Ours is an excessively conscious age. We know so much, we feel so little. I have lived enough around painters and around studios to have had all the theories – and how contradictory they are – rammed down my throat. A man has to have a gizzard like an ostrich to digest all the brass tacks and wire nails of modern art theories. Perhaps all the theories, the utterly indigestible theories, like nails in an ostrich’s gizzard, do indeed help to grind small and make digestible all the emotional and aesthetic pabulum that lies in an artist’s soul. But they can serve no other purpose. Not even corrective. The modern theories of art make real pictures impossible. You only get these expositions, critical ventures in paint, and fantastic negations. And the bit of fantasy that may lie in the negation – as in a Dufy or a de Chirico – is just the bit that has escaped theory and perhaps saves the picture. Theorise, theorise all you like – but when you start to paint, shut your theoretic eyes and go for it with instinct and intuition.
D.H. Lawrence: Making Pictures in The Creative Process, edited by Brewster Ghiselin
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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 mission is to stay hungry. Once you need to know, you can proceed and draw distinctions. From the heat of this necessity, you reach out to content – the play, the theme, or question – and begin to listen closely, read, taste, and experience it. You learn to differentiate and interpret the sensations received while engaged with content. The perception forms the basis for expression.
Have you ever been so curious about something that the hunger to find out nearly drives you to distraction? The hunger is necessity. As an artist, your entire artistic abilities are shaped by how necessity has entered your life and then how you sustain it. It is imperative to maintain artistic curiosity and necessity. It is our job to maintain in this state of feedforward as long as humanly possible. Without necessity as the fuel for expression, the content remains theoretical. The drive to taste, discover, and express what thrills and chills the soul is the point. Creation must begin with personal necessity rather than conjecture about audience taste or fashion.
Anne Bogart in and then, you act: making art in an unpredictable world
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The artist’s job is to get in touch with the dark places of the soul and then shed light there. Sharing the process with others is the point. Within the context of our post-Cold War, post-9/11 climate, shedding light in newly fecund dark places is a valuable activity. The dark places of the soul that haunt our dreams are understandably matched by a tendency to shut out the issues with the busy work of the daylight hours. But without looking into those dark places, as Carl Jung suggested, we will lose touch with our essential humanity.
Anne Bogart, and then, you act: making art in an unpredictable world
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That art that matters to us – which moves the heart, or revives the soul,or delights the senses, or offers courage for living, however we choose to describe the experience – that work is received by us as a gift is received. Even if we are touched by a work of art something comes to us which has nothing to do with the piece. I went to see a landscape painter’s works, and that evening, walking among pine trees near my home, I could see the shapes and colors I had not seen the day before. The spirit of an artist’s gifts can wake our own. The work appeals, as Joseph Conrad says, to a part of our being which is itself a gift and not an acquisition. Our sense of harmony can hear the harmonies that Mozart heard. We may not have the power to profess our gifts as the artist does,and yet we come to recognize, and in a sense to receive, the endowments of our being through the agency of his creation. We feel fortunate, even redeemed. The daily commerce of our lives – “sugar for sugar and salt for salt,” as the blues singers say – proceeds at its own constant level, but a gift revives the soul. When we are moved by art we are grateful that the artist lived, grateful that he labored in the service of his gift.
If a work of art is the emanation of its maker’s gift and if it is received by its audience as a gift, then is it, too, a gift? I have framed the question to imply an affirmative answer, but I doubt we can be so categorical. Any object, any item of commerce, becomes one kind of property or another depending on how we use it. Even if a work of art contains the spirit of the artist’s gift, it does not follow that the work itself is a gift. It is what we make of it.
And yet, that said, it must be added that the way we treat a thing can sometimes change its nature. For example, religions often prohibit the sale of sacred objects, the implication being that their sanctity is lost if they are bought and sold. A work of art seems to be a hardier breed; it can be sold in the market and still emerge a work of art. But if it is true that in the essential commerce of art a gift is carried by the work from the artist to his audience, if I am right to say that where there is no gift there is no art, then it is possible to destroy a work of art by converting it into a commodity. Such, at any rate, is my position. I do not maintain that art cannot be bought and sold; I do maintain that the gift portion of the work places a constraint upon our merchandising.
Lewis Hyde, The Gift
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