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Pearls from artists* # 527

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.

Vocation was originally a religious term. The word comes from the Latin vocatio, which means a summons, a call. To be a priest, a monk, or a nun is to accept a calling – a vocation. The sense of an imperative – of an activity that’s a necessity, an inevitability – remains very much part of the meaning of the word today. A creative vocation isn’t a job. It’s a calling, even if for most modern artists the summons is an inner necessity, not the call of some divine figure or force. Even an artist as determinedly secular as Picasso saw echoes of religious vocation in his experience as an artist. When his mistress Francoise Gilot, wondering at his concentration and stamina, asked him if when he was painting “it didn’t tire him to stand so long in one spot,” this was his response: “No. That’s why painters live so long. While I work, I leave my body outside the door, the way Moslems take off their shoes before entering the mosque.” For creative spirits the studio or stage – or wherever they do their work – is a place apart. They may recoil from describing this as a sacred space, but there’s no question that these spaces have a special significance.

Jed Perl in Authority and Freedom: A Defense of the Arts

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Pearls from artists* # 525

“The Enigma,” Soft Pastel on Sandpaper, 26″ x 20″ Image, 35″ x 28.5″ Framed

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

… this reflects the inner necessity of the arts, the creative spirit’s determination to make something that can stand on its own, precisely because it’s rooted in rules, systems, and processes that are immune to the vagaries of politics, society, and day-to-day life. It’s the discipline of art that frees the artist to go public with the most private thoughts and feelings. No matter how the world encroaches on the artist, the artist in the act of creation must stand firm in the knowledge that art has its own laws and logic. These are the fundamentals of the creative vocation.

Jed Perl in Authority and Freedom: A Defense of the Arts

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Pearls from artists* # 465

“Raconteur,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58” x 38,” signed lower left

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

In his 1970 Nobel Prize lecture, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn proposed that if art has never been revealed its intrinsic “function” to us, it is because such a thing is beyond our ken. For the Russian writer, we are mistaken when we call art a human innovation; we ought instead to see it as a gift, something that came to us from beyond the bounds of our world. Solzhenitsyn illustrates his point by comparing the work of art to the technological marvel that a man from the proverbial Stone Age comes across in the wilderness. Unable to penetrate its secrets, the man can only turn the object this way and that, looking for “some arbitrary use to which he can put it, without suspecting an extraordinary one.” Solzhenitsyn goes on:

So also we, holding art in our hands, confidently consider ourselves to be its masters, boldly we direct it, reform and manifest it; we sell it for money, use it to please those in power; turn to it at one moment for amusement… and at another… for the passing needs of politics and for narrow-minded social ends. But art is not defiled by our efforts, neither does it thereby depart from its true nature, but on each occasion and in each application it gives us a part of its secret inner light.”

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

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Pearls from artists* # 423

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

“Epiphany,” 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.

I’ve mentioned that Kenneth Clark, the British art historian, said you could take the four best paintings of any artist in history and destroy the rest and the artist’s reputation would still be intact.  This is because in any artist’s life there are moments when everything goes right.  The artist is so in tune with his or her inner vision that there is no restriction.  The divine is being expressed.  Each mark becomes like a note of music in a divine order.

That experience, that prayer of expression, transcends its material and becomes spiritual.  The experience is overwhelming, the joys it communicates explosive.

When on another occasion we can’t find that spiritual level of experience, and so can’t repeat it, the frustration can be cruel and the separation painful.  Here lies the myth of the suffering artist.  It isn’t the art making when it goes well that has any suffering in it.  That is the union with the beloved.  It’s the loss that causes the suffering.  And the problem isn’t something we can necessarily control.  We are instruments, conduits for that expression.  It comes through us by grace.

The idea that we “make” art is perhaps a bit misleading.  The final product is at its best the result of a collaboration with spirit.  We may be separated from a flow within our spirit for weeks.  We continue to paint because there is no knowing at what precise moment it will return.  And when it does we need our faculties alert and our skills honed.  Then the poetry is everywhere.    

Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity:  16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision

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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* # 345

Barbara working on an interview. Photo:  Maria Cox

Barbara working on an interview. Photo: Maria Cox

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

You begin your journey as an artist from sacred motives, with dreams and high hopes, and also, perhaps, from a place of painful turmoil or other inner necessity.  From these powerful drives comes your conscious decision to pursue a life in art, your resolve to call yourself an artist whatever the consequences.  You are the one nodding in agreement when the painter John Baldessari says, “Art is about bloody-mindedness.  It’s not about living the good life.  In the end, it’s just you and the art.”

Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts:  Practical Guidance and Inspiration for Creative and Performing Artists

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Q: What qualities do you think mark the highest artistic achievement?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  If I may speak in the most general terms, several qualities come to mind that, for me, mark real artistic achievement: 

  • firm artistic control that allows the artist to create works that simultaneously demonstrate formal coherence while responding to inner necessity
  • the creation of new forms and techniques that are adapted to expressing the artist’s highly personal vision
  • an authentic and balanced fusion of form, method, and idea
  • using material from one’s own idiosyncratic experiences and subtly transforming it in a personal inimitable way during the creative process
  • the meaning of the thing created is rigorously subordinated to its design, which once established, generates its own internal principles of harmony and coherence  

Comments are welcome! 

Pearls from artists* # 162

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

“The Sovereign,” 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.

Particle after particle of the living self is transferred into the creation, until at last it is an external world that corresponds to the inner world and has the power of outlasting the author’s life.  

I suspect that some such dream is shared by many authors, but among those interviewed it is Faulkner who has come closest to achieving it, and he is also the author who reveals it most candidly.  “Beginning with Sartoris,” he says, I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it, and that by sublimating the actual into the apocryphal I would have complete liberty to use whatever talent I might have to its absolute top.  It opened up a mine of other people, so I created a cosmos of my own.  I can move these people around like God, not only in space but in time.”  And then he says, looking back on his work as if on the seventh day,  “I like to think of the world I created as being a kind of keystone in the universe; that, small as that keystone is, if it were ever taken away the universe itself would collapse.  My last book will be the Doomsday Book, the Golden Book, of Yoknapatawpha County.  Then I shall break the pencil and I’ll have to stop.”

Malcolm Cowley in Writers  at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, First Series

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Q: I’m convinced that some information and ideas are hidden, or even encrypted in the environment we live in, so we need a way to decipher them. Maybe one of the roles of an artist is to reveal unexpected sides of Nature, especially of our inner Nature. What’s your opinion about this?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I agree. Artists in general are more sensitive to these sorts of hidden ideas, feelings, emotions, etc. in ways that most non-artists are not. It’s a cliche but it’s true.

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Pearls from artists* # 64

High Line, New York, NY

High Line, New York, NY

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

As soon as an artist has located the vital center of his activities, nothing will be more important than for him to remain within this center and never move further away from it (which is, of course, also the center of his nature, of his world) than the interior walls of his quietly and steadily expanding achievement.  His place is not, never, not even for a moment, next to the beholder and critic (at least no longer in an environment where all that is visible becomes ambiguous and preliminary, an auxiliary construction and temporary scaffolding for something else).  And one basically needs to be an acrobat to leap back safely and unharmed from this point of view into one’s inner center (the distances are too great and all the spots too destabilized to risk such an entirely inquisitive feat).  Most artists today use up their strength in this back-and-forth, and in addition to wasting their energy they get terribly confused and lose a part of their essential innocence to the sin of having taken their work from the outside by surprise, to have tasted it, to have joined others in enjoying it!     

Ulrich Baer, editor, The Wisdom of Rilke

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