Category Archives: Art in general

Pearls from artists* # 357

Udaipur, India

Udaipur, India

*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 term hermeneutics has been used to describe the task of understanding and interpreting ideas and texts.  In a similar way, we need to set for ourselves the task of developing a hermeneutic of the visible, addressing the problem of how we understand and interpret what we see, not only in the classical images and art forms created by the various religious traditions, but in the ordinary images of people’s traditions, rites, and daily activities which are presented to us through the film-image.

Rudolph Arnheim, in his extensive work on visual perception, has shown that the dichotomy between seeing and thinking which runs through much of the Western tradition, is a  very problematic one.  In Visual Thinking, he contends that visual perception is integrally related to thought.  It is not the case, according to Arnheim, that the eyes present a kind of raw data to the mind which, in turn, processes it and refines it by thought.  Rather, those visual images are the shapers and bearers of thought.  Jan Gonda, in writing on the Vedic notion dhi, sometimes translated as “thought,” finds similarly that the semantic fields of the word in Vedic literature does not correspond as much to our words for “thinking” as it does to our notions of “insight,” “vision,” and “seeing.”  Suzanne Langer has also written of the integral relation of thought to the images we see in the “mind’s eye.”  The making of all of those images is the fundamental “imaginative” human activity.  One might add that it is the fundamental activity of the religious imagination as well.  She writes, “Images are, therefore, our readiest instruments for abstracting concepts from the tumbling streams of actual impressions.”            

Diana L. Eck in Darsan:  Seeing the Divine Image in India

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Q: Did your military experience become a building block on which you formed your artistic ideas?

"Answering the Call," 58" x 38," soft pastel on sandpaper, 2000

“Answering the Call,” 58″ x 38,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 2000

A:  In my younger days boredom was a strong motivator. I left the active duty Navy out of boredom. I couldn’t bear not being intellectually challenged (most of my jobs consisted of paper-pushing), not using my flying skills, and not developing my artistic talent. In what must be a first, by spending a lot of time and money training me for jobs I hated, the Navy turned me into a hard-working, devoted, and disciplined artist! Once I left the Navy there was no plan B. It was “full speed ahead” to become an accomplished artist.

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Pearls from artists* # 356

Some of Barbara’s pastels

Some of Barbara’s pastels

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

Science is concerned with the general, the abstract, and the knowable.  In contrast, art deals with the particular, the unknowable, the singular.  This applies not just to the content of artistic works but also to the way this content is received.  Even in the case of a film or concert attended by large numbers of people, the artistic experience remains a fundamentally solitary one.  Each one of us lives the work from the work alone.  Whatever sense of togetherness accompanies the experience comes precisely from the fact that, faced with the singularity of the aesthetic moment, each percipient feels his aloneness before the radical mystery that enfolds us all.  Wherever an act of creation is shared with others, then, there is individuation – not just for the author of the work but for the audience too.  The singularity of art awakens us to our own singularity, and through it to the singularity in the Other.  I have argued that artifice unifies by imposing a univocal image that replicates itself indefinitely in each spectator.  True art tears the spectral out of the mass of sameness, calling forth from the numberless crowd a new people and a new communion.  

Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

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Pearls from artists* # 355

"The Champ," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“The Champ,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

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

True art provides us with truth in a manner analogous to science.  Its prophetic dimension – its knack for showing us the side of things that our interests blind us to – make it a source of knowledge, even though it is knowledge of a kind that instrumental reason has little time for.  The psychologists who revolutionized our understanding of human psychology in the earliest twentieth century drew on two principal sources to build their concepts:  the dream life of their patients and the great art of the past.  Without this recognition of the primacy of imagination, Freud and Jung could never have drawn their maps of the psyche.  Those who work for a better world would do well to follow their example and find the guiding patterns of life in the prophetic artistic works of the past and present.  Only art can act as a counter-weight to that uniquely modern mentality that, wherever it becomes the only game in town, seeks to persuade us that the proper goal of human beings is to contain, dissect, and control everything – that even the most persistent mysteries are just problems to be solved.

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

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Pearls from artists* # 354

"Epiphany," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“Epiphany,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

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

My earlier work had taught me that artistic activity is a form of reasoning, in which perceiving and thinking are indivisibly intertwined.  A person who paints, writes, composes, dances, I felt compelled to say, thinks with his senses.  This union of perception and thought turned out to be not merely a specialty of the arts.  A review of what is known about perception, and especially about sight, made me realize that the remarkable mechanisms by which the senses understand the environment are all but identical with the operations described by the psychology of thinking.  Inversely, there was much evidence that truly productive thinking in whatever area of cognition takes place in the realm of imagery.  This similarity of what the mind does in the arts and what it does elsewhere suggested taking a new look at the long-standing complaint about the isolation and neglect of the arts in society and education.  Perhaps the real problem was more fundamental:  a split between sense and thought, which caused various deficiency diseases in modern man.      

Rudolph Arnheim in Visual Thinking 

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Q: Where did you grow up and what were some early milestones or experiences that contributed to you becoming an artist later in life?

