I'd intended to wait to write about empathic responses till I make my "real" website. But I keep needing to refer to them, so I'm going to write briefly about them here. In my opinion, they're one of the two most essential elements of the process of finding one's own way with any creative work.
We can respond to another person's experiencing either with judgment, or with empathy. When we choose empathy, we open ourselves to let the other person's feeling-experience flow through the center of us. We don't have to hold onto it - make it part of ourselves - just let it flow through so we can feel and accept it as so. Sometime empathic responses to another persn are easy and natural, sometimes difficult. It can take practice and skill.
Similarly, we can respond to any object, any being, any coinhabitant on earth - with either judgment or empathy. To respond empathically, we deliberately suspend judgment. We may choose to make judgments at another time, but for now, we choose empathy. Any being is worthy of empathic response, and (in my opinion) appreciates it. Artwork, whether complete or in progress, especially benefits from empathic response. Empathic responses are the surest guide to what the artwork needs next.
This looks a little trickier even, than responding empathically to a person. A person, after all, gives us lots of clues - facial expression, tone of voice, body language, words. An object usually just sits there, mute. Hence, writers and visual artists have developed a lot of techniques to facilitate empathy with objects.
A good place to start is with what I call "Elbow responses" because I learned them from Peter Elbow's book, Writing Without Teachers. This book offers much help in starting and guiding a writer's group, one in which members respond to each other's work with specific empathic responses. These responses prove to be much more helpful than either praise or criticism.
An example of an "Elbow response" is "take the piece away." To do this, look at your piece of artwork for a moment. Then look away. What do you now remember most about it? What stays in your mind? (I usually jot down a note about this.)
Another Elbow response is called "pointing." Look at your piece. What draws your attention? What holds it?
Another (that I'm pretty sure is from Peter Elbow): Pretend the piece was made instead of something else that was nagging at the maker, wanting to be made. What's the piece like that really wanted to be made?
There are plenty more Elbow responses, for which I refer you to his book.
Another important set of empathic responses comes from the novelist John Gardner's book, On Becoming a Novelist. He recommends a game called Smoke. "Playing Smoke" is something you can also play as an empathic response.
To play Smoke, run rapidly through a set of questions like "If this piece were a musical instrument, what would it be?" "If this were a tree, what kind would it be?" "If this were a kind of motion or locomotion, what would it be?" "If this were a famous person, who..." And so on. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of possible Smoke questions. (The name comes from the question, "If this were a kind of smoke, what kind would it be?")
There are some board games on the market based on Smoke. I lucked into one called Identity in a thrift shop. So I have a big set of question cards I can use to surprise myself as I look at a bowl.
Other Empathic Responses
Over the years I've accumulated other empathic responses to use. Examples include:
"What part of your body does the piece connect with most?"
"Pretend the piece keeps repeating one word or phrase or sentence to you. What is it saying?"
"Gesture draw this piece."
"Pretend the piece is writing a note to you. Three sentences. Write it now."
"Get up and dance this piece. Let your body move to the piece - whatever comes. Just watch."
I have so many that I put them on blank business cards. When I do empathic responses, I can use the list of key responses, and/or draw one of these cards at a time and surprise myself. When I make my "real" website, I'll list all I have. I could make a Word mailmerge document so you can print out the cards on a standard printer business card sheet. Meanwhile, this at least explains what I mean by empathic responses, and gives you some leads.