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Q: Why art? (Question from “Arts Illustrated”)

Barbara’s studio
Barbara’s studio

A: I love this question!  I remember being impressed by Ursula von Rydingsvard’s exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts a few years ago.  What stayed with me most was her wall text, “Why Do I Make Art by Ursula von Rydingsvard.”  There she listed a few dozen benefits that art-making has brought to her life.

I want to share some of my own personal reasons for art-making 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.

5.   Because when I am working in the studio, if I want, I can tune out the world and all of its 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!

Pearls from artists* # 441

*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 most perennially popular category of art is the cheerful, pleasant, and pretty kind: meadows in spring, the shade of trees on hot summer days, pastoral landscapes, smiling children. This can be deeply troubling to people of taste and intelligence.   

… The worries about prettiness are twofold. First, pretty pictures are alleged to feed sentimentality. Sentimentality is a symptom of insufficient engagement with complexity, by which one really means problems. The pretty picture seems to suggest that in order to make life nice, one merely has to brighten up the apartment with a depiction of some flowers. If we were to ask the picture what is wrong with the world, it might be taken as saying ‘You don’t have enough Japanese water gardens’ – a response that appears to ignore all the more urgent problems that confront humanity (primarily economic, but also moral, political, and sexual). The very innocence and simplicity of the picture seems to mitigate against any attempt to improve life as a whole. Secondly, there is the related fear that prettiness will numb us and leave us insufficiently critical and alert to the injustices surrounding us.

Alain de Botton and John Armstrong in Art as Therapy 

Comments are welcome!

Q: What’s on the easel today?

Work in progress

A: I continue slowly working on a 26” x 20” pastel painting that has given me plenty of problems, mostly on the ‘face.’ Hopefully, this painting is in the homestretch now.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 370

Barbara at work on "The Orator.” Photo: Maria Cox

Barbara at work on “The Orator.” Photo: Maria Cox

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

Nothing determines your creative life more than doing it.  This is so obvious and fundamental, yet how much energy is wasted on speculation, worry, and doubt without the relief of action.  “Success is 90 percent just showing up.”  I can’t tell you the number of problems that are solved with this one simple principle, because when you start, it leads to something, anything.  And when you have something tangible in front of you, then you can react to it and amend it.  And that will lead to something else.  In the book, In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman Jr., which looked at companies in America that excelled at what they did, one of the guiding principles was, “Do it, mend it, fix it.”

Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity:  16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 355

"The Champ," soft pastel on sandpaper, 26" x 20"

“The Champ,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 26″ x 20″

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

True art provides us with truth in a manner analogous to science.  Its prophetic dimension – its knack for showing us the side of things that our interests blind us to – make it a source of knowledge, even though it is knowledge of a kind that instrumental reason has little time for.  The psychologists who revolutionized our understanding of human psychology in the earliest twentieth century drew on two principal sources to build their concepts:  the dream life of their patients and the great art of the past.  Without this recognition of the primacy of imagination, Freud and Jung could never have drawn their maps of the psyche.  Those who work for a better world would do well to follow their example and find the guiding patterns of life in the prophetic artistic works of the past and present.  Only art can act as a counter-weight to that uniquely modern mentality that, wherever it becomes the only game in town, seeks to persuade us that the proper goal of human beings is to contain, dissect, and control everything – that even the most persistent mysteries are just problems to be solved.

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 205

National Gallery of Art with self-portrait

National Gallery of Art with self-portrait

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

Museums empower people when they are patrons for artists and thinkers; when they amplify civic discourse, accelerate cultural change and contribute to cultural intelligence among the great diversity of city dwellers, visitors, policy makers and leaders…  Museums present beautiful, accessible and meaningful spaces in which communities and individuals can meet, exchange ideas and solve problems.

David J. Skorton, Director of the Smithsonian Institution in “What Do We Value?” Museum, May/June 2016

Comments are welcome!

 

 

 

Q: Can you speak about a book (or books) that deeply influenced you as an artist?

Barbara's well-worn copy of "Camille Pissarro:  Letters to His Son Lucien"

Barbara’s well-worn copy of “Camille Pissarro: Letters to His Son Lucien”

A:  One such book that stands out is “Camille Pissaro:  Letters to His Son Lucien.”  The book is comprised of weekly letters from a father conveying wisdom about his craft, art, and life, over roughly twenty years, to a beloved son, who is just beginning his artistic journey.  I discovered this gem about thirty years ago when I was just starting to find my way as an artist, too.  Pissarro’s words are beautiful, poignant, and deeply felt.   He has much to say to artists because, sadly, we still contend with the same problems, such as how to remain authentic and earn a living, how to deal with galleries and collectors, how to stay focused on the work, etc.  I often enjoy rereading favorite passages simply because it makes me feel less alone as an artist.

Comments are welcome!

Q: Do you have a mentor?

"Alone Together," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Alone Together,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

A:  No, but I often wish I did.  How wonderful it would be to consult someone who’s been there, a productive and successful artist who could provide advice on all the concerns, especially the problems and dangers, inherent in a professional artist’s life. 

But I have been at this for thirty years and found no such person!  I think it’s because each artist’s career is highly unique as we chart are own individual paths.  Unlike most professions, there are no firm rules or straight forward career milestones for making your way as an artist.

Besides the countless hours spent in the studio, I have always worked diligently to understand the art business.  Certainly getting work seen, exhibited, reviewed, sold, etc. is as important as making it in the first place.  It’s all part of being a professional artist. 

Early on I developed the habit of relying on my own best judgment, both in creating the work and in getting it seen and collected.  Certainly I have made plenty of mistakes.  As a result though, I know a tremendous amount about the art business.  And I enjoy sharing what I know in the hopes of steering other artists away from making similar missteps.

Comments are welcome!    

Q: How many pastel paintings do you have in progress now?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  Making pastel-on-sandpaper paintings is a slow and meticulous process.  I work full-time in my studio so that in a good year I can produce five finished pieces.  Typically two are in progress at a time so that I can switch off when problems develop.

A downside to looking at a painting for months is that there comes a point when I can’t see the flaws any more.  Then it’s definitely time to take a break.  

When I put a painting that has been resting back onto my easel, I see it with fresh eyes again.  Areas that need work immediately stand out.  Problem areas become easily resolvable because I have continued to think about them while the painting was out of my sight. 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 177

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

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

Everyone but a lunatic has a reason for what he does.  Yes, in that sense I am a determinist.  But I believe, with Kant, that the mind is self-determined.  That is, I believe intensely in the creative freedom of the mind.  That is indeed absolutely essential to man’s security in a chaotic world of change.  He is faced all the time with unique complex problems.  To sum them up for action is an act of creative imagination.  He fits the different elements together in a coherent whole and invents a rational act to deal with it.  He requires to be free, he requires his independence and solitude of mind, he requires his freedom of mind and imagination.  Free will is another matter – it is a term, or rather a contradiction in terms, which leads to continual trouble.  The will is never free – it is always attached to an object, a purpose.  It is simply the engine in the car – it can’t steer.  It is the mind, the reason, the imagination that steers.

Joyce Carey in The Paris Review Interviews:  Writers at work 1st Series, edited and with an introduction by Malcolm Cowley

Comments are welcome!

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