Q: Why art? (Question from “Arts Illustrated”)
A: I love this question! I remember being impressed by Ursula von Rydingsvard’s exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts a few years ago. What stayed with me most was her wall text, “Why Do I Make Art by Ursula von Rydingsvard.” There she listed a few dozen benefits that art-making has brought to her life.
I want to share some of my own personal reasons for art-making here, in no particular order. My list keeps changing, but these are true at least for today.
1. Because I love the entire years-long creative process – from foreign travel whereby I discover new source material, to deciding what I will make, to the months spent in the studio realizing my ideas, to packing up my newest pastel painting and bringing it to my Virginia framer’s shop, to seeing the framed piece hanging on a collector’s wall, to staying in touch with collectors over the years and learning how their relationship to the work changes.
2. Because I love walking into my studio in the morning and seeing all of that color! No matter what mood I am in, my spirit is immediately uplifted.
3. Because my studio is my favorite place to be… in the entire world. I’d say that it is my most precious creation. It’s taken more than twenty-two years to get it this way. I hope I never have to move!
4. Because I get to listen to my favorite music all day.
5. Because when I am working in the studio, if I want, I can tune out the world and all of its urgent problems. The same goes for whatever personal problems I am experiencing.
6. Because I am devoted to my medium. How I use pastel continually evolves. It’s exciting to keep learning about its properties and to see what new techniques will develop.
7. Because I have been given certain gifts and abilities and that entails a sacred obligation to USE them. I could not live with myself were I to do otherwise.
8. Because art-making gives meaning and purpose to my life. I never wake up in the morning wondering, how should I spend the day? I have important work to do and a place to do it. I know this is how I am supposed to be spending my time on earth.
9. Because I have an enviable commute. To get to my studio it’s a thirty-minute walk, often on the High Line early in the morning before throngs of tourists have arrived.
10. Because life as an artist is never easy. It’s a continual challenge to keep forging ahead, but the effort is also never boring.
11. Because each day in the studio is different from all the rest.
12. Because I love the physicality of it. I stand all day. I’m always moving and staying fit.
13. Because I have always been a thinker more than a talker. I enjoy and crave solitude. I am often reminded of the expression, “She who travels the farthest, travels alone.” In my work I travel anywhere.
14. Because spending so much solitary time helps me understand what I think and feel and to reflect on the twists and turns of my unexpected and fascinating life.
15. Because I learn about the world. I read and do research that gets incorporated into the work.
16. Because I get to make all the rules. I set the challenges and the goals, then decide what is succeeding and what isn’t. It is working life at its most free.
17. Because I enjoy figuring things out for myself instead of being told what to do or how to think.
18. Because despite enormous obstacles, I am still able to do it. Art-making has been the focus of my life for thirty-three years – I was a late bloomer – and I intend to continue as long as possible.
19. Because I have been through tremendous tragedy and deserve to spend the rest of my life doing exactly what I love. The art world has not caught up yet, but so be it. This is my passion and my life’s work and nothing will change that.
20. Because thanks to the internet and via social media, my work can be seen in places I have never been to and probably will never go.
21. Because I would like to be remembered. The idea of leaving art behind for future generations to appreciate and enjoy is appealing.
Comments are welcome!
Posted in 2021, Alexandria (VA), Art in general, Inspiration, Studio
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Q: I just got home from my first painting experience… three hours and I am exhausted! Yet you, Barbara, build up as many as 30 layers of pastel, concentrate on such intricate detail, and work on a single painting for months. How do you do it?
A: The short answer is that I absolutely love making art in my studio and on the best days I barely even notice time going by!
Admittedly, it’s a hard road. Pursuing life as an artist takes a very special and rare sort of person. Talent and having innate gifts are a given, merely the starting point. We must possess a whole cluster of characteristics and be unwavering in displaying them. We are passionate, hard-working, smart, devoted, sensitive, self-starting, creative, hard-headed, resilient, curious, persistent, disciplined, stubborn, inner-directed, tireless, strong, and on and on. Into the mix add these facts. We need to be good business people. Even if we are, we are unlikely to make much money. We are not respected as a profession. People often misunderstand us: at best they ignore us, at worst they insult our work and us, saying we are lazy, crazy, and more.
The odds are stacked against any one individual having the necessary skills and stamina to withstand it all. So many artists give up, deciding it’s too tough and just not worth it, and who can blame them? This is why I believe artists who persevere over a lifetime are true heroes. It’s why I do all I can to help my peers. Ours is an extremely difficult life – it’s impossible to overstate this – and each of us finds our own intrinsic rewards in the work itself. Otherwise there is no reason to stick with it. Art is a calling and for those of us who are called, the work is paramount. We build our lives around the work until all else becomes secondary and falls away. We are in this for the duration.
In my younger days everything I tried in the way of a career eventually became boring. Now with nearly thirty years behind me as a working artist, I can still say, “I am never bored in the studio!” It’s difficult to put into words why this is true, but I know that I would not want to spend my time on this earth doing anything else. How very fortunate that I do not have to do so!
Comments are welcome!
Posted in 2014, An Artist's Life, Art in general, Art Works in Progress, Black Paintings, Creative Process, Inspiration, New York, NY, Pastel Painting, Photography, Quotes, Studio, Working methods
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Pearls from artists* # 44
* 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 cannot even imagine the individual arts sufficiently distinct from one another. This admittedly exaggerated attitude might have its most acute origin in the fact that in my youth, I, quite inclined toward painting, had to decide in favor of another art so as not to be distracted. And thus I made this decision with a certain passionate exclusivity. Based on my experience, incidentally, every artist needs to consider for the sake of intensity his means of expression to be basically the only one possible while he is producing. For otherwise he could not easily suspect that this or that piece of world would not be expressible by his means at all and he would finally fall into that most interior gap between the individual arts, which is surely wide enough and could be genuinely bridged only by the vital tension of the great Renaissance masters. We are faced with the task of deciding purely, each one alone, on his one mode of expression, and for each creation that is meant to be achieved in this one area all support from the other arts is a weakening and a threat.
Ulrich Baer, editor, The Wisdom of Rilke
Comments are welcome!
Posted in 2013, An Artist's Life, Art in general, Art Works in Progress, Black Paintings, Creative Process, Inspiration, New York, NY, Painting in General, Pastel Painting, Pearls from Artists, Photography, Quotes, Studio
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