Fragments of Light

Making What We Will of the World, continued

“I was drawn to printmaking, I think, because there was just something about the power of the imagination undergoing the purgation of method. The process of purgation—I have to be mindful of the image in reverse, I have to cut, the indirectness of the method—(this) resistance creates pause which then allows thought. . . . ”

—Transcript of an interview with Robert F. McGovern, (1933-2011) artist and professor emeritus at the University of the Arts. Produced by the Senior Artists Initiative, Oral History Project.

Talking about his development as an artist, Bob McGovern opens up a little window into how artistic process works for him. For an artist, whatever his or her medium, the working process, authentically engaged, is an opportunity for the work itself to speak, to offer first the artist, and ultimately the artist’s audience the possibility of transformation. For McGovern the printmaking process, the work of making a print, is particularly conducive to arriving at imaginative thought. Subjected to process, the artist’s original concept may be wonderfully transformed by the demands and constraints of the medium.

For McGovern the power of the imagination offers an alternative energy with which to resist the mean, the negative, the destructive impulses on the loose in the world. Recalling the tough neighborhood where he spent his youth and his unlikely choice to pursue a career as an artist, McGovern characterizes himself as “One desperate to imagine something new . . . ” Born of his impulse to seek an alternative to his particular circumstances, his quest eventually became “to provoke the imagination into being a servant of the human family.”

Later in the same interview McGovern speaks of sending out the imaginative thought—that one that the purgative method has so richly distilled—as a gift offered to others; “jet fuel for the journey”.
If the resistance inherent in the materials we work with provides the generative spark for that imaginative thought, be it a flash of beauty, a moment of transcendence, or a challenging reflection; how well worth the struggle.
Comments welcome.

2 thoughts on “Making What We Will of the World, continued

  1. I too am a printmaker and love the demands the process makes of me. I must consider everything inside out and make to front when drawing onto a plate either directly or indirectly. My mind sees the image in opposites, the negative becomes positive and positive negative. Living a spiritual life with Christ is also a way of seeing and living with paradox. We live in the dark and the light. We must die to live, give to receive. Printmaking calms my soul and excites me as I see the possibilities in my art and in my life. Here life reflects art.

    1. Yes, Moira. Thinking about inspiration, where the work comes from, reminds me of this quote from Rilke, in The Notebooks of Malte Luarids Brigge:​

      [P​]​oetry isn’t, as people imagine, merely feelings (these come soon enough); it is experiences. To write one line, a man ought to see many cities, people, and things; he must learn to know animals and the way of birds in the air, and how little flowers ​open in the morning. One must be able to think back the way to unknown places … and to partings long foreseen, to days of childhood … and to parents … to days on the sea … to nights of travel… and one must have memories of many nights of love, no two alike … and the screams of women in childbed … one must have sat by the dying, one must have sat by the dead in a room with open windows…. But it is not enough to have memories. One must be able to forget them and have vast patience until they come again … and when they become blood within us, and glances and gestures … then first it can happen that in a rare hour the first word of a verse may arise and come forth…

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