*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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A: Only if I forget what it took to get me to this point! I remember all too well the long periods of study, hard work, self-doubt, self-nurturing, disappointments, setbacks, risks, focus, drive, discipline, joy, detours, fallow periods, rejections, perseverance, etc. that have gone into sustaining an art career for nearly thirty years. There are no blueprints and few role models for a successful artist’s life. (Even the meaning of “success” as an artist is difficult to define). I invite others, who surely can be more objective, to attempt a summation of my entire body of work in a few words.
Comments are welcome!
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Q: I just got home from my first painting experience… three hours and I am exhausted! Yet you, Barbara, build up as many as 30 layers of pastel, concentrate on such intricate detail, and work on a single painting for months. How do you do it?
A: The short answer is that I absolutely love making art in my studio and on the best days I barely even notice time going by!
Admittedly, it’s a hard road. Pursuing life as an artist takes a very special and rare sort of person. Talent and having innate gifts are a given, merely the starting point. We must possess a whole cluster of characteristics and be unwavering in displaying them. We are passionate, hard-working, smart, devoted, sensitive, self-starting, creative, hard-headed, resilient, curious, persistent, disciplined, stubborn, inner-directed, tireless, strong, and on and on. Into the mix add these facts. We need to be good business people. Even if we are, we are unlikely to make much money. We are not respected as a profession. People often misunderstand us: at best they ignore us, at worst they insult our work and us, saying we are lazy, crazy, and more.
The odds are stacked against any one individual having the necessary skills and stamina to withstand it all. So many artists give up, deciding it’s too tough and just not worth it, and who can blame them? This is why I believe artists who persevere over a lifetime are true heroes. It’s why I do all I can to help my peers. Ours is an extremely difficult life – it’s impossible to overstate this – and each of us finds our own intrinsic rewards in the work itself. Otherwise there is no reason to stick with it. Art is a calling and for those of us who are called, the work is paramount. We build our lives around the work until all else becomes secondary and falls away. We are in this for the duration.
In my younger days everything I tried in the way of a career eventually became boring. Now with nearly thirty years behind me as a working artist, I can still say, “I am never bored in the studio!” It’s difficult to put into words why this is true, but I know that I would not want to spend my time on this earth doing anything else. How very fortunate that I do not have to do so!
Comments are welcome!
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