Blog Archives

Pearls from artists* # 301

Untitled reference photo for a pastel painting in the “Bolivianos” series

Untitled reference photo for a pastel painting in the “Bolivianos” series

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

In 1917 the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev commissioned a new libretto from Jean Cocteau.  When the young poet asked for advice on how to proceed, Diaghilev replied with a simple directive:  “Astonish me.”  The phrase would serve Cocteau as a mantra throughout his career, resurfacing, for instance, at the beginning of his classic film Orpheus.  Not surprising, as few statements could better encapsulate the impetus that has driven artistic creation since the beginning.  Astonishment is the litmus test of art, the sign by which we know we have been magicked out of practical and utilitarian enterprises to confront the bottomless dream of life in sensible form.  Art astonishes and is born of astonishment.  There is only one thing that it can be said to “communicate” more effectively than other mediums can, and that is “the weirdness of the Real.”         

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

Comments are welcome!

Q: What advice to you have for younger artists who are just beginning their careers?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I have two pieces of advice:

  • Build a support network among your fellow artists, teachers, and friends.  It is tough to be an artist starting out.  Also, be sure to read plenty of books by and about artists.  All have experienced similar challenges.
  • Do whatever you must to keep working – no matter what!  Being an artist never really gets easier.  There are always new obstacles and you’ll discover solutions over time.

Comments are welcome!

 

Q: Do you have a mentor?

"Alone Together," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Alone Together,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

A:  No, but I often wish I did.  How wonderful it would be to consult someone who’s been there, a productive and successful artist who could provide advice on all the concerns, especially the problems and dangers, inherent in a professional artist’s life. 

But I have been at this for thirty years and found no such person!  I think it’s because each artist’s career is highly unique as we chart are own individual paths.  Unlike most professions, there are no firm rules or straight forward career milestones for making your way as an artist.

Besides the countless hours spent in the studio, I have always worked diligently to understand the art business.  Certainly getting work seen, exhibited, reviewed, sold, etc. is as important as making it in the first place.  It’s all part of being a professional artist. 

Early on I developed the habit of relying on my own best judgment, both in creating the work and in getting it seen and collected.  Certainly I have made plenty of mistakes.  As a result though, I know a tremendous amount about the art business.  And I enjoy sharing what I know in the hopes of steering other artists away from making similar missteps.

Comments are welcome!    

Q: Do you have any advice for a young painter or someone just starting out as an artist?

Studio

Studio

A:  As artists each of us has at least two important responsibilities:  to express things we are feeling for which there are no adequate words and to communicate to a select few people, who become our audience.  By virtue of his or her own uniqueness, every human being has something to say.  But self-expression by itself is not enough.  As I often say, at it’s core art is communication.  Without this element there is no art.  When artists fail to communicate, perhaps they haven’t mastered their medium sufficiently so are unsuccessful in the attempt, or they may be being self-indulgent and not trying.  Admittedly there is that rare and most welcome occurrence when an artistic statement – such as a personal epiphany – happens for oneself alone. 

Most importantly, always listen to what your heart tells you.  It knows and speaks the truth and becomes easier to trust as you mature.  If you get caught up in the art world, step back and take some time to regain your bearings, to get reacquainted with the voice within you that knows the truth.  Paint from there.  Do not ever let a dealer or anyone else dictate what or how you should paint. 

With perhaps the singular exception of artist-run cooperative galleries, be very suspicious of  anyone who asks for money to put your work in an exhibition.  These people are making money from desperate and confused artists, not from appreciative art collectors.   With payment already in hand there is no financial incentive whatsoever for these people to sell your paintings and they won’t. 

Always work in a beautiful and special place of your own making.  It doesn’t need to be very large, unless you require a large space in which to create, but it needs to be yours.  I’m thinking of Virginia Woolf’s “a room of one’s own” here.  A studio is your haven, a place to experiment, learn, study, and grow.  A studio should be a place you can’t wait to enter and once you are there and engaged, are reluctant to leave. 

Be prepared to work harder than you ever have, unrelentingly developing your special innate gifts, whether you are in the mood to do so or not.  Most of all remember to do it for love, because you love your medium and it’s endless possibilities, because you love working in your studio, and because you feel most joyously alive when you are creating.

Comments are welcome!