Agnes Martin is quoted as saying “painters can’t give anything to the observer. People get what they need from a painting…when you have inspiration and represent inspiration, the observer makes the painting…”*
Think about this. It removes a tremendous amount of responsibility from the painter’s shoulders. Your work, what you choose to paint and how you respond to color and composition – it only needs to have meaning to you. No point in trying to please the observer – how many people will see what you create and “not get it?” How could you possibly anticipate and paint to that expectation?
And don’t say that you’ve never stood in front of a blank canvas and asked, “What will I paint today?” And then immediately followed with, “What will they want today?” Because so much of the artist’s life becomes focused on that responsibility we want to have – that we can create something profound, something beautiful, a work of ART. Don’t say that you’ve never, in that quiet part of the night, hoped for that, hoped for recognition, hoped to have mattered.
Most of us have, because most of us want our work to matter even in a small way. But the painter’s job – according to Agnes Martin – isn’t to take on the responsibility of being significant. “Art,” she says, “restimulates inspirations and awakens sensibilities. That’s the function of art.”
Yes, it is true that Agnes Martin suffered from schizophrenia throughout her adult life, and her state of mind is reflected in much of her writing. But if you are trying to understand – as I am - how to make art that matters, that influences, then consider this:
Agnes Martin found her own inspiration in how she interpreted straight lines as representing planes. How those planes – driven by memory - provided stability, quiet, a resting place, happiness. She painted her inspiration.
So the question becomes how to create? Do we create in ways that we hope will matter to other people? Or do we consider this idea that it matters more to have found a personal inspiration and to allow the observer to find in that what he will?
Opal Springs, 16 x 20, oil
* Quotes from Agnes Martin come from the book Agnes Martin Paintings, Writings, Remembrances, by Arne Glimcher