Ideas Unfolding

I heard a story on NPR last week about how scientists are not only inspired by, but are using, the ancient folding technique of Origami to fold solar-powered panels, balls, etc. that fit easily into rockets and then, when they reach their destination, they unfold with minimal effort. ( ) This amazed me. The whole idea of simply “unfolding” to achieve specific results seemed artful and poetic, not to mention creative.

I was sure I could connect this to the painting process, just as I connect everything to the painting process.  I imagined the symbolic unfolding Lotus flower for enlightenment, which, hopefully, painting will bring a bit of. I read the article Origami for Harmony and Happiness which states: Origami resembles the system of world vision….a Universe of objects and nature’s phenomena — everything is reflected in symbols folded from paper. Surprisingly, the world shows itself related in an abstract language.” Surely there’s a thread there to make a larger statement about the painting process, right? Couldn’t come up with it.

Then I continued to read about the relation of Origami to Zen Buddhism. Since so much of my painting process unintentionally reflects Zen principles I thought I could link the two, especially after reading this regarding Origami: “Only change is constant”. This is a great discovery of Buddhism. Indeed, what do we do if not developing a picture until the moment when the truth shows itself, without reducing a thing, yet changing?” So there clearly is a connection, but as hard as I tried to imagine how folding something in such a way that it could be unfolded simply and beautifully, I could find no words to complete the thought.

Days went by—now I’m trying to squeeze blood out of a stone.

Then, after searching for a subject to paint, I was reminded of one of my favorite painting process metaphors—the razor’s edge (Mixing metaphors—sorry).  In my own mind I know that what makes art resonate is a delicate balance of thought, emotion, connection, discovery and authenticity. That balancing on that edge usually means leaning toward the intuitive, then the analytical, again and again, resulting in an idea unfolding.  Too much in either direction leaves the painting unbalanced at its core. The intuitive approach to painting often eschews the notion of an idea, but I (and much of the art world) think that a successful painting contains the nugget of an idea that can have as many interpretations as viewers.

Just being able to recognize those ideas as they emerge can inform the work—both the one staring back at you and those that await. I’m still not sure how to use “folding” as metaphor for any aspect of painting. But I do believe that the painting process contains an “unfolding”—a reveal of some thought or idea that, whether you know it or not, has significance in the making.

If however you have a dearth of ideas, you may be inspired by an article in the New Yorker written by (Saturday Night Live’s), Jack Handey:

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