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Writing Blind

Privileged with a press pass, I roamed around MOMA yesterday afternoon, avoiding the thick crowd in the painting galleries. What would I find? First, a “fragile” series by the bold feminist artist, Louise Bourgeois. The display of these 8 x 10 drawings of spiders upside down, long-legged and short-legged, women with big boobs and multiple boobs, falling over from boob weight or standing upright full frontal and totally naked made me laugh out loud. Other guests sauntered on by but I just stood there laughing. I was so satisfied by this upending experience that I almost headed out of the museum not wanting to spoil the sensation of this artist’s work with anything else. There’s an earnestness about museums. Curator’s notes and artists’ statements next to the works in a museum are often portentous so I don’t read them. No extensive labeling next to the Bourgeois drawings, though. I was relieved that they were just there to be enjoyed.

I meandered a bit more into the main drawing gallery where I found 24 charcoal sketches by Willem De Kooning, one of my favorite painters, as light-hearted as Bourgeois in many ways. In fact, they knew each other, both of them founding members of “The New York School.” I had never seen these charcoal sketches before. Known as “closed eye drawings,” or “blind drawings,” De Kooning experimented with the feeling inside his own body which he then “pushed” onto the page. Holding the sketch pad horizontal, he kept his eyes completely closed as he drew. The drawings are displayed vertically in order to be “read.”

How did he do this? And what would the analogy be in writing? Or music?

Those difficult questions led me to thinking about a student concert at the Mannes School of Music the other night. The second half of the program was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, all four of them. When the teacher/director introduced the segment she explained that the students had taken an improvisation workshop. Improvisation? Vivaldi? Isn’t that a “classical” piece of music? Doesn’t it have rules and boundaries? Don’t the musicians have to stick to the notes? Apparently not. Every composer includes a “cadenza,” usually at the end of the work. This is a bit of space which allows the solo musician to strut her stuff, or the ensemble of musicians to strut their stuff. And strut they did at the end of each “season.”

Are writers able to take such liberties? Or do we stick to formulas and trodden paths rather than innovate and experiment? And what about fiction and poetry? When we evoke images, characters, a setting, a story, are we, in fact, “writing blind?” What if I were to close my eyes and write? How would that work? There is a game—exquisite corpse—the surrealists played using either words or drawings. One person begins, the page is folded, the next person continues the drawing or writes a new sentence, not knowing what came before. Does the finished drawing or story make sense? Sometimes, sometimes not. So this isn’t exactly the same as what De Kooning did because he had a strong sense of what he was making.

So here’s another question: How can I push the images and ideas inside my head/body onto the page? Even when I am writing nonfiction, this may be possible, no? Let’s say I conduct an interview, transcribe it, and then read it over. What if I put my notes away and then recreate the experience of the person—his or her essence—without relying on literal quotes? How would that work?  Read More 
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