Blog Archives

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* # 494

Shamans, Tiwanaku, 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.

Emile Cartailhac was a man who could admit when he was wrong. This was fortunate, because in 1902 the French prehistorian found himself writing an article for L’Anthropolgie in which he did just that. In “Mea culpa d’un sceptique” he recanted the views he had spent the previous 20 years forcefully and scornfully maintaining: that prehistoric man was incapable of fine artistic expression and that the cave paintings found in Altmira, northern Spain, were forgeries.

The Paleothithic paintings at Altamira, which were produced around 14,000 B.C., were the first examples of prehistoric cave art to be officially discovered. It happened by chance in 1879, when a local landowner and amateur archaeologist was busily brushing away at the floor of the caves, searching for prehistoric tools. His nine-year-old daughter, Maria Sanz de Sautuola – a grave little thing with cropped hair and lace-up booties – was exploring farther on when she suddenly looked up, exclaiming, “Look, Papa, bison!” She was quite right: a veritable herd, subtly colored with black charcoal and ocher, ranged over the ceiling. When her father published the finding in 1880, he was met with ridicule. The experts scoffed at the very idea that prehistoric man – savages really – could have produced sophisticated polychrome paintings. The esteemed Monsieur Cartailhac and the majority of his fellow experts, without troubling to go and see the cave for themselves, dismissed the whole thing as a fraud. Maria’s father died, a broken and dishonored man, in 1888, four years before Cartailhac admitted his error.

After the discovery of many more caves and hundreds of lions, handprints, horses, women, hyenas, and bison, the artistic abilities of prehistoric man are no longer in doubt. It is thought that these caves were painted by shamans trying to charm a steady supply of food for their tribes. Many were painted using the pigment most readily available in the caves at the time: the charred stick remnants of their fires. At its simplest, charcoal is the carbon-rich by-product of organic matter – usually wood – and fire. It is purest and least ashy when oxygen has been restricted during it’s heating.

In The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 488

New York Harbor

*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 be astonished is to be caught unawares by the revelation of realities denied or repressed in the everyday. Astonishment has an intellectual as well as an emotional component – in it, the brain and the heart come together. Far from distracting us from the strange and the uncanny in life, the astonishment evoked by great artistic works puts them square in our sights. The work demands that we feel and think the mystery of our passage through this body, on this earth, in this universe. We realize afterward that the world is not what we thought it was: something hidden, impossible to communicate though clearly expressed in the work has risen into the light of awareness, and the share of the Real to which we are privy is proportionately expanded.

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

Comments are welcome!

Q: What country’s artistic style influenced you the most over the years? (Question from Arte Realizzata)

Barbara’s studio with some of her Mexican and Guatemalan folk art

A: Undoubtedly, I would have to say Mexico.  As a Christmas present in 1991 my future sister-in-law sent two brightly painted wooden animal figures from Oaxaca, Mexico. One was a blue polka-dotted winged horse.  The other was a red, white, and black bear-like figure.

I was enthralled with this gift and the timing was fortuitous because I had been searching for new subject matter to paint. Soon I started asking artist-friends about Oaxaca and learned that it was an important art hub.  At least two well-known Mexican painters, Rufino Tamayo and Francisco Toledo, had gotten their start there , as had master photographer Manual Alvarez Bravo.  There was a “Oaxacan School of Painting” (‘school’ meaning a style, not an actual building) and Alvarez Bravo had established a photography school there (the building/institution kind). I began reading everything I could find.  At the time I had only been to Mexico very briefly, in 1975, having made a road trip to Ensenada with my cousin and best friend from college. The following autumn my then-boyfriend, Bryan, and I planned a two-week trip to visit Mexico. We timed it to see Day of the Dead celebrations in Oaxaca.  (In my reading I had become fascinated with this festival).  We spent one week in Oaxaca followed by one week in Mexico City.  My interest in collecting Mexican folk art was off and running!  

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 478

Julie Mehretu exhibition at the Whitney Museum of American Art

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

Artists, because of the demands of their personality, their sense of personal mission, and their need to create or perform, are driven people. Mixed with the love of work can be a terrible pressure to work. For many artists, and especially for the most productive ones, the line between love and obsession and between love and compulsion blurs or disappears entirely. Are such artists free or are they slaves to their work?

In The Artist and Society the psychiatrist Lawrence Hatterer said of such an artist:

His most recognizable trait is his recurring daily preoccupation with translating artistic activity into accomplishment. The consuming intensity of this artistic pursuit brooks no interference or obstacles. His absorption with the creative act is such that he experiences continually what the average artist feels only infrequently when he reaches unusual levels of creative energy with accompanying output. He appears to be incapable of willful nonproductivity.

This is Picasso working for 72 hours straight. This is van Gogh turning out 200 finished paintings during his 444 days in Arles. The artist who is “incapable of willful nonproductivity” is a workaholic for whom little in life, apart from his artistic productivity and accomplishment, may have any meaning.

Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts: Practical Guidance and Inspiration for Creative and Performing Artists

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 468

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.

