.”

Squat (detail), 2009, by Fred Hatt

Squat (detail), 2009, by Fred Hatt

The goal of the practice is to lose all self-consciousness, to let something act through you rather than to act from the ego. The Western approach to the arts is all about the ego – expressing one’s feelings, proving one’s brilliance, selling one’s brand. Westerners encountering these Eastern ideas about transcending the ego or becoming empty of self often interpret them moralistically, as “the ego is bad”. The real idea is more about getting your “self” out of your own way, getting to that state that musicians call being in the groove, that athletes call being in the zone, that Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi described in his famous book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Ovum (detail), 2011, by Fred Hatt

Ovum (detail), 2011, by Fred Hatt

Those who practice improvisational music or dance with others know that when they are in the groove, changes and reactions happen spontaneously and without any reaction time. Suddenly the whole group modulates to a new key, simultaneously. If you were to ask them, not one of them “decided” to modulate, and no one had to notice the modulation and then react to it. Unconsciously, the “group mind” made a shift, and they were all there, together, instantaneously. Reaction or intention always has a delay, but in the groove there is no delay.

Arcs (detail), 2005, body painting and photo by Fred Hatt

Arcs (detail), 2005, body painting and photo by Fred Hatt

The state of being empty of self, as described in Zen in the Art of Archery is just such a state, except that there is no group. How can there be a group mind without a group? It works when you know that the world itself is the ultimate group mind, with which one can sometimes meld, especially while practicing actions one has repeated and repeated and repeated until they can happen without intention. On the path of mastery, one practices not to gain ultimate control, but to go beyond the need to control, to trust the natural flow of things. One practices endlessly not so that one may be fully conscious of every action one must perform, but to be able to perform the actions unconsciously.

Tropic (detail), 2008, by Fred Hatt

Tropic (detail), 2008, by Fred Hatt

This ideal of mastery as unconscious, effortless, and fully detached from the self is never perfectly attainable, but to keep moving it is important to have a goal that remains always just over the horizon.

Firesprite (detail), 2012, by Fred Hatt

Firesprite (detail), 2012, by Fred Hatt

“Your arrows do not carry,” observed the Master, “because they do not reach far enough spiritually. You must act as if the goal were infinitely far off. For master archers it is a fact of common experience that a good archer can shoot further with a medium-strong bow than an unspiritual archer can with the strongest. It does not depend on the bow, but on the presence of mind, on the vitality and awareness with which you shoot. In order to unleash the full force of this spiritual awareness, you must perform the ceremony differently: rather as a good dancer dances. If you do this, your movements will spring from the center, from the seat of right breathing. Instead of reeling off the ceremony like something learned by heart, it will then be as if you were creating it under the inspiration of the moment, so that dance and dancer are one and the same.”

Liquid Topology (Rereflection) (detail), 2007, photo by Fred Hatt

Rereflection (detail), 2007, photo by Fred Hatt

Zen in the Art of Archery introduced me to this ideal of mastery that has guided my practice of life drawing over the years. I am no master, but I travel on the path of mastery, trying more and more to let go and just let it happen, not to draw, but to be drawn.

Concave (detail), 2009, by Fred hatt

Concave (detail), 2009, by Fred hatt

All the images included in this post, with the exception of the first one, are details of works featured previously on Drawing Life. Click on any photo to be taken to the post where the uncropped version of the image can be found.


Mastering Life: Zhuangzi’s Parables of Craft

Zhuangzi is a collection of parables and philosophical dialogues on Daoist themes, dating to the third or fourth century BCE, and attributed to a writer named Zhuang or Zhuangzi or Chuang Tzu.  Much of the material is satirical or fantastical, using wild imagery, odd turns of phrase, and absurdity to crack conventional and complacent ways of thinking.  It mocks the Confucian impulse to reform the world as well as the logician’s claims to pure reason (even though it often puts its arguments in the mouth of Confucius and other traditional sages).  It argues for radical acceptance of the world, suggesting that we should give up complaining and striving, and instead seek to discover our oneness with the mysterious forces that make and move the world.

