An artist learns by repeated trial and error, by an almost moral instinct, to avoid the merely or the confusingly decorative, to eschew violence where it is a fraudulent substitute for power, to say what he has to say with the most direct and economical means, to be true to his objects, to his materials, to his technique, and hence, by a correlated miracle, to himself.
Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity: 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision
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A: I would not want to work without music. Turning on the radio or the cd player is part of my daily ritual before heading over to the easel. (Next I apply barrier cream to my hands to prevent pastel being absorbed into my skin, put on a surgical mask, etc.). I generally listen to WFUV, WBGO, or to my cd collection while I’m working.
Listening and thinking about song lyrics is integral to my art-making process. How this works exactly may be a topic to explore in a future blog post.
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Here is a fairly sober version of what happens in the small room between the writer and the work itself. It is similar to what happens between a painter and the canvas.
First you shape the vision of what the projected work of art will be. The vision, I stress, is no marvelous thing: it is he work’s intellectual structure and aesthetic surface. It is a chip of mind, a pleasing intellectual object. It is a vision of the work, not of the world. It is a glowing thing, a blurred thing of beauty. Its structure is at once luminous and translucent; you can see the world through it. After you receive the initial charge of this imaginary object, you add to it at once several aspects, and incubate it most gingerly as it grows into itself.
Many aspects of the work are still uncertain, of course; you know that. You know that if you proceed you will change things and learn things, that the form will grow under your hands and develop new and richer lights. But that change will not alter the vision or its deep structures; it will only enrich it. You know that and you are right.
But you are wrong if you think that in the actual writing or in the actual painting, you are filling in the vision. You cannot fill in the vision. You cannot even bring the vision to light. You are wrong if you think that you can in any way take the vision and tame it to the page. The page is jealous and tyrannical; the page is made of time and matter; the page always wins. The vision is not so much destroyed, exactly, as it is, by the time you have finished, forgotten. It has been replaced by this changeling, this bastard, this opaque lightless chunky ruinous work.
Here is how it happens. The vision is, sub specie aeternitatis, a set of mental relationships, a coherent series of formal possibilities. In the actual rooms of time, however, it is a page or two of legal paper filled with words and questions; it is a terrible diagram, a few books’ names in a margin, an ambiguous doodle, a corner folded down in a library book. There are memos from the thinking brain to witless hope.
Nevertheless, ignoring the provisional and pathetic nature of these scraps, and bearing the vision itself in mind – having it before your sights like the very Grail – you begin to scratch out the first faint marks on the canvas, on the page. You begin the work proper. Now you have gone and done it. Now the thing is no longer a vision: it is paper.
Words lad to other words and down the garden path. You adjust the paints’ values and hues not to the world, not to the vision, but to the rest of the paint. The materials are stubborn and rigid; push is always coming to shove. You can fly – you can fly higher than you thought possible – but you can never get off the page. After every passage another passage follows, more sentences, more everything on drearily down. Time and materials hound the work; the vision recedes ever farther into the dim realms.
And so you continue the work, and finish it. Probably by now you have been forced to toss the most essential part of the vision. But this is a concern for mere nostalgia now: for before your eyes, and stealing your heart, is this fighting and frail finished product, entirely opaque. You can see nothing through it. It is only itself, a series of well-known passages, some colored paint. Its relationship to the vision that impelled it is the relationship between any energy and any work, anything unchanging to anything temporal.
The work is not the vision itself, certainly. It is not the vision filled in, as if it had been a coloring book. It is not the vision reproduced in time; that were impossible. It is rather a simulacrum and a replacement. It is a golem. You try – you try every time – to reproduce the vision, to let your light so shine before men. But you can only come along with your bushel and hide it.
Annie Dillard, The Writing Life
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Given a small kernel of reality and any measure of optimism, nebulous expectations whisper to you that the work will soar, that it will become easy, that it will make itself. And verily, now and then the sky opens and the work does make itself. Unreal expectations are easy to come by, both from emotional needs and from the hope or memory of periods of wonder. Unfortunately, expectations based on illusion lead almost always to disillusionment.
Conversely, expectations based on the work itself are the most useful tool the artist possesses. What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece. The place to learn about your materials is in the last use of your materials. The place to learn about your execution is in your execution. The best information about what you love is in your last contact with what you love. Put simply, your work is your guide: a complete, comprehensive, limitless reference book on your work. There is no other such book, and it is yours alone. It functions this way for no one else. Your fingerprints are all over your work, and you alone know how you got there. Your work tells you about your working methods, your discipline, your strengths and weaknesses, your habitual gestures, your willingness to embrace.
The lessons you are meant to learn are in your work. To see them, you need only look at the work clearly – without judgment, without need or fear, without wishes or hopes. Without emotional expectations. Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen, the way a good parent listens to a child.
David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear
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A: Be sure that you love your process unconditionally. There is no relationship between how hard an artist works and how much she earns. Indeed, with inflation and rapidly evolving ways of doing business, it seems to cost more money every year to be an artist. As I’ve said before, you should be prepared to work very, very hard. Really it’s all about making the most of your gifts as an artist. If you don’t feel a deep responsibility to developing your talents as far as possible, you probably will quit. You absolutely must love your materials and your creative process and be willing to do whatever it takes to continue making art. It’s not a life for slackers.