Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance.

I'm reading right now about the drawing of figures (specifically in the context of icons, but the principles apply more broadly) in Aidan Hart's "Techniques of Icon and Wall Painting."  His first principle he bases on the line from the Athanasian Creed: "Neither confounding the persons nor dividing the substance:" There is no unity without distinction, and no distinction without relationship. Although on the one hand this is obvious, on the other it really struck me! That's often how obvious things are, huh?  Isn't this a statement so much more broadly applicable than in simply portraying a believable form? It's necessary in relationships: if you confound the persons, you end up codependent, unable to "think for yourself", and manipulated. If you divide the substance, you end up cruel and selfis h. Healthy society requires individuals in relationship with each other. (And it's almost as though our two political parties have each selected a half to goof up! Liberals confound the person: "We're all the same! Everything's equal! Whatever I like is true - and so is whatever you like!" while conservatives divide the substance: "I've got mine, I don't owe you anything! Take the country back from the 'other' in our midst!" ) I've seen similar "faults" in music - although I wouldn't have thought to phrase it this way: People can become so concerned with not "confounding" the notes, that they totally "divide" the sense: All of a sudden you have a stulted series of pitches and syllables rather than a framework of melody carrying meaning.

His second principle is to understand the form and allow the brush to follow - which seems to only elaborate the first one. Again, in singing, if you step back and see the entire line of text, the entire line of melody, where it's going, and what it's doing, the details, really, take care of themselves. If you look only at "1 & 2 e & a" reading words perfunctorily while lunging after notes - you don't get music! When playing tuba, one of my first breakthroughs was when I realized (much like Professor Hill's "think method!") that hearing the pitch I was about to play in my Mind's Ear was infinitely more important that attempting to squeeze my lips right.

Later, while describing hands, he states, "When deciding precisely where to place each hand, keep in mind that whenever we create and place a form we are also changing the shape of the space in which it is placed...Also, like everything else in the icon, hands and arms need to relate to the things near them..." Again, this flows from the first principle, has universal applicability, and is particularly striking in how often it is forgotten. A particular fault of a sort of Middle Manager seems to be the inability to ever see a whole: While working at Borders a regional manager came in and rearranged our displays in spite of our protests - she goofed up necessary relationships in the space, changing it in ways that while good perhaps for "sales" were manifestly bad for being a human being and getting to the check-out. It took watching several customers pile up and a wheel chair get wedged before she conceded that our local staff might know something about the space...
I think this is also a part of what annoys me about a certain tendency among what I will term the "liberal" (for want of a better term) side of liturgical Christianity - they seem to have a particular weakness for getting stuck in the ideas of their heads, rather than inhabiting their physical space (even, and perhaps especially, while talking about "use of space!") And so you end up with altars placed in odd places, weird unforeseen emphases, awkward movements, bizarre proportions implying importance and lack thereof of all manner of furniture and ornament, to cater to a particular idea - but at the cost of "dividing the substance." Organic development over time lead to chasubles suitable for the task at hand; theory led to the replacement with chasubles that are "too hot, so we won't wear them during the summer" and that knock things over, drag hosts off the paten, etc. Organic development let to altars being slightly raised to enhance line-of-site; theory moves the altar nearer to the [front row] people, and thus hides it from any in the middle-to-back.
Talk amongst yourselves. :-)

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