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Q: Why do you make art?

“Why Do I Make Art” by Ursula von Rydingsvard

“Why Do I Make Art” by Ursula von Rydingsvard

A:  Last spring I viewed Ursula von Rydingsvard’s exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  One thing that stayed with me is her wall text, “Why Do I Make Art by Ursula von Rydingsvard” in which she listed a few dozen benefits that art-making has brought to her life.  

I want to share some of my own personal reasons here, in no particular order.  My list keeps changing, but these are true at least for today. 

1.   Because I love the entire years-long creative process – from foreign travel whereby I discover new source material, to deciding what I will make, to the months spent in the studio realizing my ideas, to packing up my newest pastel painting and bringing it to my Virginia framer’s shop, to seeing the framed piece hanging on a collector’s wall, to staying in touch with collectors over the years and learning how their relationship to the work changes.

2.   Because I love walking into my studio in the morning and seeing all of that color!  No matter what mood I am in, my spirit is immediately uplifted.  

3.   Because my studio is my favorite place to be… in the entire world.  I’d say that it is my most precious creation.  It’s taken more than twenty-two years to get it this way.  I hope I never have to move!

4.   Because I get to listen to my favorite music all day or to Public Radio stations.

5.   Because when I am working in the studio, if I want, I can tune out the world and all of it’s urgent problems.  The same goes for whatever personal problems I am experiencing.

6.   Because I am devoted to my medium.  How I use pastel continually evolves.  It’s exciting to keep learning about its properties and to see what new techniques will develop.

7.   Because I have been given certain gifts and abilities and that entails a sacred obligation to USE them.  I could not live with myself were I to do otherwise.

8.   Because art-making gives meaning and purpose to my life.  I never wake up in the morning wondering, how should I spend the day?  I have important work to do and a place to do it.  I know this is how I am supposed to be spending my time on earth.

9.   Because I have an enviable commute.  To get to my studio it’s a thirty-minute walk, often on the High Line early in the morning before throngs of tourists have arrived.

10.  Because life as an artist is never easy.  It’s a continual challenge to keep forging ahead, but the effort is also never boring.  

11.  Because each day in the studio is different from all the rest. 

12.  Because I love the physicality of it.  I stand all day.  I’m always moving and staying fit.

13.  Because I have always been a thinker more than a talker.  I enjoy and crave solitude.  I am often reminded of the expression, “She who travels the farthest, travels alone.”  In my work I travel anywhere.

14.  Because spending so much solitary time helps me understand what I think and feel and to reflect on the twists and turns of my unexpected and fascinating life.

15.  Because I learn about the world.  I read and do research that gets incorporated into the work.

16.  Because I get to make all the rules.  I set the challenges and the goals, then decide what is succeeding and what isn’t.  It is working life at its most free.

17.  Because I enjoy figuring things out for myself instead of being told what to do or how to think.

18.  Because despite enormous obstacles, I am still able to do it.  Art-making has been the focus of my life for thirty-three years – I was a late bloomer – and I intend to continue as long as possible.

19.  Because I have been through tremendous tragedy and deserve to spend the rest of my life doing exactly what I love.  The art world has not caught up yet, but so be it.  This is my passion and my life’s work and nothing will change that.

20.  Because thanks to the internet and via social media, my work can be seen in places I have never been to and probably will never go.

21.  Because I would like to be remembered.  The idea of leaving art behind for future generations to appreciate and enjoy is appealing.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Where did you grow up and what were some early milestones or experiences that contributed to you becoming an artist later in life?

“The Sleeping Gypsy,” Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1897

“The Sleeping Gypsy,” Henri Rousseau, oil on canvas, 1897

A:  I grew up in a blue collar family in Clifton, New Jersey, a suburb about fifteen miles west of Manhattan. My father was a television repairman for RCA. My mother stayed home to raise my sister and me (at the time I had only one sister, Denise; my sister Michele was born much later).  My parents were both first-generation Americans and no one in my extended family had gone to college yet. I was a smart kid who showed some artistic talent in kindergarten and earlier.  I remember copying the Sunday comics, which in those days appeared in all the newspapers, and drawing small still lifes I arranged for myself. I have always been able to draw anything, as long as I can see it. 

Denise, a cousin, and I enrolled in Saturday morning “art classes” at the studio of a painter named Frances Hulmes in Rutherford, NJ.  I was about 6 years old. I continued the classes for 8 years and became a fairly adept oil painter. Since we lived so close to New York City, my mother often took us to museums, particularly to the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Museum of Natural History.  Like so many young girls, I fell in love with Rousseau’s “The Sleeping Gypsy” and was astonished by Picasso’s “Guernica” when it was on long-term loan to MoMA. I have fond memories of studying the dioramas at the Museum of Natural History (they are still my favorite part of the museum). As far as I know, there were no artists in my family so, unfortunately, I had no role models.  At the age of 14 my father decided that art was not a serious pursuit – declaring, it is “a hobby, not a profession” – and abruptly stopped paying for my Saturday morning lessons. With no financial or moral support to pursue art, I turned my attention to other interests, letting my artistic abilities go dormant.

Comments are welcome!

 

Travel photo of the month*

Morning in Los Cabos, Mexico

Morning in Los Cabos, Mexico

*Favorite travel photographs that have not yet appeared in this blog.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What time of day do you find best for working?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I have always been a morning person.  When I was learning to fly at the age of twenty-five, I would be at the airport before 6 a.m. for flying lessons.   When I was in the Navy, I needed to be at my Pentagon office by 7.  

Mornings are still my most productive time.  Generally, I wake up early and then head directly to work at my studio or to swim laps at a nearby pool.  The windows in my studio face east so it gets lovely morning light.

Comments are welcome! 

