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Pearls from artists* # 412

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.

The obstacles faced by women who hoped to leave a mark on humankind have, through the millennium, varied in height but not in stubborn persistence.  And yet, a great many women have stubbornly ignored them. The desire to put words on a page or marks on a canvas was greater than the accrued social forces that told them they had no right to do so, that they were excluded by their gender from that priestly class called artist.  The reason, according to Western tradition, was as old as creation itself:  For many, God was the original artist and society had assigned its creator a gender – He.  The woman who dared to declare herself an artist in defiance of centuries of such unwavering belief required monstrous strength, to fight not for equal recognition and reward but for something at once more basic and vital:  her very life.  Her art was her life.  Without it, she was nothing.  Having no faith that society would broaden its views on artists by dethroning men and accommodating women, in 1928 [Virginia] Woolf offered her fellow writers and painters a formula for survival that allowed them to create, if not with acceptance, then at least unimpeded.  A woman artist, she said, needed but two possessions:  “money and a room of her own.”          

Mary Gabriel in Ninth Street Women

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Pearls from artists* # 410

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.

Faced with the disparities between lived reality and America’s professed ideals of inclusion and equity, countless artists have begun embracing the social role of art and using aesthetic means to speak out against all manner of injustice.  In such a climate, the Mexican muralists [Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, and David Alfaro Siqueiros] have once again emerged as models of how to marry aesthetic rigor and vitality to socially conscious subject matter that addresses the most fundamental questions concerning our collective pursuit of a more just and equitable society.  Not withstanding the rich cultural ties and decades of migration that have long existed between the United States and Mexico, the relationship between the two countries has always been fraught, marked as much by mutual wariness and bouts of hostility as by a spirit of camaraderie and cooperation  Yet the ugliness and xenophobia of the recent debates on the American side echoes the worst of the past.  It thus seems more imperative than ever to acknowledge the profound and enduring influence Mexican muralism has had on artmaking in the United States and to highlight the beauty and power that can emerge from the free and vibrant cultural exchange between the two countries.  As much as did American artists decades ago, artists in the United States today stand to benefit from an awareness of how dynamically and inventively the Mexican muralists used their art to project the ideals of compassion, justice, and solidarity.  They remain a source of powerful inspiration for their seamless synthesis of ethics, art, and action.

Vida Americana:  Mexican Muralists Remake American Art, 1925 – 1945, edited by Barbara Haskell

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Pearls from artists* # 377

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.

Life for an artist, any artist, was difficult.  There were few rewards other than the most important, which was satisfying one’s need to create.  But in the art world of galleries, collections, and museums that the avant-garde artists in New York would inherit in the late 1940s, the difficulties experienced by the men who painted and sculpted would be nothing compared to those of the women.  Society might mock the men’s work and disparage them for being “bums,” but at least they were awarded the dignity of ridicule.  Women had to fight with every fiber of their being not to be completely ignored.  In a treatise on men and women in America published at the start of the war, author Pearl S. Buck wrote,

The talented woman… must have, besides their talent, an unusual energy which drives them… to exercise their own powers.  Like talented men, they are single-minded creatures, and they can’t sink into idleness nor fritter away life and time, nor endure discontent.  They possess that rarest gift, integrity of purpose… Such women sacrifice, without knowing they do, what many other women hold dear – amusement, society, play of one kind or another –  to choose solitude and profound thinking and feeling, and at last final expression.

“To what end?” another woman might ask.  To the end, perhaps… of art – art which has lifted us out of mental and spiritual savagery.”

Mary Gabriel in Ninth Street Women

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Pearls from artists* # 374

Barbara’a studio

Barbara’a 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.

Finally, [John] Graham said, of all the arts, painting was the most difficult because one false move on a canvas could mean the difference between a great painting and a failure.  A writer could always resurrect a word, but a line or a shape was so ephemeral that, once changed, it was almost always lost for good.  “To create life one has to love.  To create a great work of art one has to love truth with the passion of a maniac.  If society does not perceive this love, perhaps humanity will.”  …The artists… came away… feeling as though they were not aberrations but part of a long tradition of individuals who had ignored fashion to create culture.

Mary Gabriel in Ninth Street Women

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Pearls from artists* # 354

"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.