“The Sleeping Gypsy,” Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1897

“The Sleeping Gypsy,” Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1897

A:  I grew up in a blue collar family in Clifton, New Jersey, a suburb about fifteen miles west of Manhattan. My father was a television repairman for RCA. My mother stayed home to raise my sister and me (at the time I had only one sister, Denise; my sister Michele was born much later).  My parents were both first-generation Americans and no one in my extended family had gone to college yet. I was a smart kid who showed some artistic talent in kindergarten and earlier.  I remember copying the Sunday comics, which in those days appeared in all the newspapers, and drawing small still lifes I arranged for myself. I have always been able to draw anything, as long as I can see it. 

Denise, a cousin, and I enrolled in Saturday morning “art classes” at the studio of a painter named Frances Hulmes in Rutherford, NJ.  I was about 6 years old. I continued the classes for 8 years and became a fairly adept oil painter. Since we lived so close to New York City, my mother often took us to museums, particularly to the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Natural History.  Like so many young girls, I fell in love with Rousseau’s “The Sleeping Gypsy” and was astonished by Picasso’s “Guernica” when it was on long-term loan to MoMA. I have fond memories of studying the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History (they are still my favorite part of the museum). As far as I know, there were no artists in my family so, unfortunately, I had no role models.  At the age of 14 my father decided that art was not a serious pursuit – declaring, it is “a hobby, not a profession” – and abruptly stopped paying for my Saturday morning lessons. With no financial or moral support to pursue art, I turned my attention to other interests, letting my artistic abilities go dormant.

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Pearls from artists* # 352

"Provocateur," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“Provocateur,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

*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 jester was certainly a key player in medieval court politics.  His power, however, was commensurate with his acknowledged irrelevance to the state apparatus.  As the eternal outsider, ridiculed or at best ignored by the elite unless he was actually entertaining them, he acquired the right to speak truths that others would speak at their peril.  Yet if the imprudent king simply saw the Fool as a source of amusement, the wise king saw in his antics and wordplay the pattern of the past, present, and future.  In the same way, art is the joker in the hand that was dealt to humanity.  Nothing is easier than dismissing it as a frivolity, and yet those who meet it on its own ground gain access to the hidden facets of their situation.  It is by virtue of its very separateness, its position outside the realm of the useful and the practical, that art reveals the Real.  Paradoxically, art has political value only when appraised outside of any political framework.       

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

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Pearls from artists* # 348

“The Orator” in “Worlds Seen & Unseen” at Westbeth Gallery, NYC

“The Orator” in “Worlds Seen & Unseen” at Westbeth Gallery, NYC

*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 percipient apprehends the primal quality of art as beauty and symbol, in an experience that invariably involves a sense of radical mystery.  Art dissolves the fog of Consensus in which we normally operate to reveal the unseen in the situation.  It places us in exactly the same position as the first people who stared up at the stars in wonder.  The work of art is perpetually new; it demands reinterpretation with each era, each generation, each percipient.  Great works of art are like inexhaustible springs originating from a place beyond our “little world of man.”  They reconnect us with a reality too vast for the rational mind to comprehend.  Therefore, art can be described as the human activity through which our all-too-human mentality is overcome and in light of which all finite judgments are shown to be inefficient.  It is at once a sinking to the source and a leap toward the infinite.   

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 347

“Prophecy,” on view in “Worlds Seen & Unseen” at Westbeth Gallery, NYC

“Prophecy,” on view in “Worlds Seen & Unseen” at Westbeth Gallery, NYC

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

Like  the cyclotrons of physicists, the artistic work is a machine for uncovering hidden layers of reality.  It gives us insight into the psychic forces that shape the world, enabling us to divine where we come from and where we are heading.  It is in this sense that art can be said to be prophetic.    

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 349

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.

If Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, and so many others were able  to create great artistic works, it was because they were able to pull off something few adults can find it in themselves to do:  they were able to suspend all final judgments about life and the universe in order to play… 

The spirit of work is concerned with self-preservation.  It evaluates concepts and ideas in terms of their practical value.  Building roads, raising walls, running elections, debating policies, educating the young – all of these are purposive actions ultimately aimed at upholding social structures, changing those structures, or promoting one’s place within society.  The spirit of work is the home of the ego, the part of us that has evolved to survive and thrive.  One of the conditions of the artistic creation seems to be the ability to move frame this frame of mind into the spirit of play.  As many artist have said in varying ways, the trick is to forget everything and create for the sake of creating.  No worthwhile play, of course, is without effort.  As the painstaking care Flaubert put into every line of his books makes clear, the spirit of play is sometimes the most exciting.  Nevertheless, art remains in essence a game, an activity undertaken for its own sake, no matter how difficult.  Like all games, it requires the establishment of a perimeter within which things that one might take very seriously in ordinary life are given only relative value.  The perimeter suspends all the conventional rules, allowing the artist to turn the world on its head and let the imagination roam freely. 

No sooner have we entered the spirit of play than we see things differently.    

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

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