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August 2010
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September 2010

Expose Yourself

If you look up the word "context" in the dictionary, you'll find something like this: a joining together, scheme, or structure.

Vallkulla Anders Zorn A scheme...really?

Maybe Anders Zorn, in his painting Vallkulla,  was scheming, in that he deliberately imbedded ideas about life - what he found meaningful and beautiful - within the context of the landscape. 

His message?  There is comfort in a simple existence.  A young girl in humble clothing wanders along the edge of a pine forest, following the barely visible cows in the background.  The reds in her skirt and face create visual warmth and softness, the violets communicate the temperature of the air, the season and time of day. This is not just a figure painting, or a landscape painting, this is about the artist's perspective on life.

Of course this might not be what you want to communicate with your art.  Some might feel this is an overly sentimental view and prefer something more hard hitting and urban. 

But style doesn't matter in art.  It isn't the messenger - it's the message that's important. 



The Secret Message in Art

There is a secret message in art.  It stems from the artist’s personal world view reacting to an external set of influences. Sometimes it’s subtle, other times blatant. This is a good thing – thinking about messages, because if art doesn’t contain a clue to the artist’s world view then it is nothing more than a facsimile. 

Think about the apple.  Most art educations strive to teach the artist how to effectively paint a believable apple.  Some will take the artist further, emphasizing the need to paint with beauty or style.  Many artists stop here.  But an apple without the context of the artist’s point of view lacks one crucial element.  The power to communicate.

Imagine an apple painted by Renè Magritte compared to one painted by Cezanne.  Or flowers painted by O’Keeffe, compared to Van Gogh - or Mapplethorpe. Because each artist communicated a personal world view, we have an immediate mental image.  We understand something that can't be put into words.

This is context.

Experienced artists have learned the skill set required to not only create beautiful images but to instill this sense of context.  They know not everyone will agree with them, or like the art they produce.  Times change, tastes change, but one thing never changes.

A facsimile has no meaning at all, with a shelf life that’s down around zero.


Is It Motivation or The Muse?

A month ago I wrote a post about Repetition: How do you know it isn't a bad habit?  In a way I was skirting around a deeper topic - does your creativity evolve through conscious work or does it flow through you from a subconscious source?

As an artist I have experienced both sources of inspiration - and the flip side, that of finding myself burned out because of workaholic ambition, and passively depressed due to the absence of an internal muse.

I find the subject fascinating.

If I had my back against the wall and threatened with bodily harm I would tell you that I do believe there is God/Creator force responsible for the highest and greatest moments of my creativity.  I also believe that you must be ready for the muse when he or she appears, and that often means things like "repetition" and "showing up regularly" or whatever catch phrase works for you.  

And this, in spite of what life throws at you.

For instance, in August, within a two week period, I learned my youngest daughter has cancer, I lost my job, and I received a notice of acceptance into the OPA Western Regional - one of those goals I'd set for myself with the "safety net" of believing I would never get in.  The only thing missing was "the dog just ate the painting you accepted."

Now if that isn't life telling you that you aren't really in control I don't know what is. 

One of the advantages of age is that you can step back a bit and keep things in perspective.  My daughter has one of the most curable forms of cancer, although the treatment is devastating.  But if she can shave off her hair rather than see it fall out in bits then I guess I can take the loss of a job as an inconvenience that allows for more studio time.  And that OPA acceptance - I am thrilled, and honored, no doubt about it.  My ego is frustrated because I'm not dancing around the studio.  But I'm not paralyzed by achieving this Peak of the Mountain goal, either.  I was the 1 in 10 this time.  Next time it will be another deserving artist.  If the muse came to me and I was faithful in my efforts to communicate what was communicated to me, she will return again and again.  My job is to show up.  And to be courageous.

I've been reading quite a few blog posts recently about this idea of Muse as expressed by Elizabeth Gilbert in her 2009 TED talk.  That this subject is again heating up the internet may have a lot to do with the economic situation and the difficulty so many creatives have in digging deep for their inspirations in the face of apathy.  But it's worthwhile to continue the discussion.

The Lateral Action blog has a post by Matt Cardin, which is one of the more insightful discussions on the muse/genius debate.  And if you read the comments on the "repetition" post, you might have seen one submitted by "David" talking about "Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience" by Dr Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  I went looking for more information and found another interesting article from Lateral Action by Justine Musk that discusses this idea of "being in the flow" and how it affects creativity.

Let me know what you think.  Join the discussion by commenting to this post. 

Is That Safety Net Really Safe?

Maybe you have a safety net for your artistic practice.  You work, so you only have time to create on the weekends, which naturally takes you longer to assemble a good body of work.  Or you have a supportive spouse who pays the bills, allowing you full time access to your studio and time galore to think up new ideas.

That safety net - the idea that not everything is riding on what you produce, right now, could be exactly what you need to take the risk out of creating.

Or it could just as easily be keeping you safe in your comfy spot where you don't think you need to take a risk.

It's all in what you need to either do the best work you've ever done, or wonder why you can't .

OPA Western Regional Exhibition

Grasslands in Winter copy

Grasslands in Winter - oil, 12 x 28

August was one of those months where life got in the way and there wasn't much posted to Ancient Artist, but I did get news that my painting, "Grasslands in Winter" was accepted into the Oil Painters of America Western Regional Exhibition at Mountain Trails Gallery in Jackson, Wyoming, October 9 through November 10.  These juried competitions draw a tremendous number of talented artists and I feel extremely fortunate to have had my painting selected. 

The painting captures one of my favorite elements in the high desert -  storms that sweep across the grasslands in early spring and then again in the fall, clearing the air and marking the changing seasons.  Feeling the cold wind, the spitting rain, seeing the quality of the light dip and change - it's a very powerful experience. This area is near Maupin.  The only sign of habitation for as far as one can see are the power poles.  One could almost imagine being in another century if it weren't for the paved road and the poles - but they do add just the right element to the painting.