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Pearls from artists* # 211

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu

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

There is an ancient view that beauty is the object of a sensory rather than an intellectual delight, and that the senses must always be involved in appreciating it.  Hence, when the philosophy of art became conscious of itself at the beginning of the eighteenth century, it called itself ‘aesthetics,’ after the Greek aesthesis, sensation.  When Kant wrote that the beautiful is that which pleases immediately, and without concepts, he was providing a rich philosophical embellishment to this tradition of thinking.  Aquinas too seems to have endorsed the idea, defining the beautiful in the first part of the Summa as that which is pleasing to sight (pulchra sunt quae visa placent).  However, he modifies this statement in the second part, writing that ‘the beautiful relates only to sight and hearing of all the senses, since these are the most cognitive (maxime cognoscitive) among them.’   And this suggests, not only that he did not confine the study of beauty to the sense of sight, but that he was less concerned with the sensory impact of the beautiful than with its intellectual significance – even if it is a significance that can be appreciated only through seeing or hearing. 

Beauty:  A Very Short Introduction, by Roger Scruton

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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

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Q: Have any artists influenced you technically?

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

Barbara at work, Photo: Marianne Barcellona

A:  I’d have to say no one, because my technique of using soft pastel on sandpaper is largely self-invented and it continues to slowly evolve.  I apply up to thirty layers of pigment, blending it with my fingers, and creating new colors directly on the sandpaper.  It is a rather meticulous process that suits my personality.

My unique way of applying and mixing pastel is a richly complex science of color.  This intricate technique is one of the reasons that my pastel paintings cannot be forged by anyone.

Every great artist throughout history has invented their own techniques and created a world that is uniquely theirs, with its own iconography, its own laws, and its own specific concerns.  Artists who are most worthy of the name create their own tasks and make and break their own rules.  

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Pearls from artists* # 154

Idea for a painting

Idea for a 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.

Often the public forms an idea of inspiration that is quite false, almost a religious notion.  Alas!  I do not believe that inspiration falls from heaven.  I think it rather the result of a profound indolence and of our incapacity to put to work certain forces in ourselves.  These unknown forces work deep within us, with the aid of the elements of daily life, its scenes and passions, and, they burden us and oblige us to conquer the kind of somnolence in which we indulge ourselves like invalids who try to prolong dream and dread resuming contact with reality, in short when the work that makes itself in us and in spite of us demands to be born, we can believe that this work comes to us from beyond and is offered by the gods.  The artist is more slumberous in order that he shall  not work.  By a thousand ruses, he prevents his nocturnal work from seeing the light of day.

For it is at the moment that consciousness must take a precedence and that it becomes necessary to find the means which permit the unformed work to take form, to render it visible to all.  To write, to conquer ink and paper, accumulate letters and paragraphs, divide them with periods and commas, is a different matter than carrying the dream of a play or of a book.

Jean Cocteau: The Process of Inspiration in The Creative Process, edited by Brewster Ghiselin

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Q: How do you document your work?

Barbara's portfolio book

Barbara’s portfolio book

A:  I have been a professional artist for thirty years so some things have changed and some haven’t.  I have a portfolio book of 8 x 10 photographs of all my pastel paintings.  Since my process is slow and meticulous, the latest, “Troublemaker,” is pastel painting number 124.  

I have always gotten my work professionally photographed.  Until 2001 my husband Bryan was my photographer and since then I have hired three people.  To document older work I have slides, 4 x 5 transparencies, and color and black and white 4 x 5 negatives.  I continued with slides and film longer than many artists, but finally switched to digital files a few years ago when buying film and processing it became difficult.

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Pearls from artists* # 141

Painting, subject, reference photo

Painting, subject, reference photo

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

It would be very interesting to record photographically not the stages of a painting, but its metamorphoses.  One would see perhaps by what course a mind finds its way towards the crystallization of its dream.  But what is really very curious is to see that the picture does not change basically, that the initial vision remains almost intact in spite of appearances.  I see often a light and dark, when I have put them in my picture, I do everything I can to ‘break them up,’ in adding a color that creates a counter effect.  I perceive, when this work is photographed, that which I have introduced to correct my first vision has disappeared, and that after all the photographic image corresponds to my first vision, before the occurrence of the transformation brought about by my will.

The picture is not thought out and determined beforehand, rather while it is being made it follows the mobility of thought.  Finished, it changes further, according to the condition of him who looks at it.  A picture lives its life like a living creature, undergoing the changes that daily life imposes on us.  That is natural, since a picture lives only through him who looks at it.

Christian Zervos:  Conversation with Picasso in The Creative Process, edited by Brewster Ghiselin

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Q: Why do you prefer not to explain your titles and imagery?

"Truth Betrayed by Innocence," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“Truth Betrayed by Innocence,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

A:  It’s mainly because answers close down imagination and creativity.  I enjoy hearing alternative interpretations of my pastel paintings.  People are wildly imaginative and each person brings unique insights to their art viewing.  By leaving meanings open, conversation is generated.  Most artists want viewers to talk about their work.

Once at a public artist’s talk that I attended, I was told by an artist that my interpretation of her title was completely wrong.  First of all, how can an interpretation honestly expressed by your audience be “wrong?”  Art is as open to interpretation as a Rorschach test (art IS a kind of Rorshach test).  Then she explained the thinking behind her title and succeeded in cutting off all further conversation.  I felt belittled.  Later several people told me that my interpretation was much more compelling.  Still, the experience was mortifying and I hope to never do that to anyone.

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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?

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

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

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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Q: Another interesting series of yours that has impressed me is your recent “Black Paintings.” The pieces in this series are darker than the ones in “Domestic Threats.” You create an effective mix between the dark background and the few bright tones, which establish such a synergy rather than a contrast, and all the dark creates a prelude to light. It seems to reveal such a struggle, a deep tension, and intense emotions. Any comments on your choice of palette and how it has changed over time?

West 29th Street studio

West 29th Street studio

A:  That is a great question!  

You are correct that my palette has darkened. It’s partly from having lived in New York for so long. This is a generally dark city. We famously dress in black and the city in winter is mainly greys and browns.  

Also, the “Black Paintings” are definitely post-9/11 work. My husband, Bryan, was tragically killed onboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Losing Bryan was the biggest shock I ever have had to endure, made even harder because it came just 87 days after we had married. We had been together for 14 ½ years and in September 2001 were happier than we had ever been. He was killed so horribly and so senselessly. Post 9/11 was an extremely difficult, dark, and lonely time.  

In the summer of 2002 I resumed making art, continuing to make “Domestic Threats” paintings. That series ran its course and ended in 2007. Around then I was feeling happier and had come to better terms with losing Bryan (it’s something I will never get over but dealing with loss does get easier with time). When I created the first “Black Paintings” I consciously viewed the background as literally, the very dark place that I was emerging from, exactly like the figures emerging in these paintings. The figures themselves are wildly colorful and full of life, so to speak, but that black background is always there.       

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