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Pearls from artists* # 558

Alexandria, 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.

One of the main differences between the young girl who drew a line in chalk from the Metropolitan Museum all the way to her home on Park Avenue and the young woman who drew lines on canvas and paper twenty years later was that the latter understood the willfulness that drove the child. She was facing “the monster,” the consuming need to create, which was beyond her control but no longer beyond her comprehension. Helen [Frankenthaler] had long understood that her gift set her apart, and that it would be nearly impossible to describe how and why without sounding arrogant or cruel. “It’s saying I’m different, I’m special, consider me differently,” she explained years later. “And it’s also on the other side, a recognition that one is lonely, that one is not run of the mill, that the values are different, and yet we all go into the same supermarkets… and we all are moved one way or the other by children and seasons, and dreams. So the art separates you.”

The separation she described was not merely the result of what one did, whether it be painting or sculpting or writing poetry. Helen said the distance between an artist and society was due to a quality both tangible and intangible and intrinsic, a “spiritual” or “magical” aspect that nonartists did not always understand and were sometimes frightened by. “They want you to behave a certain way. They want you to explain what you do and why you do it. Or they want you removed, either put on a pedestal or victimized. They can’t handle it.” Helen concluded that existing outside so-called normal life was simply the price an artist paid to create.

Mary Gabriel in Ninth Street Women

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Pearls from artists* # 423

"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’ve mentioned that Kenneth Clark, the British art historian, said you could take the four best paintings of any artist in history and destroy the rest and the artist’s reputation would still be intact.  This is because in any artist’s life there are moments when everything goes right.  The artist is so in tune with his or her inner vision that there is no restriction.  The divine is being expressed.  Each mark becomes like a note of music in a divine order.

That experience, that prayer of expression, transcends its material and becomes spiritual.  The experience is overwhelming, the joys it communicates explosive.

When on another occasion we can’t find that spiritual level of experience, and so can’t repeat it, the frustration can be cruel and the separation painful.  Here lies the myth of the suffering artist.  It isn’t the art making when it goes well that has any suffering in it.  That is the union with the beloved.  It’s the loss that causes the suffering.  And the problem isn’t something we can necessarily control.  We are instruments, conduits for that expression.  It comes through us by grace.

The idea that we “make” art is perhaps a bit misleading.  The final product is at its best the result of a collaboration with spirit.  We may be separated from a flow within our spirit for weeks.  We continue to paint because there is no knowing at what precise moment it will return.  And when it does we need our faculties alert and our skills honed.  Then the poetry is everywhere.    

Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity:  16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision

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Pearls from artists* # 91

Mexico City

Mexico City

* 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’m struggling a lot financially, struggling a lot to keep my group going, struggling to keep going in every way, but I feel like I try so hard because every time that I’m able to go to a college or to be with young people they need to know that there is this “anything is possible” idea.  They need to at least see that.  I intend to continue nevertheless.  Somehow that seems very important right now.  It isn’t that you go to school just to find out everything you need to get a job or something.  We never thought of what we did as a job.  We thought of it as our work, our life.  Then there was a certain point, I think, in the eighties where people thought of their identity as this and then what you did was a job.  There was a separation between the two things.    

I pray that now there will be some loosening and we’ll feel this sense of, just as you said so beautifully, space and breath.  No one’s breathing.  That’s why I feel that doing art is so important.  It makes you dig in your heels even more.  It’s a life-and-death kind of thing.  What is the other alternative?  The other alternative is that you’re living in a culture that’s basically trying to distract you from the moment.  It’s trying to distract you from your life.  It’s trying to distract you from who you are, and it’s trying to numb you, and it’s trying to make you buy things.  Now, I don’t really think that that’s what life is about.  I’m excited because now I have this real sense that there’s this counterculture, you could say, or counter-impulse.  it’s not for-and-against, but there is a kind of dialectic where there’s a kind of resistance you can actually hit against, or at least address in one way or the other.    

Meredith Monk quoted in Conversations with Anne:  Twenty-four Interviews, by Anne Bogart

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