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Pearls from artists* # 410

Mexico City

Mexico City

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

Faced with the disparities between lived reality and America’s professed ideals of inclusion and equity, countless artists have begun embracing the social role of art and using aesthetic means to speak out against all manner of injustice.  In such a climate, the Mexican muralists [Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros] have once again emerged as models of how to marry aesthetic rigor and vitality to socially conscious subject matter that addresses the most fundamental questions concerning our collective pursuit of a more just and equitable society.  Not withstanding the rich cultural ties and decades of migration that have long existed between the United States and Mexico, the relationship between the two countries has always been fraught, marked as much by mutual wariness and bouts of hostility as by a spirit of camaraderie and cooperation  Yet the ugliness and xenophobia of the recent debates on the American side echoes the worst of the past.  It thus seems more imperative than ever to acknowledge the profound and enduring influence Mexican muralism has had on artmaking in the United States and to highlight the beauty and power that can emerge from the free and vibrant cultural exchange between the two countries.  As much as did American artists decades ago, artists in the United States today stand to benefit from an awareness of how dynamically and inventively the Mexican muralists used their art to project the ideals of compassion, justice, and solidarity.  They remain a source of powerful inspiration for their seamless synthesis of ethics, art, and action.

Vida Americana:  Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925 – 1945, edited by Barbara Haskell

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Pearls from artists* # 405

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.

… art is an objective pursuit with the same claim to truth as science, albeit truth of a different order.  At the very least the consistency and universality of aesthetic expression throughout history and around the globe suggest that the undertaking that finds its modern formulation in the concept of art is a distinct sphere of activity with its own ontology.  My belief is that what the modern West calls art is the direct outcome of a basic human drive, an inborn expressivity that is inextricably bound with the creative imagination.  It is less a product of culture than a natural process manifesting through the cultural sphere.  One could go so far as to argue that art must exist in order for culture to emerge in the first place.

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* # 400

In the studio with friends

In the studio with friends

* 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 student in the audience raised her hand and asked me:

“Why should I live?”

… In the very act of asking that question, you are seeking reasons for your convictions, and so you are committed to reason as the means to discover and justify what is important to you.  And there are so many reasons to live!

As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish.  You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating.  You can seek explanations of the natural world through science, and insight into the human condition through the arts and humanities.  You can make the most of your capacity for pleasure and satisfaction, which allowed your ancestors to thrive and thereby allowed you to exist.  You can appreciate the beauty and the richness of the natural and cultural world.  As the heir to billions of years of life perpetuating itself, you can perpetuate life in turn.  You have been endowed with a sense of sympathy – the ability to like , love, respect, help, and show kindness – and you can enjoy the gift of mutual benevolence with friends, family, and colleagues.

And because reason tells you that none of this is particular to you, you have the responsibility to provide to others what you expect for yourself.  You can foster the welfare of other sentient beings by enhancing life, health, knowledge, freedom, abundance, safety, beauty, and peace.  History shows that when we sympathize with others and apply our ingenuity to improving the human condition, we can make progress in doing so, and you can help to continue that progress.

Stephen Pinker in Enlightenment Now:  The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress 

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Pearls from artists* # 389

Henri Roche pastels: nine trays (four at the top, five on the bottom).

Henri Roche pastels: nine trays (four at the top, five on the bottom).

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

Color vision must be universal.  The human eye and brain work the same way for nearly all people as a property of their being human – determining that we all see blue.  But the color lexicon, meaning not merely the particular words but also the specific chromatic space they are said to mark, clearly has been shaped by the particularities of culture.  Since the spectrum of visible colors is a seamless continuum, where one color is thought to stop and another begun is arbitrary.  The lexical discrimination of particular segments is conventional rather than natural.  Physiology determines what we see; culture determines how we name, describe, and understand it.  The sensation of color is physical; the perception of color is cultural.

David Scott Kastan in On Color

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Pearls from artists* # 307

"Poker Face," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“Poker Face,” 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.

Until fairly recently the word art as applied to pictures usually referred not just to representations of the world but to representations that suggested an importance greater than we might otherwise have assumed.  Such pictures were said to instruct and delight, which they did by their wholeness and richness.  The effect was to reinforce a sense of meaning in life, though not necessarily a belief in a particular ideology or religion, and in this they were a binding cultural achievement.

