‘The Art of Sway’ is a phrase I mis-heard yesterday when a friend actually recommended a book entitled ‘The Artist’s Way’ but we joked that my mis-hearing was a fun title and I thought for a moment that ‘Sway’ was the word that captured the feeling I get when I am in the right ‘mode’ to create something. But I’ve observed this Sway many times, its in all things. Its a little like the feeling you get when you strum a guitar chord that’s in perfect tune.
My children have ‘Sway’, I see it when they dance. They are not planning their moves they just flow with the music, they feel the sound and it comes out in their movements. Uninhibited. We have to unlearn the form and structure that we use as a safety blanket, it can be more of a constricting scaffold. Picasso said “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”
When I had the opportunity to meet Quentin Blake a few years back to video him for The School Children’s Book Awards, I quietly watched him manifest an illustration of a ditty I gave him and as he drew it he explained that for a book he would usually sketch something spontaneously then use a light box to draw more controlled lines over his original idea on a clean sheet of paper. It was in his relaxed spontaneous state that the marks he made on the first sheet of paper captured the character and essence of the piece and I believe this is visible in all his work.
In his book ‘Getting Things Done’ David Allen discusses a frictionless state called ‘Swing’:
“Recall the pure joy of riding on a backyard swing: an easy cycle of motion, the momentum coming from the swing itself. The swing carries us; we do not force it.”. I think creating or expressing oneself is a case of not forcing it, just letting it flow.”
My friend John has sailed since he was a young lad and I was on his boat a couple of months ago intrigued to learn about navigation and enjoying all the linguistic parallels with goal setting (especially enjoying The Circle of Uncertainty ). John showed me all the complicated instruments and sails and how to tack and ‘this’ and ‘that’ and I said it all seemed pretty overwhelming. So much information. “How do you actually control this boat? It looks so complicated”. “Well”, he said “You just get a ‘feel’ for it, its quite musical. You know how it is when you are driving a car and you take a round-a-bout perfectly, you just swing round it – when you’re sailing well, well its just like that!”.
In learning martial arts over the past 5 years I have come out of a training session least damaged when I’ve gone in relaxed and with a clear mind, not trying and not thinking every move. Block! Punch! No. Its best just to have an attacking defence, relax and just let myself respond instinctively. Trusting that the idea of which response is best will just flow is the hardest thing, letting go and swinging with it.
Learning style and technique is about shaping and tidying up the ideas but the most important thing is to just let the ideas flow. Tidy up later.
Dead Beat poet writer Jack Kerouac had his Spontaneous Prose, (which is defined in its entirety here) that is grounded on a Mental State which he describes in his own words :
“as writing “without consciousness” in semi-trance allowing subconscious to admit in own uninhibited interesting necessary and so “modern” language what conscious art would censor, and write excitedly, swiftly, with writing-or-typing-cramps, in accordance (as from center to periphery) with laws of orgasm, Reich’s “beclouding of consciousness.” Come from within, out-to relaxed and said.”
Neil Gaiman speaks about his role as a writer as being a bit like a brick layer, building a structure. I found this idea initially terrifying, not being a bricklayer! Writing as if laying words down like bricks seems too much like hard work. I thought he meant that each word laid down was essential to the structure and each of equal importance but I think my original interpretation was wrong. If you have ever sat and watched a bricklayer at work and seen the way they move not in separate mechanical movements but with ‘sway’, scrape the cement up, slap it on a brick, flip the brick down, position, scrape excess cement, tap tap with the trowel and on to the next brick, its all in one flowing motion, the bricklayer is in an almost trance-like state.
Einstein regarded time and space as an undivided solid object, Alan Moore suggests our consciousness travels through this solid, “all time exists in a single infinite moment”, he says. If this is the case then Gaiman’s bricks become a flowing river and our words are the things we are travelling through. Creating and flowing is just a matter of jumping in the river and observing.