Why it is an art

From MSS 1005 Vol 8 held in the state Library of NSW, Mitchell Wing

Godfrey Miller: Letter to Arthur Fenwick

‘In the dull days when I am shut out and lost, as I have these two months been, from the mind wherein seemingly so long ago, I drew, I can call to memory things that I was thinking in my mind at the time. But they are itself as an opiate to an opiate immune person. Now at odd occasions of unexpectedness a trifle thing comes to sight and my mind leaps thro’ fancy flight to my desiratum but the thread of transit is too weak and undefined and I cannot hold the communication. then the puzzling question comes renewing itself in its old perplexity – what is it that artists draw by: and I can only answer that they draw thro’ and using every experience they ever felt. But the way back will not come by choosing one of these numerous things for it is the Blend of them, and not the single selected separateness that is required. But I know though I speak in a period of 80 days of barrenness that it will come again – come with no bidding: come, found but not sought. come with an easy surprise: perhaps aided by some method, but of this I hold doubts. Sometimes I think environment is an adverse root cause, for I catch the odd flicker of an incident that wakens something as memory is aroused by music. I waken in my bed and half roused I feel some curious unusual circumstance and I wonder to its identity: then I notice the wind from the window is swaying the electric lighting wire across the ceiling and it was enough with the little moving in this London world of fixed hard geometrical lines to sway me back to the moving sea on the coast shore: Things are full of such memories. But the curiosity of it all is that happy, happy time, so rare, so short when both the puzzling and the prompting and the Self seem to lull down into a subsidence when there is no agitation and hardly any consciousness: the things the hard concrete objects about become tokens or references of the likeness to memory-things of the mind. So rare are these occasions that one recollects them as days upon which one has lived and I can count one cardinal time when I was drawing when the figure seemed to associate itself with certain faraway sand hills among which my mind more clearly became engaged and with certain words that Plato had to say concerning curves and straight lines and with these things that the Songs of Solomon sing concerning the symbolic likeness of things and with a young sister of mine who I remember running

Figure Series

across a lawn with a disproportion a cardinal character in her little girlish figure with shoes too big for her thin legs and with words paired off in opposites such as volume and void and with friend Stock with his wild impetus on the ice swooping thro’ all markings that otherwise have stopped, without a latent mpetus, progress by attracting attention, and associated with the curves on water surfaces, with waves in girl’s hair, the spirals of stone staircases and of sea shells and associated with the abstract meaning of words as gentleness and suddenness: and the whole bulk of the Bible symbols and dark outlines of Biblical lands – of ram’s curly horns, of circular yellow fruits, assess tails, sweeping robes of the women, the straight line of spears, bow strings and the hanging cord of the stone sling. when I can blend all these into a kind of forgetfulness so that they come to mind with only a small but effective flicker, swaying gently as a boat rocking the flap of waves at moorings, then I can draw. Then I am not trying. It is effortless. One can hardly say that it is me. One is seeing, believing then what no one else sees: that is why it is an Art.’

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