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January 2009

Ancient Wisdom from Aunt Max

A few weeks ago I introduced you to Tamara, a stained glass artist and poet.  I posted one of her poems, which you can read here. We've shared creative dreams, aspirations and struggles over the months of our friendship, and during one of those conversations, usually over a glass of wine in a quiet, out-of-the-way cafe after work, she told me about her Aunt Max.

I was so captivated by this story about Max, a woman who finally followed her dream, I asked Tamara to  write a post for Ancient Artist.  She agreed, and after several weeks of phone calls to her aunt, and finally a letter, I would like to share Tamara's story with you.

Tamara's Story

"I got the letter from my Aunt Max in Iowa - 3 pages filled top to bottom, front and back!  The parts about getting back to art were scattered throughout, so I attempted to pull them out and put them together in a more cohesive statement.  She turned 86 last month.

'All my life I wanted to paint scenes that were precious to me.  It always seemed like I never had time - to be a farmer's wife didn't leave time to do this - what was in my heart.  It is probably what we tell ourselves: 'Don't take the time to carry out your dreams...must take care of family first...what if I can't do it after all and spent lots of money on supplies.' Looking back I would probably do the same thing. 

Sometimes my hands would feel like creating something. Now that I am a widow it seems my God-given gifts are stirred up again.  Even wrote a poem - something I hadn't done in years.  Living alone gives me hours of freedom to eat when I want to and do what I wish.  The kids aren't an excuse anymore, in fact my daughter furnished me with all kinds of paint - oil, water, chalk, pencils.  There is no excuse not to paint, but there can be too many distractions.  Allow yourself time to create those things that are in your heart, [while] not allowing others to rob you of your gifts and time.

When I was in high school a woman had classes to teach us how to paint in oil.  We painted lots of pictures.  One that I painted I gave to my best high school friend - and forgot about it.  Last fall 2008 she gave it back to me.  It is such a good picture.  She had it about 68 years.'

Tamara continued to write:

So, I don't know if those quotes are anything you can use, but I'm sure glad she and I have had this interaction.  I didn't get any photos of her work.  It almost doesn't matter what the art is like because this is about creativity and doing what's "in your heart". I think that "distractions" is a good topic.  Even at 86 Max gets sidetracked by phone calls, a flooded basement, family issues (don't we all).

Perhaps you could give some ideas on your blog for dealing with distractions.  How do we carve out that block of time to do what we so want to do? How do we shut out the thoughts of all those things that we think should be done around the house?  Why do we feel "selfish" when we go off to create something?  Those questions are certainly active in my mind right now.  I'm such a dang neat-nik.  No such think as "too clean" for me.  I need help switching gears and heading out to the studio.  I think I will look into this! Hey, now I know what to write back to Max - maybe I could help her, too.  I wrote that she is an inspiration to me and in her letter she said:

"Now - imagine me being an inspiration to somebody.  Thanks - this warms my heart."

I may be back home this summer for some reunions.  Look up my aunties.  My oldest girlfriend (we played together as toddlers) contacted me through the internet.  I'd like to look her up, too.  I got a wonderful letter from my high school art teacher. Hummmm, seems like the Force is pointing to Iowa! I love the idea of flying into Minneapolis, renting a car and just bumming around from place to place, alone.  I could journal.  It would take all of my savings.  I dunno...well, I guess I've rambled on here long enough.  I think I'll head out to my studio."

Tamara followed up with this bit of trivia:

"Thinking about my aunt I went looking online to see some of grandma Moses' art and to read about her.  One of her quotes is: "If I didn't start painting, I would have raised chickens."  I love that!   She illustrated a book at age 100.  One of her lesser-known paintings was on Antiques Road Show in 2004 and was appraised at $60,000."

As Aunt Max says, "Allow yourself time to create those things that are in your heart...

Live on purpose.

Update on the Business Plan

I have converted Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist into a PDF that you can download by following this link.  This should solve some of the feed issues cropping up around the presence of Microsoft Word issues in the pages versions. 

Because so many blogs have links to the pages, I will not delete them, only the content, and replace it with the link.  You will only need to click on one link, though, as the entire book is available. 

You can save it to your computers or print it out.  Anyone wishing to purchase a printed version please let me know and I will investigate the costs at  I know the cost of printer ink and paper can make ordering one a more cost-effective solution, and if there are enough requests I will offer it that way. 

Thank you for all the wonderful, supportive comments.  I am truly pleased that you are finding inspiration, motivation, and encouragement to pursue your dreams.

