Turner and the trance state

This post looks at Turner from the perspective of what I’ve described as the trance state. I’ve posted on this in a small way, but I think it’s easier to explore it by concentrating on a single artist. It’s the deep creative state that applies to all artists, not just painters, but composers and writers as well.

Now this description is long (from E.V. Rippingille, who didn’t like or approve of Turner) but it’s a perfect description of an artist in a trance state.

Turner…was there and at work at his picture before I came, having set-to at the earliest hour allowed. Indeed it was quite necessary to make the best of his time, as the picture when sent in was a mere dab of several colors, and ‘without form and void’, like chaos before the creation. The managers knew that a picture would be sent there, and would not have hesitated, knowing to whom it belonged, to have received and hung up a bare canvas, than which this was but little better. Such a magician, performing his incantations in public, was an object of interest and attraction. Etty was working by his side… and sometimes speaking to someone near him, after the approved manner of painters; but not so Turner; …he never ceased to work or even once looked or turned from the wall on which his picture hung. All lookers-on were amused by the figure Turner exhibited in himself, and the process he was pursuing with his picture. A small box of colors, a few very small brushes, and a vial or two, were at his feet, very inconveniently placed; but his short figure, stooping, enabled him to reach what he wanted very readily. Leaning forward and sideways over to the right, the left-hand metal button of his blue coat rose six inches higher than the right, and his head buried in his shoulders and held down, he presented an aspect curious to all beholders, who whispered their remarks to each other, and quietly laughed to themselves. In one part of the mysterious proceedings Turner, who worked almost entirely with his palette knife, was observed to be rolling and spreading a lump of half-transparent stuff over his picture, the size of a finger in length and thickness. As Calcott was looking on I ventured to say to him, ‘What is he plastering his picture with?’ to which inquiry it was replied ‘I should be sorry to be the man to ask him….’ Presently the work was finished: Turner gathered his tools together, put them into and shut up the box, and then, with his face still turned to the wall, and at the same distance from it, went sidling off, without speaking a word to anybody, and when he came to staircase, in the centre of the room, hurried down as fast as he could. All looked with a half-wondering smile, and Maclise, who stood near, remarked, ‘There, that’s masterly, he does not stop to look at his work; he knows it’s done, and he is off.

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5 Responses to Turner and the trance state

  1. johnk823 says:

    Speaking of a trance state, I’m thinking of his painting of the “Ship Wreck” or “Fisherman at Sea”. In his early teens and 20’s he mastered nearly every old master out there at the time. But, his mind was on a different visions dealing with how to put in paint, the ability of total space (kind of like 3D perspective), but at that time 3D had not even been heard of or developed yet, and he didn’t even know how to explain it to himself, yet alone others. And you know and I know you can’t put 3D in paint on a canvas, but this is my own opinion as to what I think he was trying to do, at least in one sense, based on his paintings.

    Turner was uneducated to a degree, and maybe a little looney tune, (not that maybe all artist aren’t a little loney tuney) but when you really look at where he started, what he was dealing with in his mind and his vision to some how put it on canvas you get a whole different perspective of who the man was, and the lengths he went to in order to get to his vision of his interpertation as to how he invisioned things.

    Turner learned every aspect of painting doing it all, in the beginning, the old school method, which in those days was expected. But, as Turner got older, went on all those trips he had made and formed his own visionary concepts and ideas, looking deep into his own mind and soul of visionary creativity, he knew it was time to start doing what he felt instead of what was expected.

    So he did, and changed the world of painting forever with new ideas on color, shape, technique, vision and so much more. He was ridiculed and condemed to the point he became a recluse from society, but he never gave in to the norm of the time and he became the new master to study.

    Blessings, John

  2. Steve says:

    Do you think Turner knew what he was going to do that day at the exhibition when he “plastered” his painting with a roll of paint? Did he have in mind the day before just exactly what needed to be done, that it was all worked-out in his mind and needed only the act to occur? I wonder. The given account makes it sound as if the master came, saw, and conquered, like it was premeditated. But what if Turner didn’t absolutely know what had to be done, anymore than say Jackson Pollock would know if he showed up for a final-touching day at a great exhibition of his work. Pollock was once asked why he didn’t paint nature and he said: ” I am nature.” Does the wind know which way it will go, or the volcano know when it will blow? As much as any painter ever, long before Van Gogh or Picasso or Pollock, Turner strikes me as a force of nature, confident in his power. But I still get the feeling that his visions surprised him as much as they did ( and do ) the viewers. Otherwise, how could we be surprised two centuries later?

