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.
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It is very difficult to describe the creative experience in such a way that it would cover all cases. One of the essentials is the variety with which one approaches any kind of artistic creation. It doesn’t start in any one particular way and it is not always easy to say what gets you going.
I’ve sometimes made the analogy with eating. Why do you eat? You’re hungry. You are sort of in the mood to eat, and if you are in the mood to eat, the food tastes better; you’re more interested in what you’re eating. The whole experience is more “creative.” It’s the hunger that stimulates you to eat. It’s the same thing in art; except that, in art, the hunger is the need for self-expression.
How does it come about that you feel hungry? You don’t know, you just feel hungry. The juices are working, and suddenly you are aware of the fact that you want a piece of bread and butter. It’s about the same in art. If you pass your life in creating works of art in one field or another, you recognize the “hunger” signs and you are quick to take advantage of them, if they’re accompanied by ideas. Sometimes, you have the hunger and you don’t have any ideas; there’s no bread in the house. It’s as simple as that.
AAron Copland in The Creative Experience: Why and How Do We Create?, Stanley Rosner and Lawrence E. Abt, editors
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* 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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