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Pearls from artists* # 532

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.

Far from offering an escape from the world, the arts present one of the most difficult and hard-fought ways to enter into the life of our time or any other time. What the artist must first accept is the authority of an art form, the immersion in what others have done and achieved. Once the artist has begun to take all that in – it’s a process that never really ends – there comes the even greater challenge of asserting one’s freedom. It’s the limits imposed by a vocation that makes it possible to turn away from the pressures of the moment and think and feel freely – and sometimes, give the most private emotions an extraordinary public hearing. If art is the ordering of disorderly experience, and I don’t know how else to describe it, then the artist must be true both to the order and to the disorder. These are the trials of the artist and the artistic vocation. They shape the experience of anybody who reads a novel or looks at a painting or listens to a piece of music.

Jed Perl in Authority and Freedom: A Defense of the Arts

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Pearls from artists* # 530

Screenshot from Barbara’s website

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

Samuel Coleridge described the imagination as “the living power and prime agent of all human perception.” It achieves its fullest potential in artistic expression because it is there that it transcends mere representation to bring forth unprecedented images of the world.

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

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Pearls from artists* # 529

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.

All sorts of novelists, composers, choreographers, poets, and painters find themselves engaged in the challenges of authority and freedom that are the lifeblood of the arts. Art is a way of life – and not only or even essentially for geniuses. An artistic community – to whatever degree it may be joined by social, economic, or other concerns – is fundamentally united by the imperatives of a vocation as they are shaped in a particular time. Genius doesn’t emerge ex nihilo. And it doesn’t have a unique relationship with authority and freedom. Whatever truth there is to Walter Benjamin’s comment, apropos of Proust’s novel, that certain masterpieces begin or end a genre, it’s usually true that every masterpiece reaffirms the fundamental character of a form. For every epochal achievement that we may see as an assertion of unexpected degrees of freedom (Beethoven’s final quartets or Shakespeare’s last plays), there are others that reaffirm the pressure of tradition (an example is Raphael’s neoclassical designs for tapestries representing scenes from the lives of Saint Peter and Saint Paul). For every creative spirit, the great as well as the merely good, there is a sense in which the wager is the same.

Jed Perl in Authority and Freedom: A Defense of the Arts

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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

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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

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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

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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!  

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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

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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

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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

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