A: My journey to becoming an artist was circuitous. In the mid-1980s I was a thirty-something Navy lieutenant. I worked a soul-crushing job as a computer analyst on the midnight shift in a Pentagon basement. We were open 24/7 and supported the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Remembering the joyful Saturdays of my youth in New Jersey, when I had studied with a local painter, I enrolled in a drawing class at the Art League School in Alexandria, Virginia. I loved it! I took more classes and became a highly motivated, full-time art student who worked nights at the Pentagon. After two years and as my skills improved, I discovered my preferred medium – soft pastel on sandpaper.
I knew I had found my calling, submitted my resignation, and left active duty. On October 1, 1989 I became a professional artist. However, I remained in the Navy Reserve for another fourteen years, working at the Pentagon one weekend a month. On November 1, 2003, I retired as a Navy Commander.
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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.
Art cannot play to the demand because it inheres precisely in bringing forth the unexpected, the New. It unearths what normality buries away. No wonder so many people are afraid of it.
All authentic art, then, is “challenging,” not just the avant-garde. We cannot omit the fact that some great art has an outer layer that makes it more agreeable to popular taste at a particular moment. For example, the work of Vincent van Gogh, one of modernisms prime instigators in the visual arts, seems to be everywhere today even though no one saw much to like in it while he was alive. But while it may be true that on the surface van Gogh’s work is all pretty colors and neat swirls, its immediate appeal is a siren’s song luring us to the depths. There is a chaos lurking in every print of Starry Night (1889) that livens up a suburban bathroom. This chaos isn’t something that van Gogh injected into his painting of an otherwise benign night sky. It is the essence of the starry sky when seen for what it is, that is, when captured outside all comforting clichés that might shield us from its compelling monstrosity.
J.F. Martel in Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice: A Treatise, Critique, and Call to Action
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