Category Archives: An Artist’s Life

Pearls from artists* # 512

“Entity,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26” x 20” image, 35” x 28.5” 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.

Let inspiration lead you wherever it wants to lead you. Keep in mind that for most of history people just made things, and they didn’t make a big freaking deal about it.

We make things because we like making things.

We pursue the interesting and the novel because we like the interesting and the novel.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!

Q: Where do you create your art? (Question from artamour)

Barbara’s Studio

A: In April 1997 an opportunity to move to New York City arose and I didn’t look back. By then I was showing in a good 57th Street gallery, Brewster Gallery (they focused exclusively on Latin American Masters so I was in the company of Leonora Carrington, Rufino Tamayo, Diego Rivera, etc.).  Also, I had managed to find an excellent New York artists/agent, Leah Poller, with whom to collaborate. (Leah and I are still dear friends).

I looked at only one other space before finding my West 29th Street studio and knew instantly it was the one! An old friend of Bryan’s from Cal Tech rented the space next door and he had told us it was available. Initially the studio was a sublet. The lease-holder was a painter headed to northern California to work temporarily for George Lucas at the Lucas Ranch. After several years she decided to stay so I was able to take over the lease. I feel extremely fortunate to have been in my West 29th Street, New York City space now for twenty-five years. In a city where old buildings are knocked down to make way for new ones this is rare.

My studio is an oasis in a chaotic city, a place to make art, to read, and to think. I love to walk in the door every morning and I feel calmer the moment I arrive. It is still my absolute favorite place in New York! Sometimes I think of it as my best creation.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 511

My paternal grandparents, left

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

You do not need anyone’s permission to live a creative life.

Maybe you didn’t receive this kind of message when you were growing up. Maybe your parents were terrified of risk in any form. Maybe your parents were obsessive-compulsive rule-followers, or maybe they were too busy being melancholic depressives, or addicts, or abusers to ever use their imaginations towards creativity. Maybe they were afraid of what the neighbors would say. Maybe your parents weren’t makers in the least. Maybe they were pure consumers. Maybe you grew up in an environment where people just sat around watching tv and waiting for stuff to happen to them.

Forget about it. It doesn’t matter.

Look a little further back in your family’s history. Look at your grandparents: Odds are pretty good they were makers. No? Not yet? Keep looking back, then. Go back further still. Look at your great-grandparents. Look at your ancestors. Look at the ones who were immigrants, or slaves, or soldiers, or farmers, or sailors, or the original people who watched the ships arrive with the strangers onboard. Go back far enough and you will find people who were not consumers. People who were not passively waiting for stuff to happen to them. You will find people who spent their lives making things.

This is where you come from.

This is where we all come from.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 509

New York sunrise

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

Which left me with nothing but a dazzled heart and the sense that I live in a most remarkable world, thick with mysteries. It all called to mind the British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington’s memorable explanation of how the universe works: “Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.

But the best part is: I don’t need to know what.

I don’t demand a translation of the unknown. I don’t need to understand what it all means, or where ideas are originally conceived, or why creativity plays out as unpredictably as it does. I don’t need to know why we are sometimes able to converse freely with inspiration, when at other times we labor hard in solitude and come up with nothing. I don’t need to know why an idea visited you today and not me. Or why it visited us both. Or why it abandoned us both.

None of us can know such things, for these are among the great enigmas.

All I know for certain is that this is how I want to spend my life – collaborating to the best of my ability with forces of inspiration that I can neither see, nor prove, nor command, nor understand.

It’s a strange line of work, admittedly.

I cannot think of a better way to pass my days.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!


Q: Foreign travel has long been a significant aspect of your work. What are your views on cultural appropriation?

On Lake Titicaca, Bolivia

A: For more than three decades my inspiration and subject matter have come mainly from international travel to remote parts of the globe. I daresay there is no better education than travel. The result is that I possess a deep love and reverence for people and cultures all over the world. We are all connected by our shared humanity.

I wholeheartedly agree with what Henry Louis Gates eloquently expressed in the NY Times Book Review of October 12, 2021. Additions are mine.

Any teacher, any student, any writer, [any artist] sufficiently attentive and motivated, must be able to engage freely with subjects of their choice. That is not only the essence of learning; it’s the essence of being human.