Unfortunately art of this quality is now little attempted, partly because of disillusionment from a century of war, partly because of sometimes misplaced faith in the communicative and staying powers of total abstraction, and partly because of the ease with which lesser work can be made and sold.  This atrophying away of the genuine article is a misfortune because, in an age of nuclear weapons and over-population and global warming, we need more than ever what art used to provide.  Somehow we have to recommit to picture making that is serious.  It is impermissible any longer to endorse imitations that distract us or, openly or by implication, ridicule hope.  The emptiness of material by Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, for example, is born of cynicism and predictive of nihilism.                 

Robert Adams in Art Can Help

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Pearls from artists* # 205

National Gallery of Art with self-portrait

National Gallery of Art with self-portrait

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

Museums empower people when they are patrons for artists and thinkers; when they amplify civic discourse, accelerate cultural change and contribute to cultural intelligence among the great diversity of city dwellers, visitors, policy makers and leaders…  Museums present beautiful, accessible and meaningful spaces in which communities and individuals can meet, exchange ideas and solve problems.

David J. Skorton, Director of the Smithsonian Institution in “What Do We Value?” Museum, May/June 2016

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Pearls from artists* # 204

Barbara's studio with work in progress

Barbara’s studio with work in progress

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

It has been said that science helps us understand what we can do; the arts and humanities – our culture and values – help us decide what to do.  Studying the arts and humanities develops critical-thinking skills and nimble habits of mind, provides historical and cultural perspective and fosters the ability to analyze, synthesize and communicate.

As author Daniel Pink observed, “The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind – computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers…  The future belongs to a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers.  These people – artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big-picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”

David J. Skorton, Director of the Smithsonian Institution in “What Do We Value?” Museum, May/June 2016

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Q: What historical art movement do you most identify with?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I’d have to say that I identify most with surrealism, although my work does not exactly fit into any particular art historical movement.  When I was first finding my way as an artist, I read everything I could find about surrealism in art and in literature.  This research still res0nates deeply and is a tremendous influence on my studio practice.  Elements of surrealism DO fit my work.  Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 20s and is best known for its visual artworks and writings.  The aim was to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality.”  Artists painted unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision, created strange creatures from everyday objects and developed painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself.  

Surrealist works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur; however, many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost, with the works being an artifact.  Leader Andre Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was, above all, a revolutionary movement.

I hope to expand on this in a future post.

Comments are welcome!            

Q: How do you think living in New York affects your work?

Lower Manhattan

Lower Manhattan

A:  Arguably, life in New York provides an artist with direct access to some of the best international art of the past, the present, and probably the future.  It is possible to see more art here – both good and bad – than in any other American city.  

Just pick up any local magazine and scan the art listings!  Our problem is never that there isn’t anything interesting to see or do.  It’s “how do we zero in on the most significant local cultural activities, ones that might contribute to making us better artists?”   

Certainly a visual artist’s work is consciously and unconsciously influenced not only by what she sees in museums and galleries, but by walking around the city.  That’s partly why I am an inveterate walker.  I never know what amazing things I am going to see when I leave my apartment.

Although living in New York City is a rich and heady mix for anyone, it is more so for sensitive artists.  Artists are virtual sponges, soaking up experiences, processing them, and mysteriously expressing them in our work. 

New York lets an artist ponder excellence as we see and experience firsthand what is possible.  The best of the best manages to make its way here.    

Undoubtedly, my own work is richer for having spent the last eighteen years in this fascinating, wild, and crazy city.  For a visual artist New York is an infinitely fascinating place to live.

Comments are welcome! 

Pearls from artists* # 148

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.

I want Bob Iger, the head of Disney, to invest in my ideas.  In fact … one of my ideas is … I love Walt Disney … I feel Disney should have an art fund that completely supports all of the arts.  And I feel that there should be a responsibility, recruiters, constantly looking for new thinkers and connecting them directly to companies that already work.  Why does the person who has the most genius idea or cultural understanding or can create the best art have to figure out how to become a businessman in order to become successful at expressing himself?  I think it’s important for anyone that’s in power to empower.

Kanye West in Choice Quotes from Kanye’s Address at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in Hyperallergic, May 12, 2015

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