Monthly Archives: November 2017

Pearls from artists* # 276

The West Village

The West Village

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

 A long time later, after I  became a novelist, I realized that the ambiguities of the human mind are what give fiction and perhaps all art its power.  A good novel gets under our skin, provokes us and haunts us long after the first reading, because we never fully understand the characters.  We sweep through the narrative over and over again, searching for meaning.  Good characters must retain a certain mystery and unfathomable depth, even for the author.  Once we see to the bottom of their hearts, the novel is dead for us.

Eventually, I learned to appreciate both certainty and uncertainty.  Both are necessary in the world.  Both are part of being human.  

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

Comments are welcome!

Q: Please speak a little about the history of pastel.

Some of Barbara's soft pastels

Some of Barbara’s soft pastels

A:  Pastel has been in use for five hundred years.  Its invention is attributed to the German painter, Johann Thiele, in the 16th century, followed by Venetian artist, Rosalba Carriera, who was the first to use it consistently.  Edgar Degas, the most prolific user of pastel and its great champion, was followed by many artists who used varying techniques.

Degas’ subject matter included ballet dancers, laundresses, milliners, and denizens of the Parisian demimonde.  The pure hues of pastel, plus its direct application, made it his preferred medium.  Rosalba Carriera, a much-admired portrait artist, revolutionized the world of pastel by developing a wider range of colors, expanding pastel’s availability and usefulness.  Mary Cassatt’s pastel portraits of children and family life provided her with a steady income while living in Paris.  American painter William Merritt Chase used pastel to explore plein air painting.  Pastel’s portability and rich colors made it ideal for outdoor landscapes and for capturing light.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 275

"The Sovereign," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“The Sovereign,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″ image, 70″ x 50″ framed

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

Works of art… have a dominant function. They are objects of aesthetic interest.  They may fulfill this function in a rewarding way, offering food for thought and spiritual uplift, winning for themselves a loyal public that returns to them to be consoled or inspired.  They may fulfill their function in ways that are judged to be offensive or demeaning.  Or they may fail altogether to prompt the aesthetic interest that they petition for.  The works of art that we remember fall into the first two categories:  the uplifting and the demeaning.  The total failures disappear from memory.  And it really matters which kind of art you adhere to, which you carry around in your heart.  Good taste is… important in aesthetics… and indeed taste is what it is all about.  If university courses do not start from that premise, students will finish their studies of art and culture just as ignorant as when they began.  When it comes to art, aesthetic judgment concerns what you ought and ought not to like…          

Roger Scruton in Beauty:  A Very Short Introduction

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  This is the first day – with only one layer of soft pastel in most places – of a 38″ x 58″ pastel painting.  It’s based on a photo I composed at the National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore in La Paz, Bolivia.  This is the fourth work in my “Bolivianos” series.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 274

Barbara’s studio

Barbara’s studio

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

“Beauty is never enough,” he said.  “Meaning is more important.  If something catches people’s eyes enough to make them move around it, they will build a story around it.  And that will not just be about beauty.”

Eric Charles-Donatien in Feathered Glory:  In a studio in Paris, an old craft is given new life by Burkhard Bilger in The New Yorker, Sept. 25, 2017

Comments are welcome!

Q: Do you lose yourself in your work?

Barbara at work

Barbara at work

A:  Of course!  When I am having a productive day in the studio, I am completely present and focused, fully immersed in solving technical problems and trying to improve the painting on my easel.  I barely notice the time and have to remind myself to take a break or stop for lunch.  Nothing else exists except the painting and my relationship with it.  The rest of life completely falls away from my consciousness.

I believe most artists regularly experience this feeling of ‘flow.’  It is a state of being that is inherent and necessary to creative work of all kinds.

Comments are welcome! 

Pearls from artists* # 273

The Lighting Field

The Lightning Field

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

The night sky was clear, too many stars.

Satellites described distinctive arcs, moving too fast for

nature across our broad field of vision.

The desert floor was drenched with rainwater, and our boots

suctioned the mud.

The moon’s shy face revealed only a sliver, but the starlight

was strong enough for the poles to pick up its silver.

We watched time, light, and distance compress over The

Lightning Field.

The dome of the sky was palpable,

papered in stars.

How long ago did  the light that reflected in the poles leave

its source?

Laura Raicovich in At The Lightning Field

Comments are welcome!

Q: On an average day in the studio, how much of your time is spent in the physical act of making art?

Working

Working

A:  My typical studio day is from 10:00 to 5:00.  When I arrive, I often read for half an hour.  Reading helps me relax and focus and get into the mindset I need to do my work.   While I read, I look at the painting on my easel, assess it’s current state, and decide where to begin working.

Then I work until lunch time, generally around 1:00.  After lunch I work for another five hours or so, taking a break whenever I want.

This has been more or less my schedule for five days a week for years.  At an earlier point as I was developing my craft, I would work 9- or 10-hour days and six days a week.

My creative process is relatively slow.  In a typical year I create five  new pastel paintings.  This year I am right on schedule.  I have completed four and am working on a fifth.

Comments are welcome!    

Pearls from artists* # 272

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

One important distinction that can be made between physicists and novelists, and between the scientific and artistic communities in general, is what I shall call “naming.”  Roughly speaking, the scientist tries to name things and the artist tries to avoid naming things.

To name a thing, one needs to have gathered it, distilled and purified it, attempted to identify it with clarity and precision.  One puts a box around the thing and says what’s in the box is the thing and what’s not is not…

… The objects and concepts of the novelist cannot be named.  The novelist might use the words love and fear, but these names do not summarize or convey much to the reader.  For one thing, there are a thousand different kinds of love…

… Every electron is identical, but every love is different.

The novelist doesn’t want to eliminate these differences, doesn’t want to clarify and distill the meaning of love so that there is only a single meaning… because no such distillation exists.  And any attempt at such a distillation would undermine the authenticity of readers’ reactions, destroying the delicate, participatory creative experience of a good reader reading a good book.  In  sense, a novel is not complete until it is read.  And each reader completes the novel in a different way.     

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

Comments are welcome!