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April 2012

Thoughts from a Closet Regionalist

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Dry/Canyon, Mountain Series, oil on board

Having recently read the interesting post on Edward Winkleman's blog about his thoughts on Regionalism, I had a small Epiphany of my own.  I am a Regionalist.  Not such a horrible thing, when you think about it.  There are numerous artists we all could name who are seen as internationally recognized stars of the art world but - who are, at the core - Regionalists.  So yes, I am a Regionalist.  I live and paint my environment, as I experience it.  As I want to share it with those who live in areas quite different from mine.

We most often learn about Regionalism in the Art History classes, looking at Grant Wood, or Thomas Hart Benton.  There is an odd quirkiness about their Depression Era work; it carries the negative stigma of being the kind of art that attempts to "reassure America with scenes of idyllic rural life." Art we would - in today's volatile political arena - dismiss as pandering to an unsophisticated audience looking for their Thomas Kinkade fix.

DSC08771 sm copyI admit, after reading Winkleman's open thread, I was feeling an insidious fear that my work was really just "Tourist Art from Quaintsville."  I had to remind myself of all the artists who inspire me, and the common theme I find in their lives - that they all felt the need to remove themselves from what was their equivalent of New York.  That they all isolated themselves, in an effort to discover their own sense of who they were and, more importantly, why they felt compelled to create the art that they did.

(image: Afternoon Light, Mountain Series, 20x30, oil)

I am also a realist.  I'm willing to acknowledge that my work will only show in New York if I participate in the National Association of Women Artists Annual Membership Show again.  The ambitious part of me mourns the idea that I will never make it in this rarefied arena - and the other part acknowledges that my passion has already taken me in a different direction.   DSC08772 sm copyWhich - after all - it is the path that suits my art, the way I paint, the ideas that inspire me, and the stories I want to share. The stories many collectors appreciate.

This quote from Zen teacher Cheri Huber is on my studio wall because it is the most important thing for me to remember: "Every time we choose safety, we reinforce fear."

Because there is safety in crowding into the center of the herd, where you aren't as likely to be taken out by the predators. Safety in blending in and adopting a form of camouflage by looking just like everything else around you.

(Image: Eye of the Sleeping Man, 22x28, oil)

There is safety in not raising your hand, not sticking out your neck, not taking that road filled with rocks and weeds where you might suddenly find yourself lost and alone. And ignored.

But maybe, being an artist is what you are, not what you do, and if you honor that part of your creative life then you must also honor your personal voice.  If nothing else, this recession has been a gift to me in this respect.  I have discovered the freedom to explore ideas related to my art and my process that I would never have had the courage to express before - partly because no one seems to be looking right now, and I say that with all respect and warm humor.  It's like we are all waiting in the wings, and no one knows when the curtain will go up, but some of us are so fearful we will miss the big event we can't move from our spot. 

DSC08776 sm copyMaybe a negative concept like being a Regionalist Artist is the kind of impression that can keep you rooted in place, seeking safety.  Or maybe it is a concept that expands your way of thinking about your art. By working through the clutter of generalizations in Winkelman's post and continuing thread, it is possible to see that if we wanted to, we could describe everyone as a Regionalist - the Conceptual artists who require a continuing dialog with like minded people to fuel their work, the landscape artists drawing inspiration through environmental ideas, even the dismissive term of Quaintsville denotes a "Regionalist" way of thinking about where you are compared to where everyone else is. 

DSC08796 sm copyYou could say I live in the middle of nowhere and I would agree.  You could also say that the Pacific Northwest is dominated by Conceptual and Contemporary influences.  And you could also add that the idea of someone choosing to paint landscape in such an environment is probably...well, someone who is lost in Quaintsville.

And you might be right - if you are speaking from a "Regionalist" viewpoint where the center is where you are and the importance of other art diminishes the further away it is from your center.

It is the secret reality of the art world.

We are all Regionalists. 

 

 

(images: Break in the Storm, Mountain Series, Mile Post 46, Mile Post Series)

 

 *****

"I could sure hear you in the book, very upbeat and encouraging...I also loaned your book to my Tucson art teacher and she let another friend of hers read it, too.  She’s already doing most of what you suggested...she hates self-promotion like most of us do..."  TB, Tuscon, AZ

Book - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist

Kindle US Store  - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist

Kindle UK Store - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist

 

 

 

 

 


Things I Talk About When I Talk to Myself

I often talk to myself at critical junctures during the creative cycle.  I do this for several reasons: either I’m not clear on what I want to achieve, or because only another artist would understand whether this area needs a perspective cue or that texture is too dominant. 

Mostly, the conversations I have with myself revolve around ideas, and why some unfold like the rapid motion photography of flower petals,  and others are lost in a fog.  When the fog happens, I remind myself that I'm not a very good gardener, either. I plant seeds and then forget which ones I put in which pot, and have to wait weeks before I can identify the emerging leaves. Last year I ended up with twenty pots of zucchini and only three of sweet peas because, both with my painting and with gardening, I don’t always know what I am interested in. I once worked non-stop for three days, painting, wiping off, re-painting the same scene of pine trees along a canal, thinking it was the structure of the trees, or the pattern of light between the trunks, or just figuring out how to put the paint on in a way that effectively suggested “pine trees” – and each version, horizontal, vertical, reversed, intimate, expansive – each version earned the TIC (This Is C##P) designation.  Oddly enough, at the end of this failure marathon I knew I had figured something out and didn’t need to keep painting those trees.

What I have discovered is, sometimes the idea exciting me isn’t the one I think I'm working on.  And while talking to others is an effective way to clarify which seed is in which pot, at the early stage of my creative work I can easily get trapped by the obvious – and often incorrect – assumptions that result in "foggy" paintings.

For many artists, this physical and mental act of turning a concept into reality is difficult work.  We’ve all had the experience of inspiration, followed by struggle to bring it into reality.  These are the things I talk to myself about, because persistence, and patience, and the willingness to survive the disappointment of not getting it right the first – or even the tenth time – are all critical to the creative process: not from the Edison Perspective (how many failures before he achieved success?) but because inconsequential discoveries, along with the mindfulness to recognize them, propel the creative process. 

Jeffrey Davis, M.A., in his article The Creative Thinking Myth in Psychology Today, writes, “A person who is aware of how her mind works and who trains herself to pay attention to and to capture those flashes of insight, of course, is more likely to follow through on them.”  And perhaps it's possible to have flashes of insight that we don't, consciously, apprehend, but totally get on another level.  Any maybe it's just as possible that the pop-culture description of insanity - taking the same action over and over while expecting different results - isn't insanity at all but the fine line of creativity. 

I don't know.  There are times I wonder if, after you've been painting your entire lifetime, you get to the point where you don't need to talk to yourself that much. Or paint pine trees over and over.

But I hope not.

 

 *****

"I could sure hear you in the book, very upbeat and encouraging...I also loaned your book to my Tucson art teacher and she let another friend of hers read it, too.  She’s already doing most of what you suggested...she hates self-promotion like most of us do..."  TB, Tuscon, AZ

Book - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist

Kindle US Store  - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist

Kindle UK Store - Ancient Wisdom Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist