Blog Archives

Pearls from artists* # 258

Isla del Sol in Bolivia

Isla del Sol in Bolivia

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

Does this imply that ‘beauty is in the eye of the beholder,’ that there is no objective property that we recognize and about whose nature and value we can agree?  My answer is simply this:  everything I have said about the experience of beauty implies that it is rationally founded.  It challenges us to find meaning in its object, to make critical comparisons, and to examine our own lives and emotions in the light of what we find.  Art, nature, and the human form all invite us to place this experience in the center of our lives.  If we do so, then it offers a place of refreshment of which we will never tire.  But to imagine that we can do this, and  still be free to see beauty as nothing more than a subjective preference or a source of transient pleasure, is to misunderstand the depth to which reason and value penetrate our lives.  It is to fail to see that, for a free being, there is right feeling, right experience and right enjoyment just as much as right action.  The judgment of beauty orders the emotions and desires of those who make it.  It may express their pleasure and their taste:  but it is pleasure in what they value and taste for their true ideals.      

Roger Scruton in Beauty:  A Very Short Introduction

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Pearls from artists* # 194

"Epiphany," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“Epiphany,” 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.

I did sculpture because what interested me in painting was to bring some order to my brain.  It was a change of means.  I took to clay as a break from painting; at the time I’d done absolutely everything I could in painting.  Which means it was still about organizing.  It was to put my sensations in order and look for a method that really suited me.  When I’d found it in sculpture, I used it for painting.  To come into possession of my own brain:  that was always the goal, a sort of hierarchy of all my sensations, so that I could reach a conclusion.

One day, visiting Carriere at his house, I told him that.  He replied:  “But, my friend, that’s why you work.  If you ever managed it, you’d probably stop working.  It’s your reason for working.”

In painting – in any oeuvre – the goal is to reconcile the irreconcilable.  There are all kinds of qualities in us, contradictory qualities. You have to construct something viable with that, something stable.  That’s why you work your whole life long and want to keep on working until the last moment… as long as you haven’t admitted defeat or lost your curiosity, as long as you haven’t settled into a routine.    

Chatting with Henri Matisse:  The Lost 1941 Interview, Henri Matisse with Pierre Courthion, edited by Serge Guilbaut, translated by Chris Miller

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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: What was the first painting you ever sold?

“Bryan’s Ph.D.”, 11″ x 13 1/2″, soft pastel on sandpaper

A:  I believe my first sale was “Bryan’s Ph.D.”  I made it in 1990 as one of several small paintings created to improve my skills at rendering human hands in pastel.  I had recently left the Navy and was building a career as a portrait artist.  Bryan, my late husband, was often my model for these studies, not only because it was convenient, but because he had such beautiful hands. 

In 1990 Bryan was working on his Ph.D. in economics at the University of Maryland.  In this painting he is drawing a diagram that illustrates a theoretical point about “international public goods,” the subject of his research.  He was sitting in an old wooden rocking chair in our backyard in Alexandria, VA.  I still own the chair and the house.  I photographed his hands close-up and then created the painting.  I don’t remember which of Bryan’s cameras I used, but it was one that took 35 mm film; perhaps his Nikon F-2.  Somewhere I must still have the negative and the original reference photo.

“Bryan’s Ph.D.” is 11″ x 13 1/2″ and it sold for $500 at a monthly juried exhibition at The Art League in Alexandria.  I have not seen it since 1990.  (Above is a photograph of “Bryan’s Ph.D.” from my portfolio book).

Not long ago the owner contacted me, explaining that she had received the painting as a gift from her now ex-husband.  She was selling it because it evoked bitter memories of her divorce.  Her phone call was prompted by uncertainty about the painting’s value now.  She had a likely buyer and needed to know what price to charge.

I was saddened because I have so many beautiful memories of this particular painting and of an idyllic time in my life with Bryan.  He was on a leave of absence from the Pentagon to work on his dissertation, while I was finished with active duty.  At last I was a full time artist, busily working in the spare bedroom that we had turned into my first studio.  

My conversation with the owner was a reminder that once paintings are let out into the world, they take on associations that have nothing to do with the personal circumstances surrounding their creation.  In short, what an artist creates solely out of love, stands a good chance of not being loved or appreciated by others.  This is one reason to only sell my work to people I select personally.  I ended the telephone conversation hoping that “Bryan’s Ph.D.” fares better in its new home.  

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Q: What do you do when you are between paintings?

Work in progress

Work in progress

A:  I would be at loose ends if I finished a pastel painting and didn’t have another one immediately available to work on.  It’s one reason I always have two paintings in progress.   Another is that when I get stuck on some technical problem, I can switch to the other painting.  Works in progress tend to interact and play off of each other.  As I am working on a second painting, solutions to problems I had on the first quickly become apparent.    

Comments are welcome!             

Pearls from artists* # 127

eBook cover

eBook cover

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

Two facts differentiate Daybook from my work in visual art.

The first is the simple safety of numbers.  There are 6500 Daybooks in the world.  My contribution to them was entirely mental, emotional.  I never put my hand on a single copy of these objects until I picked up a printed book.  I made no physical effort; no blood, no bone marrow moved from me to them.  I do not mean that I made no effort.  On the contrary, the effort was excruciating because it was so without physical involvement, so entirely hard-wrought out of nothing physical at all; no matter how little of the material world goes into visual art, something of it always does, and that something keeps you company as you work.  There seems to me no essential difference in psychic cost between visual and literary effort,  The difference is in what emerges as result.  A work of visual art is painfully liable to accident; months of concentration and can be destroyed by a careless shove.  Not so 6500 objects.  This fact gives me a feeling of security like that of living in a large, flourishing, and prosperous family.