Zhuangzi likes to find transcendent principles in humble places, and many of the stories talk about the special skills of servants and artisans.  I find these passages particularly relevant to the creative practice, though of course they are metaphors that can lend their meaning to many aspects of life.  In this post, I’ve selected four parables of craft from the Zhuangzi.  These excerpts are from Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, Columbia University Press, 1964, translated by Burton Watson, a version both scholarly and literary, rollicking and lucid.

Bell Stand, 2012, by Fred Hatt


Woodworker Ch’ing carved a piece of wood and made a bell stand, and when it was finished, everyone who saw it marveled, for it seemed to be the work of gods or spirits.  When the marquis of Lu saw it, he asked, “What art is it you have?”

Ch’ing replied, “I am only a craftsman – how would I have any art?  There is one thing, however.  When I am going to make a bell stand, I never let it wear out my energy.  I always fast in order to still my mind.  When I have fasted for three days, I no longer have any thought of congratulations or rewards, of titles or stipends.  When I have fasted for five days, I no longer have any thought of praise or blame, of skill or clumsiness.  And when I have fasted for seven days, I am so still that I forget I have four limbs and a form and body.  By that time, the ruler and his court no longer exist for me.  My skill is concentrated and all outside distractions fade away.  After that, I go into the mountain forest and examine the Heavenly nature of the trees.  If I find one of superlative form, and I can see a bell stand there, I put my hand to the job of carving; if not, I let it go.  This way I am simply matching up ‘Heaven’ with ‘Heaven.’  That’s probably the reason that people wonder if the results were not made by spirits.”

Ferryman, 2012, by Fred Hatt


Yen Yüan said to Confucius, “I once crossed the gulf at Goblet Deeps and the ferryman handled the boat with supernatural skill.  I asked him, ‘Can a person learn how to handle a boat?’ and he replied, ‘Certainly.  A good swimmer has acquired his ability through repeated practice.  And, if a man can swim under water, he may never have seen a boat before and still he’ll know how to handle it!’  I asked him what he meant by that, but he wouldn’t tell me.  May I venture to ask you what it means?”

Confucius said, “A good swimmer has acquired his ability through repeated practice – that means he’s forgotten the water.  If a man can swim under water, he may never have seen a boat before and still he’ll know how to handle it – that’s because he sees the water as so much dry land, and regards the capsizing of a boat as he would the overturning of a cart.  The ten thousand things may all be capsizing and turning over at the same time right in front of him and it can’t get at him and affect what’s inside – so where could he go and not be at ease?

“When you’re betting for tiles in an archery contest, you shoot with skill.  When you’re betting for fancy belt buckles, you worry about your aim.  And when you’re betting for real gold, you’re a nervous wreck.  Your skill is the same in all three cases – but because one prize means more to you than another, you let outside considerations weigh on your mind.  He who looks too hard at the outside gets clumsy on the inside.”

Herder of Sheep, 2012, by Fred Hatt


T’ien K’ai-chih said, “I have heard the Master say, ‘He who is good at nourishing life is like a herder of sheep – he watches for stragglers and whips them up.’ ”

“What does that mean?” asked Duke Wei.

T’ien K’ai-chih said, “In Lu there was Shan Pao – he lived among the cliffs, drank only water, and didn’t go after gain like other people.  He went along like that for seventy years and still had the complexion of a little child.  Unfortunately, he met a hungry tiger who killed him and ate him up.  Then there was Chang Yi – there wasn’t one of the great families and fancy mansions that he didn’t rush off to visit.  He went along like that for forty years, and then he developed an internal fever, fell ill, and died.  Shan Pao looked after what was on the inside and the tiger ate up his outside.  Chang Yi looked after what was on the outside and the sickness attacked him from the inside.  Both these men failed to give a lash to the stragglers.”

Confucius has said, “Don’t go in and hide; don’t come out and shine; stand stock-still in the middle.”  He who can follow these three rules is sure to be called the finest.  When people are worried about the safety of the roads, if they hear that one traveler in a party of ten has been murdered, then fathers and sons, elder and younger brothers will warn each other to be careful and will not venture out until they have a large escort of armed men. That’s wise of them, isn’t it?  But when it comes to what people really ought to be worried about – the time when they are lying in bed or sitting around eating and drinking – then they don’t have sense enough to take warning.  That’s a mistake!”

