Blog Archives

Q: For many artists the hardest thing is getting to work in the morning. Do you have any rituals that get you started?

Entering Barbara’s studio

Entering Barbara’s studio

A:  That has rarely been a problem because I love to work.  The highlight of my day is time spent in the studio.  After arriving, I begin working immediately or I read about art for a short time.  When I pick up a pastel, it’s to begin working on something left unfinished from the day before.

Generally, I keep regular hours and strive to use studio time well.  As a professional artist, one absolutely must be a self-starter!  No one else cares about our work the way we do. Really why would they, when only the maker has invested so much love, knowledge, craftsmanship, experience, devotion, insight, money, etc. in the effort to evolve and improve.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 212

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.

… the anthropologist Ellen Disanayake… in Homo Aestheticus, argues that art and aesthetic  interest belong with rituals and festivals – offshoots of the human need to ‘make special,’ to extract objects, events, and human relations from everyday uses and to make them a focus of collective attention.  This ‘making special’ enhances group cohesion and also leads people to treat those things which really matter for the survival of community – be it marriage or weapons, funerals, or offices – as things of public note, with an aura that protects them from careless disregard and emotional erosion.  The deeply engrained need to ‘make special’ is explained by the advantage that it has conferred on human communities, holding them together in times of threat, and furthering their reproductive confidence in times of peaceful flourishing.

Beauty:  A Very Short Introduction, by Roger Scruton

Comments are welcome!

      

Q: What have you learned about the people of Mexico through your travels, reading, and research?

A corner of the studio

A corner of the studio

A:  It didn’t take long to become smitten with these beautiful people.  It happened on my first trip there in 1992 when Bryan and I, along with busloads of other tourists, were visiting the Oaxacan cemeteries on The Day of the Dead.  The Oaxaquenos tending their ancestor’s graves were so dignified and so gracious, even with so many mostly-American tourists tromping around on a sacred night, that I couldn’t help being taken with them and with their beliefs.  My studies since that time have given me a deeper appreciation for the art, architecture, history, mythology, etc. that comprise the extremely rich and complex story of Mexico as a cradle of civilization in the West.  It is a wonderfully heady mix and hopefully some of it comes through in my work as a painter and a photographer.

By the way I often wonder why the narrative of Mexico’s fascinating history was not taught in American public schools, at least not where I went to public school in suburban New Jersey.  Mexico is our neighbor, for goodness sake, but when I speak to many Americans about Mexico they have never learned anything about the place!  It’s shocking, but many people think only “Spring Break” and/or “Drug Wars,” when they hear the word “Mexico.”  As a kid I remember learning about Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, and other early civilizations in the Middle East, Europe, and Asia, but very little about Mexico.  We learned about the Maya, when it was still believed that they were a peaceful people who devoted their lives to scientific and religious pursuits, but that story was debunked years ago.  And I am fairly sure that not many Americans even know that Maya still exist in the world … in Mexico and in Guatemala.   There are a few remote places that were not completely destroyed by Spanish Conquistadores in the 16th century and later.  I’ve been to Mayan villages in Guatemala and seen shamans performing ancient rituals.  For an artist from a place as rooted in the present moment as New York, it’s an astounding thing to witness!  

Comments are welcome!

Q: Do you have any rituals or a spiritual practice that you do before beginning your work in the studio?

Studio entrance

Studio entrance

A:  When I arrive at the studio in the morning it’s rare for me to immediately start working.  Usually I read  something art-related – magazines like Art in America, ARTnews, Tribal Arts, or exhibition catalogues from shows I’ve seen, books on art, on creativity, etc.  At the moment I’m re-reading The Gift, by Lewis Hyde.  As usual I am struggling to understand aspects of the art business and figure out what I need to do next to get my work seen by a wider audience.  The Gift reminds why I decided to make art in the first place.   It helps reconnect with forgotten parts of myself and is a much-needed  reminder of what I love about being an artist, especially in light of the business stuff that is becoming so complex and demanding of attention now.  Balancing the creative and business aspects of being an artist is a continual struggle.  Both are so important.  An artist needs an appreciative audience – very few artists devote their lives to art-making so that the work will remain in a closet – but I also believe this (from a note hand-written years ago and tacked to the studio wall):  “Just make the work.  None of the rest matters.”

Comments are welcome.

Q: How do you think your time in Bali will affect your work?

Barbara in her favorite sarong; photo by Donna Tang

Barbara in her favorite sarong; photo by Donna Tang

A: There is always a long gestation period as I reflect on the new experiences, sights, sounds, etc. after a trip. Bali is a fascinating place – the only Hindu outpost in the world’s most populous Muslim country – so I’m reading everything I can find. I’ve finished an historical novel, Love and Death in Bali, about the 1906 mass suicide of the royal family during the Dutch invasion. I’m slowly making my way through Bali: Sekala and Niskala, a densely packed book about the intricacies of Hinduism, rituals, and art, written with the help of our guide, Budi. In the short term I’m using more green pastels in my paintings. Amidst all of the tropical lushness, I must have seen thousands of shades of green. The volcano shapes in “Absence,” a pastel painting completed last week (see post of JUL 20), resulted from this trip. Other, more pronounced effects will probably show up later.