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Pearls from artists* # 233

"Alone Together," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Alone Together,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

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

These words are true for most artists, not only writers.

There is the gift, of course, which is inseparable from – though not the same as – a need, a hunger for expression.  It is possible to have the gift without the need.  It is possible to have the need without the gift.  The former can lead to a happy and contented life.  I have seen promising young writers discard their gift, shrugging it off like a wrap on a warm summer evening.  They don’t care.  They don’t want or need it.  The other, however, is a painful situation:  the hunger for self-expression without the gift – that ineffable thing you can’t teach, or buy, or will into being.  This story often ends in resentment and unfulfillment.  Then there is endurability – Ted Solotaroff’s word –  the ability to withstand the years in the cold, the solitary life, the affronts and indignities, the painful rejections that never end.  The gift and the hunger are nothing without that endurability.  But up there with the gift, the hunger, and endurance is another trait, without which the writer’s life can’t possibly work.

The writing life is full of risk.  There is the creative risk – the willingness to fall flat on our face again and again – but there is also practical risk.  As in, it may not work out.   We don’t get brownie points for trying really hard.  When we set our hopes on this life, we are staking our future on the contents of our own minds.  On our ability to create and continue to create.  We have nothing but this.  No 401(k), no pension plan, often no IRA, no plans – God knows – for retirement.  We have to accept living with profound uncertainty.

 Dani Shapiro in Still Writing:  The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life 

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 111

Perkins Center for the Arts, Collingswood, NJ

Perkins Center for the Arts, Collingswood, NJ

It is very difficult to describe the creative experience in such a way that it would cover all cases. One of the essentials is the variety with which one approaches any kind of artistic creation. It doesn’t start in any one particular way and it is not always easy to say what gets you going.

I’ve sometimes made the analogy with eating. Why do you eat? You’re hungry. You are sort of in the mood to eat, and if you are in the mood to eat, the food tastes better; you’re more interested in what you’re eating. The whole experience is more “creative.” It’s the hunger that stimulates you to eat. It’s the same thing in art; except that, in art, the hunger is the need for self-expression.

How does it come about that you feel hungry? You don’t know, you just feel hungry. The juices are working, and suddenly you are aware of the fact that you want a piece of bread and butter. It’s about the same in art. If you pass your life in creating works of art in one field or another, you recognize the “hunger” signs and you are quick to take advantage of them, if they’re accompanied by ideas. Sometimes, you have the hunger and you don’t have any ideas; there’s no bread in the house. It’s as simple as that.

AAron Copland in The Creative Experience:  Why and How Do We Create?, Stanley Rosner and Lawrence E. Abt, editors

Comments are welcome!

Q: Do you have any advice for a young painter or someone just starting out as an artist?

Studio

Studio

A:  As artists each of us has at least two important responsibilities:  to express things we are feeling for which there are no adequate words and to communicate to a select few people, who become our audience.  By virtue of his or her own uniqueness, every human being has something to say.  But self-expression by itself is not enough.  As I often say, at it’s core art is communication.  Without this element there is no art.  When artists fail to communicate, perhaps they haven’t mastered their medium sufficiently so are unsuccessful in the attempt, or they may be being self-indulgent and not trying.  Admittedly there is that rare and most welcome occurrence when an artistic statement – such as a personal epiphany – happens for oneself alone. 

Most importantly, always listen to what your heart tells you.  It knows and speaks the truth and becomes easier to trust as you mature.  If you get caught up in the art world, step back and take some time to regain your bearings, to get reacquainted with the voice within you that knows the truth.  Paint from there.  Do not ever let a dealer or anyone else dictate what or how you should paint. 

With perhaps the singular exception of artist-run cooperative galleries, be very suspicious of  anyone who asks for money to put your work in an exhibition.  These people are making money from desperate and confused artists, not from appreciative art collectors.   With payment already in hand there is no financial incentive whatsoever for these people to sell your paintings and they won’t. 

Always work in a beautiful and special place of your own making.  It doesn’t need to be very large, unless you require a large space in which to create, but it needs to be yours.  I’m thinking of Virginia Woolf’s “a room of one’s own” here.  A studio is your haven, a place to experiment, learn, study, and grow.  A studio should be a place you can’t wait to enter and once you are there and engaged, are reluctant to leave. 

Be prepared to work harder than you ever have, unrelentingly developing your special innate gifts, whether you are in the mood to do so or not.  Most of all remember to do it for love, because you love your medium and it’s endless possibilities, because you love working in your studio, and because you feel most joyously alive when you are creating.

Comments are welcome!

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