An Ox, 2012, by Fred Hatt


Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui.  At every touch of his hand, every heave of his shoulder, every move of his feet, every thrust of his knee – zip! zoop!  He slithered the knife along with a zing, and all was in perfect rhythm, as though he were performing the dance of the Mulberry Grove or keeping time to the Ching-shou music.

“Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui.  “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”

Cook Ting laid down his knife and replied, “What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill.  When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself.  After three years I no longer saw the whole ox.  And now – now I go at it by spirit and don’t look with my eyes.  Perception and understanding have come to a stop and spirit moves where it wants.  I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are.  So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.

“A good cook changes his knife once a year – because he cuts.  A mediocre cook changes his knife once a month – because he hacks.  I’ve had this knife of mine for nineteen years and I’ve cut up thousands of oxen with it, and yet the blade is as good as though it had just come from the grindstone.  There are spaces between the joints, and the blade of the knife really has no thickness.  If you insert what has no thickness into such spaces, then there’s plenty of room – more than enough for the blade to play about in.  That’s why after nineteen years the blade of my knife is still as good as when it first came from the grindstone.

“However, whenever I come to a complicated place, I size up the difficulties, tell myself to watch out and be careful, keep my eyes on what I’m doing, work very slowly, and move the knife with the greatest subtlety, until – flop! the whole thing comes apart like a clod of earth crumbling to the ground.  I stand there holding the knife and look all around me, completely satisfied and reluctant to move on, and then I wipe off the knife and put it away.”

“Excellent!” said Lord Wen-hui.  “I have heard the words of Cook Ting and learned how to care for life!”


Illustrations for this post are all ink brush on paper, 18” x 24” (46 x 61 cm).

An earlier Drawing Life post, “A Useless Tree”, is based on another tale from Zhuangzi.

Note:  There are several editions of Burton Watson’s Complete Works of Chuang Tzu and Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings.  The latter is basically a selection of chapters from the former.  A newer edition of Basic Writings has been amended to use the pinyin transliteration of the Chinese names (i.e. Zhuangzi replaces Chuang Tzu) in the title as well as in the text.  Zhuang has inspired many writers, and besides the various academic translations there are selections of his stories retold by Christian mystic Thomas Merton and Jewish philosopher Martin Buber.


Sowing Seeds

Filed under: Abstract Art,Art and Philosophy — Tags: , , , — fred @ 22:41

Twixt, 2011, by Fred Hatt

How do you make change in the world?  Even I, who love finding beauty amid the world’s insanity and squalor, yearn for a kinder and juster culture.  Does art have any part in that, or is it just entertainment, an idle pastime of the privileged?  You surely see a lot of contemporary art that addresses injustice, stigma, corruption, exploitation, and violence.  But doesn’t much of that kind of art seem exploitive itself?  During a recent museum visit I saw mural-sized photos of homeless people in humiliating positions, and installations that made real footage of war and prison killings look like video games.  Do you suppose these works will change the minds of the powerful or offer any solace to the souls with whose real suffering they toy?  Do the artists who do this work or the curators who put it on display imagine that they are displaying a social conscience?  Ah, the abject of the world, the war-scarred, the enslaved – let them eat critical theory!

Perhaps it is pretentious for an artist even to pretend to care.  Social change is a complex phenomenon involving myriad conflicting and interacting forces.  The power that an artist has to influence the process of change in society would seem like the power of a mosquito to change the course of an ocean liner.  Even the mass-produced forms of entertainment such as movies and pop music no longer reach the vast audiences they once did.  The kind of art that shows in galleries or alternative performance venues, reaching a minuscule audience, must surely have no impact at all.

