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Q: Why do you make art?

“Why Do I Make Art” by Ursula von Rydingsvard

“Why Do I Make Art” by Ursula von Rydingsvard

A:  Last spring I viewed Ursula von Rydingsvard’s exhibition at the National Museum of Women in the Arts.  One thing that stayed with me is her wall text, “Why Do I Make Art by Ursula von Rydingsvard” in which she listed a few dozen benefits that art-making has brought to her life.  

I want to share some of my own personal reasons here, in no particular order.  My list keeps changing, but these are true at least for today. 

1.   Because I love the entire years-long creative process – from foreign travel whereby I discover new source material, to deciding what I will make, to the months spent in the studio realizing my ideas, to packing up my newest pastel painting and bringing it to my Virginia framer’s shop, to seeing the framed piece hanging on a collector’s wall, to staying in touch with collectors over the years and learning how their relationship to the work changes.

2.   Because I love walking into my studio in the morning and seeing all of that color!  No matter what mood I am in, my spirit is immediately uplifted.  

3.   Because my studio is my favorite place to be… in the entire world.  I’d say that it is my most precious creation.  It’s taken more than twenty-two years to get it this way.  I hope I never have to move!

4.   Because I get to listen to my favorite music all day or to Public Radio stations.

5.   Because when I am working in the studio, if I want, I can tune out the world and all of it’s urgent problems.  The same goes for whatever personal problems I am experiencing.

6.   Because I am devoted to my medium.  How I use pastel continually evolves.  It’s exciting to keep learning about its properties and to see what new techniques will develop.

7.   Because I have been given certain gifts and abilities and that entails a sacred obligation to USE them.  I could not live with myself were I to do otherwise.

8.   Because art-making gives meaning and purpose to my life.  I never wake up in the morning wondering, how should I spend the day?  I have important work to do and a place to do it.  I know this is how I am supposed to be spending my time on earth.

9.   Because I have an enviable commute.  To get to my studio it’s a thirty-minute walk, often on the High Line early in the morning before throngs of tourists have arrived.

10.  Because life as an artist is never easy.  It’s a continual challenge to keep forging ahead, but the effort is also never boring.  

11.  Because each day in the studio is different from all the rest. 

12.  Because I love the physicality of it.  I stand all day.  I’m always moving and staying fit.

13.  Because I have always been a thinker more than a talker.  I enjoy and crave solitude.  I am often reminded of the expression, “She who travels the farthest, travels alone.”  In my work I travel anywhere.

14.  Because spending so much solitary time helps me understand what I think and feel and to reflect on the twists and turns of my unexpected and fascinating life.

15.  Because I learn about the world.  I read and do research that gets incorporated into the work.

16.  Because I get to make all the rules.  I set the challenges and the goals, then decide what is succeeding and what isn’t.  It is working life at its most free.

17.  Because I enjoy figuring things out for myself instead of being told what to do or how to think.

18.  Because despite enormous obstacles, I am still able to do it.  Art-making has been the focus of my life for thirty-three years – I was a late bloomer – and I intend to continue as long as possible.

19.  Because I have been through tremendous tragedy and deserve to spend the rest of my life doing exactly what I love.  The art world has not caught up yet, but so be it.  This is my passion and my life’s work and nothing will change that.

20.  Because thanks to the internet and via social media, my work can be seen in places I have never been to and probably will never go.

21.  Because I would like to be remembered.  The idea of leaving art behind for future generations to appreciate and enjoy is appealing.

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 290

"Dichotomy," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58"

“Dichotomy,” 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.

Rational functionalism is technique,

Irrational functionalism is art.

Art is creation

It can be based on but is independent of knowledge.

We can study art through nature,

but art is more than nature. 

Art is spirit,

and has a life of its own.

Art in its nature is anti-historical

because creative work is looking forward.

It can be connected with tradition

but grows, consciously or unconsciously, out of an artist’s mentality.

