Obsessions and Philosophical Discussions Feed

Artists and Self Actualization

I was recently listening to a podcast that included a section of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, and I found one comment to be pertinent to the idea of being an artist. The presenter said that self actualization - the highest point in human development - was a point we reach intermittently but do not remain in a self actualized state continuously.
 
This reminded me of the way artists talk about being in the flow, or in touch with the creative universe. These are the moments when we are actually feeling self-actualized. We experience the highest sense of gratification, of connecting to who we really are at our core.
 
It makes sense, then, that when we fall out of that state of self-actualization we feel unhappy, as if we might be missing something.
 
I think it is helpful to realize that these moments of self-actualization are by their very nature transient experiences, but the art we create should not be dependent upon needing to be in that state of hyper-awareness.
 
Artist's block, those moments when we feel like there is no point in doing something when there is no outlet for the resulting paintings - by shifting the perspective away from believing that the only value comes from someone else buying or liking the work might be the better choice.
 
Perhaps the ultimate value comes from the opportunity you have to reach the highest point in human experience. This can come from painting, writing, gardening, yoga - whatever activity allows you to reach the potential of becoming who you really are at your core.
 
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I appreciate the way you have accepted my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day. Please leave your recommendations or suggest it to others who might be interested in the content. 


Your Unconscious Contract With The Art World: Balancing Disappointment with Creativity

How do you balance your creativity while working in an entirely different field? Or stay connected to your own art practice, and yet succeed in an art world that often feels too opaque and impenetrable, operating by secret rules?

Over the holidays I learned about a young artist who was self-destructing, because the door to her creative path had slammed closed.  “I consider myself an artist,” she said, “trained to be an art teacher. But the only door left open to me is toward a corporate job I hate and which drains me of all creativity.”  Another artist, connecting through email to explain his disappointment after pursuing an academic art degree in his 40’s, struggled with a loss of faith in the art world. “It seems almost too challenging to maintain the heart of creative art making while entering the art market.”

IMG_1929 portfolio copyWhen we commit to a lifetime of art making, we rarely consider what is actually required – little institutional security, the need for both independence and collaboration, success, failure, hot and cold, critics and feeling invisible.  Often, when confronted with that reality, we struggle with disappointment.  But disappointment comes to us for a reason: the message is not about impossible dreams, but how to pursue them.

I have always maintained that it’s important to have a philosophical understanding of your art: the why, what, and how of it.  Identifying meaningful connections to art history provides a reason for creating despite the down times, the fears and loss of confidence.   There are more long-standing artists who sustain the idea of Fine Art through a dedication to their work, than those who fly to the top of the visibility scale, so building a strong foundation from a very personal perspective is worth the effort.

Keeping roles separate is equally important.  Real life can be filled with demands, and often a few obligations (such as work and family) will overrule all others (such as the need to make art).  Since we often have unwritten contracts with world, we feel intense disappointment and anger when those contracts don’t work out. Most of the time, we don't even realize the subconscious contracts we construct, we just behave in ways that assume outcomes that fit comfortably with our image of what we should be. This is actually a larger impediment to creativity than we acknowledge - the reality that life might not always allow you to spend the time, under the conditions you need, to do the work that you intended and trained and expected to do.  Or that the work you produce will not even be acknowledged, or allow you to make a living doing what you love. 

Keeping it real is so much bland, generic advice, I'm rolling my eyes even using it.  A better suggestion is to constantly reevaluate what is real and possible, and adjusting accordingly.  I have been painting and selling art for over 18 years, and I work harder at it and find it more challenging in today’s environment than ever before.  So realistic is important to me, as well as risk taking and believing in what I produce, and how I choose to market it.  I admit to going down rabbit holes, searching for solutions to make my "contracts" come true. There are moments when the "why bother to be an artist when there are so many struggles" question is overwhelming, especially when there are so many deserving artists who are under exposed, and always will be. Directions change, new styles emerge that take attention away from your work, you grow cynical from rejection and disinterest.  So the real question - the real contract -  is how to evolve when the current path is not working, how to keep painting when you can't imagine doing anything else. 

Leonard Cohen talks about writing all the time, doing nothing but writing in order to find out what the song is.  Stuart Shills talks about affirming the immediacy of a moment, finding the residue of memory. 

So what feelings are you chasing when you make art?  What needs are you feeding?

What are your contracts?