Ovum, 2011, by Fred Hatt

People think that the kind of power that produces change must be a direct push.  Huge advertising campaigns, political activism, legal crusades, large-scale economic offenses such as boycotts and buyouts, military or revolutionary attacks are all attempts to leverage monetary, demographic, or violent power to change things in a direct way.  History shows us that such efforts tend to produce unintended consequences such as political backlash movements or power vacuums that allow ruthless people to seize control.  There is a physical law that states that every action produces an equal and opposite reaction, and this often seems to apply to clashing cultural forces as well.

There is a different way of producing change, which may be described by the metaphor of planting seeds.  A seed is a tiny thing which contains the potential for the development of a tree or plant.  In nature, plants have various ways of scattering their seeds widely.  Most seeds will not find the conditions necessary to become a mature plant, but enough may grow to perpetuate and even increase the range of the plant that produced them.  Each seed begins to develop in darkness and obscurity and there is no way to see that it is growing until it is emerging into the world as a fresh new manifestation of life.  The very obscurity and indirectness of this process may make change that overcomes the reactionary recoil effect.

Radia, 2011, by Fred Hatt

The metaphor of the seed appears in a famous parable of Jesus, quoted here from the Gospel of Thomas, translated by Patterson and Robinson:

Look, a sower went out. He filled his hands (with seeds), (and) he scattered (them).
Some fell on the path, and the birds came and pecked them up.
Others fell on the rock, and did not take root in the soil, and they did not put forth ears.
And others fell among the thorns, they choked the seeds, and worms ate them.
And others fell on good soil, and it produced good fruit.
It yielded sixty per measure and one hundred twenty per measure.

In the canonical gospels, the seed is interpreted as representing the word of Christ, which may or may not take root in the hearts of those who hear it, but I think it works well as a wider metaphor of how the world works.  It even describes the evolution of species, in which mutations are scattered haphazardly like seeds, most fail, but a few find the conditions to flourish.  A process that might seem random and wasteful is the process that produces our world with all its wondrous variety.

Umbilicus, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Culture, too, is a seeding process.  In the internet era, an idea or style that sprouts and spreads in the culture is called a meme, and its explosive growth is called “going viral” (reminding us that a virus is also a kind of seed, and that the effects of a seed are not necessarily positive).  But viral memes are not all lolcats – Steve Jobs’ vision of friendly technology and Gandhi’s vision of nonviolent resistance are also powerful viral memes.

In a human life, anything that one does or says, demonstrates or communicates to others, may become a seed.  An artist plays with perception, expression, ideas, experience, and desires, and shares the products of this play with others.  An image, an idea, or a feeling thus communicated may connect with the receiver on a deep level.  Whether it stays in the memory or in the unconscious, it may later affect the receiver’s actions or thinking in some way.  At this point the seed is sprouting.

Elaborating on the metaphor, we could say that we are always scattering seeds.  Anything we say or do could be a seed.  Most of our deeds will amount to nothing, but occasionally something will take root.  We can’t know which of our actions or words will sprout, but we should be aware that some will.  We can’t check to see what is growing – the process of development begins in obscurity, and digging up a seed to check on its development may halt that development.  We should act as though everything we do is a seed of goodness, and we should let go of everything we do, trusting that the unpredictable process of the world will nourish and grow some of them.

Vortex, 2011, by Fred Hatt

Real change takes root over long periods of time, cumulatively growing from innumerable such seemingly insignificant experiences and actions of vast numbers of people.  This way of producing change through seeds requires faith.  One doesn’t seem to be changing or moving anything, and often doesn’t even perceive the invisible reactions that may show that the seeds are sprouting.  The power of this way of producing change lies in its invisibility, because since it seems to be nothing it provokes no reactionary counterpunch.

While artists may often engage in direct efforts to change people’s minds, even art which has no outwardly apparent political or intellectual content may be planting seeds.  Some art which does not seem to be making any statement may be an exploration of pure perception.  Since the way people perceive the world alters the way they experience and interact with it, something which expands or alters someone’s way of perceiving something even in a subtle way may be a powerful seed for change.

The illustrations for this post are watercolor on paper,  11″ x 14″ or 28 x 35.6 cm.


