Monday, November 27, 2006

Feedback...This is something that you can find in your own experience and if there is truth in it, observe for yourself. We are very well conditioned in modern society to rely on expert opinions and have ceased to examine for ourselves, even those matters closely connected to our own hearts. I am asking you to examine your own experience and weigh it for what can be called "common sense."

If you were to raise a child by paying attention to physical needs but ignored his or her needs for social interaction, you know you would be raising one sick child. In prison, the ultimate punishment is solitary confinement. We each need constant feedback from reality, both physical and social in order to feel whole and of good health. This is a very simple concept, and one that no large sociological or psychological words are required to understand. It is not a human thing, but is closely connected with our deeper, more essential animal nature. You can even see it in your pets. Just try ignoring your dog if you have the heart for it.

There is a difference between what an artist or craftsman receives as feedback in the creative process and what the normal person receives as a daily dose of required feedback. The most usual manner of receiving feedback in our modern culture is to go shopping. You walk into the store and look for the things you believe you want or need. As you wheel the cart through the store with your large collection of goods on board, you take note that fellow shoppers see the wonders of your wealth. As you leave the store, you receive the blessings of the sales clerk, parade your packages through the parking lot to your car, and then you take your goods home hoping to receive the delight of your family. This is all made more fulfilling by the smiling faces of the clerks at the store as they display their grattitude for your choosing to spend your time and money in their store.

A friend of mine went to Dillards and was waiting at the perfume counter to buy something for his wife. The sales clerks were all too busy talking about boyfriends and dates to have time for a middle aged man wanting to make a purchase. My friend was so insulted that he swears he will never go back, and he probably won't. Shopping as a feedback mechanism can be disappointing when others don't cooperate in the process. It can also lose effectiveness when the credit limit is reached and you can no longer buy.

Of course, shopping isn't the only modern form of acquiring feedback. Many people become adicted to solitaire, or other more complex computer games. Recently we saw people camped out waiting to get the latest version of PlayStation to fulfill their needs for feedback. Normally we get some form of satisfying feedback from customers or co-workers if we live in the business world, and there are countless examples of the way feedback works in our lives to provide the physical and psychological foundations for our sense of security and feelings of well-being.

The artist, on the other hand, has an other source of feedback available that grows from his or her intent to create: That of observing the transformation of material into more useful or more beautiful form in response his or her direct action. Even taking a piece of sandpaper to a piece of wood provides important feedback, as the texture of the wood goes from coarse to smooth.

The interesting thing about the feedback loop experienced by the artist is that it is not dependent on other people for its usefulness in affecting the emotional state. Woodworkers describe what they do as "sawdust therapy," noting it as a process of personal renewal or transformation. Artists of all kinds rarely have language for what they do without mentioning the "soul," "spirit," or transcendance.

It has been said that "In Bali, they have no art...They do everything as well as they can." Here in the west, we have the term art to describe those objects that reflect something greater or finer in essence than the common objects of everyday life that are made without human care, feeling, or attention. I hope to talk more about all this when I have more time. But for now, I would like to point out that it is possible to live a life in which all objects reflect depth of feeling, soulful attention, human aspiration and even love. Sad to say, you really won't find these objects while shopping on Black Friday at Walmart.

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