 

 

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Second Thoughts on Artistic Style

I recently participated in an event that prompted me to reevaluate my thoughts on style.  The show was available online and when viewed this way, I felt my painting style did not easily "fit" with the general feel of the show.  There were many excellent paintings, all versions of the prevailing visual appearance, and it made me question whether my ideas about personal style ought to be reassessed. 

I have always felt that style developed over time as the artist found his visual language.  The way we mix the paint, hold the brush, the direction of the stroke or the ideas behind the composition are all part of style.  I still believe this.  But I want a richer understanding by expanding on that idea.

The standard advice for artists has always been to develop a style that identifies you, so that your work is recognizable.  So the question is how far can the artist stray from the norm before their audience becomes confused as to the style they are expecting?  It should be easy, but it’s not.

The definition of style, which you can read in full here, is straightforward:  Innovation in style rises through the work of a single or small group of artists, and those that follow are said to be working in a similar manner, or the school of, where essentially they are taking the ideas and expanding on the body of work, but not necessarily changing the trajectory.  So an artist must eventually decide where he fits within a particular school (or set of ideas) and work in that direction, or risk being labeled as disorganized and confusing.

But how broad can that direction be? Where is the boundary, where this side you are safe, and that side you are at risk?

In this article at quartz.com, we learn that art collectors at the high end are looking for artistic rigor, work that challenges the status quo, communicates ideas, displays outstanding technique, a distinguishing narrative – all while playing “outside the rules.” There is no real surprise here from the art sector that believes in preserving high culture for our society.  Art that is intellectually challenging, while reflecting the bones of art history beneath innovation and contemporary approach is meaningful at this level. And while attitudes at the top eventually filter down to the lower tiers, the collectors outside the auction houses have different expectations. They are more interested in ideas around the beauty and artistic prestige of a particular work, the emotional connection or narrative depicted, and a sense of recognition between collector and artist on a subtle level.  But one idea that will not change no matter what group you are talking about is that people bring their experiences and expectations to the artwork, and they want to understand what they are looking at - and the strongest, easiest mode of communication is style. 

Style does evolve organically, but the argument can be made for the artist to fit their work between the fine lines of innovation, expression, and expectation.  This is especially true if you are trying to get your work accepted into prestigious shows or important galleries.  While there is leeway, there is also a strong pull toward "fitting into the whole presentation."  While looking at your own portfolio, there may be a strong sense of continuity, of work that is easily identified as yours.  But when that work moves out into the group shows, what is better?  To fit in with the group or to work at the edges?  Does your personal style fit close enough to the expectation of the audience or does it feel discordant? Are you too sensitive to your own voice, too insecure with the acceptability of your style that you over-react (always possible), or does it signal the need to step back and reassess?

It comes down to the artist deciding what their work is about and how they want to develop the ideas, and then how and where they want to present that work to the marketplace. The reception is going to be risky no matter whether you are following the traditional path or the “play outside the rules” path.  Art has always been about problem solving, and risk is part of the artist’s development.  It is said that art at any level can find a buyer, but most serious artists I know are also looking for high artistic achievement, producing the best work possible, improving their technique, and then translating that into recognition and eventually sales.  I hope I am opening a discussion, and look forward to other artist's thoughts on this subject.  Please add your ideas through the comments section. 

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IMG_1772 sm copyI'm very humbled to announce that Moonrise (over Desperation Ridge), 8 x 10, oil,  was awarded Best Nocturne in the August/September Plein Air Salon. 

The story behind the Desperation Ridge paintings: there is no specific geographical place called Desperation Ridge, although seeing parts of the Oregon Outback I am sure more than one gold miner, or short-cut following wagon train called one or more of the volcanic ridges and gullies by that name - or others more colorful.  While not totally born of imagination, Desperation Ridge reflects many emotions artists experience when a painting does or does not come together as intended.  And not just artists.  We all have the obstacles we are determined to overcome at all costs.  There is beauty in that quest. 

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How To Get Unstuck in August

 

In 1984 Suzi Gablik made this observation about the effect that Modernism, and Post-Modernism, had upon art and culture: that the “values of the marketplace” had replaced or undermined any sense of a “meaning-giving function” in the art being created. Artists found themselves in a cultural and economic system that rewarded those who created commodities that met the needs of the Art Market.  As Andy Warhol stated, “why do people think artists are special? It’s just another job.”

Warhol has been described as “the art market’s one-man Dow Jones.”  And while Gablik did not foresee the influence of the internet she did address the slip into Pluralism, where there are so many ideas about the value and purpose in art, we have no real “pattern of meaning” any more.

In all this chatter, have we forgotten to value – or are we merely ignoring - the C words?

