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Pearls from artists* # 421

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.

The economic meltdown that followed the crash of the U.S. stock market in 1929 shattered the country’s faith in itself.  With one third of the country unemployed and droughts devastating the Midwest, many Americans doubted their ability to endure and triumph.  More than ever, as the American novelist John Dos Passos asserted, the country needed to know “what kind of firm ground other men, belonging to generations before us, have found to stand on.”  Guided by the Mexican muralists, whose art they had ample opportunities to study in reproduction and exhibition, American artists responded by seeking elements from the country’s past, which they mythologized into epics of strength and endurance in an effort to help the nation revitalize itself.

Thomas Hart Benton led the charge.  Long a vociferous critic of European abstraction as elitist and out of touch with ordinary people, Benton hailed the Mexican muralists for the resolute public engagement of their art and for portraying the pageant of Mexican national life, exhorting his fellow American artists to follow their example in forging a similar public art for the U.S., even as he firmly rejected the communist ideology that often inflected the Mexican artists’ work.  African American artists were likewise inspired by the Mexican muralists’ celebration of the people’s fight for emancipation.  In creating redemptive narratives of social justice and liberation, artists such as Charles White and Jacob Lawrence transformed that struggle for freedom and equality into a new collective identity, one that foregrounded the contribution of African Americans to national life.        

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

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Pearls from artists* # 408

“No Cure for Insomnia,” pastel on sandpaper, 58″ x 38″ image, 70” x 50” framed

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

Classics have nothing to do with aesthetic sophistication.  They use the aesthetic as a springboard to something else.  The creation of a classic will often require the artist to deviate from prevailing standards in order to push the ordinary vision through.  If there is one prerequisite for producing a classic, it is the willingness to follow the vision wherever it leads, even if it demands a breach of convention, technique, or popular taste.  (It may not even be a question of if or when, for how can one produce a truly singular work without reinventing the medium to some extent?)  We often hear that the master artist is “in love” with her material:  that the sculptor loves the marble, the dancer loves the body, the musician loves his instrument.  For the maker of classics, however, the medium always seems to be an obstacle; love is never without a tinge of spite.  William S. Burroughs was so contemptuous of language that he took to describing it as a disease.  He conceived his work as an attempt to confront language in hopes to cure the mind of the “word virus.”  Indeed, if the goal of art is to take us beyond the ordinary preoccupations to reach the heart of the Real, it would seem essential that there be a fight, a struggle to wrest from the medium something to which Consensus dictates it is not naturally inclined. 

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

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Pearls from artists* # 385

Potosí, Bolivia

Potosí, Bolivia

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

Sunday of Carnival, the parade begins.  For a whole day of celebration in music and dance, people can express their hope and fears, revive their myths and escape to a reality far from everyday life.

Thousands of spectators arrive from different parts if Bolivia and other countries.  Filling the streets, they straddle benches, window ledges, balconies, cats and eve hang from walls or roofs to witness the entrance of the Carnival.  Thus is the magnificent parade when Carnival makes its official entry into Oruro.  The comparsas (dance troupes) dance to music for20 blocks, nearly eight lies, to the Church of the Virgin of Socavón (Virgin of the Mine). Each tries to out do the next in the brilliance of their costumes, the energy of their dancing and the power of their music.  All their efforts are dedicated to the Virgin whose shrine is found on the hill called Pie de Gallo.

If there are thousands of spectators, there are also thousands of dancers from the city and other parts of the country.  Among the most remarkable are the Diablos and Morenos which count for eight of the 40 or 50 participating groups.  Keeping in mind that the smallest troupes have between 30 and 50 embers and the largest between 200 and 300, it is possible to calculate the number of dancers and imagine the spectacle.

Each dance recalls a particular aspect of life in the Andes.  Lifted from different periods and places, the dances offer a rich interpretation of historical events, creating an imaginative mythology for Oruro.

… Carnival blends indigenous beliefs and rituals with those introduced by the Spaniards.  Both systems of belief have undergone transformations, each making allowance for the other, either through necessity or familiarity.  The Christianity  fought from Europe becomes loaded with new meanings while the myths and customs of the Andes accommodate their language and creativity to the reality of their conquered world.  The process can be seen as a struggle culminating in a ‘mestizaje’ or new cultural mix.

