The shake

An artist discovered he could no longer make pointillistic work: instead of nice dots he drew strokes, like those violent, elongated raindrops that strike and hurt your face. When he found his hand trembling he’d used more and more force and the result was a neurological condition called a tremor. He went to see a neurologist and was told he had permanent nerve damage. That hurt. He only ever wanted to become an artist and now he couldn’t draw a straight line or a round dot.

An out-of-doors study, by John Singer Sargent [public domain]

An out-of-doors study, by John Singer Sargent [public domain]

What should he do? Try and learn to draw with his other hand? Get medication to numb the effect? Start all over again and study something different? The neurologist had some advice:

“Embrace the shake.”

You can find the whole story on TED, illustrated with drawings and other works of art. I’d like to look at the advice to embrace his condition. The neurologist started by calling a tremor, with the associated terms:¬†neurological condition, incurable, effects can be dampened by brain surgery or anti-convulsive medication¬†a shake, which could¬†mean: to quiver, to tremble, to vibrate or to rock. He effectively told the artist he should decide on the name and the nature of his problem.

I think western culture often tells us to correct a problem or, if that proves impossible, to actively ignore it. Dull the pain by taking a pill. Surgically cut a nerve that causes us trouble. If we don’t look like the beautiful people: sculpt our bodies until we do.

Meditation by the Sea, Unknown artist ca 1860 [public domain]

Meditation by the Sea, Unknown artist ca 1860 [public domain]

Eastern culture tells us to look our problem squarely in the eye and accept it. To meditate and find compassion for our own imperfections and those of others. I know I’m using bold brush strokes here, but you get the idea.

Phil Hansen tried something different. He embraced his condition: he looked at his hand as if he was a newborn baby, to discover what he could do with it. He used his trembling hand to draw squiggly lines, he dipped it in paint and used it like a rubber stamp. And then he realised that art is all about thinking inside the box.

“The absence of limitations is the enemy of art,” Orson Welles

Perhaps we shouldn’t stop at accepting our limitations. Perhaps we should find ways to make them rock.

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