Blog Archives

Pearls from artists* # 276

The West Village

The West Village

* 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 long time later, after I  became a novelist, I realized that the ambiguities of the human mind are what give fiction and perhaps all art its power.  A good novel gets under our skin, provokes us and haunts us long after the first reading, because we never fully understand the characters.  We sweep through the narrative over and over again, searching for meaning.  Good characters must retain a certain mystery and unfathomable depth, even for the author.  Once we see to the bottom of their hearts, the novel is dead for us.

Eventually, I learned to appreciate both certainty and uncertainty.  Both are necessary in the world.  Both are part of being human.  

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 152

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

“Between,” 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.

The first picture I took of a black man was easy.

That’s the way it sometimes goes for me:  I start on a new series of pictures and right away, in some kind of perverse bait-and-switch, I get a good one.  This freak of a good picture inevitably inspires a cocky confidence, making me think this new project will be a stroll in the park.  But, then, after sometimes two or three more good ones, the next dozen are duds, and that cavalier stroll becomes an uphill slog.  It isn’t long before I have to take a breather, having reached the first significant plateau of doubt and lightweight despair.  The voice of that despair suggests seducingly to me that I should give up, that I’m a phony, that I’ve made all the good pictures I’m ever going to, and I have nothing more worth saying.

That voice is easy to believe, and, as photographer and essayist (and my early mentor) Ted Orland has noted, it leaves me with only two choices:  I can resume the slog and take more pictures, thereby risking further failure and despair, or I can guarantee failure and despair by not making more pictures.  It’s essentially a decision between uncertainty and certainty and, curiously, uncertainty is the comforting choice.

Sally Mann in Hold Still:  A Memoir with Photographs

Comments are welcome!         

Q: How do you know when a series has ended?

 

"A Promise, Meant to be Broken," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“A Promise, Meant to be Broken,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

A:  I suppose it’s when there is nothing left to say within a particular body of work.  The urgency to add something I haven’t tried vanishes.  Usually I can’t even think of anything I haven’t tried. 

I knew with certainty that the “Domestic Threats” series was finished while “A Promise Meant to be Broken” was still on my easel.  It’s no accident that I included a self-portrait.  This painting was my way of saying good-bye to an important body of work – literally turning my back on it – and summing up where the work had taken me. 

For artists each series is a creative journey with a beginning, a middle, and an end.  At a certain point it’s over.  Then you build on what you’ve accomplished and move on to create something new.  The connection between new work and old may not always be obvious, but one thing is certain:  all the previous work laid the groundwork for what you make today.    

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!     

Pearls from artists* # 23

LACMA

LACMA

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

My composition arises out of asking questions.  I am reminded of a story early on about a class with Schoenberg.  He had us go to the blackboard to solve a particular problem in counterpoint (though it was a class in harmony).  He said, “When you have a solution, turn around and let me see it.”  I did that.  He then said, “Now another solution, please.”  I gave another and another until finally, having made seven or eight, I reflected a moment and then said with some certainty, “There aren’t any more solutions.”  He said, “OK.  What is the principle underlying all the solutions?”  I couldn’t answer his question; but I had always worshiped the man, and at that point I did even more.  He ascended, so to speak.  I spent the rest of my life, until recently, hearing him ask that question over and over.  And then it occurred to me through the direction that my work has taken, which is renunciation of choices and the substitution of asking questions, that the principle underlying all of the solutions that I had given him was the question that he had asked, because they certainly didn’t come from any other point.  He would have accepted that answer, I think.  The answers have the questions in common.  Therefore the question underlies the answers.              

John Cage quoted in Kay Larson, Where the Heart Beats:  John Cage, Zen Buddhism, and the Inner Life of Artists 

Comments are welcome!