Blog Archives

Pearls from artists* # 259

In Bolivia on Lake Titicaca

In Bolivia on Lake Titicaca

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

In college, I made two important decisions about my career.

First, I would put my writing on the back burner until I became well established in science.  I know of a few scientists who later became writers, like C.P. Snow, Rachel Carson, but no writers who later became scientists.  For some  reason, science – at least the creative, research side of science – is a young person’s game.  In my own field, physics, I found that the average age at which Nobel Prize winners did their prize-winning work was only thirty-six.  Perhaps it has something to do with the focus on and isolation of the subject.  A handiness for visualizing in six dimensions or for abstracting the motion of a pendulum favors an agility of mind but apparently requires little knowledge of the human world.  By contrast, the arts and humanities require experience with life and the awkward contradictions of people, experience that accumulates and deepens with age.       

Alan Lightman in A Sense of the Mysterious:  Science and the Human Spirit

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Pearls from artists* # 249

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.

Interviewer:  Can a writer learn style?

Capote:  No, I don’t think that style is consciously arrived at, any more than one arrives at the color of one’s eyes.  After all, your style is you.  At the end the personality of  a writer  has so much to do with the work.  The personality has to be humanly there.  Personality is a debased word, I know, but it’s what I mean.  The writer’s individual humanity, his word or gesture towards the world, has to appear almost like a character that makes contact with the reader.  If the personality is vague or confused or merely literary, ca ne va pas.  Faulkner, Mc Cullers – they project their personality at once.

Truman Capote in Writers at Work:  The Paris Review Interviews First Series, edited, and with an introduction by Malcolm Crowley

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Pearls from artists* # 224

"Poker Face," soft pastel on sandpaper, 38" x 58" image, 50" x70" framed

“Poker Face,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 38″ x 58″ image, 50″ x 70″ 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.

… wise writers decline to engage in debates over the right way to read their words.  T.S. Eliot was once approached with a question about a cryptic line from his poem “Ash-Wednesday”: “Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree.”  What did the line mean?  The poet replied:  “I mean, ‘Lady, three white leopards sat under a juniper-tree .”  Creating a text, Eliot  seems to be saying, like having a child, only means bringing something into the world.  It doesn’t include the power to control it’s destiny.

Adam Kirsch in “Can You Read a Book the Wrong Way?”, The New York Times Book Review, Sept. 27, 2016.    

Comments are welcome!  

Q: What historical art movement do you most identify with?

Barbara's studio

Barbara’s studio

A:  I’d have to say that I identify most with surrealism, although my work does not exactly fit into any particular art historical movement.  When I was first finding my way as an artist, I read everything I could find about surrealism in art and in literature.  This research still res0nates deeply and is a tremendous influence on my studio practice.  Elements of surrealism DO fit my work.  Here’s an excerpt from Wikipedia:

Surrealism is a cultural movement that began in the early 20s and is best known for its visual artworks and writings.  The aim was to “resolve the previously contradictory conditions of dream and reality.”  Artists painted unnerving, illogical scenes with photographic precision, created strange creatures from everyday objects and developed painting techniques that allowed the unconscious to express itself.  

Surrealist works feature the element of surprise, unexpected juxtapositions and non sequitur; however, many Surrealist artists and writers regard their work as an expression of the philosophical movement first and foremost, with the works being an artifact.  Leader Andre Breton was explicit in his assertion that Surrealism was, above all, a revolutionary movement.

I hope to expand on this in a future post.

Comments are welcome!            

Pearls from artists* # 199

"Trio," soft pastel on sandpaper, 20" x 26"

“Trio,” soft pastel on sandpaper, 20″ x 26″

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

Writers, like all artists, are concerned to represent reality, to create a more absolute and complete reality than reality itself.  They must, if they are to accomplish this, assume a moral position, a clearly conceived political, social, and philosophical attitude; in consequence, their beliefs are, of course, going to find their way into their work.  What artists believe, however, is of secondary importance, ancillary to the work itself.  A writer survives in spite of his beliefs.  Lawrence will be read whatever one thinks of his notions on sex.  Dante is read in the Soviet Union.

A work of art, on the other hand, has a representative and expressive function.  In this representation the author’s ideas, his judgments, the author himself, are engaged with reality.   

