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Pearls from artists* # 211

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

* 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 is an ancient view that beauty is the object of a sensory rather than an intellectual delight, and that the senses must always be involved in appreciating it.  Hence, when the philosophy of art became conscious of itself at the beginning of the eighteenth century, it called itself ‘aesthetics,’ after the Greek aesthesis, sensation.  When Kant wrote that the beautiful is that which pleases immediately, and without concepts, he was providing a rich philosophical embellishment to this tradition of thinking.  Aquinas too seems to have endorsed the idea, defining the beautiful in the first part of the Summa as that which is pleasing to sight (pulchra sunt quae visa placent).  However, he modifies this statement in the second part, writing that ‘the beautiful relates only to sight and hearing of all the senses, since these are the most cognitive (maxime cognoscitive) among them.’   And this suggests, not only that he did not confine the study of beauty to the sense of sight, but that he was less concerned with the sensory impact of the beautiful than with its intellectual significance – even if it is a significance that can be appreciated only through seeing or hearing. 

Beauty:  A Very Short Introduction, by Roger Scruton

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Q: In the “Black Paintings” you create a deep intellectual interaction and communicate a wide variety of states of mind. I admit that certain “Black Paintings” unsettle me a bit. I see in this series an effective mix between anguish and happiness. Rather than simply describing something, these paintings pose a question and force us to contemplation. Can you talk about this aspect of your work?

"The Storyteller," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“The Storyteller,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

A:  I’m sure you and other viewers will see all kinds of states of mind, like anguish, happiness, and everything in between.  I think that’s wonderful because it means my work is communicating a message to you.  Sometimes people have told me that my images are unsettling and that’s fine, too.  I would never presume to tell anyone what to think about my work.  As one reviewer put it, “What you bring to my work you get back in spades!”  

Some of this is intentional, but some is not.  My day-to-day experiences – what I’m thinking about, what I’m feeling, what I’m reading, the music I’m listening to, etc. –  get embedded into the work. I don’t understand exactly how that happens, but I am glad it happens. This work does come from a deep place, much deeper than I am able to explain even to myself. After nearly three decades as an artist, the intricacies of my creative process are still a mystery. Personally, I am very fond of mysteries and don’t need to understand it all.  

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Q: How would you define art?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  At its core all art is communication.  I personally believe that without the component of communication, there is no art.  The expression of human creative skill and imagination becomes art when it is appreciated for its beauty, complexity, emotional power, evocativeness, etc.  A sympathetic and understanding audience is essential.  

Why might artists fail to communicate?  Perhaps they haven’t mastered their medium sufficiently to elicit a reaction from the viewer.  Perhaps the viewer lacks the necessary artistic, cultural, or intellectual background to understand and appreciate what the artist is communicating.  Maybe the viewer is distracted or preoccupied and not looking or thinking deeply enough.  There are many reasons.

Comments are welcome!

 

Q: Where do you want your work to go in the future?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  Recently I answered a question about why I create, but now that I think about it, the same answer applies to what I want to do as an artist in the future:  

~ to create bold and vibrant pastel paintings and photographs that have never existed before  

~ to continue to push my primary medium – soft pastel on sandpaper – as far as I can and to use it in more innovative ways  

~ to create opportunities for artistic dialogue with people who understand and value the work to which I am devoting my life  

The last has always been the toughest.  I sometimes think of myself as Sisyphus because expanding the audience for my art is an ongoing uphill battle.  Many artist friends tell me they feel the same way about building their audience.  It’s one of the most difficult tasks that we have to do as artists.  I heard Annie Leibovitz interviewed on the radio once and remember her saying that after 40 years as a photographer, everything just gets richer.  Notice that she didn’t say it gets any easier; she said, “it just gets richer.”  I have been a painter for nearly  30 years and a photographer for 11.  I agree completely.  All artists have to go wherever our work goes.  Creating art and watching the process evolve is an endlessly fascinating intellectual journey.  I wouldn’t want to be spending my time on earth doing anything else!

Comments are welcome!

Q: Is there an overarching narrative in your photographs with Mexican and Guatemalan figures?

Untitled chromogenic print, 24" x 24," edition of 5

Untitled chromogenic print, 24″ x 24,” edition of 5

A:  Maybe, but that’s something for the viewer to judge. I never specify exactly what my work is about for a couple of reasons:  my thinking about the meaning of my work constantly evolves, plus I wouldn’t want to cut off other people’s interpretations.  Everything is equally valid.  I heard Annie Leibovitz interviewed some time ago on the radio. She said that after 40 years as a photographer, everything just gets richer. It doesn’t get easier, it just gets richer. I’ve been a painter for 27 years, a photographer for 11, and I agree completely. Creating this work is an endlessly fascinating intellectual journey.  I realize that I am only one voice in a vast art world, but I hope that through the ongoing series of questions and answers on my blog, I am conveying some sense of how artists work and think.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists * # 20

"The Magical Other," soft pastel on sandpaper, 1993, 48" x 38"

“The Magical Other,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 1993, 48″ 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.

If, indeed, for any given time only  a certain sort of work resonates with life, then that is the work you need to be doing in that moment.  If you try to do some other work, you will miss your moment.  Indeed, our own work is so inextricably tied to time and place that we cannot recapture even our own aesthetic ground of past times.  Try, if you can, to reoccupy your own aesthetic space of a few years back, or even a few months.  There is no way.  You can only plunge ahead, even when that carries with it the bittersweet realization that you have already done your best work. 

This heightened self-consciousness was rarely an issue in earlier times when it seemed self-evident that the artist (and everyone else, for that matter) had roots deeply intertwining their culture.  Meanings and distinctions embodied within artworks were part of the fabric of everyday life, and the distance from art issues to all other issues was small.  The whole population counted as audience when artists’ work encompassed everything from icons for the Church to utensils for the home.  In the Greek amphitheater twenty-two hundred years ago, the plays of Euripides were performed as contemporary theater before an audience of fourteen thousand.  Not so today.

Today art issues  have for the most part become solely the concern of artists, divorced from – and ignored by – the larger community.  Today artists often back away from engaging the times and places of their life, choosing instead the largely intellectual challenge of engaging the times and places of Art.  But it’s an artificial construct that begins and ends at the gallery door.  Apart from the readership of Artforum, remarkably few people lose sleep trying to incorporate gender-neutral biomorphic deconstructivism into their personal lives.  As Adam Gopnik remarked in The New Yorker, “Post-modernist art is, above all, post-audience art.”

David Bayles & Ted Orland,  Art & Fear:  Observations on the Perils (and Rewards)of Artmaking

Comments are welcome!