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January 2008

Is it Talent, or Self-Actualization?

     Most artists, including myself, will rise to the bait when ever someone bandies about the "T" word.  What is it about the idea of talent that scares us?  Is it the idea that there is such a thing, leaving open the fear that we might not possess it?  What is talent, anyway?  Or rather, what do we think it is?

Most men, when either speaking or writing about talent, seem to see it as a black or white issue.  Recently, on Alyson B Stanfield's Art Biz Blog, commentator and artist Bob Hunt raised a storm of controversy when he dared to mention talent as the primary ingredient in success.  Barney Davey, in his extremely insightful book , How To Profit from the Art Print Market, also has a thing or two to say on the subject of talent.  In fact, it ranks number one on his list of critical attributes for a successful art career. 

Women, on the other hand, are more prone to talk in softer terms.  Technique.  Perseverance and relationships.  Style and personal taste.  In a way, trying to define talent for women is similar to trying to define beauty: it's always in the eye of the beholder.

I decided to research a little deeper to see where some of our cultural ideas of talent originate.  Webster's College Dictionary gives the first clue: "a special, often creative natural ability or aptitude."  Going back further, we see the Bible reference about talent being a gift from God for use and improvement.  Going back even further, we find out talent was a form of ancient monetary units.  Definitely, talent is a word with a lot of emotional baggage.

On the Internet, my investigation of "Talent" led me to another loaded word, "Creativity."  There are literally thousands of opinions on creativity, how to get it, how to keep it, how to develop it in your workplace, how to accidentally become creative -- actually that's a great site.  But the information that began to shed some light came from a psychology site on Personality & Consciousness, and an article titled "Maslow's Episodic Redefinition of Self Actualization." 

For me, this article brought a lot of clarity to the idea of what we perceive as talent and/or creativity.  But more importantly, it gave me a way to distance myself from the feminine emotional experience of creativity, and to understand how it differs from the masculine end-result, which we view as talent.

Maslow defines the self-actualizing individual as experiencing an "emotional-cognitive-expressive state" that produces not only "his happiest and most thrilling moments, but...also moments of greatest maturity, individuation, fulfillment -- in a word, his healthiest moments."  The original view of the self-actualizing person was the static pyramid, with this emotional experience at the apex.  In 1968, when this article was written, Maslow re-defines his position, stating that it was not an "all-or-none pantheon into which some rare people enter at the age of 60."  (And wasn't that a relief for this Ancient Artist.)  Rather, the new theory is that self-actualization is episodic, reoccurring throughout life.

Maslow states that " We may define ... an episode, or a spurt in which the powers of the person come together in a particularly efficient and intensely enjoyable way, and in which he is more integrated and less split, more open for experience, more idiosyncratic, more perfectly expressive or spontaneous, or fully functioning, more creative...."  That sounds like what goes on in every artist studio on a really good day, doesn't it?  In the zone?  With the flow? Comes and goes?

I believe this is the experience of creativity, not limited to artists, but to all humans, and it is why we are so quick to take exception to the idea that we might not possess it when -- while we often cannot define it  -- we know we have experienced it.

But this is not "talent", not if I label "talent" as the tangible end result, the "value" definition.  In the midst of my self-actualization, if what I create has no meaning to anyone other than myself, I have enjoyed a highly satisfying self-actualizing moment.  I am at the highest level of my creativity.  And for many artists, this is motive enough to do what they do. 

But for me, it's always been important for my art to reach a wider audience.  I realize that I often confuse the experience of creative self-actualization for a manifestation of talent, and therefore I do not always look critically at the end result.  This is not negative self-talk.  I know that at any point in time, I'm doing the best I can with the knowledge I have in that moment.  But by understanding more about the processes that go on internally, I find it much easier to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the finished artistic product.  With this view, I can comfortably evaluate the qualities successfully accomplished in my work and determine if my talent is sufficient to compete in the wider market.

Yes, I am more comfortable. 

And yes, I am afraid of what I might discover.

But hopefully, the art will improve. 


Sunday Salon: Sitting Down with Serena Barton

Today I would like to introduce you to Serena Barton.  Serena first contacted me because she felt a connection: "I am so happy to discover your blog.  I am an ancient artist as well, also living in Oregon.  I started making art (for real) at age 47 and am now well over 50, closer to 60."  I think you'll find this talented, original artist as fascinating as I did.