Curiosity as Cure

Filed under: Abstract Art,Art and Philosophy — Tags: , , , , — fred @ 15:29

Sound Suit, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Sometimes there’s something I’d like to write about, but I don’t have good visuals to accompany it.  And sometimes I have images I’d like to share, but can’t think of much to say about them.  I’ve always considered the combination of words and pictures to be the essence of Drawing Life as a blog.  Here I’m going to talk about some ideas that are close to the heart of my artist’s philosophy, my intuitive sense of the moment we humans find ourselves in.  I’ll intersperse these ideas with some of my recent doodles.  There’s no direct correspondence between the pictures and the words, except of course that doodling is what I often do while listening to someone drone on and on, and if I’m going to drone on in text, I may as well break up the words with some of my wiggly, loopy lines.

Multitask, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

In 1999-2000, the American Museum of Natural History in New York hosted a temporary exhibit called “Body Art:  Marks of Identity”.  It was a survey of tattooing, piercing, scarification, body painting and other kinds of body modification across many cultures and through history.  My friend Matty Jankowski, a tattoo artist and a collector and scholar of materials and artifacts related to the history of body arts, was one of the consultants to the curators of the exhibit.  Thanks to Matty, a few of my own body painting images were included in a portion of the show devoted to contemporary body art.

Herald Angel, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Matty also worked with the education department of the museum to present some special programs.  One day there was a kind of open house for the public to learn about body art from artists.  There was a henna artist, a tattooist, a piercer, and I was there as a body painter.  There was a slide show, and all of the artists gave brief presentations on their particular crafts.  People attending the workshop were given the opportunity to try out an electric tattoo needle on a honeydew melon.  The henna artist and I had our materials on hand to give temporary body art to anyone who wanted it.

Bug & Oak, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

There were a lot of parents with young kids at the event, and many of them formed an orderly queue at my body painting table.  Most of my previous experience of body painting was with adults, in my own studio or in art galleries or performance settings, but that day I had a long line of little kids, with their parents, waiting their turn.  As I was painting, I heard the parents talking to their kids:  “What do you want?  Just think about what you want and tell the man what you want?  You can get whatever you want.  Do you want a butterfly?  Do you want a dragon?  Decide what you want and the man will paint it for you.”  Kids were presenting their tiny arms and asking me to paint Furbys or Pokemon characters I’d never seen before.  A small minority, maybe one in ten, would show some curiosity, would ask questions about my paints or my experiences painting people, or would say, “Just paint whatever comes to you,” or “Go wild.”

Cornucopia, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Listening to the endless litany of “What do you want?”, I realized that indoctrination into the consumer mindset wasn’t just accomplished through TV commercials and mass marketing campaigns bankrolled by multinational megacorporations.  Parents were actively programming their kids to the idea that everything was about consumer choice and acquisition, about defining desires and having those desires satisfied.  Even such an odd experience as having a strange artist paint on your arm or hand or cheek was reduced to choosing a brand and displaying it.

Sole & Canopy, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Recall that the name of the exhibit was “Body Art:  Marks of Identity.”  The thesis of the curators was that body art was used to mark its wearer as a member of a tribe, to indicate a special cultural role such as warrior or bride.  These children, under the relentless prodding of their parents, were engaging in the modern form of this practice, something the commercial world calls “branding”.  (Of course the term derives from the practice of searing a mark of ownership into the hide of a livestock animal.)  We are encouraged to define ourselves by our choice of symbols, corporate logos, or popular culture.  It is no longer so much about our role in society, but about our status as consumers.

Cretan Goddess, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The curious minority in my body painting queue hadn’t been steered to see every opportunity as a consumer choice or a branding of their identity.  They saw this as a chance to experience something fresh, to learn something new.

Coral, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The consumer mindset says “The one who dies with the most toys wins.”  It’s a zero-sum game, a world of winners and losers.  The curious mindset says “We live in a world of inexhaustible wonders.  What will I experience today?”  It is a world of free play, a world of abundance for all.  It is not a zero-sum game because it’s oriented towards experience, not ownership.  One who collects experiences does not deny them to others.