Ancillary to this aspect is the commonplaceness of a book.  People do not have to go much out of their way to get hold of it, and they can carry it around with them and mark it up, and even drop it in a tub while reading in a bath.  It is a relief to have my work an ordinary part of life, released from the sacrosanct precincts of galleries and museums.  A book is also cheap.  Its cost is roughly equivalent to its material value as an object, per se.  This seems to me more healthy than the price of art, which bears no relation to its quality and fluctuates in the marketplace in ways that leave it open to exploitation.  An artist who sells widely has only to mark a piece of paper for it to become worth an amount way out of proportion to its original cost.  This aspect of art has always bothered me, and is one reason why I like teaching;  an artist can exchange knowledge and experience for money in an economy as honest as that of a bricklayer.   

Anne Truitt in Turn:  The Journal of an Artist

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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!    

Pearls from artists* # 87

Studio

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.

One evening, after one false start too many, I just gave up. Sitting at a bar, feeling a bit burned out by work and by life in general, I just started drawing on the backs of business cards for no reason.  I didn’t really need a reason.  I just did it because it was there, because it amused me in a kind of random, arbitrary way.

Of course it was stupid.  Of course it was not commercial.  Of course it wasn’t going to go anywhere.  Of course it was a complete and utter waste of time.  But in retrospect, it was this built-in futility that gave it its edge.  Because it was the exact opposite of all the “Big Plans” my peers and I were used to making.  It was so liberating not to have to think about all of that, for a change.

It was so liberating to be doing something that didn’t have to have some sort of commercial angle, for a change.

It was so liberating to be doing something that didn’t have to impress anybody, for a change.

It was so liberating to be free of ambition, for a change.

It was so liberating to have something that belonged just to me and no one else, for a change.

It was so liberating to feel complete sovereignty, for a change.  To feel complete freedom, for a change.  To have something that didn’t require somebody else’s money, or somebody else’s approval, for a change.

And of course, it was then, and only then, that the outside world started paying attention.

The sovereignty you have over your work will inspire far more people than the actual content ever will.  How your own sovereignty inspires other people to find their own sovereignty, their own sense of freedom and possibility, will give the work far more power than the work’s objective merits ever will.

Your idea doesn’t have to be big.  It just has to be yours alone.  The more the idea is yours alone, the more freedom you have to do something really amazing.

The more amazing, the more people will click with your idea.  The more people click with your idea, the more this little thing of yours will snowball into a big thing.

That’s what doodling on the backs of business cards taught me. 

Hugh MacLeod in Ignore Everybody:  and 39 Other Keys to Creativity

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Pearls from artists* # 79

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.

“What’s to say?  Great paintings – people flock to see them, they draw crowds, they’re reproduced endlessly on coffee mugs and mouse pads and anything-you-like.  And, I count myself in the following, you can have a lifetime of perfectly sincere museum-going where you traipse around enjoying everything and then go out and have some lunch.  But … if a painting really works down in your heart and changes the way you see, and think, and feel, you don’t think, ‘oh, I love this picture because it’s universal.’ ‘I love this painting because it speaks to all mankind.’ That’s not the reason anyone loves a piece of art.  It’s a secret whisper from an alleyway.  Psst, you.  Hey, kid. Yes, you.”  Fingertip gliding over the faded-out photo – the conservator’s touch, a-touch-without-touching, a communion wafer’s space between the surface and his forefinger.  “An individual heart-shock.  Your dream … Vermeer’s dream.  You see one painting, I see another, the art book puts it at another remove still, the lady buying the greeting card at the museum shop sees something else entire, and that’s not even to mention the people separated from us by time – four hundred years before us, four hundred years after we’re gone – it’ll never strike anybody the same way and the great majority of people it’ll never strike in any deep way at all – a really great painting is fluid enough to work its way into the mind and heart through all kinds of different angles, in ways that are unique and particular.  Yours, yours.  I was painted for you… fateful objects.  Every dealer and antiquaire recognizes them.  The pieces that occur and recur.  Maybe for someone else, not a dealer, it wouldn’t be an object.  It’d be a city, a color, a time of day.  The nail where your fate is liable to catch and snag.”    

Donna Tartt in The Goldfinch 

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Pearls from artists* # 65

Museum of Modern Art, NYC

Museum of Modern Art, NYC

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

To create demands a certain undergoing:  surrender to a subconscious process that can yield surprising results.  And yet, despite the intuitive nature of the artistic process, it is of utmost importance to be aware of the reason you create.  Be conscious about what you are attempting or tempting.  Know why you are doing it.  Understand what you expect in return.

The intentions that motivate an act are contained within the action itself.  You will never escape this.  Even though the “why” of any work can be disguised or hidden, it is always present in its essential DNA.  The creation ultimately always betrays the intentions of the artist.  James Joyce called this invisible motivation behind a work of art “the secret cause.”  This cause secretly informs the process and then becomes integral to the outcome.  This secret cause determines the distance that you will journey in the process and finally, the quality of what is wrought in the heat of the making.    

Anne Bogart in and then, you act:  making art in an unpredictable world