Will Kemp Art School: How to Paint Over an Acrylic Painting
We all arrange the world in our minds. I should say, our world in our minds. I am a painter – so let me speak rather of 'painting' our world in our minds.We paint our village streets in our minds -- to remember them and make sense of them. We paint our supermarket shelves and bus routes there. We paint social networks and personal schedules. We even paint university curricula and religious beliefs there. In short, we paint a vast number of things, which we place upon the easel of our minds for easy reference.
Yet as we paint this painting, we find that everywhere the subjects of our painting are changing. From year to year, even day to day, the painting no longer matches the world we are fixing in paint. The ubiquity of the word 'change' in our language says it all: 'The times are changing,' and 'We change with the times' – it's 'a change of tack,' or 'a change of pace' – 'Let's change the channel,' and 'Let's change the subject' – 'Ring in the changes!' and 'Plus ça change!'
And even as we paint our world in our own minds, we are aware, too, that other people have other paintings of the world in theirs. While my painting is my own – their painting, too, is theirs. This becomes a problem both for me and for them, in equal measure. Let me explain.
This morning, in a small village in Morocco, I went out to buy a washing powder called 'Tide'. Ilias understands 'tête' (which is paté) instead of 'Tide'. Now why would one buy tête in a shop where they sell products for the home? For more than two years, Ilias and I have continued our dispute over misunderstandings surrounding pronunciation. His French is not my French, and my French is not his French. I try to apprehend his pronunciation, I speak slowly – but we’re still on the same track where we started off.
Now what does this small situation have to do with 'change'? It goes to the heart of the problem of change, insofar as to communicate profitably, both parties need to pay attention, not to pronunciations of 'Tide' or 'tête', but to the painting of the world in the other one's mind – to different cultures and perceptions, different languages and foci. They have to look at another painting, instead of their own.
How overly simplistic this example might sound – but it presents the difficulty of finding mutual understanding, to change something in each other's understanding – so that my lack may become his lack, and his lack may become mine. Ilias thinks that I should learn to speak better French – which means, from my point of view: his French. It is the problem of who will leave the territory in which the 'proper' conviction lies.
There is always a defence of the 'proper' vision. We think that one painting is more preferable than another. How then can we change? Change probably only can come about through the genuine awareness of diversity. To put it another way, truth does not have common ground. A change – or rather, a transformation of attitude – always faces the problem of 'property': the 'ownership' of truth. To change something means to let go of the ownership of the painting in my mind, and the effects that it has on me.
An example. A Yemeni woman exclaims: 'Sometimes I hope a missile will just blow us all away' (meaning her and her family). The woman’s desire for the impossible, to resolve her suffering, is the desire to obtain consolation over a painting of the world which is lost. And this present desire is based on the same painting which the woman painted back then. It is a double painting of the same scene – a painting painted twice.
We recognise it when we lose control of something – that it is about a painting of our world in my mind. Losing control is due to a present idea that doesn’t correspond to the first idea any longer. This is what makes change difficult. Change poses the problem of a reconstruction within a previously painted painting.
No thoughts are uprooted while change is based upon the logic of some existing principle. Such 'change' merely serves the function of that principle. We desire change without the desire to discard the painting we painted previously. We want to continue to recognise something, while including within that something the yet-to-be experience of change – forgetting that change cannot happen that way.
Change is not adapting to previous notions. Perhaps this is why the Yemeni woman 'desires' death. She senses that only through death can real change come to be.
Can change be thought? And if change is something that does not conform to the world that we know, then where is it found? That which is changing, we do not yet know. It can only exist in an unknown space in our psyche. One might say that our nature evolves continually in 'the instability of our stability'. How contradictory our being is!
And yet, if change needs to be something truly new, then how wonderful it may be – meaning: full of wonder. Because change is about more than we can subtract. It is not about painting over an existing painting, or obliterating it. It is about new colours and composition, new moods and perspective, new connections. It is everything new – or it cannot be called 'change'.
While we cannot forget all the previous strokes of the brush, we can understand the brush's potential for more. We can come to see new directions, new perceptions, new affections – destabilising the old, as we look not so much to the painting which we had, as to intuitions which lie within. And when there is a meeting of hearts which so desire change, it is the beginning of all possibilities.