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Pearls from artists* # 307

"Poker Face," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“Poker Face,” 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.

Until fairly recently the word art as applied to pictures usually referred not just to representations of the world but to representations that suggested an importance greater than we might otherwise have assumed.  Such pictures were said to instruct and delight, which they did by their wholeness and richness.  The effect was to reinforce a sense of meaning in life, though not necessarily a belief in a particular ideology or religion, and in this they were a binding cultural achievement.

Unfortunately art of this quality is now little attempted, partly because of disillusionment from a century of war, partly because of sometimes misplaced faith in the communicative and staying powers of total abstraction, and partly because of the ease with which lesser work can be made and sold.  This atrophying away of the genuine article is a misfortune because, in an age of nuclear weapons and over-population and global warming, we need more than ever what art used to provide.  Somehow we have to recommit to picture making that is serious.  It is impermissible any longer to endorse imitations that distract us or, openly or by implication, ridicule hope.  The emptiness of material by Jeff Koons and Damien Hirst, for example, is born of cynicism and predictive of nihilism.                 

Robert Adams in Art Can Help

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 182

Hudson Yards, NYC

Hudson Yards, NYC

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

Maybe you know exactly what you dream of being.  Or maybe you’re paralyzed because you have no idea what your passion is.  The truth is, it doesn’t matter.  You don’t have to know.  You just have to keep moving forward.  You just have to keep doing something, seizing the next opportunity, staying open to trying something new.  It  doesn’t have to fit your vision of the perfect job or the perfect life.  Perfect is boring, and dreams are not real.  Just… DO.   You think, “I wish I could travel” – you sell your crappy car and buy a ticket and go to Bangkok right now.  I’m serious.  You say, “I want to be a writer” – guess what? A writer is someone who writes every day.  Start writing.  Or:  You don’t have a job?  Get one.  ANY JOB.  Don’t sit at home waiting for the magical dream opportunity.  Who are you?  Prince William?  No.  Get a job.  Work.  Do until you can do something else.

Commencement address to Dartmouth College, Shonda Rhimes in Year of Yes:  How to Dance It Out, Stand in the Sun and Be Your Own Person 

Comments are welcome! 

        

Q: What do you think is an artist’s chief responsibility? Do you personally feel a responsibility to society?

Winter roses, NYC

Winter roses

A:  All serious artists have the responsibility of developing our unique and special gifts to the best of our abilities and  sharing our creative output with an appreciative audience.  In other words we do good work and then we educate, and often create, the audience for it.  This is the demanding, all-important task that gets me out of bed every day. 

In showing what is possible artists cannot help but create a better society.  Ours is essential work. 

Comments are welcome! 

Q: When you left the Navy you worked on commission as a portrait artist. Why don’t you accept commissions now?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  As I have often said, I left the active duty Navy in 1989, but stayed in the Reserves. The Reserves provided a small part-time income and the only requirement was that I work one weekend a month and two weeks each year.  Plus, I could retire after 13 more years and receive a pension.  (In 2003 I retired from the Navy Reserve as a Commander).  The rest of the time I was free to pursue my studio practice. 

For a short time I made a living making commissioned photo-realist portraits in soft pastel on sandpaper.  However, after a year I became very restless.  I remember thinking, “I did not leave a boring job just to make boring art!”  I lost interest in doing commissions because what I wanted to accomplish personally as an artist did not coincide with what portrait clients wanted.  I finished my final portrait commission in 1990 and never looked back. 

To this day I remain reluctant to accept a commission of any kind.  So I am completely free to paint whatever I want, which is the only way to evolve as a serious, deeply committed artist.      

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 100

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.

I think it’s terribly important that people have always made structures that are better and more rigorous and more demanding than we as an audience can live up to for every single moment.  Serious art should be better than you are.  I think my plays are more lucid, more rigorous, than I, Richard, am in my life.  I’m a stumble bum like all the rest of us.  Create art that is better than you are able to manifest in normal life. 