  3. trueoutsider says:

    Steve, What was in Turner’s mind? That’s what I keep getting hooked on. I wonder, too. Was it worked out in advance? If he worked like me, it might have been something along the lines of what I do. I sleep on it with something in mind. It’s sometimes almost as if I never leave the world of the painting. Most of the time my thoughts are inside that world. And have been for as far back as I remember. So perhaps Turner just never left the painting and arrived in his trance state and just kept on going. What’s the difference between what’s inside his head and what’s on the canvas? I don’t know if it conveys like that to non-painters. When I’m looking at a Turner, I go there. You fall into those paintings. Television and movies and all that aren’t at all convincing illusions to me in the way that paintings are. But almost all people I know spend their time watching television and paintings bore them completely. They should have conveyor belts installed at Museums so that the onlookers can just see something like the Getty collection as a big slideshow. The only time there’s a crowd around a painting there is when some Japanese tourist is having their picture taken in front of Van Gogh’s Irises.

    But I jest. And digrest.

    You mention Pollock. Of course, it’s the same with him. You get up close to a large Pollock and you’re sucked right into that universe. Of course, you have to get into that state. Most non-painters, as far as I can tell, don’t go into it. Look at Greenberg’s criticism. He’s completely clueless about what the New York School were doing in the sense that he gets it ass backwards. Saying it’s about “flatness”?

    I hate using Wikipedia, but this quote is essentially correct:

    In the 1955 essay “American-Type Painting” Greenberg promoted the work of Abstract Expressionists, among them Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still, as the next stage in Modernist art, arguing that these painters were moving towards greater emphasis on the ‘flatness’ of the picture plane.

    How moronic can any single person be? That’s like saying Turner is emphasizing the flatness of the picture plane. Rothko is about flatness? Was Greenberg visually retarded? Mentally impaired? The painters that followed his dictates sure were. I think Greenberg was just a power broker who despised those painters. He didn’t own any of their paintings. When he was writing he could have picked up Gorky, de Kooning, Pollock for a couple bucks. I was up in Rudy Burkhardt’s place once. Burkhardt photographed a lot of those guys. There were some de Koonings there that de Kooning most likely just gave him. De Kooning gave Rauschenberg a drawing to erase he cared so little for preserving his work. I think that with Greenberg it was all about power and humiliation if you ask me. Not that anybody ever asks me. That’s why I got my own blog. (Ha)

    Romare Bearden talked about not finishing his thought at the end of a painting session. He’d get to the place where he knew what he wanted to do the next day and stopped short of completion. That way when he got back in action the next day he’d have an immediate way into the painting. I do that sometimes as well…. that is, if I remember to stop short.

  4. Steve says:

    “Stopping short.” I don’t know how. My wife says I don’t know how. My friends too. I say I’m done, then sneak out in the middle of the night to fix something on the painting that is wrong wrong wrong. My wife asks: ” Where are you going?” I say: ” To make things worse.” I would like to claim that I’m in a trance, like Turner, but I’m really ‘out of the trance’ and fighting like mad to get back in, if I ever was in. I guess I have been or else I wouldn’t continue painting.
    I like the cinematic image of Turner sketching non-stop on the train. As if drawing was breathing to him, and stopping short would’ve meant death.

  5. trueoutsider says:

    That’s pretty much how I’ve worked all my life, keeping sketchbooks with me at all times. The first time I saw a contemporary artist I identified with was R. Crumb in the Crumb movie. He’s drawing everywhere he goes. It used to drive my wife pretty crazy. We’d go out to dinner and I’d have to draw one of the other diners. Really bad behavior. But when you have that kind of recording eye, it’s almost impossible to turn it off. Turner it off.

    The substitute for it here is continuing to look at all these images. So that I keep pulling up one image after another. Then elements from those things fill the restless inventory of images shuttling around in the visual brain and in the studio something will happen from that fermentation.

    Is it art? How should I know. Ask the experts. I haven’t seen those Bobby Dylan paintings you mentioned on the other thread. What I like about Dylan is that his perspective is completely idiosyncratic. There’s some strange almost Picasso thing about him, right? “He comes like a thief in the night,” as you mentioned Picasso saying. Dylan would just lift and transform everything. But it would inevitably become Dylan. Just like Picasso. That’s why nobody ever wanted Picasso in their studios. Dylan still writes good lyrics.

    “The buying power of the proletariat’s gone down
    Money’s getting shallow and weak.

    Well the place I love best is a sweet memory
    It’s a new path that we trod.
    They say low wages are reality
    If we want to compete abroad.”

    “Got a brand new suit and a brand new wife
    I can live on rice and beans
    Some people never worked a day in their life
    Don’t know what work even means.
    Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
    Bring me my boots and shoes
    You can hang back or fight your best on the front line
    Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues.”

    Who else would write lyrics like that? Billy Bragg? But Bragg is really left labor committed. Dylan seems like a distant observer. I get the sense that there’s a lot of alternative music out there that’s pretty much on top of things. I sometimes listen to music over and over when I’m working. Today all day was Donna the Buffalo. They’ve got radical socially conscious lyrics with some great kind of swinging zydeco dance feel. There’s a great tune about “Living in Babylon.” I love that kind of stuff.

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