This book is merely a starting point in your journey.  There are so many wonderful resources on the internet that are available to you, and I encourage you to investigate those that interest you.  There is a lot of information, a lot of experience, and while several people can tell you the same basic idea, it's hearing it in all those different modes that sometimes makes a difference. 

Here is the link:  Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist

The "Dance Between"

DSC03602 copy This is a photograph of the lovely ice crystals that are covering the branches and future buds of the lavender bush in my front yard. It's like living in the middle of a spun sugar world. 

I stumbled across a book called Creative License, The Art of Gestalt Therapy while I was researching for this post. 

My original topic was artistic ideology and whether or not it seemed relevant to artists working today.  I admit, I'm easily sidetracked into the psychological end of art. While I often find great insight, I'm just as prone to be throwing shoes at the computer  and wondering why non-artist psychologists are so eager to ascribe disorderly or dysfunctional thinking to the artistic personality.

Of course, my daughter the psychologist would simply raise one eyebrow at such antics as if to say "you have to ask?" 

But I did find the phrase "dance between" in one of the essays in the Creative License book, and it struck me as a good description of what artists - at least through my own artistic experience - are constantly doing as they create, especially now at this time of rapid economic and social change. 

I can't do justice to this essay by summarizing it here, but for those of you who also suffer from a need to know, I've included the link above.  The part of the essay I do want to include involves the idea of relationships and an interaction between participants, not only the collaborative element (artists inspiring the work of other artists) but between the artist and the patron.

    "But if the artistic enterprise is collective, relationships are important.  And establishing a relationship with the receivers of the art may be of critical import" (pp 56).

This phrase connected back to what I was thinking about with regard to ideology, and the role it may play in helping to establish the artist's relationship with the "receivers of the art."

In 2002, Wolf Kahn gave a provocative talk at Wheaton College, titled Six Good Reasons Not To Paint Landscapes.  I find some new bit of insight in this talk every time I listen to it, as I try to clarify my own sense of relevancy as an artist. What I like most about this talk, though, is the way it challenges me to think about my motives right now. Am I succumbing to the pressure of commercialism? Creating a version of what Kahn describes as"wall furniture" - possessing qualities that "people who really don't care enough about art love the most"? 

I am curious as to what you think: Is it possible that, for many artists- particularly over the past several decades - the ideology behind their work has disappeared and the relationships with the receivers of the art have changed?

Do you have an artistic ideology that sustains your work?  Or do you fluctuate between conflicting demands?

How to you establish the dance between your art and the receivers of art?

The Word Formerly Known as Style

So...we can agree that style is not the best word choice, that whatever an artist creates by virtue of his creating it exhibits his unique touch, that artifice is a negative and that style shouldn't be a limiting word but merely a descriptive word much like voice or freedom...

...that some people can identify an artist by their work, that some people like this, that  other people relish the freedom to change mediums and implements and don't always see that their uniqueness carries through while others might see it, that formula painting is not any different than plot formulas in pulp fiction and is equally reviled...

I don't know, but it seems logical to me that the minute you put implement to surface to create a mark you are exhibiting the word formerly known as style. I also can't see how anyone can avoid this any more than they can avoid writing the letters in their name when they sign their signature on the back of their commission checks.

I  should clarify that as an artist develops, this voice develops strength and is more or less a measuring idea that an artist should be experienced enough in the craft to have a voice before venturing out into the world. So I find myself sincerely puzzled by -- while being totally grateful for -- the uproar that this discussion is generating...including all the spin-off blog postings linking back to the original post...and I am also grateful that no one has tarred and feathered me yet...

 I'm starting to think that this is fueled by an argument much deeper than the word formerly known as style, and I'm not really sure what that is, exactly...

Any ideas?


A new experiment with my word-formerly-known-as-style where I attempted to paint three apples, arranging one apple in front and two apples beneath an upturned bowl, which of course ended up looking like a green pickle on top of the apples.  So sometimes my voice is speaking in a foreign tongue which I obviously can't understand. 

However, I am hopeful that if I persevere something will come of it.  In fact, I'm considering renaming this painting Apples with Green Pickle.  Maybe I'll post it to ebay...under an assumed name...

The Business Plan is Complete and Posted

I have finished posting the entire Business Plan.  Here is a taste of what is there toward the end:

Did you know that Murphy’s Oil Soap will clean off the oil paint on your clothes? But only if the paint is still wet.  Gesso’s the worst.  Nothing can get that out completely. This makes it tricky to decide if I’m going to wear white or red when I paint.  I guess it depends on whether I’m in the gesso pot that day. 

