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Pearls from artists* # 72

Boulder, CO

Boulder, CO

* 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 a process and a journey.  All artists have to find a way to lie to themselves, find ways to fool themselves into believing that what they’re doing is good enough, the best they can do at that moment, and that’s ok.  Every work of art falls short of what the artist envisioned.  It is precisely that gap between their intention and their execution that opens up the door for the next work.

Eric Fischl and Michael Stone in Bad Boy:  My Life on and off the Canvas 

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Pearls from artists* # 66

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 craved honesty, yet found dishonesty in myself.  Why commit to art?  For self-realization, or for itself?  It seemed indulgent to add to the glut unless one offered illumination.

Often I’d sit and try to draw, but all the manic activity in the streets, coupled with the Vietnam War, made my efforts seem meaningless.  I could not identify with political movements.  In trying to join them I felt overwhelmed by yet another form of bureaucracy.  I wondered if anything I did mattered.

Robert [Mapplethorpe] had little patience with these introspective bouts of mine.  He never seemed to question his artistic drives, and by his example, I understood that what matters is the work:  the string of words propelled by God becoming a poem, the weave of color and graphite scrawled upon the sheet that magnifies His motion.  To achieve within the work a perfect balance of faith and execution.  From this state of mind comes a light, life-charged.

Patti Smith in Just Kids

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Q: Would you speak about the practical realities – time and expenses – involved in making your pastel-on-sandpaper paintings? What might people be surprised to learn about this aspect of art-making?

Studio

Studio

A:  I have often said that this work is labor-intensive.  In a good year I can complete five or six large (38″ x 58″) pastel paintings.  In 2013 I am on track to make four, or, on average, one completed painting every three months.  I try to spend between thirty-five and forty hours a week in the studio.  Of course, I don’t work continuously all day long.  I work for awhile, step back, look, make changes and additions, think, make more changes, step back, etc.  Still, hundreds of hours go into making each piece in the “Black Paintings” series, if we count only the actual execution.  There is also much thinking and preparation – there is no way to measure this – that happen before I ever get to stand before an empty piece of sandpaper and begin.

As far as current expenses, they are upwards of $12,000 per painting.  Here is a partial breakdown:

$4500    New York studio, rent and utilities ($1350/month) for three months                                         

$2500    Supplies, including frames (between $1500 – $1700), photographs, pastels (pro-rated), paper                  

$2000    Foreign travel to find the cultural objects, masks, etc. depicted in my work (approximate, pro-rated)                                                   

$3000    Business expenses, such as computer-related expenses, website, marketing, advertising, etc.                                                                      

This list leaves out many items, most notably compensation for my time, shipping and exhibition expenses, costs of training (i.e. ongoing photography classes), photography equipment, etc.  Given my overhead, the paintings are always priced at the bare minimum that will allow me to continue making art. 

I wonder:  ARE people surprised by these numbers?  Anyone who has ever tried it knows that art is a tough road.  Long ago I stopped thinking about the cost and began doing whatever is necessary to make the best paintings.  The quality of the work and my evolution as an artist are paramount now.  This is my life’s work, after all.  

Comments are welcome!

    

Pearls from artists* # 46

Artist's backyard

Artist’s backyard

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

Some things will naturally excite us more than others.  This is where art begins, when we separate our inner-directed impulse from the outer-directed deluge of other people’s work and opinion.  “The artists are the ones who bare themselves to this experience of essence… Their vocation is to communicate that experience to others.  Not to communicate it is to surrender the vision to atrophy; the artist must paint, or write, or sculpt – else the vision withers away and he or she is less apt to have it again.”

The trick is to be able to learn to juggle at least two things at once.  We need to keep the initial impulse in its entirety before us as we start engaging in the execution of the parts.

Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity:  Sixteen Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision

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Pearls from artists* # 4

At work on "False Friends"; photo by Diana Feit

At work on “False Friends”; photo by Diana Feit

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

Given a small kernel of reality and any measure of optimism, nebulous expectations whisper to you that the work will soar, that it will become easy, that it will make itself. And verily, now and then the sky opens and the work does make itself.  Unreal expectations are easy to come by, both from emotional needs and from the hope or memory of periods of wonder.  Unfortunately, expectations based on illusion lead almost always to disillusionment.

Conversely,  expectations based on the work itself are the most useful tool the artist possesses.  What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece.  The place to learn about your materials is in the last use of your materials.  The place to learn about your execution is in your execution.  The best information about what you love is in your last contact with what you love.  Put simply, your work is your guide:  a complete, comprehensive, limitless reference book on your work.  There is no other  such book, and it is yours alone.  It functions this way for no one else.  Your fingerprints are all over your work, and you alone know how you got there.  Your work tells you about your working methods, your discipline, your strengths and weaknesses, your habitual gestures, your willingness to embrace.

The lessons you are meant to learn are in your work.  To see them, you need only look at the work clearly – without judgment, without need or fear, without wishes or hopes.  Without emotional expectations.  Ask your work what it needs, not what you need.  Then set aside your fears and listen, the way a good parent listens to a child.  

David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

Comments are welcome.