Q: All artists go through periods when they wonder what it’s all for. What do you do during times like that?
A: Fortunately, that doesn’t happen very often. I love and enjoy all the varied facets involved in being an artist, even (usually) the business aspects, which are just another puzzle to be solved. I have vivid memories of being stuck in a job that I hated, one I couldn’t immediately leave because I was an officer in the US Navy. Life is so much better as a visual artist!
I appreciate the freedom that comes with being a self-employed artist. The words of Louise Bourgeois often come to mind: “It is a PRIVILEGE to be an artist.”
Still, with very valid reasons, no one ever said that an artist’s life is easy. It is difficult at every phase.
Books offer sustenance, especially ones written by artists who have endured all sorts of terrible hardships beyond anything artists today are likely to experience. I just pick up a favorite book. My Wednesday blog posts, “Pearls from artists,” give some idea of the sorts of inspiration I find. I read the wise words of a fellow artist, then I get back to work. As I quickly become intrigued with the problems at hand in a painting, all doubt usually dissolves.
I try to remember: Artists are extremely fortunate to be doing what we love and what we are meant to do with our short time on earth. What more could a person ask?
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A: When I was about 4 or 5 years old I discovered that I had a natural ability to draw anything that I could see. It’s the way my brain is wired and it is a gift! One of my earliest memories as an artist is of copying the Sunday comics. Always it has been much more difficult to draw what I CANNOT see, i.e., to recall how things look solely from memory or to invent them outright.
The evolution of my pastel-on-sandpaper paintings has been the opposite of what one might expect. I started out making extremely photo-realistic portraits. I remember feeling highly unflattered when after months of hard work, someone would look at my completed painting and say, “It looks just like a photograph!” I know this was meant as a compliment, but to me it meant that I had failed as an artist. Art is so much more than copying physical appearances.
So I resolved to move away from photo-realism. It has been slow going and part of me still feels like a slacker if I don’t put in all the details. But after nearly three decades I have arrived at my present way of working, which although still highly representational, contains much that is made up, simplified, and/or stylized. As I have always done, I continue to work from life and from photographs, but at a certain point I put everything aside and work solely from memory.
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Of course, when people said a work of art was interesting, this did not mean that they necessarily liked it – much less that they thought it beautiful. It usually meant no more than that they thought they ought to like it. Or that they liked it, sort of, even though it wasn’t beautiful.
Or they might describe something as interesting to avoid the banality of calling it beautiful. Photography was the art where “the interesting” first triumphed, and early on: the new, photographic way of seeing proposed everything as a potential subject for the camera. The beautiful could not have yielded such a range of subjects; and it soon came to seem uncool to boot as a judgment. Of a photograph of a sunset, a beautiful sunset, anyone with minimal standards of verbal sophistication might well prefer to say, “Yes, the photograph is interesting.”
What is interesting? Mostly, what has not previously been thought beautiful (or good). The sick are interesting, as Nietzsche points out. The wicked, too. To name something as interesting implies challenging old orders of praise; such judgments aspire to be found insolent or at least ingenious. Connoisseurs of “the interesting” – whose antonym is “the boring” – appreciate clash, not harmony. Liberalism is boring, declares Carl Schmitt in The Concept of the Political, written in 1932. (The following year he joined the Nazi Party). A politics conducted according to liberal principles lacks drama, flavor, conflict, while strong autocratic politics – and war – are interesting.
Paolo Dilonardo and Anne Jump, editors, Susan Sontag: At the Same Time
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