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Q: What was the first folk art figure you brought back from Mexico?

Mask from Oaxaca

Mask from Oaxaca

A:  In Oaxaca I bought a large carved wooden dragon mask with a Conquistador’s face carved and painted on its back.  My intent was to depict the dragon in a subsequent “Domestic Threats” painting (the series I was working on at the time).  The dragon still hangs in my living room in Alexandria, VA.

This first trip in 1992 was a revelation and marked the start of my on-going love of Mexico:  its people, landscapes, ancient cultures, archaeology, history, art, cuisine, etc. There would be many subsequent trips to Mexico to learn as much as I can about this endlessly interesting cradle of civilization.

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Pearls from artists* #309

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.

It is a strange thing to catalog the conflicting theories as to what the first artists thought they were doing down there in the caves, because the truth is that, to this day, we do not know why we make art.  In the end, art may not have been our invention at all.  It may well have appeared in history as  it does in the life of many individual artists:  as an outside call, a sudden flash of inspiration, an inner wanderlust exerting such a powerful pull that ultimately we would have to say that Picasso got it wrong:  the early humans did not invent art.  Art invented humanity.         

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* # 306

New York, NY

New York, NY

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

It is the responsibility of artists to pay attention to the world, pleasant or otherwise, and to help us live respectfully in it.

Artists do this by keeping their curiosity and moral sense alive, and by sharing with us their gift for metaphor.  Often this means finding similarities between observable fact and inner experience – between birds in a vacant lot, say, and an intuition worthy of Genesis.

More than anything else, beauty is what distinguishes art.  Beauty is never less than mystery, but it has within it a promise.

In this way, art encourages us to gratitude and engagement, and is of both personal and civic consequence.       

Robert Adams in Art Can Help

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Pearls from artists* # 303

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 the majority of aesthetic works fail to astonish us, then. it may have something to do with the ingrained insensitivity that is part and parcel of contemporary life.  It may also have something to do with the fact that art, as Solzhenitsyn said so eloquently, is constantly being put to uses that are at odds with its essence.  Indeed, the moment a work of art appears, all kinds of other factors come into play.  Cultural institutions, social pressures, laws, customs, fashions, and trends pull it in every direction.  Fame, money, conformism, attention-seeking, and knee-jerk rebellion can lure artists to abandon their own vision in order to emulate those of others, to adhere to formulas and paint by numbers, or to value external convention over vision.  The inevitable result is a lot of bad art that couldn’t astonish anyone.  It should come as no surprise, when looking over the glut of aesthetic objects that proliferate around us, if we feel the need to distinguish between authentic and inauthentic art – which is to say, art that astonishes us by attuning us to the radical mystery of being, and art that attempts to reinforce our shared illusions, comforting or intimidating us with the notion that there is nothing to wonder at since everything has been figured out.        

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* # 300

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

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

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

Art breaks down the barriers that normally stand between the physical and the psychic, between your soul and the souls of others.  “Through art alone are we able to emerge from ourselves, to know what another person sees of a universe which is not the same as our own and of which, without art, the landscapes would remain as unknown to us as those that may exist on the moon.”  For the French novelist Marcel Proust, who wrote those words, art is a meeting place in which human beings commune at a level that ordinary language and sign systems do not allow.  Without art, connection at this deeper level is impossible.       

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* # 290

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

“Dichotomy,” 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.

Rational functionalism is technique,

Irrational functionalism is art.

Art is creation

It can be based on but is independent of knowledge.

We can study art through nature,

but art is more than nature. 

Art is spirit,

and has a life of its own.

Art in its nature is anti-historical

because creative work is looking forward.

It can be connected with tradition

but grows, consciously or unconsciously, out of an artist’s mentality.

Art is neither imitation nor repetition

but art is revelation. 

Joseph Albers in Truthfulness in Art iJoseph Albers in Mexico, edited by Lauren Hinkson

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Pearls from artists* # 287

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.

“To go back and introduce into all the schools art, to cut down on sports but bring arts, philosophy back into all educational systems,” he said. “And that’s what’s being cut everywhere.  And I think that’s one of the sad and tragic parts of where we are.  Education is the resistance to everything that is bad today.”

Jonas Mekas quoted in Want to Be Happy?  Think Like an Old Person, by John Leland, The New York Times, Dec. 29, 2017.

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Pearls from artists* # 285

"The Orator," 38" x 58," boxed to go to the framer

“The Orator,” 38″ x 58,” boxed to go to the framer

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

So much of the writing life is mundane.  Buying printer ink and paper, doing dishes, arranging the pens in the cup, smoke breaks on the phone, taking baths or going for walks or sitting blankly on the couch wondering if the day will end before one makes a discovery or a decision.  These habits of day-to-day tedium are what can’t be seen on the surface of a writer’s face when we meet her at a book signing – the time and effort spent living in her own head.  Writing is a lonesome art.     

Women at Work:  Interviews from the Paris Review, preface by Ottessa Moshfegh

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Pearls from artists* # 258

Isla del Sol in Bolivia

Isla del Sol in 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.

Does this imply that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ that there is no objective property that we recognize and about whose nature and value we can agree?  My answer is simply this:  everything I have said about the experience of beauty implies that it is rationally founded.  It challenges us to find meaning in its object, to make critical comparisons, and to examine our own lives and emotions in the light of what we find.  Art, nature, and the human form all invite us to place this experience in the center of our lives.  If we do so, then it offers a place of refreshment of which we will never tire.  But to imagine that we can do this, and  still be free to see beauty as nothing more than a subjective preference or a source of transient pleasure, is to misunderstand the depth to which reason and value penetrate our lives.  It is to fail to see that, for a free being, there is right feeling, right experience and right enjoyment just as much as right action.  The judgment of beauty orders the emotions and desires of those who make it.  It may express their pleasure and their taste:  but it is pleasure in what they value and taste for their true ideals.      

Roger Scruton in Beauty:  A Very Short Introduction

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Pearls from artists* # 245

Barbara's studio with works in progress

Barbara’s studio with works in progress

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

Just as a puppy dog strives to become nothing but simply a dog and as thoroughly a dog as possible, one has to grow into art as the mode of existence for which one’s heart and lungs were made, as the only appropriate option.  If one chances upon art from the outside, it  ends up being nothing but a bad disguise, and life, in its unshakeable honesty, takes it upon itself to tear off this masquerade.

The Poet’s Guide to Life:  The Wisdom of Rilke, edited and translated by Ulrich Baer

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