Bicycle, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

We humans are now in the early stages of a great crisis.  The industrial revolution of the past three centuries has allowed the human population to increase tenfold (it has more than doubled just in my lifetime), and has provided to the common person comforts and luxuries once reserved for kings, even luxuries unimagined by kings.  All of this was made possible by fossil fuels – hundreds of millions of years worth of stored energy expended in an explosive orgy – and by an economic system in which constant increase is the only definition of wealth.  For a few centuries it worked, because there were always new natural resources to be discovered, always undeveloped places to develop and unexploited markets to expand into.

Beatrice, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Alas, we are now coming to that inevitable point where the exponential growth curve must become a bell curve, leveling off and sloping back down, if we are to survive.  The earth itself is beginning to assert its limits, to push back against unchecked growth.  Climate change and resource depletion are becoming costly problems that cannot be solved by ever more spending and extraction and ever more complicated technology.  Our economic system, based on lending at interest, needs constant growth, but facing the slowing of real expansion, it is now just blowing bubbles.  The owners of great wealth are trying to hold onto what they have by no longer sharing their bounty with the masses, but this strategy may ultimately fail too, as wealth defined as growth evaporates when growth stops.

Pipe Organ, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Everyone is in denial now, imagining that there is something that will make the material economy grow again.  But we don’t need more growth.  Human population increase needs to slow down.  Expansion in the per capita consumption of energy and natural resources needs to slow down and even begin to contract.  From the standpoint of the capitalist economy, the slowdown of growth is a dire crisis and even a disaster.  From the standpoint of planetary health, the slowdown of growth is an essential correction.

Eye Pop & Face Slap, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

A child’s body grows by leaps and bounds, but when maturity is reached, physical growth slows and stops.  Getting bigger is for childhood, but in adulthood it gives way to spiritual and mental development.  Wisdom, skill and knowledge, the immaterial aspects of the living being, can expand for a lifetime.  Unchecked growth of the organs and tissues in an adult is cancer.

Merkin Raygun, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

There is now widespread agreement that we need to find “sustainable” technologies and ways of life.  Many still seem reluctant to see that a sustainable economy must be a steady-state economy, not one based on constant growth, at least not as regards population and conversion of raw materials into stuff and stuff into trash.

Insect, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The consumer/industrial economy says profits must get ever bigger.  Every generation must have more material wealth than the one before.  Our stores have become superstores, our houses mansions, our cars trucks, and our bodies obese.

Spaghetti Structure, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Marketing propaganda is so pervasive in our culture that we internalize it.  We base our sense of identity on our consumer choices, and raise our children to be good consumers above all.

Winehouse, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Our highest value is choice.  We associate choice with democracy and the modern way of life.  We have so many choices now we may feel paralyzed by indecision.  Constantly making choices gives us a limited kind of freedom, but it is constrained by the options that are offered to us:  Democrat or Republican, Wal-Mart or Target, paper or plastic.   The more we are focused on these choices the more we can be prevented from imagining what other possibilities are not being put before us.  The more we define ourselves by choices the more we box ourselves into categories the marketers can exploit.

Nutcracker, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The curious mind is always wide open, finding interest and beauty in whatever it encounters.  It is always engaged with the unknown, asking questions, speculating, wondering.  The curious mind moves through the world on an exploratory path, following beauty and seeking knowledge.  The curious mind tries to maximize flexibility and avoid being boxed in.

Fruit Tree, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Our civilization faces a difficult period as natural limits awaken us from our dream of opulent consumption.  There will be a period of denial, recrimination, rage.  Those of us who have devoted our lives to curiosity and creativity already know there are pleasures deeper and more satisfying than those offered by consumerism.

Secret Language, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

Even as we are forced to cut back, to use less energy and less materials, even as extravagant materialism slips out of the grasp of most people, opportunities for learning and experience will remain abundant.  Creative minds that can ask penetrating questions and imagine fresh solutions will be needed by all.  Curiosity and creativity will see us through stormy times.


Stealth, 2011, doodle by Fred Hatt

The doodles that illustrate this post were all made in the last few months.  All are made with Tombow brush markers on letter-sized printer paper.


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