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Pearls from artists* # 230

On the Indian Ocean in Tanah Lot, Bali

On the Indian Ocean in Tanah Lot, Bali

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

I like excitement as much as the next person.  Perhaps even more than the next person.  But I get overstimulated easily, and I can feel my brain shorting out when I have too much going on.  And it doesn’t take much:  a good piece of news, a nice review, a longed-for assignment, a cool invitation, and suddenly I can’t think straight.  The outside world glitters, it gleams like a shiny new toy.  Squinting, having lost all sense of myself, I toddle with about as much consciousness as a two-year-old in the direction of that toy.  Once I get a little bit of it, I am conditioned to want more, more, more.  I lose all sight of whatever I had been doing before.

One of the strangest aspects of a writing life is what I think of as going in and out of the cave.  When we are in the middle of a piece of work, the cave is the only place we belong.  Yes, there are practical considerations.  Eating, for instance.  Or helping a child with homework.  Or taking out the trash.  Whatever.  But a writer in the midst of a story needs to find a way to keep her head there.  She can’t just pop out of the cave, have some fun, go dancing, and then pop back in.  The work demands our full attention, our deepest concentration, our best selves.  If we’re in the middle – in the boat we’re building – we cannot let ourselves be distracted by the bright and shiny.  The bright and shiny is a mirage, an illusion.  It is of no use to us.

If there is a time for that brightness, it is at the end:  when the book is finished and the revisions have been turned in, when you’ve given everything inside of you and then some.  When the cave is empty.  Every rock turned over.  The walls covered with hieroglyphics that only you understand – notes you’ve written to yourself in the darkness.  But it’s possible that something interesting has happened while you’ve toiled amid the moths and millipedes.  Once you’ve acclimated to cave life, stumbling toward the light may have lost some of its appeal.  What glitters looks shopworn.   The sparkle and hum of life outside the cave feels somehow less real than what has taken place deep within its recesses.  Savor it – this hermetic joy, this rich unexpected peace.  It’s hard-won, and so easy to lose.  It contains within it the greatest contentment I have ever known.       

Dani Shapiro in Still Writing:  The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 122

Sanur, Bali

Sanur, Bali

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

Most significant growth in my life has been the direct result of errors, mistakes, accidents, faulty assumptions and wrong moves.  I have generally learned more from my mistakes and my so-called failures than any successes or instances of “being right.”  I would venture to propose that this equation is also true in the world at large.  Error is a powerful animating ingredient in political, scientific and historical evolution as well as in art and mythology.  Error is a necessity.  The question I had to ask myself was:  how can I cultivate a tolerance and an appetite for being wrong, for error?

In the face of an exceedingly complicated world, there are too many people who are invested in “being right.”  These people are dangerous.  Their authority is based on their sense of certainty.  But innovation and invention do not only happen with smart people who have all of the answers.  Innovation results from trial and error.  The task is to make good mistakes, good errors, in the right direction.

There are many reasons that we get things as wrong as often as we do.  Failures of perception, the cause of most error, are far more common in our daily lives than we like to think.  We make errors because of inattention, because of poor preparation and because of haste.  We err as a result of hardened prejudices about how things are.  We err because we neglect to think things through.  Our senses betray us constantly.  But the chaos caused by being wrong also  awakens energy and consciousness in us.  In the moments that we realize our faults of perception, we are jerked into an awareness of our humanity.  The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Zizek wrote, “Consciousness originates with something going terribly wrong.”

Anne Bogart in “What’s the Story:  Essays about art, theater, and storytelling

Comments are welcome!     

Q: Why do people need art in their daily lives?

 

With Ida Bagus Anom, Mas, Bali; Photo:  Donna Tang

With Ida Bagus Anom, Mas, Bali; Photo: Donna Tang

A:  That is for each person to decide, but as someone who devotes every waking moment to my work and to becoming a better artist, I cannot imagine my life without art.  

I will tell you a little about what art has done for me.  In my younger days boredom was a strong motivator.  I left the active duty Navy out of boredom.  I couldn’t bear not being intellectually challenged (most of my jobs consisted of paper-pushing), not using my flying skills (at 27 I was a licensed commercial pilot and Boeing-727 flight engineer), and not developing my artistic talents.  In what surely must be a first, the Navy turned me into a hard-working and disciplined artist.  And once I left the Navy there was no plan B.  There was no time to waste.  It was “full speed ahead.” 

Art is a calling.  You do not need to be told this if you are among those who are called.  It’s all about “the work,” that all-consuming focus of an artist’s life.  If a particular activity doesn’t seem likely to make me a better artist, I tend to avoid it.  I work hard to nourish and protect my  gifts.  As artists we invent our own tasks, learn whatever we need in order to progress, and complete projects in our own time.  It is life lived at its freest. 