Why does art elicit such different reactions from us? How can a work that bowls one person over leave another cold? Doesn’t the variability of the aesthetic feeling support the view that art is culturally determined and relative? Maybe not, if we consider the possibility that the artistic experience depends not on some subjective mood but on an individually acquired (hence variable) power to be affected by art, a capacity developed through one’s culture in tandem with one’s unique character. For evidence of this we can point to works that seem to ignore cultural boundaries altogether, affecting people of different backgrounds in comparable ways even though a specific articulation of their personal responses continues to vary. Consider the plays of William Shakespeare or Greek theater, or the fairy tales that have sprung up in similar forms on every continent. We could not be further removed from the people who painted in the Chauvet Cave, nor could we be more oblivious as to the significance they ascribed to their pictures. Yet their work affects us across the millennia. Everyone responds to them differently, of course, and the spirit in which people are likely to receive them now probably differs significantly from how it was at the beginning. But these permutations revolve around a solid core, something present in the images themselves.

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

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 456

“Avenger,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

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

[Philip] Guston’s biography provides ample proof of his political convictions – his loathing of the Klan, of Richard Nixon, of violence against the powerless. It also leaves no doubt as to his Ozymandian artistic ambitions, which had a drive and a logic of their own. Yoking the ambitions to the convictions was, he found, insipid: “What bores me,” he said in 1974. “is to see an illustration of my thought… I want to make something I never saw before and be changed by it. So that I go into the studio and I see these things up and I think, Jesus, did I do that? What a strange thing.”

Susan Tallman in Phillip Guston’s Discomfort Zone in The New York Review of Books, Jan. 14, 2021

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 438

Chalcatzingo, Mexico

Chalcatzingo, Mexico

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

Although {Manuel} Alvarez Bravo and Cartier-Bresson were both important mentors for Iturbide, her photographs, as she confirms, are not connected to Surrealism in any way.  Henri Cartier-Bresson’s publication Carnets du Mexique (Mexican Notebooks) was an important influence, as it presented a visual representation of Mexico that resonated with her.  (Cartier-Bresson also worked mainly in Juchitan, where Iturbide has spent a great deal of time).  However, Iturbide developed a way of working quite different from Cartier-Bresson’s.  What distinguishes the two artists’ photographs lies in the notion of the fleeting instant, or, as Cartier-Bresson called it, “the decisive moment.”  Iturbide refers to Cartier-Bresson’s interest in the “sharp eye” and capturing an instant in time, and describes her own intentions when photographing:  “More than in time, I’m interested in the artistic form of the symbol.”  Further, Iturbide’s photographs are taken with an understanding of the people, rituals, and symbols of the communities she captures, which makes them stand apart from Cartier-Bresson’s fleeting moments of Mexico.  Her work is informed by her deep connection and empathy for her subjects.

Kristen Gresh in Graciela Iturbide’s Mexico         

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists # 429

“Vincent’s Books” by Mariella Guzzoni

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

Vincent [van Gogh] found himself in perfect harmony with[Emile] Zola’s world view.  Neither of them sugarcoated or idealized the harsh reality of the everyday life that surrounded them, or the subjects it offered up.  The same reality was at the heart of both of their work.  In July 1883, Vincent read Zola’s essay on art, ‘Le Moment artistique,’ contained in one of his critical works on literary and artistic life, Mes haines (My Hatreds), in which Zola reflected on a crucial aspect of artistic creativity, going beyond the word ‘realistic;’ ‘the word “realist” means nothing to me, and I declare reality subordinate to temperament.’  Therefore, according to Zola, a ‘work of art is a corner of creation seen through a temperament.’ Vincent did not comment on this passage directly, but in his lines we see that in Zola’s words he found confirmation of his own beliefs.  To Theo, in 1885, he wrote of his attempts to capture the effects of light in The Potato Eaters:   “Not always literally exactly – rather never exactly – for one sees nature through one’s temperament.”  The two contrasting souls that live side by side in the author of Les Rougon Macquart, one methodical, the other creative, reflected Vincent’s own creative approach.                     

Mariella Guzzoni in Vincent’s Books:  Van Gogh and the Writers Who Inspired Him 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 414

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.

As we grow into our true artistic selves, we start to realize that the tools don’t matter, the story does.  Your point of view and the way that you express yourself as a photographer are how you tell the stories that matter to you.  And that, my friends, is therapeutic.

There’s a certain amount of Zen in that act.  Peace and tranquility are hard to come by in today’s world.  But through photography, we all have a chance to find both.

As photographers, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that our ability to use a camera gives us a chance to show everyone else who we are.  Young photographers often obsess over doing something new. Older photographers, like Rick and I, realize that the real goal is in being you.  So focus on being you not on being new for new’s sake.  This is the path to both inner and outer success.

People will ask you what you photograph.  I personally am often described as a bird photographer.  But we are not what we do.  It’s important to note the difference.  And that is because people don’t care what you do.  They care why you do it.  If you are doing what you are meant to do, you will be able to articulate your own why. 

Scott Bourne in Photo Therapy Motivation and Wisdom by Rick Sammon 

Comments are welcome!

%d bloggers like this: