Cameron Crowe: I think this collection is a powerful gift, especially to young artists. It’s a portrait of you at a certain time in your life when you were having success. You could have plateaued at this stage for an entire career. Many did. But I listen to this and think the hidden message is don’t stop growing. Don’t stop heading to those deeper waters… challenge yourself… look where it may take you.
Joni Mitchell: That’s what the Van Gogh exhibition was to me. When I went to see the Van Gogh exhibition they had all his paintings arranged chronologically, and you’d watch the growth as you walk along. That was so inspiring to me, and I started to paint again. If it serves that purpose, that would be great. Really, that would make me very happy. It shows that from this… because the latter work is much richer and deeper and smarter, and the arrangements are interesting, too. Musically I grow, and I grow as a lyricist, so there’s a lot of growth taking place. The early stuff – I shouldn’t be such a snob against it. A lot of these songs, I just lost them. They fell away. They only exist in these recordings. For so long I rebelled against the term: “I was never a folk singer.” I would get pissed off if they put that label on me. I didn’t think it was a good description of what I was. And then I listened, and… it was beautiful. It made me forgive my beginnings. And I had this realization…
CC: What was it?
Joni: Oh God! (Laughs) I was a folksinger!
In A Conversation with Joni Mitchell by Cameron Crowe from Joni Mitchell Archives Volume I: The Early Years (1963-1967) 5 CD set
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*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
For the young James Joyce, true art is “static,” while false art, which I will here call artifice, is “kinetic.” These qualifiers, static and kinetic, refer to the effect of the work on the percipient, not to any property of the work itself. Proper art stills us, evoking an emotional state in which “the mind is arrested and raised above desiring and loathing.” Improper art does the opposite, aiming to make the percipient act, think, or feel in a certain prescribed manner. Artifice foregoes the revelatory power that is art’s prerogative in order to impart information, be it a message, an opinion, a judgment, a physiological stimulus, or a command. Whether the information is good or bad, true or false, pleasant or not is unimportant: artifice isn’t improper because it is immoral but because it hitches the aesthetic on intentions originating outside the aesthetic realm. In other words, where art inheres in autoletic expression (expression for its own sake), artifice inheres in practical communication. Proper art moves us, while artifice tries to make us move.
J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice: A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action
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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?
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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A: Maybe there’s an overarching message, but that’s something for viewers to judge. I generally don’t like to specify what my work is about because my thinking about meanings evolves constantly and I don’t want to cut off people’s interpretations. Other people’s insights and opinions are equally as valid as mine.
Recently I had the experience of being told that my interpretation of an artist’s work was “wrong.” Besides hurting my feelings, she cut off a dialog and learned nothing about how her work is perceived. I found it sad because art is communication and an opportunity was missed.
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Q: To be a professional visual artist is to have two full-time jobs because an artist must continually balance the creative and the business sides of things. How do you manage to be so productive?
A: With social media and other new ways of doing business, managing it all is getting more difficult every day. Bear in mind that I say this as someone who does not have the extra time commitment of a day job, nor do I have children or other family members to care for. I have no idea how other visual artists, who may have these responsibilities and more, keep up with all the tasks that need to be done. In The Artist’s Guide: How to Make A Living Doing What You Love, Jackie Battenfield lists a few of them (believe me, there are others):
…being an artist isn’t just about making art. You have many other responsibilities – managing a studio, looking for opportunities, identifying an audience for your work, caring for and protecting what you have created, and securing money, time, and space – in addition to whatever is happening in your personal life.
To begin with I try to maintain regular studio hours. I generally work on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, and once I’m at the studio I stay there for a minimum of 7 hours. To paint I need daylight so in the spring and summer my work day tends to be longer. My pastel-on-sandpaper paintings are extremely labor-intensive. I need to put in sufficient hours in order to accomplish anything. When I was younger I used to work in my studio 6 days a week, 9 hours or more a day. I have more commitments now, and can no longer work 60+ hours a week, but I still try to stick to a schedule. And once I’m at the studio I concentrate on doing the creative work, period.
I am productive when I keep the business and creative sides physically separate., ie., no computers, iPads, etc. are allowed into the studio. Recently I tried an experiment. I brought my iPad to the studio, thinking, “Surely I am disciplined enough to use it only during my lunch break.” But no, I wasted so much time checking email, responding to messages on Facebook, etc., when I should have been focusing on solving problems with the painting that was on my easel. I learned a good lesson that day and won’t bring my iPad to the studio again.
As has long been my practice, I concentrate on business tasks when I get home in the evening and on my, so called, days off. After a day spent working in the studio, I generally spend a minimum of two to three hours more to answer email, apply for exhibitions, work on my blog, email images to people who need them, etc. At present I have part-time help with social media – the talented Barbra Drizin, of Start from Scratch Social Media – although my time commitment there is growing, too, as more details need my attention.
No one ever said it would be easy being a professional artist, but then again, I would not choose to spend my days any other way. As I often say, “Being an artist is a calling. Contrary to popular belief, it is NOT a life for wimps… or slackers.”
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* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
The first steps of a creative act are like groping in the dark: random and chaotic, feverish, and fearful, a lot of busy-ness with no apparent or definable end in sight. There is nothing yet to research. For me, these moments are not pretty. I look like a desperate woman, tortured by the simple message thumping away in my head: “You need an idea.” It’s not enough for me to walk into a studio and start dancing, hoping that something good will come of my aimless cavorting on the floor. Creativity doesn’t generally work that way for me. (The rare times when it has stand out like April blizzards). You can’t just dance or paint or write or sculpt. Those are just verbs. You need a tangible idea to get you going. The idea, however miniscule, is what turns the verb into a noun – paint into painting, sculpt into sculpture, write into writing, dance into a dance.
… I’m often asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” This happens to anyone who is willing to stand in front of an audience and talk about his or her work. The short answer is: everywhere. It’s like asking, “Where do you find the air you breathe?” Ideas are all around you.
I hesitate to wax eloquent about the omnipresence of ideas and how everything we need to make something out of nothing – tell a story, design a building, hum a melody – already resides within us in our experience, memories, taste, judgment, critical demeanor, humanity, purpose, and humor. I hesitate because it is so blindingly obvious. If I’m going to be a cheerleader for the creative urge, let it be for something other than the oft-repeated notion that ideas are everywhere.
What people are really asking, I suppose, is not, “Where do you get your ideas?” but “How do you get them?”
To answer that, you first have to appreciate what an idea is.
Ideas take many forms. There are good ideas and bad ideas. Big ideas and little ideas.
A good idea is one that turns you on rather than shuts you off. It keeps generating more ides and they improve one another. A bad idea closes doors instead of opening them. It’s confining and restrictive. The line between good and bad ideas is very thin. A bad idea in the hands of the right person can easily be tweaked into a good idea.
Twyla Tharp, The Creative Habit: Learn it and Use it for Life: A Practical Guide
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