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am a native Oregonian and grew up in Eugene.  My partner and I have lived in Portland for 23 years.  My partner is a writer and American Sign Language Interpreter, I have two grown children, one of whom is an artist, and I have an 8 year old grandson who has his own etsy shop, although he has lost interest in stocking it, preferring to make messy scientific experiments.

I have my own business called "The Art of Your Life."  This includes licensed professional counseling, facilitating creativity workshops, and holding a First Friday art opening at my office/studio.  I also teach part time in the Portland State University's Women's Studies Program.  I teach a 4 credit class called "Women, Creativity, and Healing," and a variety of weekend 1 credit classes on women artists.  Oh yeah, I also make art, show it, and when possible, sell it.

When did you realize you wanted to be an artist, and when did you seriously begin working toward your goal? 

Art was my first love.  As a young child, I pored over my grandmother's books filled with art prints.  My early exposure to the work of the old masters and the Impressionists taught me to see.  At age four, I won a prize in the local children's Pet Parade for my tricycle float, which was decorated with my drawings.  My father, a commercial artist, encouraged me in my efforts.  In elementary school, teachers praised the "personality" they saw in my work.  This bliss ended in junior high, when I got a "C" in art because I couldn't draw an accurate floor plan.

In adulthood I became a psychotherapist and mother of two children.  I explored a variety of crafts, such as weaving, but they were too exacting for my extremely right brain style.  In 1990 I started decorative surface design.  By 1994 the pillow covers I was making began to look suspiciously like paintings.  After a life-changing trip to Italy the following year, I switched to oil and canvas.  Since that time, I've devoted as much time as possible to making art.  I've immersed myself in art history, and often portray artists of the past in my work.

What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?

A highlight of my career was a show and lecture I gave in Bologna, Italy, the birthplace of many famous women artists in the Renaissance and Baroque periods.  I consider my greatest accomplishments so far are that I restarted art in midlife, I have kept at it passionately, and that I have discovered a talent for helping others do the same.

On your blog you talk about being inspired by close-up photographs in art restoration books.  Can you talk more in depth on this inspiration?

I love to read about art restoration and conservation.  I think I like the detective aspect of it ( I love mysteries.)  X-rays show mistakes by famous painters that they chose to cover up or ways they altered their painting as it progressed. I like to see how the restorers work to make the painting "new" again without being false to the original.  I bought a book on sale a few years ago called "The Restoration of Paintings."  I think it is a textbook for restoration students.  Now, I could never be an art restorer or conservator.  They have to know chemistry and stuff like that and they have to be very exacting.  I just like to read about it.  So, this book has a lot of close-up pictures of problems with paintings -- everything from tears, flaking paint, canvas unraveling, to infestation with icky vermin.  Not appealing, but the pictures were beautiful.  So I used the colors and compositions as an inspiration for a series of encaustic paintings.  I titled them with reference to the restoration problems, but then also, to psychological issues, as therapy involves restoration as well.
Last_resortcopyjpg_2"Last Resort" from the Restoration Series, encaustic on wood, 10" square @Serena Barton

I love the way you are so visually stimulating with mixed media and unique formats.  What are your favorite materials to work with and why?

It's hard for me to pick a favorite.  I love the feel and glow of oil paint on wood and canvas and love to use oil glazes as the finishing touch on paintings.  I'm now doing some painting with acrylic because it dries faster and is easier to use when I have limited time.  I love encaustic -- the smell, the translucence, the unexpected discoveries -- everything.  Finally, I love collage and mixed media for the excitement of layering and putting pieces together whatever way I want, and how the layering evokes the layering of history and the seasoning and burnishing of human beings as they grow and age.

Where did the idea of the Renaissance influence come from?  What does this theme mean to you?  You say that even your still life work has personality -- can you talk more about this inspiration?