Richard Foreman in Anne Bogart’s Conversations with Anne:  Twenty-four Interviews

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 80

New York, NY

New York, NY

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

Whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important:  whatever teaches us to sing ourselves out of despair.  But the painting [“The Goldfinch,” 1654, by C. Fabritius] has also taught me that we can speak to each other across time.  And I feel I have something very serious and urgent to say to you, my non-existent reader, and I feel I should say it as urgently as if I were standing in the room with you.  That life – whatever else it is – is short.  That fate is cruel but maybe not random.  That Nature (meaning Death) always wins but that doesn’t mean we have to bow and grovel to it.  That maybe if we’re not always so glad to be here, it’s our task to immerse ourselves anyway:  wade straight through it, right through the cesspool, while keeping eyes and hearts open.  And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn’t touch.  For if disaster and oblivion have followed this painting down through time – so too has love.  Insofar as it is immortal (and it is) I have a small, bright, immutable part in that immortality.  It exists; and it keeps on existing.  And I add my own love to the history of people who have loved beautiful things, and looked out for them, and pulled them from the fire, and sought them when they were lost, and tried to preserve them and save them while passing them along literally from hand to hand, singing out brilliantly from the wreck of time to the next generation of lovers, and the next.

Donna Tartt in The Goldfinch 

Comments are welcome!

Q; When did you start pursuing art as a serious profession?

"Answering the Call," 58" x 38," soft pastel on sandpaper

“Answering the Call,” 58″ x 38,” soft pastel on sandpaper

A:  In the mid-1980s I was in my early 30s, a lieutenant on active duty in the Navy, working a soul-crushing job as a computer analyst on the midnight shift in a Pentagon basement.  It was literally and figuratively the lowest point of my life.  Remembering the joyful Saturdays of my youth when I had studied with a local New Jersey painter, I enrolled in a drawing class at the Art League School in Alexandria, Virginia.  Initially I wasn’t very good, but it was wonderful to be around other women  and a world away from the “warrior mentality” of the Pentagon.  I was having fun!  Soon I enrolled in more classes and became a very motivated full-time art student who worked nights at the Pentagon. As I studied and improved my skills, I discovered my preferred medium – soft pastel on sandpaper.  Although I knew I had found my calling, for more than a year I agonized over whether or not to leave the Navy.  Once I did decide, there was another delay.  The Navy was experiencing a manpower shortage so Congress had enacted a stop-loss order, which prevented officers from resigning.  I could only do what was allowed under the order.  I submitted my resignation effective exactly one year later:  on September 30, 1989.  With Bryan’s (my late husband) support,  I left the Navy that day.  So I think of myself as having  been a professional artist beginning on October 1, 1989.  I should mention that I remained in the Navy Reserve for the next 14 years, working mainly at the Pentagon two days every month and two weeks each year (commuting between New York and Washington, DC after I moved in 1997).  Finally on November 1, 2003, I officially retired as a Navy Commander.

Comments are welcome!

Q: What would you be if you were not an artist?

Self-portrait on a Hudson  River barge

Self-portrait on a Hudson River barge

A: I honestly have no idea, but whatever it might be, there is a good chance that I’d be bored! In my younger days boredom was a strong motivator. I left the active duty Navy out of boredom. I couldn’t bear not being intellectually challenged (most of my jobs consisted of paper-pushing), not using my flying skills (at 27 I was a licensed commercial pilot and Boeing 727 flight engineer), and not developing my artistic talent. In what surely must be a first, by spending a lot of time and money training me for jobs I hated, the Navy turned me into a hard-working artist! And once I left the Navy there was no plan B. There was no time to waste. It was “full speed ahead.”

Art is a calling. You do not need to be told this if you are among those who are called. It’s all about “the work,” that all-consuming focus of an artist’s life. If a particular activity doesn’t make you a better artist, you avoid it. You work hard to nourish and protect your gifts. As artists we invent our own tasks, learn whatever we need in order to progress, and complete projects in our own time. It is life lived at its freest.

My art-making has led me to fascinating places: Mexico, Guatemala, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, France, England, Italy, Bali, Java and more; and to in-depth studies of intriguing subjects: drawing, color, composition, art and art history, the art business, film and film history, photography, mythology, literature, music, jazz history, and archaeology, particularly that of ancient Mesoamerica (the Olmec, Zapotec, Mixtec, Aztec, Maya, etc.). And this rich mixture continually grows! For anyone wanting to spend their time on earth learning and meeting new challenges, there is no better life than that of an artist.

I SO agree with this exchange that I read years ago between between Trisha Brown and Mikhail Baryshnikov in the New York Times. I wrote it on a piece of paper and taped it to my studio wall:

Trisha: How do you think we keep going? Are we obsessed?

Mikhail: We do it because there’s nothing better. I’m serious. Because there is nothing more exciting than that. Life is so boring, that’s why we are driven to the mystery of creation.

Comments are welcome.