Blog Archives

Pearls from artists* # 272

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.

One important distinction that can be made between physicists and novelists, and between the scientific and artistic communities in general, is what I shall call “naming.”  Roughly speaking, the scientist tries to name things and the artist tries to avoid naming things.

To name a thing, one needs to have gathered it, distilled and purified it, attempted to identify it with clarity and precision.  One puts a box around the thing and says what’s in the box is the thing and what’s not is not…

… The objects and concepts of the novelist cannot be named.  The novelist might use the words love and fear, but these names do not summarize or convey much to the reader.  For one thing, there are a thousand different kinds of love…

… Every electron is identical, but every love is different.

The novelist doesn’t want to eliminate these differences, doesn’t want to clarify and distill the meaning of love so that there is only a single meaning… because no such distillation exists.  And any attempt at such a distillation would undermine the authenticity of readers’ reactions, destroying the delicate, participatory creative experience of a good reader reading a good book.  In  sense, a novel is not complete until it is read.  And each reader completes the novel in a different way.     

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 135

 

Chalcatzingo (Mexico)

Chalcatzingo (Mexico)

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

[Meredith Monk on beginning a new piece and whether it gets easier over time].

I always say that the fear is overwhelming at the beginning.  It’s like jumping off a cliff.  You have absolutely no idea what is going on.  It is like being a detective.  You try to follow every clue that comes up.  Some of them are McGuffins, but I think that is what the process is.  It starts out with fear, and I think that’s a good thing.  If you know what you are doing already, what is the point in doing it?  It is always like hanging out and tolerating pain and the fear of the unknown.  Then usually what happens is that a little something will come up.  If I am sitting at the piano – and I remember sitting at the piano and almost shaking at the beginning of this piece – one little phrase will come up.  And then you get a little interested in that one little phrase.  Or I say to myself, “Step by step.”  Another thing I say to myself, “Remember playfulness, Meredith?”

What happens at a certain point is that the thing itself starts coming in and you realize that you are more interested than you are afraid.  You are in this thing, whatever it is, and fear is useless at a certain point.  But at the beginning, it is not bad.  It is saying that you are risking.  I think that taking the chance on risking is something that keeps you young.  I’ll tell you, what you are saying about my skills – I don’t find it easier.  It is just as hard as it ever was.  I don’t think, “Now I have these skills.”  I don’t think in those terms at all.

… When you are making something new, you aren’t going to be able to use the same technique that you used on something else.  Maybe other people think it is easier as they go along.  I think part of the challenge is not to rely on things that you know, and to keep on listening.  It is really a process of listening to what something needs.  What’s right for it.   

Conversations with Meredith Monk by Bonnie Marranca

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Pearls from artists* # 116

Preliminary sketch

Preliminary sketch

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

What is the point of all the discipline, hard work, and training?  What does the training and preparation have to do with rehearsing a play and with performance?  The training and the discipline and the sweating and the study and the memorizing are not the end point, but rather the entry.  The preparation is what gives one the permission to take up space and make wild, surprising, and untamed choices.  In the quest for artistic freedom and agency it is impossible to walk into a rehearsal room uninhibited, unburdened.  We are generally chained down by habits and assumptions and by fear of the new.  Permission is what we earn by the sweat, training, preparatory work and dedication.

Anne Bogart in What’s the Story:  Essays in art, theater, and storytelling

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Pearls from artists* # 107

 

"The Ancestors," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“The Ancestors,” 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.

If the proper goal of art is, as I now believe, Beauty, the Beauty that concerns me is that of Form.  Beauty is, in my view, a synonym of the coherence and structure underlying life (not for nothing does Aristotle list plot first in his enumeration of the components of  tragedy, a genre of literature that, at least in its classical form, affirms order in life).  Beauty is the overriding demonstration of pattern that one observes, for example, in the plays of Sophocles and Shakespeare, the fiction of Joyce, the films of Ozu, the paintings of Cezanne and Matisse and Hopper, and the photographs of Timothy O’Sullivan, Alfred Stieglitz, Edward Weston, and Dorothea Lange.

Why is Form beautiful?  Because, I think, it helps us meet our worst fear, the suspicion that life may be chaos and that therefore our suffering is without meaning.  James Dickey was right when he asked rhetorically, “What is heaven anyway, but the power of dwelling among objects and actions of consequence.”  “Objects of consequence” cannot be created by man alone, nor can “actions of consequence’ happen in a void; they can only be found within a framework that is larger than we are, an encompassing totality invulnerable to our worst behavior and most corrosive anxieties.

… How, more specifically, does art reveal Beauty, or Form?  Like philosophy it abstracts.  Art simplifies.  It is never exactly equal to life.  In the visual arts, this careful sorting out in favor of order is called composition, and most artists know its primacy.

Beauty in Photography by Robert Adams

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Q: What is it that you most fear hearing about your work?

Studio

Studio

A:  I’d say that the worst thing is when there is no reaction at all.  I want people to engage with my work – like it or don’t like it – but say and feel SOMETHING.  When there is no response, that means my work has failed to communicate anything and I have failed in my duty as an artist.  Art is all about communication.

Comments are welcome!  

Pearls from artists* # 18

West Village

West Village

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

Those who would make art might well begin by reflecting on the fate of those who preceded them:  most who began, quit.  It’s a genuine tragedy.  Worse yet, it’s an unnecessary tragedy.  After all, artists who continue and artists who quit share an immense field of common emotional ground.  (Viewed from the outside, in fact, they’re indistinguishable).  We’re all subject to a familiar and universal progression of human troubles – troubles we routinely survive, but which are (oddly enough) routinely fatal to the art-making process.  To survive as an artist requires confronting these troubles.  Basically, those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue – or more precisely, have learned how to not quit.

But curiously, while artists always have a myriad of reasons to quit, they consistently wait for a handful of specific moments to quit.  Artists quit when they convince themselves that their next effort is already doomed to fail.  And artists quit when they lose the destination for their work – for the place their work belongs.

Virtually all artists encounter such moments.  Fear that your next work will fail is a normal, recurring, and generally healthy part of the art-making cycle.  It happens all the time:  you focus on some new idea in your work, you try it out, run with it for awhile, reach a point of diminishing returns, and eventually decide it’s not worth pursuing further.  Writers even have a phrase for it – “the pen has run dry” – but all media have their equivalents.  In the normal artistic cycle this just tells you that you’ve come full circle, back to that point where you need to begin cultivating the next new idea.  But in artistic death it marks the last thing that happens:  you play out an idea, it stops working, you put the brush down… and thirty years later you confide to someone over coffee that, well, yes, you had wanted to paint when you were much younger.  Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping.  The latter happens all the time.  Quitting happens once.  Quitting means not starting again – and art is all about starting again.

David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

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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.