Time is an irrelevant concept in the studio unless someone is expecting you to make dinner.  Then, it’s best to set an alarm clock.  Or perhaps two or three in case the first one doesn’t raise you from your trance. 

Eggplant does not hold up well under lights.  And it smells.  Pears, on the other hand, soften gracefully and melt into each other, allowing for multiple compositions.

However, if you let your pears soften for too long you might see an influx of those little gnats that get stuck in your paint.  Apparently, gnats cannot tell the difference between what is real and what has been skillfully recreated.  Don’t you just wish that critics were more like gnats?

Don't you just know 2009 is going to be a great year?

The Ancient Wisdom:Emerging Artist Business Plan

  I have been having some computer difficulties lately and accidentally deleted the post that was here - But I will try to remember what I said:

I have been working on Ancient Wisdom:Ancient Artist - The Business Plan for the Mature Artist.

It's quite long, and I have been wondering how best to present it - also, having moments of insecurity that what I have to say is just...well..blathering on in my own world.  I am thankful to those who have commented.  I did not receive any of the comments as you posted and I was thinking...well, I certainly made an idiot of myself this time.  Usually someone comments.  So I am very gratified that what I have posted is well received.  Much of this information is out there, what I've done is try to put it in a form that is workable not only as you plan your art careers but also your artistic life. 

I shall continue to add the rest of the plan as long as Typepad allows me the space.  I am also looking into having it turned into a PDF which is down loadable to your computers.  I think might be the solution as they allow free downloads.  Please feel free to save this information to your computers and use it.  If you want to reprint it to your blogs, and you use my words, please provide the credit.  Especially if you use my jokes!  If I'm going to reveal my most embarrassing moments the least you can do is make me famous for them. 

Yes, it is really a life plan.  It's the way I have come to view my artistic life and to work toward my goals without the struggle and insecurity.  So...thank you so much for your kind comments.

The Great Style Debate is Getting Hot

    "It seems that the development of a signature style is a seen as a basic condition for a successful career in arts."  So starts a new squidoo lens written by a fellow artist and friend, Martin Stankewitz, titled "Art Style - how to bury your talent.

        It also seems that I inspired this lens by touching a nerve with my post "Finding a Signature Style." To add insult to injury, I deleted Martin's comment when I received it, because I considered it, well, a bit too direct.  But never one to back down from a philosophical argument, he contacted me by email and what followed was a lively exchange of ideas.  

     We eventually made peace, and Martin adjusted his opinion of my post in his squidoo lens, for which I am grateful. There's nothing worse than having your thoughts held up to the harsh light of the world and effectively demolished.  I actually believe that Martin's points are very good and worthy of  discussion, although I would argue that we're talking about two different concepts.  I posted a response to his lens, but technology being what it is, I'm not sure if you will find it easily so I want to continue our discussion here.

    My conversations with Martin are exactly what I want for this blog, to inspire a spirited discussion of ideas.  Artists used to relish such arguments, which, in today's world,  so often slip into polite non-talk.  I won't republish my emails with Mr. Stankewitz without his permission, and I don't think they would carry much weight taken out of context.  But if you read his lens you'll have a pretty good idea of his position.  Now I'd like to share my rebuttal.

   I think Martin fired a pretty solid shot over the bow of Ancient Artist.  He is right, even though he didn't articulate it: there is a big difference between doing decorative work and creating art.  Decorative work caters to public tastes, or to what Kandinsky often referred to as "the vulgar herd."  Like it or not, there are plenty of  artists making their living this way.

 ART, if elevated to capital letters,  involves responding to an inner ideology, a muse that can be a demanding taskmaster.  There is a certain intellectual snobbery that attaches itself to the idea that the art with capital letters has more value than the one in lower case. 

    My argument is this: the search for an ideology behind our work is an ongoing process.  Early in our growth, we may not fully appreciate that the value in art is not in the financial success we achieve but in the zest with which we pursue our craft.  We may be hesitant to express ideas that surprise or shock viewers, out of an unrecognized need for external validation.  It's no surprise that the more professional success an artist receives, the more vocal he or she becomes about not catering to the expectations of the marketplace.  It's always easier to resist the pressure when you're well above the flow.

