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Pearls from artists* # 421

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.

The economic meltdown that followed the crash of the U.S. stock market in 1929 shattered the country’s faith in itself.  With one third of the country unemployed and droughts devastating the Midwest, many Americans doubted their ability to endure and triumph.  More than ever, as the American novelist John Dos Passos asserted, the country needed to know “what kind of firm ground other men, belonging to generations before us, have found to stand on.”  Guided by the Mexican muralists, whose art they had ample opportunities to study in reproduction and exhibition, American artists responded by seeking elements from the country’s past, which they mythologized into epics of strength and endurance in an effort to help the nation revitalize itself.

Thomas Hart Benton led the charge.  Long a vociferous critic of European abstraction as elitist and out of touch with ordinary people, Benton hailed the Mexican muralists for the resolute public engagement of their art and for portraying the pageant of Mexican national life, exhorting his fellow American artists to follow their example in forging a similar public art for the U.S., even as he firmly rejected the communist ideology that often inflected the Mexican artists’ work.  African American artists were likewise inspired by the Mexican muralists’ celebration of the people’s fight for emancipation.  In creating redemptive narratives of social justice and liberation, artists such as Charles White and Jacob Lawrence transformed that struggle for freedom and equality into a new collective identity, one that foregrounded the contribution of African Americans to national life.        

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

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Pearls from artists* # 404

"Broken," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58" image, 50" x 70" framed

“Broken,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″ image, 50″ x 70″ framed

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

Before we can even think of ecological rescue, global disarmament, or economic reform, we must find a way back to what science fiction writers call our homeworld.  The term encompasses more than the biosphere; it also includes our homes, our places of work, our  communities, families, friends, and lovers.  It includes our technologies and tools, the physical body, the sensible soul, and the unconscious psyche.  We need a faith to restore our capacity to feel, to affect and be affected with the same passionate intensity as our forebears, whose powers of feeling astound us so in the records and art of the past.  The death of affect, to borrow a phrase from JG Ballard, is the true catastrophe of our spectral age, our spiritual Hiroshima.  It makes questions such as whether life’s riddles are answered at the Vatican, in Tibet, or by the Large Hadron Collider utterly meaningless, since it removes the ground we need to pose such questions in the first place.  Neither religion nor science can give us back the ground.  Only the imagination can.  Only art can mend the rupture of the soul and the world, the body and the earth.       

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* # 198

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

“Troublemaker,” 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 writer doesn’t need economic freedom.  All he needs is a pencil and some paper.  I’ve never known anything good in writing to come from having accepted any free gift of money.  The good writer never applies to a foundation.  He’s too busy writing something.  If he isn’t first rate he fools himself by saying he hasn’t got time or economic freedom.  Good art can come out of thieves, bootleggers, or horse swipes.  People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand.  They are afraid to find out how tough they are.  Nothing can destroy the good writer.  The only thing that can alter the good writer is death.  Good ones don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich…

Nothing can injure a man’s writing if he’s a first-rate writer.  If a man is not a first-rate writer, there’s not anything that can help it much.  The problem does not apply if he is not first-rate, because he has already sold his soul for a swimming pool.

William Faulkner in Writers at Work:  The Paris Review Interviews First Series, edited and with an introduction by Malcolm Cowley

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