Alberto Moravia in Writers at Work:  The Paris Review Interviews First Series, edited and with an introduction by Malcolm Cowley

Comments are welcome!

Pearls from artists* # 98

Teleidoscope

Teleidoscope

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

A work of art can start you thinking about some aesthetic or philosophical problem; it can suggest some new method, some fresh approach to fiction.  But the relationship between reading and writing is rarely so clear-cut…

To be truthful, some writers stop you dead in your tracks by making you see your own work in the most unflattering light.  Each of us will meet a different harbinger of personal failure, some innocent genius chosen by us for reasons having to do with what we see as our own inadequacies.  The only remedy to this I have found is to read a writer whose work is entirely different from another, though not necessarily more like your own – a difference that will remind you of how many rooms there are in the house of art.

Francine Prose in Reading Like a Writer:  A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them  

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Pearls from artists* # 21

Apartment building, New York City

Apartment building, New York 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.

It is the beginning of a work that the writer throws away.

A painting covers its tracks.  Painters work from the ground up.  The latest version of a painting overlays earlier versions, and obliterates them.  Writers, on the other hand, work from left to right.  The discardable chapters are on the left.  The latest version of a literary work begins somewhere in the work’s middle, and hardens toward the end.  The earlier version remains lumpishly on the left; the work’s beginning greets the reader with the wrong hand.  In those early pages and chapters anyone may find bold leaps to nowhere, read the brave beginnings of dropped themes, hear a tone since abandoned, discover blind alleys, track red herrings, and laboriously learn a setting now false.

Several delusions weaken the writer’s resolve to throw away work.  If he has read his pages too often, those pages will have a necessary quality, the ring of the inevitable, like poetry known by heart; they will perfectly answer their own familiar rhythms.  He will retain them.  He may retain those pages if they possess some virtues, such as power in themselves, though they lack the cardinal virtue, which is pertinence to, and unity with, the book’s thrust.  Sometimes the writer leaves his early chapters in place from gratitude; he cannot contemplate them or read them without feeling again the blessed relief that exalted him when the words first appeared – relief that he was writing anything at all.  That beginning served to get him where he was going, after all; surely the reader needs it, too, as groundwork.  But no.

Every year the aspiring photographer brought a stack of his best prints to an old, honored photographer, seeking his judgment.  Every year the old man studied the prints and painstakingly ordered them into two piles, bad and good.  Every year the old man moved a certain landscape print into the bad stack.  At length he turned to the young man:  “You submit this same landscape every year, and every year I put it in the bad stack.  Why do you like it so much?”  The young photographer said, “Because I had to climb a mountain to get it.”      

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life 

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Pearls from artists* # 18

West Village

West Village

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

Those who would make art might well begin by reflecting on the fate of those who preceded them:  most who began, quit.  It’s a genuine tragedy.  Worse yet, it’s an unnecessary tragedy.  After all, artists who continue and artists who quit share an immense field of common emotional ground.  (Viewed from the outside, in fact, they’re indistinguishable).  We’re all subject to a familiar and universal progression of human troubles – troubles we routinely survive, but which are (oddly enough) routinely fatal to the art-making process.  To survive as an artist requires confronting these troubles.  Basically, those who continue to make art are those who have learned how to continue – or more precisely, have learned how to not quit.

But curiously, while artists always have a myriad of reasons to quit, they consistently wait for a handful of specific moments to quit.  Artists quit when they convince themselves that their next effort is already doomed to fail.  And artists quit when they lose the destination for their work – for the place their work belongs.

Virtually all artists encounter such moments.  Fear that your next work will fail is a normal, recurring, and generally healthy part of the art-making cycle.  It happens all the time:  you focus on some new idea in your work, you try it out, run with it for awhile, reach a point of diminishing returns, and eventually decide it’s not worth pursuing further.  Writers even have a phrase for it – “the pen has run dry” – but all media have their equivalents.  In the normal artistic cycle this just tells you that you’ve come full circle, back to that point where you need to begin cultivating the next new idea.  But in artistic death it marks the last thing that happens:  you play out an idea, it stops working, you put the brush down… and thirty years later you confide to someone over coffee that, well, yes, you had wanted to paint when you were much younger.  Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping.  The latter happens all the time.  Quitting happens once.  Quitting means not starting again – and art is all about starting again.

David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art & Fear

Comments are welcome!