*an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
…Two positions exist, the artistic and the commercial. Between these two an abiding tension persists. The eighteenth-century American painter Gilbert Stuart complained, “What a business is that of portrait painter. He is brought a potato and is expected to paint a peach.” The artist learns that the public wants peaches, not potatoes. You can paint potatoes if you like, write potatoes, dance potatoes, and compose potatoes, you can with great and valiant effort communicate with some other potato-eaters and peach-eaters. In so doing you contribute to the world’s reservoir of truth and beauty. But if you won’t give the public peaches, you won’t be paid much.
Repeatedly artists take the heroic potato position. They want their work to be good, honest, powerful – and only then successful. They want their work to be alive, not contrived and formulaic. As the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch put it: “No longer shall I paint interiors, and people reading, and women knitting. I shall paint living people, who breathe and feel and suffer and love.”
The artist is interested in the present and has little desire to repeat old, albeit successful formulas. As the painter Jenny Holzer put it, “I could do a pretty good third generation-stripe painting, but so what?
The unexpected result of the artist’s determination to do his [sic] own best art is that he is put in an adversarial relationship with the public. In that adversarial position he comes to feel rather irrational for what rational person would do work that’s not wanted?
…Serious work not only doesn’t sell well, it’s also judged by different standards. If the artist writes an imperfect but commercial novel it is likely to be published and sold. If his screenplay is imperfect but commercial enough it may be produced. If it is imperfect and also uncommercial it will not be produced. If his painting is imperfect but friendly and familiar it may sell well. If it is imperfect and also new and difficult, it may not sell for decades, if ever.
Ironically enough, the artist attempting serious work must also attain the very highest level of distinction possible. He must produce Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov but not also The Insulted and Injured or A Raw Youth, two of Dostoevsky’s nearly unknown novels. He is given precious little space in this regard.
I daresay, this last is why I devote my life to creating the most unique, technically advanced pastel paintings anyone will see!
Eric Maisel, A Life in the Arts: Practical Guidance and Inspiration for Creative and Performing Artists
Comments are welcome!
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?
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.
Comments are welcome!
I cannot even imagine the individual arts sufficiently distinct from one another. This admittedly exaggerated attitude might have its most acute origin in the fact that in my youth, I, quite inclined toward painting, had to decide in favor of another art so as not to be distracted. And thus I made this decision with a certain passionate exclusivity. Based on my experience, incidentally, every artist needs to consider for the sake of intensity his means of expression to be basically the only one possible while he is producing. For otherwise he could not easily suspect that this or that piece of world would not be expressible by his means at all and he would finally fall into that most interior gap between the individual arts, which is surely wide enough and could be genuinely bridged only by the vital tension of the great Renaissance masters. We are faced with the task of deciding purely, each one alone, on his one mode of expression, and for each creation that is meant to be achieved in this one area all support from the other arts is a weakening and a threat.
Ulrich Baer, editor, The Wisdom of Rilke
Comments are welcome!