I love history and have since I can remember.  I first looked at prints of Renaissance Art and Impressionist art as a child, and when I started to paint as an adult these were the influences that came out in my work.  I think modern clothing is very practical and very boring.  I like period clothes because they are more beautiful and make the people wearing them more mysterious than they would be dressed in sweats and a T-shirt.  I love the Renaissance emphasis on beauty and humanity.  Of course for me, my own renaissance was when I was reborn as an artist.  My favorite art of any period incorporates a magic and often breathtaking quality that makes me glad I'm alive.  That doesn't mean art has to be happy, happy.  Just that there's something about it that makes me feel more far as personality, I guess it's a combination of not being able to draw precisely and of being able to see the aliveness in everything.Assassini_3

"Teatro dei Assassini", oil on canvas, 40" square @Serena Barton

What do you think has been the most beneficial to you in finding your artistic voice?  And what do you wish someone had told you when you first began your art career that would have helped you the most?

One beneficial thing is that I started making art as an adult after I had found my own voice in my life.  Like many of us, I had a strong sense of myself when I was a small child but had lost it on the way to adulthood.  Doing my own therapeutic work allowed me to re-connect with the 4-year old who decorated the Pet Parade float.  I could again feel that excitement and confidence.  Another part of this evolution was that I gained an ability to see in a different way.  My vision was clearer, metaphorically and in practice.  The other great thing is working to keep full of inspiring things to see, do, smell, taste, hear, and feel.  Sometimes I misplace my vision and my voice for a while but it always returns even stronger.

What do I wish someone had tole me?  This is the hardest question. I got a lot of encouraging messages and help.  I wish I had gotten web savvy sooner in terms of marketing.  I feel there are a lot more people out there who would respond to my work if they knew about it smile.  I'll bet we all feel that way, and that is why blogs and such are so incredible.  ( just can't seem to answer this question.)  What I would tell someone beginning a career would be: Keep at it, learn about the cycle of creativity so that creative blocks won't throw you, seek out support and networking, develop a thick skin, have another source of income if you need it, so your art work doesn't start to feel like just work, learn how to market, look at lots of art, and take good care of yourself.
"Elizabeth the Resolute", encaustic on clayboard, 12" square @ Serena Barton

For more information, you can see Serena's work here, her partner's work here, and her daughter's work here and here

Wow.  It's amazing what you can learn if you just ask.

Thank you, Serena, for your generous, enthusiastic dose of inspiration.

The Ta-Dah List

January is the month for resolutions, while February is the month for repentance -- when you forgive yourself for all those crazy promises.  So rather than resolve to lose weight once again (my body rebelled years ago) I have come up with something new -- the Ta-Dah list. 

My Ta-Dah list is simple.  It's made up of manageable goals, things I want to accomplish, and each time I actually do accomplish them I get to say Ta-Dah, if only to myself.  A mini celebration.  Like -- I balanced my checkbook and I still have money left -- Ta-Dah!

So here are a few of the goals for 2008:

Do something really radical and innovative with my blog.

Apply to a juried membership organization -- or -- submit to a gallery -- or -- send out a press release -- or -- do some other single, small step to promote my art career every month.  It doesn't matter what it is, just do one small thing...Ta-Dah!

Read one -- each month -- of the thousands (well, maybe only hundreds) of art books that I've purchased over the years and never completely read, just to see what I can learn that I didn't know before.  (This one was inspired by Sharon Crute's interview where she talked about studying the masters to learn how they communicated emotion.)

Really study the print market to see if it makes any sense to tweek my work toward a more graphic style.  No more just glancing.  It's tough love time.  There's ample proof that the self-publishing print market can be a viable option for artists whose work translates well.  Finding out just what that statement means in a practical sense...well,  Ta-Dah!

Never giving up...

So what do you think?  What will go on your Ta-Dah list? 

Because if you don't put something down, nothing will get done.

And you won't be where you are now at the end of the year.

You'll be behind.

Sunday Salon: Sitting Down with Sharon Crute

Every Sharon Crute painting reveals the depth of her passion for the horses that inspire her art. These are not "pretty little paintings": Sharon's art explodes with the thunder of hooves, the excitement of racing toward the finish line. then shift to capture a quite, sun-drenched moment behind the barn.  Technically, Crute excels at her craft, and I was thrilled when she agreed to "sit down" with me as the first participant in the Sunday Salon.

I asked Sharon to tell me about  what inspired her.  This is what she had to say.