And

What I owe to my teachers – and to my students – is a shared sense of wonder and awe as we contemplate works of the human imagination across space and time, works created by people who don’t look like us and who, in so many cases, would be astonished that we know their work and their names. Social identities can connect us in multiple and overlapping ways; they are not protected but betrayed when we turn them into silos with sentries. The freedom to write [and make art] can thrive only if we protect the freedom to read – and to learn. And perhaps the first thing to learn, in these storm-battered days, is that we could all do with more humility, and more humanity.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 507

Working on “Raconteur”
Working on “Raconteur”

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

Intellectual work sometimes, spiritual work certainly, artistic work always – these are forces that fall within its [uncertainty and the unknown] grasp, forces that must travel beyond the realm of the hour and the restraint of the habit. Nor can the actual work be well separated from the entire life. Like the Knights of the Middle Ages, there is little the creatively inclined person can do but prepare himself, body and spirit, for the labor to come – for his adventures are all unknown. And no artist could go about his work, or would want to, with less than extraordinary energy and concentration. The extraordinary is what art is about.

Mary Oliver in Upstream: Selected Essays

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 506

Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia
Museum of Ethnography and Folklore, La Paz, Bolivia

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

Inspiration is allowed to do whatever it wants to, in fact, and it is never obliged to justify its motives to any of us. (As far as I’m concerned, we’re lucky that inspiration talks to us at all; it’s too much to ask that it also explain itself).

In the end, it’s all about violets trying to come to light.

Don’t fret about the irrationality and unpredictability of all this strangeness. Give in to it. Such is the bizarre, unearthly contract of creative living. There is no theft; there is no ownership; there is no tragedy; there is no problem. There is no time or space where inspiration comes from – and also no competition, no ego, no limitations. There is only the stubbornness of the idea itself, refusing to stop searching until it has found an equally stubborn collaborator. (Or multiple collaborators, as the case may be).

Work with that stubbornness.

Work with it as openly and trustingly and diligently as you can.

Work with all your heart, because – I promise – if you show up for your work day after day after day after day, you just might get lucky enough some random morning to burst right into bloom.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!

Travel photo of the month*

Walking on Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake, UT; September 14, 2011

*Favorite travel photos that have not yet appeared in this blog

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 505

With ”Impresario,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 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.

… I myself was once “at the top: – with a book that sat on the bestseller list for more than three years. I can’t tell you how many people said to me during those years, “How are you ever going to top that?” They’d speak of my great good fortune as though it were a curse, not a blessing, and would speculate about how terrified I must feel at the prospect of not being able to reach such phenomenal heights again.

But such thinking assumes there is a “top” – and that reaching that top (and staying there) is the only motive one has to create. Such thinking assumes that the mysteries of inspiration operate on the same scale as we do – on a limited human scale of success and failure, of winning and losing, of comparison and competition, of commerce and reputation, of units sold and influence wielded. Such thinking assumes that you must be constantly victorious – not only against your piers, but also against an earlier version of your own poor self. Most dangerously of all, such thinking assumes if you cannot win, then you must not continue to play.

But what does any of that have to do with vocation? What does any of that have to do with the pursuit of love? What does any of that have to do with the strange communion between the human and the magical? What does any of that have to do with faith? What does any of that have to do with the quiet glory of merely making things, and then sharing those things with an open heart and no expectations?

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Borders

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 504

Big Sur sunset Photo: Donald Davis

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

… if a project doesn’t work out, you can always think of it as having been a worthwhile and constructive experiment. You can resist the seductions of grandiosity, blame, and shame. You can support other people in their creative efforts, acknowledge the truth that there’s plenty of room for everyone. You can measure your worth by your dedication to your path, not by your successes or failure. You can battle your demons (through therapy, recovery, prayer, or humility) instead of battling your gifts – in part by realizing that your demons were never the ones doing the work, anyhow. You can believe that you are neither a slave to inspiration nor its master, but something far more interesting – its partner – and that the two of you are working together toward something intriguing and worthwhile. You can live a long life, moving and doing really cool things the entire time. You might earn a living with your pursuits or you might not, but you can recognize that this is not really the point. And at the end of your days, you can thank creativity for having blessed you with a charmed, interesting, passionate existence.

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear

Comments are welcome!

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