*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 yet books were faithful companions for Vincent, an important source of sustenance during his times of melancholy: he periodically re-read his favourites, finding new meaning in the text and illustrations each time. Van Gogh read in at least two ways: first “breathlessly,’ and then ‘by careful exploration.’ But we could add a third and a fourth way: thirdly as an artist, and fourthly from the perspective of the writer he perhaps knew himself to be. To Vincent, reading books meant above all to ‘seek in them the artist who made them,’ as he wrote to his sister Willemien. He sought to open an internal dialogue with other writers as artists, and meditated on their words, stopping to consider and reconsider a phrase to make it resonate within him He did this in more than one language – internalizing words, ruminating, bending them to his will, and finally assigning them to a fate of his choosing, over the years. Remarkably several Prefaces by French Naturalist novelists such as Zola, De Goncourts or Maupassant (today considered genuine manifestos) were among the pages that truly challenged and engaged his mind. In them he found the freedom that he was seeking in painting – the ‘confirmation’ of his own ideas, inspiration and encouragement. The work of the illustrators of his favorite books and magazines equally attracted him and had a lingering effect on him, on which he paused to reflect repeatedly, extracting inspiration indirectly.
Mariella Guzzoni in Vincent’s Books: Van Gogh and the Writers Who Inspired Him
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Q: You recently spent several weeks in Sri Lanka. After experiencing so many new sights and sounds, is it difficult to get back to work in your studio?
A: It definitely requires some readjustment and a period – maybe a day or two – during which I feel removed from the painting on my easel and need time to become reacquainted with it. It’s a time to refocus, stay put, and reflect. For weeks I’ve led an action-packed life, exploring a fascinating country on the other side of the world. Over time, all of the experiences I’ve had will stay with me, or not, and in some ways begin to influence my work.
It’s funny. I often think of my studio as a cave. It’s a rather dark place and sometimes I have to force myself to go. In Sri Lanka I saw many ancient Buddhist cave temples, wild and vibrant, with colorful paintings on the walls and ceilings, chock full of statues of Buddha and other deities. My travels have given me a new appreciation of the riches to be found in caves of all sorts, including (especially) my own studio!
Comments are welcome!
* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
Those who would make art might well begin by reflecting on the fate of those who preceded them: most who began, quit. It’s a genuine tragedy. Worse yet, it’s an unnecessary tragedy. After all, artists who continue and artists who quit share an immense field of common emotional ground. (Viewed from the outside, in fact, they’re indistinguishable). We’re all subject to a familiar and universal progression of human troubles – troubles we routinely survive, but which are (oddly enough) routinely fatal to the art-making process. To survive as an artist requires confronting these troubles. Basically, those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue – or more precisely, have learned how to not quit.
But curiously, while artists always have a myriad of reasons to quit, they consistently wait for a handful of specific moments to quit. Artists quit when they convince themselves that their next effort is already doomed to fail. And artists quit when they lose the destination for their work – for the place their work belongs.
Virtually all artists encounter such moments. Fear that your next work will fail is a normal, recurring, and generally healthy part of the art-making cycle. It happens all the time: you focus on some new idea in your work, you try it out, run with it for awhile, reach a point of diminishing returns, and eventually decide it’s not worth pursuing further. Writers even have a phrase for it – “the pen has run dry” – but all media have their equivalents. In the normal artistic cycle this just tells you that you’ve come full circle, back to that point where you need to begin cultivating the next new idea. But in artistic death it marks the last thing that happens: you play out an idea, it stops working, you put the brush down… and thirty years later you confide to someone over coffee that, well, yes, you had wanted to paint when you were much younger. Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping. The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens once. Quitting means not starting again – and art is all about starting again.
David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear
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