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Pearls from artists* # 459

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.

Naturally we want freedom, flow and harmony in our work. These are qualities that give it eloquence. But we cannot find this flow by avoiding the obstacles that arise upon starting out. We welcome the resistances and then apply our God given ammunition – our imagination, energy and will – and finally watch the obstacles dissolve. Only then can we enjoy the new-found freedom and flow until the next obstacle appears. And the struggle begins anew. And hence, the paradox: we cultivate resistance in order to free our path of resistance. Real power is the removal of resistance from your path.

Anne Bogart in A Director Prepares: Seven Essays on Art and Theatre

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Pearls from artists* # 437

Dragonfly on final approach

Dragonfly on final approach

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

There really is nothing to fear in fantasy unless you are afraid of the uncertainty.  This is why it’s hard for me to imagine that anyone who likes science can dislike fantasy.  Both are based so profoundly on the admission of uncertainty, the welcoming acceptance of unanswered questions.  Of course, the scientist seeks to ask how things are the way they are, not to imagine how they might be otherwise.  But are the two operations opposed, or related?  We can’t question reality directly, only by questioning our conventions, our belief, our orthodoxy, our construction of reality.  All Galileo said, all Darwin said, was, “It doesn’t have to be the way we thought it was.”       

Ursula K. Le Guin in No Time to Spare:  Thinking About What Matters

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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* # 400

In the studio with friends

In the studio with friends

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

A student in the audience raised her hand and asked me:

“Why should I live?”

… In the very act of asking that question, you are seeking reasons for your convictions, and so you are committed to reason as the means to discover and justify what is important to you.  And there are so many reasons to live!

As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish.  You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating.  You can seek explanations of the natural world through science, and insight into the human condition through the arts and humanities.  You can make the most of your capacity for pleasure and satisfaction, which allowed your ancestors to thrive and thereby allowed you to exist.  You can appreciate the beauty and the richness of the natural and cultural world.  As the heir to billions of years of life perpetuating itself, you can perpetuate life in turn.  You have been endowed with a sense of sympathy – the ability to like , love, respect, help, and show kindness – and you can enjoy the gift of mutual benevolence with friends, family, and colleagues.

And because reason tells you that none of this is particular to you, you have the responsibility to provide to others what you expect for yourself.  You can foster the welfare of other sentient beings by enhancing life, health, knowledge, freedom, abundance, safety, beauty, and peace.  History shows that when we sympathize with others and apply our ingenuity to improving the human condition, we can make progress in doing so, and you can help to continue that progress.

Stephen Pinker in Enlightenment Now:  The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress 

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Pearls from artists* # 397

"Prophecy," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“Prophecy,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

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

Our species requires a greater capacity to see into the Real, not just the outer universe of the senses but also the inner cosmos of the psyche, the normally invisible dimensions.  Near the end of his life, Jung said to an English journalist, “The only real danger that exists is man himself… His psyche should be studied because we are the origin of all coming evil.”  It is a beautiful statement until the word studied comes up, at which point we are reminded that Jung at bottom was a rationalist:  he refused to see that while psychology could talk brilliantly about the soul, it could never descend into its depths.  For this we need imagination, madness, prophecy – art.  We must understand that creative expression is not a pastime or distraction, but a psychonautic science in its own right.  Allowed to operate in freedom, it can illuminate the darkness beyond our field of vision.     

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* # 396

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.

To summarize, art is expression. Expression is nonutilitarian and has no purpose beyond itself.  Early on this led me to define works of art as things whose only function is to be perceived.  Since the appearance of such things in everyday life breaks the drift of habit for which we have been hard-wired by evolution, art always occurs as an interruption.  In the course of time, humans have produced innumerable works of art, subordinating them to innumerable ends according to the needs of the hour, yet all art exhibits a primal quality that exceeds those appropriations.  Because the inherent multivalence of art threatens the desire to reduce things to clear significations, human societies have a tendency to overlook it, with the result that a great many aesthetic objects are called art when they are perhaps something else.  To clarify this distinction I called art designed to serve instrumental reason “artifice.”  In its worst forms, artifice amounts to aesthetic manipulation of a kind that is indisputably hostile to the ideals of openness, plurality, freedom of thought, and rational disclosure that we were told were the cornerstones of modernity.  Art, on the other hand, is innately emancipatory, being itself the affirmation or sign of freedom.     

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* # 380

“John,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 22” x 28” (image), 1989.

“John,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 22” x 28” (image), 1989.

* 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 freedom he enjoyed came at a cost.  But those fears and irritations evaporated amid the support the artists gave one another immediately after the war.  A community developed that sustained them and gave them courage.  “You have to have confidence amounting to arrogance, because particularly at the beginning, you’re making something that nobody asked you to make,”  Elaine [de Kooning] said.  “And you have to have total confidence in yourself, and in the necessity of what you’re doing.”  That was much easier done in a group of like-minded individuals.

Mary Gabriel in Ninth Street Women

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Pearls from artists* # 353

Sari shop, Ahmedabad, India

Sari shop, Ahmedabad, India

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

Creativity is freedom’s most primal expression, though not the freedom we were sold under the banner of democracy.  True freedom is less a license to do as one pleases than the power to be what one has no choice but to be, the capacity to follow one’s own inmost desire.  It is the freedom Nina Simone compares in “Feeling Good” to the shining of a star, a fish swimming in the sea, or the scent of a pine.

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

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Q: What is more important to you, the subject of the painting or the way it is executed?

"Sam and Bobo,"soft pastel on sandpaper, 36" x 31", 1989

“Sam and Bobo,”soft pastel on sandpaper, 36″ x 31”, 1989

A:  In a sense my subject matter – folk art, masks, carved wooden animals, papier mâché figures, toys – chose me.  With it I have complete freedom to experiment with color, pattern, design, and other formal properties.  In other words, although I am a representational artist, I can do whatever I want since the depicted objects need not look like real things.  Execution is everything now.

This was not always the case.  I started out in the 1980s as a traditional photorealist, except I worked in pastel on sandpaper.  (For example, see the detail in Sam’s sweater above).  As I slowly learned and mastered my craft, depicting three-dimensional people and objects hyper-realistically in two dimensions on a piece of sandpaper was thrilling… until one day it wasn’t.  

My personal brand of photorealism became too easy, too limiting, too repetitive, and SO boring to execute!  In 1989 I had at last extricated myself from a dull career as a Naval officer working in Virginia at the Pentagon.  Then after much planning, in 1997 I was a full-time professional artist working in New York.  

Certainly I was not going to throw away this opportunity by making boring photorealist art.  I wanted to do so much more as an artist:  to experiment with techniques, with composition, to see what I could make pastel do, to let my imagination play a larger role in the paintings I made. I was ready to devote the time and do whatever it took to push my art further.

After spending the early creative years perfecting my technical skills, I built on what I had learned.  I began breaking rules – slowly at first – in order to push myself onward.  And I continue to do so, never knowing what’s next.  Hopefully, in 2018 my art is richer for it.

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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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