* an ongoing series of quotations – mostly from artists, to artists – that offers wisdom, inspiration, and advice for the sometimes lonely road we are on.
[John] Graham told Lee [Krasner] and Jackson [Pollock] they were at the most wonderful part of their artistic journey because they were unknown and therefore free, and that there was only one thing they had to dread: fame.
How many men of great talent on their way to remarkable achievement in the present day are ruthlessly destroyed by critics, dealers, and public while mediocre, insensitive hacks, who by intrigue and industrious commercial effort have gained recognition and success, will go down in history with their inane creations. Success, fame, and greatness coincide very seldom. The great are not recognized during their life-time… Poe, Van Gogh,Rembrandt, Cezanne, Gauguin, Modigliani, Pushkin, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, and others could not make even a miserable living out of their art.
As Graham described it, true art could never be of the world because it was always steps, decades, light-years ahead of it. Artists, therefore, had no need to be part of the world, either. Their only duty was to persevere. Humanity, he said, depended on it.
Mary Gabriel in Ninth Street Women
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A: No, but I often wish I did. How wonderful it would be to consult someone who’s been there, a productive and successful artist who could provide advice on all the concerns, especially the problems and dangers, inherent in a professional artist’s life.
But I have been at this for thirty years and found no such person! I think it’s because each artist’s career is highly unique as we chart are own individual paths. Unlike most professions, there are no firm rules or straight forward career milestones for making your way as an artist.
Besides the countless hours spent in the studio, I have always worked diligently to understand the art business. Certainly getting work seen, exhibited, reviewed, sold, etc. is as important as making it in the first place. It’s all part of being a professional artist.
Early on I developed the habit of relying on my own best judgment, both in creating the work and in getting it seen and collected. Certainly I have made plenty of mistakes. As a result though, I know a tremendous amount about the art business. And I enjoy sharing what I know in the hopes of steering other artists away from making similar missteps.
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Q: In the “Black Paintings” you create a deep intellectual interaction and communicate a wide variety of states of mind. I admit that certain “Black Paintings” unsettle me a bit. I see in this series an effective mix between anguish and happiness. Rather than simply describing something, these paintings pose a question and force us to contemplation. Can you talk about this aspect of your work?
A: I’m sure you and other viewers will see all kinds of states of mind, like anguish, happiness, and everything in between. I think that’s wonderful because it means my work is communicating a message to you. Sometimes people have told me that my images are unsettling and that’s fine, too. I would never presume to tell anyone what to think about my work. As one reviewer put it, “What you bring to my work you get back in spades!”
Some of this is intentional, but some is not. My day-to-day experiences – what I’m thinking about, what I’m feeling, what I’m reading, the music I’m listening to, etc. – get embedded into the work. I don’t understand exactly how that happens, but I am glad it happens. This work does come from a deep place, much deeper than I am able to explain even to myself. After nearly three decades as an artist, the intricacies of my creative process are still a mystery. Personally, I am very fond of mysteries and don’t need to understand it all.
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Art isn’t psychology. For one thing art deals in images, not language. Images precede language and are closer to feelings. They summon feelings before they’re named and categorized, when they’re still fresh and sometimes hard to recognize or identify.
For another thing, to translate his vision an artist uses materials that are, for lack of a better word, alchemical. Paint, for example, has this wonderful, mysterious quality – a smell and a sensuous, velvety feel and an ability to hold color and light – that unlocks and speeds up one’s creative metabolism. And paint captures my every impulse – from my broadest conceptions to the tiniest ticks and tremors of my wrist.
There are literally no words to describe what occurs when an image suddenly and unexpectedly appears on the canvas. Sometimes it’s serendipity, the result of a fortunate brushstroke. Sometimes I think it has to do with the inherent qualities of paint, or the slickness of a surface, or the fullness or acuity of a brush. And sometimes when I’ve got a good rhythm going and everything comes together, I feel as though it produces the purest expression of who I am and what I am and how I perceive the world.
Eric Fischl and Michael Stone in Bad Boy: My Life on and off the Canvas
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Certainly the most compelling thing in both personal life and art is to be yourself. When we engage attentively and honestly, pay attention to the insights that come to us, see our denial and faulty thinking, and engage in uncovering the obstacles and blocks to our expression, we realize that art is a wonderful medium for personal growth.
If we realize all this, we do ourselves justice when we claim to be an artist. We really mean it, and we own it. Today, as we start working on whatever it is we’re doing, let’s claim our role as artists, being attentive to process as much as finished results.
Ian Roberts in Creative Authenticity: 16 Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision.
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