*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
And yet books were faithful companions for Vincent, an important source of sustenance during his times of melancholy: he periodically re-read his favourites, finding new meaning in the text and illustrations each time. Van Gogh read in at least two ways: first “breathlessly,’ and then ‘by careful exploration.’ But we could add a third and a fourth way: thirdly as an artist, and fourthly from the perspective of the writer he perhaps knew himself to be. To Vincent, reading books meant above all to ‘seek in them the artist who made them,’ as he wrote to his sister Willemien. He sought to open an internal dialogue with other writers as artists, and meditated on their words, stopping to consider and reconsider a phrase to make it resonate within him He did this in more than one language – internalizing words, ruminating, bending them to his will, and finally assigning them to a fate of his choosing, over the years. Remarkably several Prefaces by French Naturalist novelists such as Zola, De Goncourts or Maupassant (today considered genuine manifestos) were among the pages that truly challenged and engaged his mind. In them he found the freedom that he was seeking in painting – the ‘confirmation’ of his own ideas, inspiration and encouragement. The work of the illustrators of his favorite books and magazines equally attracted him and had a lingering effect on him, on which he paused to reflect repeatedly, extracting inspiration indirectly.
Mariella Guzzoni in Vincent’s Books: Van Gogh and the Writers Who Inspired Him
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Q: Do you have any rituals or a spiritual practice that you do before beginning your work in the studio?
A: When I arrive at the studio in the morning it’s rare for me to immediately start working. Usually I read something art-related – magazines like Art in America, ARTnews, Tribal Arts, or exhibition catalogues from shows I’ve seen, books on art, on creativity, etc. At the moment I’m re-reading The Gift, by Lewis Hyde. As usual I am struggling to understand aspects of the art business and figure out what I need to do next to get my work seen by a wider audience. The Gift reminds why I decided to make art in the first place. It helps reconnect with forgotten parts of myself and is a much-needed reminder of what I love about being an artist, especially in light of the business stuff that is becoming so complex and demanding of attention now. Balancing the creative and business aspects of being an artist is a continual struggle. Both are so important. An artist needs an appreciative audience – very few artists devote their lives to art-making so that the work will remain in a closet – but I also believe this (from a note hand-written years ago and tacked to the studio wall): “Just make the work. None of the rest matters.”
Comments are welcome.