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Pearls from artists* # 482

One of Viscarra’s masks at MUSEF La Paz

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

Devils’ heads with daring and disturbing eyes, twisted horns, abundant grey hair and hooked noses hang on the blue walls of Antonio Viscarra’s house. Long benches covered with old, multi-colored cushions in Bolivian motifs surround the concrete floor of the small room. Several dozen of these hanging faces, which seem to watch in silence from the darkness, are ready to be used in festivals and traditional dances.

The maskmaker or “maestro” as he is called, lives [deceased now] in the area of Avenida Buenos Aires, far from the political and administrative center of the city of La Paz, but rather at the very center of the other La Paz (Chuquiago in the Aymara language) where many peasant immigrants have settled, and which for that reason, is the center of the city’s popular culture.

Viscarra is the oldest creator of masks in La Paz, and his work has helped to conserve, and at the same time to rejuvenate, the tradition of using masks in Bolivian dances. If economic progress and alienation have contributed to the excessive adornment of new masks with glass and other foreign materials, Viscarra, in an attempt to recover the distinctive, original forms, has gone back to the 100-year-old molds used by his grandfather. His work has been exhibited in Europe, in the United States and in South America, Most important, however, is that Viscarra is transmitting his knowledge to his children, ensuring that this form of authentic Bolivian culture will never die.

…Viscarra inherited the old mask molds from his grandfather and was told to take good care of them because some day he might need them. After keeping them carefully put away for 50 years, the maestro used them again for an exhibition of masks prepared in 1984, slowly recreating the original masks, beautiful in their simplicity, in their delicate craftsmanship and in their cultural value. In this way, the masks which emerged from the old molds are regaining their past prestige and importance.

Antonio Viscarra, The mask Maker by Wendy McFarren in Masks of the Bolivian Andes, Editorial Quipus and Banco Mercantil

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 481

Dawoud Bey 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 they spend such prolonged periods in isolation, frequently fall behind the times. They may gain great self-knowledge, spiritual insight, and understanding of their media as they work in private, but at the price of a lack of vital knowledge of the world around them.

Because solitude provides artists with a safe haven, fits their personality, and offers them a kind of communal contact with other human beings through their work, it can also serve as a breeding ground for stagnation. Without ever realizing it, artists can grow flacid in isolation and begin to experience their solitude as deadening. The studio can become too easy and unchallenging a place.

The world outside the studio offers unmatched opportunities for growth and for the expression of authentic and courageous behavior. Artists often miss these opportunities and, remaining relatively untested, handle themselves poorly when they do venture out.

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

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 479

Working

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

a gift is a thing we cannot get by our own efforts. We cannot buy it; we cannot acquire it through an act of will. It is bestowed upon us. Thus we rightly speak of talent as a “gift,” for although a talent can be performed through an effort of the will, no effort in the world can cause its initial appearance. Mozart, composing on the harpsicord at the age of four, had a gift.

We also rightly speak of intuition or inspiration as a gift. As the artist works, some portion of his creation is bestowed upon him. An idea pops into his head, a tune begins to play, a phrase comes to mind, a color falls into place on the canvas. Usually, in fact, the artist does not find himself engaged or exhilarated by the work, nor does it seem authentic, until this gratuitous element has appeared so that along with any true creation comes the uncanny sense that “I,” the artist, did not make the work. “Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me,” says D.H. Lawrence. Not all artists emphasize the gift phase of their creations to the degree Lawrence does, but all artists feel it.

Lewis Hyde in The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property

Comments are welcome!

Q: What are your favorite subject(s) and media? (Question from “Arts Illustrated”)

Barbara’s New York Studio

A: Here’s the short answer. I work exclusively in soft pastel on sandpaper, using self-invented pastel techniques that I have been refining for thirty-five years.  Since 2017, I have depicted authentic Bolivian Carnival masks that I encountered and photographed at the Museum of Ethnography and Folklore In La Paz.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 446

At the studio. Photo: Kimberly Kevorkian

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

What stops us in our tracks? I am rarely stopped by something or someone I can instantly know. In fact, I have always been attracted to the challenge of getting to know what I cannot instantly categorize or dismiss, whether an actor’s presence, a painting, a piece of music, or a personal relationship. It is the journey towards the object of attraction that interests me. We stand in relation to one another. We long for the relationship that will change our vistas. Attraction is an invitation to an evanescent journey, to a new way of experiencing life or perceiving reality.