    But if you are interested in producing work that is embraced by consumers, then you must acknowledge that consumers are trained to respond to certain things - like a recognizable style, or a persona, or an idea that lets them experience art at their own comfort level.  It's a mistake to assume that just because you are passionate about art, everyone who views art, or contemplates buying art, shares your passion.  Many just want to like what they like, no strings attached.  And why shouldn't they?  Even in Renaissance times, artists were catering to the demands of their patrons and painting exactly what was ordered.  Many Old Masters had their work returned as unacceptable to the Church or the Establishment.

    I ended my comment on Martin's lens by saying that if you were creating decorative art then you needed a signature style, and if you were an artist then you didn't need this discussion. 

    I am reconsidering that statement: philosophical arguments help put the "zest" back in the quest.  Share what you think.  Challenge the opposing view.  Open your mind to a threatening idea and discover a friend.

Thank you, Martin.  Thank you, friend.


Finding a Signature Style

    Robert Henri often told his students,

    "An artist who does not use his imagination is a mechanic."

    Artists working today feel pressured to develop a signature style.  We hear it in multiple marketing messages.   We hear it in feedback that comes with rejection. 

    But what, exactly, is a signature style? And how does an artist develop one when every technique or approach has been done before?

    There is no secret to a signature style: it's the result of the way you think and respond to what you want to communicate.   And the more that you work in your chosen medium, the more you will find those ideas that make your work unique.

    As an art student, we learn first by copying exactly what we see, and then by copying the work of other artists to learn a little about their style and genre.  The hope is that, by replicating the successful art from a master, the student learns something not easily taught. 

    But at some point the student must seek out ways to create his own language.  To start his own conversation with the world.

    Think of your signature style as the lens that focuses your work.  It can be identified in the medium you use - textile, glass, clay, metal, paint on canvas or ink on paper.  It's in the way you divide your space, your favored compositional arrangements, your subject matter and treatment.  Some artists rely on a particular mannerism or mark, while other artists paint hundreds of paintings of the same subject.  Your color preferences, the way you might use line or perspective - all these elements play a role in what you create.  They emerge in the form of your signature style.

    I believe there is a distinction between what we are taught in the traditional method of learning – copying the masters and learning from them – and copying a contemporary artist’s style.  One is based in your desire to learn and understand your craft, and the other is based on your fear that your work won't succeed if you use your own voice.

    But if you never use your own voice, we will never hear what you have to say.  Only your impression of what you think some other artist had to say. 

    Paint or create your art every day.  Art is a discipline, and like other disciplines, to be successful you need to practice what you do consistently.  If you find your work too heavily influenced by an artist you admire, analyze what it is that you're doing.  Look for ways to use the concept with a different subject matter.  Or use the color combinations in a different medium and compositional arrangement.  Working "in the style of" an artist is a long-standing tradition, and I've seen many artists use artistic influences to their advantage.  But if your work only mimics a more prominent artist without your own stamp of originality,  you risk constant comparison - not only by your peers, but by your potential clients, who won't be shy about dismissing your work.

    The art industry wants high-quality products and innovation. They look for credible artists who can demonstrate not only their ability to use time-honored approaches but do so with a fresh voice. 

Robert Henri also said,

                         “Know what the old masters did.  Know how they composed their pictures, but do not fall into the conventions they established.  These conventions were right for them, and they are wonderful. They made their language.  You make yours.”


Sunday Salon: Sitting Down with Tamara Hocker

    This is an unusual Sunday Salon, in that I want to introduce you to a poet - an artist who uses words as her medium. 

    Tamara is a friend, a colleague, a stained glass artist, but her primary love is the written word.  Like many of us, she explored poetry in college, but life began to filter into her days and she set aside thoughts of working at her craft.  It was something she saved for those rare days when she had time to stop and contemplate her thoughts. 

    Now, not quite old enough to be an Ancient Artist in age, but certainly one in creative spirit, she has returned to her writing with sensitivity and clarity.  I asked her permission, and she agreed to let me share with you one of my favorites from her most recent work. 

Bus Ride Home

A face is pressed to the glass, the eyes
fixed blankly on blurring, golden fields.
October corn and swallows fly by
like distant memories fleeing
as the quilted earth covers her
in troubled sleep.
          There is a girl making a hole for a seed,
          but she is the seed, she is
          the soil, sun and rain.
          She plants herself.
          The scent of peaches is everywhere.

A deep haze darkens the sun, the eyes
catch the bright globe's speedy withdrawal and
she knows that she's been a foreigner,
like sweet fruit attempting to grow,
buried here in the wrong season
in hardened sod.

                               -- Tamara Hocker @ 2008