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Pearls from artists* # 154

Idea for a painting

Idea for a painting

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

Often the public forms an idea of inspiration that is quite false, almost a religious notion.  Alas!  I do not believe that inspiration falls from heaven.  I think it rather the result of a profound indolence and of our incapacity to put to work certain forces in ourselves.  These unknown forces work deep within us, with the aid of the elements of daily life, its scenes and passions, and, they burden us and oblige us to conquer the kind of somnolence in which we indulge ourselves like invalids who try to prolong dream and dread resuming contact with reality, in short when the work that makes itself in us and in spite of us demands to be born, we can believe that this work comes to us from beyond and is offered by the gods.  The artist is more slumberous in order that he shall  not work.  By a thousand ruses, he prevents his nocturnal work from seeing the light of day.

For it is at the moment that consciousness must take a precedence and that it becomes necessary to find the means which permit the unformed work to take form, to render it visible to all.  To write, to conquer ink and paper, accumulate letters and paragraphs, divide them with periods and commas, is a different matter than carrying the dream of a play or of a book.

Jean Cocteau: The Process of Inspiration in The Creative Process, edited by Brewster Ghiselin

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

Comments are welcome!  

 

Pearls from artists* # 93

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.

The times in between things are always very hard for me, and there have been times when I felt that I’d never have an idea again, or that I’ve explored everything that I possibly can because as the years go on you have the backpack of your history.  How do I find something new to work with?  I read a beautiful book by Mable Dodge Luhan, who lived in New Mexico and started Ghost Ranch in the 1920s.  She married a Native American, Tony Luhan, who lived in the Taos pueblo.  She said that she noticed in the pueblo that in the winter everybody had very soft moccasins and they tiptoed around.  They hardly talked at all and it was very, very quiet.  She asked why they did that, and they said, “Mother Earth needs to rest.  We are making it so that Mother Earth can rest so that in spring she can come forth.”  I felt that that was so comforting; to actually nurture those times where it seems so empty, to have faith that something will happen if you savor those times, not try to push against them or fight them.    

Meredith Monk quoted in Conversations with Anne:  Twenty-four Interviews, by Anne Bogart

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 91

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.

I’m struggling a lot financially, struggling a lot to keep my group going, struggling to keep going in every way, but I feel like I try so hard because every time that I’m able to go to a college or to be with young people they need to know that there is this “anything is possible” idea.  They need to at least see that.  I intend to continue nevertheless.  Somehow that seems very important right now.  It isn’t that you go to school just to find out everything you need to get a job or something.  We never thought of what we did as a job.  We thought of it as our work, our life.  Then there was a certain point, I think, in the eighties where people thought of their identity as this and then what you did was a job.  There was a separation between the two things.    

I pray that now there will be some loosening and we’ll feel this sense of, just as you said so beautifully, space and breath.  No one’s breathing.  That’s why I feel that doing art is so important.  It makes you dig in your heels even more.  It’s a life-and-death kind of thing.  What is the other alternative?  The other alternative is that you’re living in a culture that’s basically trying to distract you from the moment.  It’s trying to distract you from your life.  It’s trying to distract you from who you are, and it’s trying to numb you, and it’s trying to make you buy things.  Now, I don’t really think that that’s what life is about.  I’m excited because now I have this real sense that there’s this counterculture, you could say, or counter-impulse.  it’s not for-and-against, but there is a kind of dialectic where there’s a kind of resistance you can actually hit against, or at least address in one way or the other.    

Meredith Monk quoted in Conversations with Anne:  Twenty-four Interviews, by Anne Bogart

Comments are welcome!

  

Pearls from artists* # 87

Studio

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 evening, after one false start too many, I just gave up. Sitting at a bar, feeling a bit burned out by work and by life in general, I just started drawing on the backs of business cards for no reason.  I didn’t really need a reason.  I just did it because it was there, because it amused me in a kind of random, arbitrary way.

Of course it was stupid.  Of course it was not commercial.  Of course it wasn’t going to go anywhere.  Of course it was a complete and utter waste of time.  But in retrospect, it was this built-in futility that gave it its edge.  Because it was the exact opposite of all the “Big Plans” my peers and I were used to making.  It was so liberating not to have to think about all of that, for a change.

It was so liberating to be doing something that didn’t have to have some sort of commercial angle, for a change.

It was so liberating to be doing something that didn’t have to impress anybody, for a change.

It was so liberating to be free of ambition, for a change.

It was so liberating to have something that belonged just to me and no one else, for a change.

It was so liberating to feel complete sovereignty, for a change.  To feel complete freedom, for a change.  To have something that didn’t require somebody else’s money, or somebody else’s approval, for a change.

And of course, it was then, and only then, that the outside world started paying attention.

The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will.  How your own sovereignty inspires other people to find their own sovereignty, their own sense of freedom and possibility, will give the work far more power than the work’s objective merits ever will.

Your idea doesn’t have to be big.  It just has to be yours alone.  The more the idea is yours alone, the more freedom you have to do something really amazing.

The more amazing, the more people will click with your idea.  The more people click with your idea, the more this little thing of yours will snowball into a big thing.

That’s what doodling on the backs of business cards taught me. 

Hugh MacLeod in Ignore Everybody:  and 39 Other Keys to Creativity

Comments are welcome! 

Q: Can you speak about what draws you to the Mexican and Guatemalan figures that you collect?

