In my Monday group I wanted to explore using our senses as a way of immersing into drawing. Today we're beginning with smell. We always begin with a short meditation to drop down into a relaxed, open state and to really feel into the space and time we've given ourselves for this. I always try to extend this into the drawing activity so that there's a flow between relaxing into drawing and drawing in turn relaxing us with its ability to bring us into the present and connect us with our environment. I'm really interested in experimenting with this feedback of meditative flow and exploring just how much more immersive and connected we could be if we focussed on one of the senses as a way in.
Goethe's ideas about perception and the exploration of a subject have given me a framework for this and I'm keen to learn more about it to support how we approach drawing.
He proposed "experimenters seek the natural, lawful organizing ideas and/or archetype behind specific natural phenomena.. to immerse one's self in a living interaction with the natural phenomena to be studied, with all available senses."
In drawing it's important not to see the object as a preconceived, categorised, label. So if we are drawing a flower, approaching this as a drawing of a rose is going to influence the experience of the drawing and the outcome before we've even explored the actual thing and our interaction with it. We lose a whole gamut of experience and new knowing. We can enhance the drawing experience if we first get to know it by sense and discovery rather than fixed ideas.
This is a wordy example I found of the five stages of the Goethean Scientific study, relating to drawing, it's incredibly inspiring:
1. Exact Sense Perception
At this stage the focus is on the detailed observation of the facts we can perceive through all our senses while suspending all form of personal judgement and evaluation. Isis Brook suggests that at this point one “lets the facts speak for themselves” and proposes that drawing is a good way to enter into this way of seeing as it alerts us to the “details of pattern” and shifts us from a “seeing roses” to a seeing “a particular rose” mode of perception (Brook, 1998, p. 54). We try to go even further and make an attempt to suspend all classification systems that we usually employ, so we stop seeing a rose and encounter the phenomenon, formally called rose, as it is.
2. Exact Sensorial Fantasy
Goethe called this next stage of his method ‘exakte sinnliche Phantasie.’ Margaret Colquhoun and Isis Brook refer to it as ‘exact sensorial fantasy’ (Colquhoun and Day, 1999; Brook, 1998). This literal translation can lead to misunderstanding. Henri Bortoft fittingly calls this stage “exact sensorial imagination” (Bortoft, 1996) and thereby avoids the implications of ‘not being real’ that the word fantasy evokes in the English language.
This is the stage where imagination is employed as a legitimate tool of scientific investigation and as the key to entering another way of knowing, an alternative epistemology. The way of perceiving form, process and participation employed in Goethe’s epistemology furthers understanding of phenomena in their dynamic temporal dimension. We no longer “see the thing in an objective frozen present” and begin to see movement and transition, which makes us aware of the “flowing processes” and stops us from “freezing them with the solid nature of the exact sense perception” (Brook, 1998, p.55).
As we enter into this process oriented and dynamic way of seeing, we imaginatively perceive the form of the phenomenon as an expression of the process of its own transformation, moving through its history to its present and into its future.
Once we are able to focus our awareness on the dynamic transformation of the object and its form, we can try to imagine the dynamic unfolding of the phenomenon differently. That is to say, we can willfully imagine a different sequence of transformation than the one that emerged based on our engagement in stage one.
While repeating some of Goethe’s studies of plants and light, I have experimented with moving through a leaf sequence of a plant or the spectral sequence of colours in an arbitrary order that did not correspond to the underlying natural process. It is a difficult task that exercises imagination. What I experienced was that imagining the impossible — the not natural — resulted in a bodily response that indicated to me that I was leaving my participatory engagement with the phenomenon’s process of transformation or its coming into being. Brook explains: “the second stage could be seen as a training of the imaginative faculty in two directions: Firstly to free up the imagination and then to constrain it within the realms of what is possible for the phenomenon being studied” (Brook, 1998, p.55–56).
3. Seeing is Beholding
In this third stage of Goethean observation the aim is to suspend ac- tive perception and, as much as possible, only receive. We simply behold the phenomenon in the dynamic awareness we reached through the use of our imagination. This is the stage where we “allow the thing to express itself through the observer,” argues Isis Brook: “what is expressed is the being of the phenomenon, something of its essential nature.” She suggests that these experiences are often best expressed in “emotional language,” and “through poetry, painting, or other art forms” (Brook, 1998, p.56).
The phenomenon now takes the active role, and the observer simply encounters the phenomenon with an open mind, no preconceived notions, and having first gone through the process of familiarizing him/herself with the phenomenon through the preparatory stage and then through exact sense perception and exact sensorial imagination (or fantasy). Beholding the object in such a way, we offer the phenomenon our human capacity for conscious awareness so that it can express itself.
When this happens, the experience of the phenomenon revealing itself in one’s own consciousness feels very much like a sudden flash of insight, much more like something received than something created. Brook puts it this way: “To experience the being of a phenomenon requires a human gesture of ‘self-dissipation’. is effort is a holding back of our own activity — a form of receptive attentiveness that offers the phenomenon a chance to express its own gesture. The result of this effort may be an inspirational flash or Aha!” (Brook, 1998, p.56).
4. Being One with the Object
Stage three flows directly into stage four. At the point of being one with the object we “conceptualise to serve the thing: we lend it this human capacity” (Brook, 1998, p.56). Isis Brook suggests that the four stages could also be summarized as: perception, imagination, inspiration and intuition. She acknowledges that since each stage builds on the experiences the observer had in the previous stages, each stage is harder to articulate to somebody who has not engaged in this methodology actively before and experienced the various stages. Brook describes stage four as follows (Brook, 1998, p.57):
What becomes possible at this stage of perception is, in the inorganic realm, the appreciation of laws and, in the organic realm, the appreciation of type. For Goethe type is more than a descriptive plan shared by plants or animals and thus requires more than an exploration of outer form and its constituent parts. Being one with the object allows an appreciation of the content or meaning of the form as well as the form itself. This content is only available to thinking as only in the process of thinking can the outer appearance of the thing, and its inner content be combined by conceptualisation.
When form is understood as an expression of process, all form is seen as intrinsically meaningful since it communicates to the attentive observer where it comes from, where it is going, and how it relates to other forms and processes. Form expresses its own coming into being through relationship. The patterns in this process of transformation can be discerned as laws and types — as possible paths or modes of expression. Each phenomenon has these possible modes of expression, which communicate how it relates to its wider environment, to the phenomena around it. ese relationships define what is possible in the object’s, the phenomenon’s, the form’s transformation and how it occurs.
Referring to her own experience of working through Goethe’s studies of the metamorphosis of plants, Brook suggests that: “the leaf sequence can be experienced as if one is living in the changing forms of the leaf rather than seeing the individual static representations” (Brook, 1998, p.55). is ‘living in the changing forms’ is a particular kind of experience facilitated by Goethe’s epistemology. It expresses a new perception and conception of process, form and participation, which is reached through engaging in the practice of Goethean science.