On Tim Ingold “The Creativity of Undergoing”, lecture response

February 11, 2015
50 George Square, University of Edinburgh

“Undergoing” is described ontologically here, as in opposition to “doing”. In creative practice, we “undergo” something when we are leading out from not-knowing, as opposed to the already-there-ness of prehension: the doing. Ingold describes going forth to “do”, an act which comes from mastery of a skill or task, for example, to paint a brushstroke with a certain gesture to create a certain result, as using our First Voice. When we “undergo”, this is an act that uses our Middle Voice, one of submission, in which we already surrender that we do not fully know how to do the said skill. He purports we must always go forth using the Middle Voice, which does not presume mastery of a thing. When a person undergoes, they cannot do. 

Ideas have lives. You go in and visit them, and then go away and come back round to them again later. When you do, they are different, because you are different, as you have moved forward in time, absorbing information like a sponge. As Periclides said “You can never step into the same idea twice.”

We have to learn to read creativity forwards rather than backwards from the object. The equation: creativity + innovation = success exists in all fields, but perhaps this is not so causal. Usually, the artist hasn’t a clue. Ingold’s implication here is that innovation is a prehensive action, a “doing”, stemming from mastery and using the First Voice. (I am unsure of the truth of this implication, however.) Instead, we have to follow the materials and action through from where it begins, like playing music. There is no difference between creation and imitation, and in this point, Ingold questions the tropes of authorship. Here, in music, we must try to inhabit the mind of the master. All creation comes from that point.

Imagination is not a mental capacity that generates ideas, but rather a way of living in the world that is in dialogue with each other, with materials. Imagination is a way of living in the world.  Look at Ortega y Gasset: “Man is a not-yet being,” s/he is an aspirant being. We are always asking “What will we be?” There is not a day of our lives that we will not ask this question. Imagination is always at the horizon. It is right at the point of blowing into a trumpet. Imagination is the beginning; it doesn’t know where it is going. It is a Paradox: We are completely prepared and totally unprepared, at the same time. It is a mix of mastery and submission. It’s like pushing a boat out into a stream. It is education as attention; education as leading out. We traditionally think: the Mind DOES and then the body UNDERGOES, but we should consider first: the Mind UNDERGOES (as defined here), and then the body DOES (or follows), leading out in the front with aspiration.

In thinking recently about imagination and the key part it plays in the creative act, arts practice, lived experience, and then considering how that fits in to the specific condition of the residency (time+space+dwelling), I can begin to form a theory that the social studio is comprised of a shared leading out with the Middle Voice of all participants, that this must be a pre-requisite for participation and also existence of the Residency Thing. Ingold concludes that this condition of multiple humans leading out with submission progressively creates personality in community. If this is so, then perhaps it is here that we can find a condition for imagination to exist, a gathering of artists standing at the point from which we first blow into our trumpets, respectively. This basic and fundamental act seems in itself a site of resistance to the “shrinking present” Hartmut Rosa speaks about when describing the lived consequences of social acceleration.

Other Notes:

Participants in social life are not points, volleying back and forth, pinging each other;
but rather squiggly lines, often running in the same direction, which are always moving in relation to each other.

(D+G, I am now no more than a line)

When we breathe in, we take in the world. Breathe in first.

Look at: Bergson, Whitehead, Coleridge


About pattymcmeans

Patricia Healy McMeans is a current PhD candidate study contemporary art practice and social studios at the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh College of Art (ECA) This web log will attempt to document her personal research under the direction of Neil Mulholland.