My art-making has led me to fascinating places:  Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, France, England, Italy, Bali, Java, Sri Lanka, and more; and to in-depth studies of intriguing subjects:  drawing, color, composition, art and art history, the art business, film and film history, photography, mythology, literature, music, jazz and jazz history, and archaeology, particularly that of ancient Mesoamerica (Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, Maya, etc.).  And this rich mixture continually grows!  For anyone wanting to spend their time on earth learning and meeting new challenges, there is no better life! 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 69

Masks from Sri Lanka, Mexico, and Bali

Masks from Sri Lanka, Mexico, and Bali

*

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

The mission is to stay hungry.  Once you need to know, you can proceed and draw distinctions.  From the heat of this necessity, you reach out to content – the play, the theme, or question – and begin to listen closely, read, taste, and experience it.  You learn to differentiate and interpret the sensations received while engaged with content.  The perception forms the  basis for expression.   

Have you ever been so curious about something that the hunger to find out nearly drives you to distraction?  The hunger is necessity.  As an artist, your entire artistic abilities are shaped by how  necessity has entered your life and then how you sustain it.  It is imperative to maintain artistic curiosity and necessity.  It is our job to maintain in this state of feedforward as long as humanly possible.  Without necessity as the fuel for expression, the content remains theoretical.  The drive to taste, discover, and express what thrills and chills the soul is the point.  Creation must begin with personal necessity rather than conjecture about audience taste or fashion.

Anne Bogart in and then, you act:  making art in an unpredictable world 

Comments are welcome! 

Pearls from artists* # 26

Borobudur, Java

Borobudur, Java

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

Beauty is made up of relationships.  It derives its prestige from a specific metaphysical truth, expressed through a host of balances, imbalances, waverings, surges, halts, meanderings, and straight lines, the peculiar quality of which, as a whole, add up to a marvelous number, apparently born without pain.  Its distinguishing mark is that it judges those who judge it, or imagine that they possess power to do so.  Critics have no hold over it.  They would have to know the minutest details of how it works, and this they cannot do, because the mechanics of beauty are secret.  Hence the soil of an age is strewn with a litter of cogs that criticism dismantles in the same way as Charlie Chaplin dismantles an alarm clock after opening it like a tin can.  Criticism dismantles the cogs.  Unable to put them back together or understand the relationships that give them life, it discards them and goes on to something else.  And beauty ticks on.  Critics cannot hear it because the roar of current events clogs the ears of their souls.

Jean Cocteau in Andre Bernard and Claude Gauteur, editors, Jean Cocteau:  The Art of Cinema

Comments are welcome!

Q: What would you be if you were not an artist?

Self-portrait on a Hudson  River barge

Self-portrait on a Hudson River barge

A: I honestly have no idea, but whatever it might be, there is a good chance that I’d be bored! In my younger days boredom was a strong motivator. I left the active duty Navy out of boredom. I couldn’t bear not being intellectually challenged (most of my jobs consisted of paper-pushing), not using my flying skills (at 27 I was a licensed commercial pilot and Boeing 727 flight engineer), and not developing my artistic talent. In what surely must be a first, by spending a lot of time and money training me for jobs I hated, the Navy turned me into a hard-working artist! And once I left the Navy there was no plan B. There was no time to waste. It was “full speed ahead.”

Art is a calling. You do not need to be told this if you are among those who are called. It’s all about “the work,” that all-consuming focus of an artist’s life. If a particular activity doesn’t make you a better artist, you avoid it. You work hard to nourish and protect your gifts. As artists we invent our own tasks, learn whatever we need in order to progress, and complete projects in our own time. It is life lived at its freest.

My art-making has led me to fascinating places: Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, France, England, Italy, Bali, Java and more; and to in-depth studies of intriguing subjects: drawing, color, composition, art and art history, the art business, film and film history, photography, mythology, literature, music, jazz history, and archaeology, particularly that of ancient Mesoamerica (the Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, Maya, etc.). And this rich mixture continually grows! For anyone wanting to spend their time on earth learning and meeting new challenges, there is no better life than that of an artist.

I SO agree with this exchange that I read years ago between between Trisha Brown and Mikhail Baryshnikov in the New York Times. I wrote it on a piece of paper and taped it to my studio wall:

Trisha: How do you think we keep going? Are we obsessed?

Mikhail: We do it because there’s nothing better. I’m serious. Because there is nothing more exciting than that. Life is so boring, that’s why we are driven to the mystery of creation.

Comments are welcome.

Q: Are you close to finishing any pastel paintings?

"Absencee" not quite finished

“Absence” not quite finished

A: I’m putting finishing touches on a small one, “Absence,” which is 26″ x 20″ unframed. It depicts paper mache figures that I bought some years ago in Oaxaca and Mexico City. I added those two blue and white “volcano” shapes on the left after my recent trip to Bali. Check out the dust (and torn pastel wrappers) on the easel. That’s what inspired the name of my blog.