Blog Archives

Pearls from artists* # 305

About half of Barbara’s pastels

About half of Barbara’s pastels

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

When asked to talk about what I do, I’ve often compared writing with handicrafts – weaving, pot-making, woodworking.  I see my fascination with the word as very like, say, the fascination with wood common to carvers, cabinetmakers – people who find a fine piece of old chestnut with delight, and study it, and learn the grain of it, and handle it with sensuous pleasure, and consider what’s been done with chestnut and what you can do with it, loving the wood itself, the mere material, the stuff of their craft.             

Ursula K. Le Guin in No Time to Spare:  Thinking About What Matters

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 302

"Epiphany," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“Epiphany,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

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

Regardless of personal convictions or professional concerns, an artist’s power comes down to two things:  her sensitivity to the radical mystery of existence, and the artistry and craft with which she can channel that mystery into an object or performance.  Neither existential awe nor a given metaphysical outlook need to serve as an explicit motivation.  Simply, the emergence of artistic vision – and the need to express the vision without distorting or conceptualizing it – is contingent upon the underlying wonderment at being itself, a wonderment without which there would be no art.  

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

Comments are welcome!

Q: What in your opinion marks a work of art as contemporary?

West 26th Street, NYC

West 26th Street, NYC

A:  “Contemporary art” is defined formally as art made since 1970 by living artists who are still making new work.  People often confuse the term “contemporary art” with “modern art,” but they are not the same.  “Modern art” refers to art made during the period between, roughly, the 1860’s to 1970. 

Nowadays there are so many different kinds of art – new forms are developing all the time – and almost anything can be considered contemporary art as long as someone, an artist, says it is art.  Ours is a fascinating, but bewildering, crazy, and often silly art world.  Since I am based in New York, I see a lot that makes me ask, “Is this really art?” and “Why would anyone make such a thing?” 

If there is one single element I look for in visual art it would have to be a high degree of craft.  I enjoy seeing work that is beautiful, well-crafted, and that makes me wonder how the artist made it.  With the exception of Ai Weiwei and Julie Mehretu (maybe others I can’t think of just now), I prefer art made by a single creator, as opposed to artists like Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, who employ dozens of people to make their work.        

Comments are welcome!      

Q: How do you feel about accepting commissions?

"Reunion," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58", 1990

“Reunion,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″, 1990

A:  By the time I left the Navy in 1989 to devote myself to making art, I had begun a career as a portrait painter.  I needed to make money, this was the only way I could think of to do so, and I had perfected the craft of creating photo-realistic portraits in pastel.  It worked for a little while. 

A year later I found myself feeling bored and frustrated for many reasons.  I didn’t like having to please a client because their concerns generally had little to do with art.  Once I ensured that the portrait was a good (and usually flattering) likeness, there was no more room for experimentation, growth, or creativity.  I believed (and still do) that I could never learn all there was to know about soft pastel.  I wanted to explore color and composition and take this under-appreciated medium as far as possible.  It seemed likely that painting portraits would not allow me to accomplish this.  Also, I tended to underestimate the amount of time needed to make a portrait  and charged too small a fee.

So I decided commissioned portraits were not for me and made the last one in 1990 (above).  I feel fortunate to have the freedom to create work that does not answer to external concerns.  

Comments are welcome!        

Q: Please speak about your background as a Naval officer and aviator and how that has informed your sensibility as an artist.

The studio yesterday

The studio yesterday

A:  At the age of 25 I got my private pilot’s license before spending the next two years amassing thousands of hours of flight time as I earned every flying license and rating I could, ending with a Boeing-727 flight engineer certificate. I joined the Navy when I was 29. I used to think that the 7 years I spent on active duty were wasted – during those 7 years I should have been working on my art – but I see things differently now. The Navy taught me to be disciplined, to be goal-oriented and focused, to love challenges, and in everything I do, to pay attention to the details. Trying to make it as an artist in New York is nothing BUT challenges so these qualities serve me well, whether I’m creating paintings, shooting and printing photographs, or trying to understand the art business and keep up with social media.  I enjoy spending long solitary hours working to become a better artist. I am meticulous about craft and will not let a work out of my studio or out of the darkroom until it is as good as I can make it.

Comments are welcome!