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Pearls from artists* # 412

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.

The obstacles faced by women who hoped to leave a mark on humankind have, through the millennium, varied in height but not in stubborn persistence.  And yet, a great many women have stubbornly ignored them. The desire to put words on a page or marks on a canvas was greater than the accrued social forces that told them they had no right to do so, that they were excluded by their gender from that priestly class called artist.  The reason, according to Western tradition, was as old as creation itself:  For many, God was the original artist and society had assigned its creator a gender – He.  The woman who dared to declare herself an artist in defiance of centuries of such unwavering belief required monstrous strength, to fight not for equal recognition and reward but for something at once more basic and vital:  her very life.  Her art was her life.  Without it, she was nothing.  Having no faith that society would broaden its views on artists by dethroning men and accommodating women, in 1928 [Virginia] Woolf offered her fellow writers and painters a formula for survival that allowed them to create, if not with acceptance, then at least unimpeded.  A woman artist, she said, needed but two possessions:  “money and a room of her own.”          

Mary Gabriel in Ninth Street Women

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Pearls from artists* # 400

In the studio with friends

In the studio with friends

* 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 student in the audience raised her hand and asked me:

“Why should I live?”

… In the very act of asking that question, you are seeking reasons for your convictions, and so you are committed to reason as the means to discover and justify what is important to you.  And there are so many reasons to live!

As a sentient being, you have the potential to flourish.  You can refine your faculty of reason itself by learning and debating.  You can seek explanations of the natural world through science, and insight into the human condition through the arts and humanities.  You can make the most of your capacity for pleasure and satisfaction, which allowed your ancestors to thrive and thereby allowed you to exist.  You can appreciate the beauty and the richness of the natural and cultural world.  As the heir to billions of years of life perpetuating itself, you can perpetuate life in turn.  You have been endowed with a sense of sympathy – the ability to like , love, respect, help, and show kindness – and you can enjoy the gift of mutual benevolence with friends, family, and colleagues.

And because reason tells you that none of this is particular to you, you have the responsibility to provide to others what you expect for yourself.  You can foster the welfare of other sentient beings by enhancing life, health, knowledge, freedom, abundance, safety, beauty, and peace.  History shows that when we sympathize with others and apply our ingenuity to improving the human condition, we can make progress in doing so, and you can help to continue that progress.

Stephen Pinker in Enlightenment Now:  The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress 

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Pearls from artists* # 396

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.

To summarize, art is expression. Expression is nonutilitarian and has no purpose beyond itself.  Early on this led me to define works of art as things whose only function is to be perceived.  Since the appearance of such things in everyday life breaks the drift of habit for which we have been hard-wired by evolution, art always occurs as an interruption.  In the course of time, humans have produced innumerable works of art, subordinating them to innumerable ends according to the needs of the hour, yet all art exhibits a primal quality that exceeds those appropriations.  Because the inherent multivalence of art threatens the desire to reduce things to clear significations, human societies have a tendency to overlook it, with the result that a great many aesthetic objects are called art when they are perhaps something else.  To clarify this distinction I called art designed to serve instrumental reason “artifice.”  In its worst forms, artifice amounts to aesthetic manipulation of a kind that is indisputably hostile to the ideals of openness, plurality, freedom of thought, and rational disclosure that we were told were the cornerstones of modernity.  Art, on the other hand, is innately emancipatory, being itself the affirmation or sign of freedom.     

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* # 388

Barbara’a studio

Barbara’a 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.

… the artist’s nature, that wild nature to which so many powers are entrusted, and which all too often abuses them, leading cold reason, the bourgeois public, and even some connoisseurs down a myriad barren paths, precisely where the capricious white-winged sprite discovers castles, epics, works of art!  A nature sometimes mocking, sometimes kind, at once fertile and desolate! 

Honore Balzac in The Unknown Masterpiece

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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 

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Pearls from artists* # 331

Great Falls, VA

Great Falls, VA

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

And you should not let yourself be confused in your solitude by the fact that there is something in you that wants to break out of it.  This very wish will help you, if you use it quietly, and deliberately and like a tool, to spread out your solitude over wide country.  People have (with the help of conventions) oriented all their solutions toward the easy and toward the easiest side of the easy; but it is clear that we must hold to what is difficult; everything alive holds to it, everything in Nature grows and defends itself in its own way and is characteristically and spontaneously itself, seeks at all costs to be so and against all opposition.  We know little, but that we must hold to what is difficult is a certainty that will not forsake us; it is good to be solitary, for solitude is difficult; that something is difficult must be a reason the more for us to do it.           

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, Translation by M.D. Herter Norton

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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.  

Comments are welcome!     

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