The Just Out of View


Seen on a table in a gallery in Charleston, South Carolina

The “just out of view” has intrigued me for a long time. My artistic journey began many years ago with a particular fascination for exploring that domain between what is hidden and what is seen: nature’s nooks and crannies, the microscopic and macroscopic, the layered landscape of geologic time, the ethereal and transient nature of clouds and the atmosphere.

Ideas can be like that too, lingering in that just out of view zone. Airbnb and ride-sharing services like Lyft came into their massive global presence very quickly by employing technology to mobilize a slew of resources that were already in place. (A dark side of that emergent energy exists as well, seen in the recent naked display of painful truths that were previously veiled—white supremacism, racism, homophobia, misogyny.)

As soon as the “sharing economy” came into existence, it was intuitively obvious to all of us. But of course. Even so, I still like to keep a memory how it was before all that was intuitively obvious, before any of us imagined that couch-surfing could become a multi-billion dollar industry. That just out of view place is where other great ideas, solutions and approaches are right now, the nascent nuggets just waiting for the right set of circumstances to align so they can leap into form.

This is similar to how a body of work feels for artists who work with the emergent model of creativity. Something seems to be lingering just out of view, in that vastness that is just below the surface of the conscious mind. It isn’t possible to make out its size or shape, but it is moving enough to let you know it is there. That it is a something.

There’s no gestation chart for things of this kind. Creation has its own timetable. I’m used to thinking in terms of months, not years, but there are no guarantees. One of my favorite musicians, Gillian Welch, went eight years between releases. She made this wise distinction about her delay: “It wasn’t writer’s block. It was creative block. I was writing songs. I just didn’t like any of them.” She had to wait until she loved what she was writing again. A turning point came, something shifted, and the songs started to flow again. “A creative dilemma is a spiritual dilemma,” she said.

What I have come to understand about my own process is that patience and attentiveness is needed for both the external circumstances as well as the internal ones. On one side there is the conscious state of my mind, the conditions of my studio, the practical concerns in which my work comes into being. But then there is also another terrain, one that is hidden inside and filled with the unknowns, the inchoate, the nonlinear. Patience and attentiveness are just as important for dealing with my private invisibles as they are for the tangibles.

In the words of Kathryn Schulz, author of Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error:

Molecules, microbes, cells, germs, genes, viruses, the interior of the planet, the depths of the ocean: none of that is visible to the naked eye. And, as David Hume noted, none of the causes controlling our world are visible…Gravity, electricity, magnetism, economic forces, the processes that sustain life as well as those that eventually end it—all this is invisible. We cannot even see the most important parts of our own selves: our thoughts, feelings, personalities, psyches, morals, minds, souls.

So much in us is unseen. These just out of view elements are the esoteric and yet essential building materials that we cannot see, but we cannot create without them. For artists who work in the mystery and magic of emergence, the just out of view is a welcome indicator of pending arrival. Bring it on!

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