El Carnaval de Oruro by Manuel Vargas in Mascaras de los Andes Bolivianos, Editorial Quipus and Banco Mercantil

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Pearls from artists* # 340

Lower Manhattan

Lower Manhattan

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

What, do you suppose, are the lives of those who raise themselves above the level of the common herd?  A continual struggle.  A writer, for instance, must struggle against the laziness which he shares with the ordinary man when it comes to writing, because his genius demands to be heard, it is not merely of an empty desire for fame that he obeys, it is a matter of conscience.  Let those who work coldly and calmly keep silence, for they have no conception of what it means to work under the spur of inspiration – the dread, the terror of rousing the sleeping lion whose roaring moves us to the very depth of our being.  To sum up:  be strong, simple, and true; here is an aim for every moment of the day, and it is always useful.

The Journal of Eugene Delacroix, edited by Hubert Wellington

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Pearls from artists* # 201

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.

Matisse needs to find life difficult.  There has to be opposition and struggle:  “You come out by your own means,” he says:  “The essential thing is to come out, to express that sense of falling head over heals for a thing;  the artist’s job is not to transpose something he’s seen but to express the impact the object made on him, on his constitution, the shock of it and the original reaction.”

I sense that Matisse has little faith in the way his painting is feted nowadays.  A man of scrupulous integrity, he must wonder how much truth there is in all of that.  There is a vein of gutsy courage in him that is as unyielding now as it ever was.  Hard times have accustomed him to rely entirely on his own judgment and accept the solitude that this implies.

HM:  I’m already a little too official.  You need a bit of persecution.  When you’ve been controversial and they finally welcome you in, something goes wrong.  Very few people can see the picture itself; they just see the banknotes you could turn it into. You love your paintings less when they’re worth something.  When they’re not worth a cent, they’re like desolate children.

Chatting with Henri Matisse:  The Lost 1941 Interview, Henri Matisse with Pierre Courthion, edited by Serge Guilbaut, translated by Chris Miller

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Q: Another interesting series of yours that has impressed me is your recent “Black Paintings.” The pieces in this series are darker than the ones in “Domestic Threats.” You create an effective mix between the dark background and the few bright tones, which establish such a synergy rather than a contrast, and all the dark creates a prelude to light. It seems to reveal such a struggle, a deep tension, and intense emotions. Any comments on your choice of palette and how it has changed over time?

West 29th Street studio

West 29th Street studio

A:  That is a great question!  

You are correct that my palette has darkened. It’s partly from having lived in New York for so long. This is a generally dark city. We famously dress in black and the city in winter is mainly greys and browns.  

Also, the “Black Paintings” are definitely post-9/11 work. My husband, Bryan, was tragically killed onboard the plane that crashed into the Pentagon. Losing Bryan was the biggest shock I ever have had to endure, made even harder because it came just 87 days after we had married. We had been together for 14 ½ years and in September 2001 were happier than we had ever been. He was killed so horribly and so senselessly. Post 9/11 was an extremely difficult, dark, and lonely time.  

In the summer of 2002 I resumed making art, continuing to make “Domestic Threats” paintings. That series ran its course and ended in 2007. Around then I was feeling happier and had come to better terms with losing Bryan (it’s something I will never get over but dealing with loss does get easier with time). When I created the first “Black Paintings” I consciously viewed the background as literally, the very dark place that I was emerging from, exactly like the figures emerging in these paintings. The figures themselves are wildly colorful and full of life, so to speak, but that black background is always there.       

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Pearls from artists* # 106

Road delay, Arizona

Road delay, Arizona

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

Yet even I, who track the hours closely, understand that one pleasure of art-making is its resolute inefficiency.  It resists the sweep of the second hand; it is opposite to my daily muster of punch lists, telephone calls, day job requirements, family life, and errands.  The necessary thought may come today or next week.  Yet it’s not the same as leisure.  The struggle toward the next thought is rigorous, held within an isometric tension.  The poet Richard Wilbur writes about laundry drying on the line, “moving and staying like white water.”  Moving and staying.  Such water, familiar to anyone who has watched a brook rush over rocks, captures the way a creative practice insists you bear time.  You must hold still and wait, and yet you must push forward.   

Janna Malamud Smith in An Absorbing Errand:  How Artists and Craftsmen Make Their Way to Mastery 

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Pearls from artists* # 61

White Sands, NM

White Sands, NM

* 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 can only shudder when I think of life without our handiwork.  The sheer paucity of living only for the sake of survival and empty diversion would be that of an empty vessel.  My own life as an artist helps me to fill that vessel, and on occasion I am able to share that with another.  Is there meaning in my struggle, my endless solitude?  Yes, I believe there is, for at the very least I have found greater meaning for myself in that search.  And as those artists who have come before me have perhaps more clearly expressed, our ability to ponder the questions that denote our humanness are worthy of a life of solitude.  That is where I find my solace and my courage.  In the final analysis, it is the art that I make that allows me to pause and briefly see.  Only now do I begin to understand and accept both the burden and joy of my life.  

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

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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

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