An authentic work of art embodies intense energy. It demands response. You can either avoid it, shut it out, or meet it and tussle. It contains attractive and complicated energy fields and a logic all its own. It does not create desire or movement in the receiver, rather it engenders what James Joyce labelled ‘aesthetic interest.’ You are stopped in your tracks. You cannot easily walk by it and go on with your life. You find yourself in relation to something that you cannot readily dismiss.

Anne Bogart in A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theater

Comments are welcome!

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 

Comments are welcome!

Q: What qualities do you think mark the highest artistic achievement?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  If I may speak in the most general terms, several qualities come to mind that, for me, mark real artistic achievement: 

  • firm artistic control that allows the artist to create works that simultaneously demonstrate formal coherence while responding to inner necessity
  • the creation of new forms and techniques that are adapted to expressing the artist’s highly personal vision
  • an authentic and balanced fusion of form, method, and idea
  • using material from one’s own idiosyncratic experiences and subtly transforming it in a personal inimitable way during the creative process
  • the meaning of the thing created is rigorously subordinated to its design, which once established, generates its own internal principles of harmony and coherence  

Comments are welcome! 

Q: Can you speak about a book (or books) that deeply influenced you as an artist?

Barbara's well-worn copy of "Camille Pissarro:  Letters to His Son Lucien"

Barbara’s well-worn copy of “Camille Pissarro: Letters to His Son Lucien”

A:  One such book that stands out is “Camille Pissaro:  Letters to His Son Lucien.”  The book is comprised of weekly letters from a father conveying wisdom about his craft, art, and life, over roughly twenty years, to a beloved son, who is just beginning his artistic journey.  I discovered this gem about thirty years ago when I was just starting to find my way as an artist, too.  Pissarro’s words are beautiful, poignant, and deeply felt.   He has much to say to artists because, sadly, we still contend with the same problems, such as how to remain authentic and earn a living, how to deal with galleries and collectors, how to stay focused on the work, etc.  I often enjoy rereading favorite passages simply because it makes me feel less alone as an artist.

Comments are welcome!

Q: In terms of change where will you take your work next?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  That’s difficult to say because creating new pastel paintings is a somewhat mysterious process.  Change happens on its own timetable and in its own way rather than from my efforts to exert conscious control over it.  In essence it is my job to keep working in the studio, to be sensitive and true to my own creative process, and to go where the work leads.  I doubt that I could work otherwise and still claim to be authentic.

Comments are welcome!     

Pearls from artists* # 76

Cabo San Lucas, Mexico

Cabo San Lucas, 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.

What stops us in our tracks?   I am rarely stopped by something or someone I can instantly know.  In fact, I have always been attracted to the challenge of getting to know what I cannot instantly categorize or dismiss, whether an actor’s presence, a painting, a piece of music, or a personal relationship.  It is the journey towards the object of attraction that interests me.  We stand in relation to one another.  We long for the relationships that will change our vistas.  Attraction is an invitation to an evanescent journey, to a new way of experiencing life or perceiving reality.

An authentic work of art embodies intense energy.  It demands response.  You can either avoid it, shut it out, or meet it and tussle.  It contains attractive and complicated energy fields and a logic all its own.  It does not create desire or movement in the receiver, rather it engenders what James Joyce labeled ‘aesthetic arrest.’ You are stopped in your tracks.  You cannot easily walk by it and go on with your life.  You find yourself in relation to something that you cannot readily dismiss.

Anne Bogart in A Director Prepares:  Seven Essays on Art and Theater 

Comments are welcome!   

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