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Pearls from artists* # 312

Barbara in her studio.  Photo:  Izzy Nova

Barbara in her studio. Photo: Izzy Nova

*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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Pearls from artists* # 281

"Poker Face," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“Poker Face,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″

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

Interviewer:  Do you think criticism helps any?

Capote: Before publication, and if provided by persons whose judgment you trust, yes, of course criticism helps.  But after something is published, all I want to hear is praise.  Anything less is a bore, and I’ll give you fifty dollars if you produced a writer who can honestly say he was ever helped by the prissy carpings and condescensions of reviewers.  I don’t mean to say  that none of the professional critics are worth paying attention to – but few of the good ones review on a regular basis.  Most of all, I believe in hardening yourself against opinion.  I’ve had, and continue to receive, my full share of abuse, some of it extremely personal, but it doesn’t faze me any more.  I can read the most outrageous libel about myself and never skip a pulsebeat.  And in this connection there is one piece of advice I strongly urge:  never demean yourself by talking back to a critic, never.  Write those letters to the editor in your head, but don’t put them on paper.       

Truman Capote in Writers at Work:  The Paris Review Interviews First Series, edited, and with an introduction by Malcolm Crowley

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Pearls from artists* # 185

Beginning of a 20" x 26" pastel painting

Beginning of a 20″ x 26″ pastel painting

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

All of us fail to match our dream of perfection.  So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible.  In my opinion, if I could write all my work again, I am convinced that I would do it better, which is the healthiest condition for an artist.  That’s why he keeps on working, trying again; he believes each time that this time he will do it, bring it off.  Of course he won’t, which is why this condition is healthy.  Once he did it, once he matched the work to the image, the dream, nothing would remain but to cut his throat, jump off the other side of that pinnacle of perfection into suicide.  I’m a failed poet.  Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding after poetry.  And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.

William Faulkner in Writers at Work:  The Paris Review Interviews First Series

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Q: I’m convinced that some information and ideas are hidden, or even encrypted in the environment we live in, so we need a way to decipher them. Maybe one of the roles of an artist is to reveal unexpected sides of Nature, especially of our inner Nature. What’s your opinion about this?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I agree. Artists in general are more sensitive to these sorts of hidden ideas, feelings, emotions, etc. in ways that most non-artists are not. It’s a cliche but it’s true.

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Q: I have been always fascinated with the re-contexualizing power of Art and with the way some objects or even some concepts often gain a second life when they are “transduced” on a canvas or in a block of marble. So I would like to ask you if in your opinion, personal experience is an absolutely indespensable part of a creative process. Do you think that a creative process could be disconnected from direct experience?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  Certainly personal experience is an indispensable and inseparable part of the creative process. For me art and life are one and I suspect that is true for most artists. When I look at each of my pastel paintings I can remember what was going on in my life at the time I made it. Each is a sort of veiled autobiography waiting to be decoded and in a way, each is also a time-capsule of the larger zeitgeist. It’s still a mystery how exactly this happens but all lived experience – what’s going on in the world, books I’m reading and thinking about, movies I’ve seen that have stayed with me, places I’ve visited, etc. – overtly and/or not so obviously, finds its way into the work. 

Life experience also explains why the work I do now is different from my work even five years ago.  In many ways I am not the same person.     

The inseparableness of art and life is one reason that travel is so important to my creative process.   Artists always seek new influences that will enrich and change our work.  To be an artist, indeed to be alive, is to never stop learning and growing.      

Comments are welcome!    

Q: What in your opinion marks a work of art as contemporary?

West 26th Street, NYC

West 26th Street, NYC

A:  “Contemporary art” is defined formally as art made since 1970 by living artists who are still making new work.  People often confuse the term “contemporary art” with “modern art,” but they are not the same.  “Modern art” refers to art made during the period between, roughly, the 1860’s to 1970. 

Nowadays there are so many different kinds of art – new forms are developing all the time – and almost anything can be considered contemporary art as long as someone, an artist, says it is art.  Ours is a fascinating, but bewildering, crazy, and often silly art world.  Since I am based in New York, I see a lot that makes me ask, “Is this really art?” and “Why would anyone make such a thing?” 

If there is one single element I look for in visual art it would have to be a high degree of craft.  I enjoy seeing work that is beautiful, well-crafted, and that makes me wonder how the artist made it.  With the exception of Ai Weiwei and Julie Mehretu (maybe others I can’t think of just now), I prefer art made by a single creator, as opposed to artists like Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, who employ dozens of people to make their work.        

Comments are welcome!      

Pearls from artists* # 108

At work on a pastel painting

At work on a pastel painting

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

Artists generally need privacy in order to create, and as I’ve noted, what constitutes adequate privacy varies by person and time.  Solitude quickly becomes isolation when it oversteps one’s desires.  But most artists need to feel that they and their work won’t be examined prematurely and, certainly, won’t be ambushed unfinished by ridiculing eyes.  You might go out and invite various people to critique a piece in progress, even knowing they’re unlikely to view it with sympathy, exactly because you feel there’s necessary information in their opinion.  But, if you’ve invited them, however unpleasant the response, your experience is likely preferable to what you would feel if they impulsively offered up the same critiques unsolicited.

Someone making art needs privacy in part because the process of creation makes many people feel vulnerable, sometimes exquisitely so, particularly since the work frequently emerges in a jumble of  mixed-up small parts that you can only assemble gradually, or in a wet lumpy mound that requires patient sculpting.  When people feel prematurely revealed or exposed, they often experience great discomfort and find themselves babbling apologetically, seeking to reassure by laying out the distance they have yet to travel.  It is in part this babble-as-smoke-screen to cover exposure resulting, distracting, unhappy self-consciousness that privacy seeks to shelter.

But even more significantly, privacy grants us permission to turn our attention inward without interruption.  As I described earlier, in order to concentrate, think, and fantasize, we need to feel we’re in a safe enough space that we can lower our vigilance, stop monitoring our environment, and allow ourselves to refocus on the happenings within our own minds.  There are times interruptions feel merciful, but many more when they disrupt our effort to flesh out an inchoate notion.

Janna Malamud Smith in an absorbing errand:  How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery 

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Pearls from artists* # 46

Artist's backyard

Artist’s backyard

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

Some things will naturally excite us more than others.  This is where art begins, when we separate our inner-directed impulse from the outer-directed deluge of other people’s work and opinion.  “The artists are the ones who bare themselves to this experience of essence… Their vocation is to communicate that experience to others.  Not to communicate it is to surrender the vision to atrophy; the artist must paint, or write, or sculpt – else the vision withers away and he or she is less apt to have it again.”

The trick is to be able to learn to juggle at least two things at once.  We need to keep the initial impulse in its entirety before us as we start engaging in the execution of the parts.

Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity:  Sixteen Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision

Comments are welcome!