"All I ever wanted to do was ride horses. I was born with this strange urge to gallop constantly. I galloped to school, galloped my chores and galloped incessantly around the yard. Discouragement from family kept me from achieving Olympic potential – where I was destined. My father wanted me to pursue a career in the arts. He cut off the financial support and I reluctantly acquiesced. I attended a technical high school studying graphic arts and later attained a BFA in painting from a New England art school. I spent the next twenty-five years on the horse racing circuit with my trainer husband who would search out spaces for me to paint such as a spare tack room. Involved in all aspects of racing from hotwalker to racing official, I’d have to say my paintings are “straight from the trenches”. 

I embody the passion of the equine subject but adamantly reject sentimentality. Many of my peers are the “4-F” painters: Foals Frolicking in Field of Flowers. I abandoned the traditional, realistic style (and what I suspect is mostly copying photos) and intensively studied the masters to search out how they achieved such emotional resonance and power in their equine subjects sans sappiness. When I learned to take these lessons forward and integrate them into my contemporary milieu, I knew I’d found my artistic bliss. 

Equine art is considered genre by the art world. I can’t simply paint horses over and over on a canvas. So I ask: how can I take this “genre” and integrate it into the mainstream? How can I portray this magnificent and dangerous animal in a provocative, innovative and compelling way? This is my time of experimentation, pushing envelopes and constantly inviting a challenge - a fresh dialog with the viewer."

Sharon added that I had asked
"Great questions that made me THINK...Thanks for the challenge!"

I would like to thank you, Sharon, for starting the dialog at the first Sunday Salon. 

Harrowing@Sharon Crute                                      In Hand@Sharon Crute



Milesixteenth_2Mile & Sixteenth @ Sharon Crute

Sharon can be contacted at the following:

Sharon Crute 

2147 NE 79th Place, Ocala, FL 34479 

studio: 352-671-7469 

Art of Horse Racing blog

New Feature - Sunday Salons

I will be adding a new feature to this blog which I hope will be as exciting to you as it is to this Ancient Artist.  It's called Sunday Salons.

Artists have always come together into groups where they share common passions, philosophies, argue over content and inspire each other into greater accomplishments.  Some of the great groups that come to mind were the Impressionists, the Ashcan Painters, the Abstract Expressionists, the Modernists in Taos...the list is endless.  I believe that an artist cannot create in isolation, nor can he or she take the necessary risks without the motivations, challenges and inspirations found within these groups. My goal is to create a similar environment here, a virtual salon where each month (or week) I "sit down" and talk to an artist about whatever we want to talk about. My sincere hope is that others will join the conversation through comments left on posts and through future interviews.  Using this format instead of a discussion board, my hope is for a more in depth, focused discussion that informs, challenges, and encourages everyone.

Look for the first Salon tomorrow.

Procrastination Can be a Good Thing

I'm supposed to be cleaning up my studio today, but I'm blogging instead.  I decided that a little procrastination couldn't hurt.  I have a pretty good excuse, too.  Well, that's what I'm telling myself.  I've been trying to get over that nasty cold that's been going around, yesterday I had to teach class and I haven't gotten a chance to wash off the demo painting I did so I can reuse the board.  Then, there's the chair project.  I was on my way out the door this morning to go to an interview and The Chair Lady called, wanting to know my progress...

Well, fortunately for this Ancient Artist I had finished the painting and only had to do the polyurethane coating, which I still needed to get at the paint store.  The deadline moved up, and the chair needs to go to the Chamber of Commerce Banquet for display February 1st.  So I ran off to my interview -- it was relatively quick and painless as I have learned the tricks of the trade...such as provide your own images, especially your own publicity image so that you don't look like something rather odd when they take the photo.  My friend Shelley told me months ago to always ask ahead about what images a gallery or writer might need, and offer to provide a CD.  I included my vita, and a few artist statements, too, on the CD, just in case I totally blew the interview.  No worries, though.  My voice held out and I'm happy. 

So I rush back home and put on the first coat of finish on the chair.  The instructions on the can say "Needs Ventilation!"  So I have both studio windows open and a fan going, but of course, it's like 32 degrees outside.  Who can clean a studio in temperatures like that?  Besides, I would feel guilty if I didn't post at least twice a week. 

Sharon Crute agreed to the interview.  Look for it later this month.  I am gathering other names for my interview list so if you would like to be included please email me. 

Dsc01693_2Dsc01689Here is the finished chair.  The word
"Believe" is on the back. 