Shop in Panajachel, Guatemala, Photo:  Donna Tang

Shop in Panajachel, Guatemala, Photo: Donna Tang

A:  I search the markets and bazaars of Mexico, Guatemala, and elsewhere for folk art objects – masks, carved wooden animals, papier mache figures, children’s toys – to bring back to New York to paint and photograph. Color is very important – the brighter and the more eye-catching the patterns are on these objects the better – plus they must be unique and have lots of personality. I try not to buy anything mass-produced or obviously made for the tourist trade. The objects must have been used or otherwise look like they’ve had a life (i.e., been part of religious festivities) to draw my attention. How and where each one comes into my possession is an important part of my creative process.

Finding, buying, and getting them back to the U.S. is always circuitous, but that, too, is part of the process, an adventure, and often a good story. Here’s an example. In 2009 I was in a small town on the shores of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, called Panajachel. After returning from a boat ride across the lake, my friends and I were walking back to our hotel when we discovered a wonderful mask store. I spent some time looking around, made my selections, and was ready to buy five exquisitely-made standing wooden figures, when I learned that Tomas, the store owner, did not accept credit cards. I was heart-broken and thought, “Oh, no, I’ll have to leave them behind.” However, thanks to my good friend, Donna, whose Spanish is much more fluent than mine, the three of us brain-stormed until finally, Tomas had an idea. I could pay for the figures at the hotel up the block and in a few days when the hotel was paid by the credit card company, the hotel would pay Tomas. Fabulous! Tomas, Donna, and I walked to the hotel, where the transaction was made and the first hurdle was overcome. Working out the packing and shipping arrangements took another hour or two, but during that time Tomas and I became friends and exchanged telephone numbers (the store didn’t even have a telephone so he gave me the phone number of the post office next door, saying that when I called, he could easily run next door!). Most surprisingly, the package was waiting for me in New York when I returned home from Guatemala.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 56

Utah

Utah

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

Balancing intuition against sensory information, and sensitivity to one’s self against pragmatic knowledge of the world, is not a stance unique to artists.  The specialness of artists is the degree to which these precarious balances are crucial backups for their real endeavor.  Their essential effort is to catapult themselves wholly, without holding back one bit, into a course of action without having any idea where they will end up.  They are like riders who gallop into the night, eagerly leaning on their horse’s neck, peering into a blinding rain.  And they have to do it over and over again.  When they find that they have ridden and ridden – maybe for years, full tilt – in what is for them a mistaken direction, they must unearth within themselves some readiness to turn direction and to gallop off again.  They may spend a little time scraping off the mud, resting the horse, having a hot bath, laughing and sitting in candlelight with friends.  But in the back of their minds they never forget that the dark, driving run is theirs to make again.  They need their balances in order to support their risks.  The more they develop an understanding of all their experience – the more it is at their command – the more they carry with them into the whistling wind.

Anne Truitt in Daybook:  The Journal of an Artist

Pearls from artists* # 52

Boat hull

Boat hull

* 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 modern way of seeing is to see in fragments.  It is felt that reality is essentially unlimited, and knowledge is open-ended.  It follows that all boundaries, all unifying ideas have to be misleading, demagogic; at best, provisional; almost always, in the long run, untrue.  To see reality in the light of certain unifying ideas has the undeniable advantage of giving shape and form to our experience.  But it also – so the modern way of seeing instructs us – denies the infinite variety and complexity of the real.  Thereby it represses our energy, indeed our right, to remake what we wish to remake – our society, ourselves.  What is liberating, we are told, is to notice more and more.

Paolo Dilonardo and Anne Jump, editors, Susan Sontag At the Same Time:  Essays and Speeches

Comments are welcome!

Q: Your pastel-on-sandpaper paintings are very labor intensive. Do you typically have just one in progress at any given time?

Works in progress, soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

Works in progress, soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

A:  For many years I always worked on one at a time because I have only one or two ideas – never more than that – about what I will make next.  Also, I believe that “all art is the result of one’s having gone through an experience to the end.”  (It’s on a note taped to the wall near my easel).  So I would work on one painting at a time until all of the problems in it were resolved.  Each piece that I undertake represents an investment of several months of my life and after nearly three decades as an artist, I know that once I start a piece I will not abandon it for any reason.  When it is the best painting that I can make – when adding or subtracting anything would be a diminishment – I pronounce it “finished.”  In the past I would start the next one only when the completed piece was out of my sight and at the frame shop.

But a few years ago I began working on two pastel paintings at a time.  When I get stuck – or just need a break from looking at the same image day after day (I am in my studio 5 days a week) – I switch to the other one.  This helps me work more efficiently.  The two paintings interact with each other; they play off of each other and one suggests solutions that help me to resolve problem areas in the other.  I’m not sure exactly how this happens – maybe putting a piece aside for awhile alerts my unconscious to begin working deeply on it – but having two in progress at the same time is my preferred way of working now.

A note about the painting on the left above, which was previously called, “Judas.”  I happen to be reading “Cloud Atlas,” by David Mitchell and came across the word “judasing” used as a verb meaning, “doing some evil to a person who profoundly trusted you.”  I’d never heard the word before, but it resonated with an event in my personal life.  So the new title of my painting is “Judasing.”  This is a good reminder that work and life are inextricably (and inexplicably) woven together and that titles can come from anywhere!  

Comments are welcome!

Q: What is your best time of day to paint?

The High Line - Barbara's morning commute to the studio

The High Line – Barbara’s  morning commute to the studio

A:  I have always been an early riser and a morning person, from my student pilot days when I’d be at an airport in New Jersey ready to takeoff in a Cessna by 6 a.m., through my days as a Naval officer starting work at the Pentagon at 7, until now when I typically get up before 6 (thanks to my cat, who likes to eat breakfast early).  Always I am most energetic in the mornings so that’s when I am most productive and have my best ideas.  Generally, I try to arrive at the studio before 10 a.m. and work until 5 p.m. or later.

Comments are welcome!