I am delighted to have been accorded the pleasure of moderating a panel of painters on the subject of Negative Capability. Details:
Gallery 110 will be hosting a panel discussion featuring Carol Adelman Kennedy, Liz Kennedy, Alexis Ortiz, Jeffrey Heiman and Paul E. Nelson (moderator) to discuss the concept of negative capability and the artistic process on January 8, 2023 from 1-3pm.
Saundra Fleming invited me to participate and despite my ignorance of painting, Negative Capability is a subject near & dear to my heart. In a Winter Solstice 1817 letter to his brother, the British Romantic poet John Keats described the concept as: “what quality went to form a Man of Achievement, especially in Literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously—I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason…”
My friend the philosopher Jason Wirth has told me the next step in this journey toward the open is the concept of Gelassenheit as coined by Meister Eckhart and developed by Martin Heidegger:
In German, it originates from the perfect participle of lassen, which means “to let (something happen)”, “to allow”, or “to leave (something be)”. Gelassenheit has thus often been translated as “serenity”, “letting be”, “abandonment”, “detachment”, but by far the most widespread… is the term “releasement”.
Eckhart would elaborate on the concept by noting it was “detachment, self-abandonment.” Jason Wirth would point one towards Zen and the “Great Death” of the ego and to the philosophy of Kyoto school philosopher Keiji Nishitani. How does one “abandon the self” and paint? Or write a poem? Or do anything creative? Truth is, I believe the most inspired acts always transcend the self and find their source in a force outside the artist, or at least bigger than the ego of the artist. How can one differentiate between works of art that come from the ego and those from an artist connected to something bigger than ego? Like anything else I think it takes practice, but it is hard to accept work created at the level of the human ego once one has had a taste of the real thing. It will be interesting to see how these artists relate to the concept of Negative Capability and how they link it to healing as is the idea of Saundra Fleming’s that spawned this panel and exhibit. It opens January 5, 2023 and I hope to see you there.
Fantastic Paul. You are the perfect person to moderate such an exchange. Few people have spent so much time and energy exploring the meaning of that beautiful phrase. I hope it will be recorded. I would love to watch it at a later time.
A sculptor I knew many years ago always began his live model drawing classes with a minute of silence to ‘quiet the ego’. This was presented as a combo prayer/ meditation/necessary aid to help one to see what was there. This practice felt sensible and practical as initiated by the soft spoken and reclusive Joe Query, a masterful draftsman of the human form who later made a number of ‘spiritual portraits’ with colored chalk that showed something like peoples auras and which he made by request for no monetary compensation.
The practice of a minutes silence before a drawing session is one I have not encountered since, and I believe Joe may have attributed his doing so to his teacher the late sculptor George Demetrios