Art Influences the Feldenkrais Method
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
by: Margot Schaal, GCFP

Section: Performers

“I feel my curiosity peak when I watch you work,” said a colleague. “I don’t know what I’m sensing. How is your Feldenkrais® practice influenced by your art background?”   

My art background sometimes comes into the foreground as I teach the Feldenkrais Method – foreground/background creates (depth) perception in art. Figure-ground is a play between them which invites you to shift which is which, not unlike how my attention moves to different parts or aspects of a person as I work with her and how we ask Feldenkrais students to shift their attention throughout a lesson.   

In art, I am making things, looking at things various ways – different angles, different thought patterns/ideas, boundless possibilities of exploration, perception, playing with possibilities! The same approach giving a Feldenkrais lesson results not in a new thing, but in influencing another human being through her nervous system; offering another expanded choice/s in how she can do or feel or be.

To unravel some of my art experience, I unrolled a three by twenty foot scroll of figure drawings. I enjoyed seeing them. I saw movement, transmission of force, weight, mmm – humanity. I appreciated many; made criticisms of a few. Criticism may be one of the greatest differences between making art and doing the Feldenkrais Method. Perhaps this is where my Feldenkrais work can influence my approach to making art – instead of the process of examination being criticism, let it simply be, noting distinctions and making choices that please me…I found the precision of dexterity required to evenly roll the paper into a tight roll again – challenging!

The inspiration to make art comes from a desire to present a perception of the external or internal environment, or both. This alertness to environs relates to what we teach in Feldenkrais lessons. We teach people how to develop their self-awareness, to attend to their internal world while living in the external world, and we practitioners continue to develop awareness of ourselves.

Bringing my presence to the easel or Feldenkrais table affords the most effective beginning. Bringing all of oneself to the moment allows inspiration to arise from what is – the natural world or manmade world or the complex living organism of a person. This requires lots and lots and lots of observing. Feeling in my body the place I sit and the human being I view, whether to draw or touch, I may consider multiple ways to do something before acting.
Keep open to whatever arises (Surprises. Possibilities!) And let it guide a lesson or a work of art. Then be willing to try something different – again and again.

An artist develops the ability to see the inherent structure and qualities of something. She can relate and feel through multiple senses, an awareness of essence, and idea. In the Feldenkrais Method, structure is understood as the result of habitual use of oneself. Recognizing that a living being is always moving, Moshe Feldenkrais replaced “posture” with “acture.” Instead of a static model of posture, our attention is on movement.   

In making art, I often mimic with my body or my voice or with gesture/marks on materials – sticks, leaves, paper, wood, clay – anything! or nothing, just witnessing. It is a sensory and somatic orientation, as is the Feldenkrais Method. I look at drawings from student days – many drawings of a massive Henry Moore sculpture, from different points of view. I went on hands and knees in the plaza to feel in myself the shapes of the sculpture, the relationships of the forms.

The artist chooses the medium, elements, and their relationships. Some approaches are cerebral, some primarily intuitive – the possible processes run the range of human experience – thinking, feeling, knowing, sensing, seeing, touching, smelling, listening, being. Everything exists relative to everything else. One continually makes comparisons, distinctions and connections in making art, just as one learns about relationships within oneself through the Feldenkrais Method.   

Learning to see over years of practice allows the sense of what you see to enter you through vision, and other ways, to move through you and release onto paper/canvass/wood/etc. Sensing the weight of something without touching it, its gesture, its constrictions and freedoms, its essence; seeing with the eyes as if touching each place your eye passes. Through practice, the artist gives attention to the whole, even while working in layers and regions and details, just as a Functional Integration® lesson or Awareness Through Movement® lesson uses global attention and specific touch/movement simultaneously.

Making art is in the experience of doing it as much as in the product. Likewise, in a Feldenkrais lesson, the process is as important as the end result – an odd notion to a person in severe pain, but it works! The quality of presence that begins a lesson is employed throughout the creative process of making art. Most artists instinctually know that when they dip out of the focused zone of creating it is time to take a break. In Awareness Through Movement and Functional Integration lessons we rest periodically, allowing the nervous system to integrate new information.

Like practicing the Feldenkrais Method, making art involves continual learning, always sharpening, honing, refining. If the learning stops, the art may stop too. An artist’s influences are – historical, contemporary and non-art; teachers, colleagues and critique – yet as in the Feldenkrais Method, you learn from yourself – your experience as you work, your feeling and thought processes.

An artist engages in ongoing decision-making, experimentation and experience and a lifetime of aesthetic decisions. And simultaneous spontaneity! An idea can be liberating; the same idea can be limiting. The skill we teach students of reversing an action can be important in making art, also.

In a Feldenkrais lesson, a certain posture or acture is optimal in a given situation, but not in all situations. The wider your vocabulary of movement, and the more you learn to control your positioning, the more options are open to you.

The simple aspect/idea, the abstraction in a work of art gives it power, just as in a Feldenkrais lesson, one guiding idea for a lesson makes it strong, clear. At the end of her first Functional Integration lesson, a client asked what she could expect from continuing to work with me – for her, I gestured a large globe in the air, “in general, softness.”   

She has developed softness, does not try as hard, carries less tension, and has learned how to function more to her satisfaction. Less is more – as in art, so in the Feldenkrais Method.

Each group of drawings is wrapped in a special way – done with care. There are no commercially made portfolios, but long rolls of newsprint with figures that are closed with a piece of masking tape that says “cut here” to open or cardboard portfolios I made myself with string tied with a half knot that readily opens. The quality of care is complete.

Margot Schaal teaches “Head to Toes Feldenkrais®” to individuals, classes, and workshops in Marin and Sonoma Counties, Northern California.
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