Art is neither imitation nor repetition

but art is revelation. 

Joseph Albers in Truthfulness in Art iJoseph Albers in Mexico, edited by Lauren Hinkson

Comments are welcome! 

Pearls from artists* # 165

"The Space Between," soft pastel on sandpaper, 58" x 38"

“The Space Between,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″

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

When I have painted a fine picture I have not given expression to a thought!  That is what they say.  What fools people are!  They would strip painting of all its advantages.  A writer has to say almost everything in order to make himself understood, but in painting it is as if some mysterious bridge were set up between the spirit of the persons in the picture and the beholder.  The beholder sees figures, the external appearance of nature, but inwardly he meditates; the true thinking that is common to all men.  Some give substance to it in writing, but in so doing they lose the subtle essence.  Hence, grosser minds are more easily moved by writers than by painters or musicians.  The art of the painter is all the nearer to man’s heart because it seems to be more material.  In painting, as in external nature, proper justice is done to what is finite and to what is infinite, in other words, to what the soul finds inwardly moving in objects that are known through the senses alone.

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix edited by Hubert Wellington

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 121

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka

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

Artists, when they are absorbed in their work, are also deeply connected to other human beings.  The theologian Matthew Fox said, “The journey the artist makes in turning inward to listen and to trust his or her images is a communal journey.”  The psychologist Otto Rank argued that, “The collective unconscious, not rugged individuality, gives birth to creativity.”

To be sure, artists are not making real contact with real human beings as they work in the studio, but they are making contact in the realm of the spirit.  The absence of the pressures real people bring to bear on them allows them, in solitude, to love humankind.  Whereas in their day job they may hate their boss and at Thanksgiving they must deal with their alcoholic parents, in the studio their best impulses and most noble sentiments are free to emerge.

Eric Maisel in A Life in the Arts

Comments are welcome! 

Pearls from artists* # 60

East Hampton, NY

East Hampton, 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.

For an artist, it is a driven pursuit, whether we acknowledge this or not, that endless search for meaning.  Each work we attempt poses the same questions.  Perhaps this time I will see more clearly, understand something more.  That is why I think that the attempt always feels so important, for the answers we encounter are only partial and not always clear.  Yet at its very best, one work of art, whether produced by oneself or another, offers a sense of possibility that flames the mind and spirit, and in that moment we know this is a life worth pursuing, a struggle that offers the possibility of answers as well as meaning.  Perhaps in the end, that which we seek lies within the quest itself, for there is no final knowing, only a continual unfolding and bringing together of what has been discovered.

Dianne Albin quoted in Eric Maisel’s The Van Gogh Blues

Comments are welcome! 

Pearls from artists* # 49

Untitled, 24" x 24" chromogenic print, edition of 5

Untitled, 24″ x 24″ chromogenic print, edition of 5

* 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 beauty of art is better, “higher,” according to Hegel, than the beauty of nature because it is made by human beings and is the work of the spirit.  But the discerning of beauty in nature is also the result of traditions of consciousness, and of culture – in Hegel’s language, of spirit.

The responses to beauty in art and to beauty in nature are interdependent.  As Wilde pointed out, art does more than school us on how and what to appreciate in nature.  (He was thinking of poetry and painting.  Today the standards of beauty in nature are largely set by photography.)  What is beautiful reminds us of nature as such – of what lies beyond the human and the made – and thereby stimulates and deepens our sense of the sheer spread and fullness of reality, inanimate as well as pulsing, that surrounds us all.

A happy by-product of this insight, if insight it is:  beauty regains its solidity, its inevitability, as a judgment needed to make sense of a large portion of one’s energies, affinities, and admirations; and the usurping notions appear ludicrous.

Imagine saying, “That sunset is interesting.”    

Paolo Dilonardo and Anne Jump, editors, Susan Sontag At the Same Time:  Essays and Speeches  

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 10

West 28th Street

West 28th Street

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

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

Comments are welcome.

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