My earlier work had taught me that artistic activity is a form of reasoning, in which perceiving and thinking are indivisibly intertwined.  A person who paints, writes, composes, dances, I felt compelled to say, thinks with his senses.  This union of perception and thought turned out to be not merely a specialty of the arts.  A review of what is known about perception, and especially about sight, made me realize that the remarkable mechanisms by which the senses understand the environment are all but identical with the operations described by the psychology of thinking.  Inversely, there was much evidence that truly productive thinking in whatever area of cognition takes place in the realm of imagery.  This similarity of what the mind does in the arts and what it does elsewhere suggested taking a new look at the long-standing complaint about the isolation and neglect of the arts in society and education.  Perhaps the real problem was more fundamental:  a split between sense and thought, which caused various deficiency diseases in modern man.      

Rudolph Arnheim in Visual Thinking 

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Pearls from artists* # 349

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.

If Dostoyevsky, Flaubert, and so many others were able  to create great artistic works, it was because they were able to pull off something few adults can find it in themselves to do:  they were able to suspend all final judgments about life and the universe in order to play… 

The spirit of work is concerned with self-preservation.  It evaluates concepts and ideas in terms of their practical value.  Building roads, raising walls, running elections, debating policies, educating the young – all of these are purposive actions ultimately aimed at upholding social structures, changing those structures, or promoting one’s place within society.  The spirit of work is the home of the ego, the part of us that has evolved to survive and thrive.  One of the conditions of the artistic creation seems to be the ability to move frame this frame of mind into the spirit of play.  As many artist have said in varying ways, the trick is to forget everything and create for the sake of creating.  No worthwhile play, of course, is without effort.  As the painstaking care Flaubert put into every line of his books makes clear, the spirit of play is sometimes the most exciting.  Nevertheless, art remains in essence a game, an activity undertaken for its own sake, no matter how difficult.  Like all games, it requires the establishment of a perimeter within which things that one might take very seriously in ordinary life are given only relative value.  The perimeter suspends all the conventional rules, allowing the artist to turn the world on its head and let the imagination roam freely. 

No sooner have we entered the spirit of play than we see things differently.    

J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice:  A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action 

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Pearls from artists* # 337

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 society did a great disservice to artists when we started saying they were geniuses, instead of saying they had geniuses.  That happened around the Renaissance, with the rise of a more rational and human-centered view of life.  The gods and the mysteries fell away, and suddenly we put all credit and blame for creativity on the artists themselves – making the all-too-fragile humans completely responsible for the vagaries of inspiration.

In the process, we also venerated art and artists beyond their appropriate stations.  The distinction of “being a genius” (and the rewards and status often associated with it) elevated creators into something like a priestly cast – and perhaps even into minor deities – which I think is a bit too much pressure for mere mortals, no matter how talented.  That’s when artists start to really crack, driven mad and broken in half by the weight and weirdness of their gifts.       

Elizabeth Gilbert in Big Magic:  Creative Living Beyond Fear

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Pearls from artists* # 204

Barbara's studio with work in progress

Barbara’s studio with work in progress

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

It has been said that science helps us understand what we can do; the arts and humanities – our culture and values – help us decide what to do.  Studying the arts and humanities develops critical-thinking skills and nimble habits of mind, provides historical and cultural perspective and fosters the ability to analyze, synthesize and communicate.

As author Daniel Pink observed, “The last few decades have belonged to a certain kind of person with a certain kind of mind – computer programmers who could crank code, lawyers who could craft contracts, MBAs who could crunch numbers…  The future belongs to a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers.  These people – artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big-picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”

David J. Skorton, Director of the Smithsonian Institution in “What Do We Value?” Museum, May/June 2016

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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. 

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Pearls from artists* # 161

Whitney Museum

Whitney Museum

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

It is the artist’s innate sensitivity that makes him special and different from other professionals.  Society expects the artist to be more compassionate and understanding in order to bring out that which will enlighten, inspire and encourage life in his work.  His vocation should not just be for art’s sake.

Where the average person sees an old beat-up shark, the artist sees a symbol of beauty in aging and imagines bringing out those qualities that the shark has sheltered over the ages, by means of artistic creation.  To the intelligent and sensitive artist, the homeless man lying on the street corner is a symbol that reminds us of what we, as a society, should be doing to better our living. 

Sensitivity comes into play when leaves that appear to the general viewer to be uniformly green are seen by the sensitive artist to be different shades, tones, and subtle nuances of green.  Without sensitivity, special and important characteristics of nature will be out of our sight and out of reach to the viewing layman.  Only the obvious, the average and the common will reveal themselves to the insensitive artist.  The endurance of certain works will depend on what the artist has captured with the help of his sensitivity and because of the ideas behind the work.

Samuel Adoquei in Origin of Inspiration:  Seven Short Essays for Creative People

Comments are welcome!        

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