Q: Do you have a daily ritual that helps you start working in your studio?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  In the morning before I start working on a pastel painting, I read for roughly half an hour.  Usually I read something art-related; for example, see the books that are quoted on Wednesdays in “Pearls from artists” on this blog.

As I’m reading, I look across at the painting on my easel and soon something becomes apparent, some annoying thing that needs immediate attention.  That’s where I will begin.  As I’m looking, of course, I’m thinking and the solution to a technical problem becomes obvious.  Before I know it, I’m up and working, slowly improving the painting as I go.    

Comments are welcome!   

Pearls from artists* # 128

 

 

Self-portrait with "Some Things We Regret"

Self-portrait with “Some Things We Regret”

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

A chastening day yesterday.  Color rose up and towered over me and advanced toward me.  A tsunami – only that terrifying Japanese word for tidal wave will do – of color, and I was swept off my feet.  In a frenzy, I tried to catch it.  Sheet after sheet of Arches paper spread around the studio, covering all the surfaces of all my tables and finally the floor.  I tried to keep one step ahead all morning.  In the afternoon, I managed to get a toehold, and once again recognized my limitation:  that vestige of all that a human being could know that is what I do know.  I see this delicate nerve of myself as unimpressive.  The fact is that is all I have.  The richness of years, contained like wine in the goatskin of my body, meets my hand narrowly. 

Anne Truitt in Turn:  The Journal of an Artist

Comments are welcome!   

Pearls from artists* # 84

My Alexandria living room

My Alexandria living room

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

I have a stockpile of sculptures, paintings, and drawings – every work of art I have made that has not sold – in a storage space for which I pay every month as regularly as I pay my utility bills.  This is a sensible arrangement, as I can leave this work to my children.  Most of the time I never give it a thought, but this morning it flashed across my mind that if it were blown away I would be bereaved in a way that would hurt me very much.  I have not been inordinately materialistic, but I am attached to my house, to my inherited belongings, and to the things that I have chosen for myself.  All these objects add complexity to my emotional ties to people with whom I have shared, and share, my life, and to my aspirations for myself.

Anne Truitt in Turn:  The Journal of an Artist 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 67

Negombo, Sri Lanka

Negombo, Sri Lanka

* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.

John Robin Baitz:  I was just thinking that you still manage to write with some kind of miraculous hope.

Athol Fugard:  You’ve got to.  Implicit in the act of creation on the part of the artist is:  I make it because I want to share it with you.  At the end of my process you are waiting for me… Pascal says “Imagine a cell in darkness and the inmates are shackled together.  Every morning at dawn, the door opens and the person at the end of the line is taken out and executed and the door is closed.  Those left behind read their fate in the opening and closing of the door every day.  it is a  metaphor of the human condition.”  That is Pascal.

Camus comes to that paragraph and says, “There is no question about it – that is an image of the human condition.  What do we do during those 24 hours between the opening and closing of the door?  Do we cry?  Or do we tap the next person in the chain and say ‘What’s your name?  I’m Athol Fugard.  Who are you?'”  And that’s how we create meaning.  At the end of the process you are waiting.  And that is the act of faith.  That is the hope that every artist has.    

Quoted by Anne Bogart in “and then you act:  making art in an unpredictable world

Comments are welcome! 

Q: Have you ever worked outside?

Reproductions of "Cardinal Rule" (top) and "Blue Ego," originals are soft pastel on sandpaper, 30" x 38"

Reproductions of “Cardinal Rule” (top) and “Blue Ego,” originals are soft pastel on sandpaper, 30″ x 38″

A:  As a pastel artist I’ve never worked outside – with so many pastels, it’s just not practical – but early on in the “Domestic Threats” series, I created two outdoor setups.  Works in the series derived from elaborate scenes that I arranged and then photographed.  

I used to take long walks along the Potomac River in Alexandria, VA, and there was a tree stump that was fascinating.  It was mostly twisted roots, knotty branches, dark hidden spaces, etc. (top painting in photo).  One morning I took several hand puppets and stuffed animals (my subject matter at the time) and carefully arranged them on the tree.  Around me people were busy exercising their dogs.  Soon I attracted quite a bit of attention – a tall blonde woman playing with puppets on a tree stump!  Dogs came over to sniff.  Their owners came over, too, and I was pressed into explaining, again and again, that I was an artist, that I was photographing this scene so I could paint it, etc.  The interruptions were very annoying.

The second time I tried an outdoor setup was again along the Potomac River, but this time I selected a secluded strip of beach where I was undisturbed.  I had forgotten to consider the light and inadvertently chose a cloudy day.  I remember being disappointed that the light was flat and lacking shadows.  The painting (bottom in photo) turned out to be one of my least favorites. 

I resolved from then on to focus on interiors.  Alfred Hitchcock famously used rear projection so that he could work in a studio rather than on location.  One reason, he said, was that in a studio he had total control.  I know what he meant.  When I set up an interior scene and position the lights to make interesting shadows, indeed, I have control over the whole look.  No aspect is left to chance.   The accidents – improvements! – happen later when I work on the painting.  

Comments are welcome!    

Q: What is your best time of day to paint?

The High Line - Barbara's morning commute to the studio

The High Line – Barbara’s  morning commute to the studio

A:  I have always been an early riser and a morning person, from my student pilot days when I’d be at an airport in New Jersey ready to takeoff in a Cessna by 6 a.m., through my days as a Naval officer starting work at the Pentagon at 7, until now when I typically get up before 6 (thanks to my cat, who likes to eat breakfast early).  Always I am most energetic in the mornings so that’s when I am most productive and have my best ideas.  Generally, I try to arrive at the studio before 10 a.m. and work until 5 p.m. or later.

Comments are welcome!

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