Dsc01703_2Here is an update on the flower.

Tag with a Twist

Recently Sharon Crute tagged the Ancient Artist Blog.  Sharon paints gorgeous large format equine art, and is involved with the horse racing world, so she probably didn't realize the risk she was taking in tagging the Ancient Artist.  Ah, but she does now.

Here is an excerpt of the email I sent Sharon today:

"Dear Sharon,

I'm taking some of Alyson's (Stanfield) advice here and starting a new twist to the tag game.  Instead of revealing things about myself (which I have done and then tagged just about every blogger I know), I am going to tag various artists and then post an interview with them.  What I would like, since you tagged me, is to use you as my first interview.   
My blog is directed at artists who are "emerging" later rather than earlier in their lives.  I try to give information, encouragement, ways of dealing with the ups and downs, practical stuff, with a bit of humor, too, so you seem to be a very good first candidate - your blog reflects a zest for life and your artwork is terrific. 
I don't know if you've had an opportunity to read the book, Letters To A Young Artist, but this is the approach I would like to take, where you, the artist, speaks from the heart about your experience.  With subsequent artist interviews, I will change the questions to gain a broader range of responses, as I found with the Letters book that the same "advice" appeared over and over again from different voices. 
Okay, so, assuming you are willing to do this, here we go.
"Dear Sharon,
I noticed your work the other day and connected to the emotion you express through your equine art.  As an artist myself, I struggle against the isolation I feel and want to change that by reaching out to other artists whose work I admire.  I want to know about you:
How long have you been living this artistic life? 
How did you decide on your particular style, and what do you consider most important to your current success?
I see a lot of energy and passion in your work, but creating art can be a risky proposition at times.  How did you find your passion and what do you consider the most effect technique that you've used to keep your passion alive?
Thank you for sharing your insights with me.  I wish you all the best.
Ancient Artist"

Nothing like a little pressure to start the week. 

PS: I would have posted an image here but the artist has a "no reproduction of any kind" notice on her web site so I will respect that. 

Inspiration and Encouragement, Plus News You Can Use

Inspiration and encouragement come from diverse sources, and I want to share two of the best examples that I've come across in this New Year.

The first is from Barney Davey's Art Print Issues, and as I read it today I realized that his post "Creative Publicity Pays" contained some of the best information on this subject that I've come across in a long time.  I have had several readers email me with questions regarding my own posting on the Best Marketing Ideas of 2007, especially regarding how to determine where to advertise.  Rather than giving you my own opinion, I am joyfully redirecting you to Barney Davey's post where you can hear it directly from one of the most articulate art marketing experts out there. 

The second story was published in the Arts/Events section of The Oregonian, titled "Lucinda Parker: A Symphony of Shapes", by D.K. Row. This 65-year-old artist, with a 40 year career, is an inspiring example of staying true to your own artistic vision while learning to accomodate the marketplace.  It shows the power of "hunger" and "desire" for the work and to seeing that work gets to the intended audience.  Ms. Parker just won the commission for a a 40-foot-long-by-10-foot-high painting on canvas for the new performing arts center in Longview, Washington.  Definately worth the read.

Artistic Renewal - It's Always There

I thought I would share this with you, today, the beginning of  New Year.

I had assigned myself the task of cleaning the studio, you know, getting rid of the old to let in the new.  As I moved my easel into the spare bathroom, I noticed the small white vase I had placed there several weeks ago, when I was thinking about the Daily Painting Movement.  I was imagining a beautiful painting using this vase and several  twigs I'd pruned from the ornamental red-leaf plum tree in my back yard...these twigs still contained the rusty "plums" about the size of olives...this is an ornamental tree, and the real fruit has been bred out of it in favor of the short-lived flowers... 

My composition was going to be rather Oriental, with arching stems, minimalist, thick brush marks...I never actually got around to my plans, and when I noticed that my picturesque little plums were shriveling up into rather grotesque forms,  I moved the vase with twigs into the bathroom to get it out of the way for the painting lesson I needed to prepare.

But today, I realized that I had been given a unique gift, a message about renewal.

There was my vase and twigs and shriveled plums.


And flowers.

There are times when we fear that our creative resources have run dry, but they are not gone.  They are simply waiting for the right time to reappear.

I wish you nothing but flowers in the coming year!