No, not commodity.   Considering the social environment that exists, an artist cannot realistically ignore the forces of the marketplace unless he is willing to withdraw completely.

I am thinking more about these C words:

Creativity

Courage

Compassion

Compulsion

Culture

Creativity is the conceptual opposite of commodity. Courage is necessary to resist the status-quo, living in harmony with one’s inner creative values. Compassion allows the artist to find his path between the competing interests of the market, and his authentic, artistic voice.  Compulsion drives the artist’s need to reflect his image of the world in his art, and culture is the carrier of all that we value. 

August is always one of those transition months: an ending space before the next rounds of painting, submitting, and marketing activities.  It's easy to get stuck in August, worrying about what didn't work over the past several months and struggling to figure out what will.  If you are feeling stuck, wishing you could stay in August for the next several months, you are not alone.  Here are just a few ways I have come across to help get unstuck:

Dig out old journals.  Discover ideas that have hung around and are now finding their way back into your consciousness.

Rearrange your studio.  Sometimes just doing that gets you out of old patterns and thinking about new.

Don't stress about rejections.  One recent show that rejected me pointed out that there were over 1400 applications for approximately 140 slots. 

Read books like Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young  Poet, Eric Maisel's Coaching the Artist Within. 

Yes, it's a crowded, noisy world out there, but the journey is more solitary than you realize, and from that well you will find your strength.

 

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It means a lot to me that you have taken my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day.

 


One Idea That Can Strengthen Your Design Skills

A painting can be a replication of what is seen, or it can be something more.  The difference is in the design.  And the best way to strengthen your design skills?  Spend more time planning than painting.

You can develop a structure to planning easily by considering these ideas:

Understand concepts in your own way.  In art, many approaches can seem vague and esoteric, and artists are not always effective in explaining what they mean, or even demonstrating it in a way that the student understands in his own mind.  It may take you months of study to finally gain your unique understanding of color harmony, the function of pattern, light versus shadow interest, or the idea of orchestrating a painting,  but until you have that understanding, your work will continue to feel uncertain.

Understand the conflict between emotional and logical thinking.  Logic comes first.  Emotional is last.  Think Sargent, wearing a hole in the carpet as he walked back from his canvas to check sight size, then forward for one stroke of paint, and then back again, before giving the final flourish.  As addicting as the emotion can be, save it for the end and remain disciplined as you build your structure.

Know the risks in combining too many visual approaches.  You can blend painting styles to create your own visual vocabulary without confusion: but when you try to combine too many ideas the viewer gets lost.  As you plan out your painting, decide your visual approach and maintain that throughout.  If a subject is better expressed with Impressionism, keep your style and the principles of Impressionism consistent to the end.  Check yourself: we don’t often realize when we’ve slipped into a different approach because, halfway through the painting, another idea occurred that seemed better than the first.  If going for a chiaroscuro instead of the close value/color harmony idea is actually better, rework the entire painting, or start a new one.  Just don’t flounder between hot and cold. 

Return to the basics. Use thumbnail sketches, grids, and compositional structure ideas to plan the placement of your shapes and center of interest. Determine what the finished surface quality of your painting will be before you start painting, and build up the paint, decide on mediums, determine brushes and knives accordingly.  Be clear in your mind what the painting is about, and how you will emphasize that – center of interest, color contrast, linear elements or abstract shapes – no matter what your style of painting, it is important to successful design planning to know clearly what you intend to accomplish. And be methodical in the steps, once you have decided. 

It may seem like planning takes all the fun out of painting.  Certainly painting can be fun.

But it can be a whole lot more. 

 IMG_1120 sm copyIf you are struggling with painting concepts, devise a method of study that works for your temperament.  Find two or three artists whose work exemplifies what it is you are trying to understand.  Write about what you see them doing, mark up copies of paintings with directional lines to determine placement and possible grids, keep exploring the ideas that seem most compelling to you.  Where I could not wrap my mind around the musical analogy many artists use to describe orchestrating a painting, I did eventually develop my own way of understanding the concept and to put it into practice.  It is always an ongoing process, no matter where you start you will never stop finding nuances and higher understanding - and that is what makes painting a lifelong exploration. 

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It means a lot to me that you have taken my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day.


Is Creativity an Entitlement?

I am an observer.  Even as a child I would rather watch than participate.  And my kids will tell you I can be obsessive in my observing.  If asked, they’ll drag out their favorite photographic proof: in sequence - view driving toward the tunnel, view in the tunnel, and view exiting the tunnel.  (I think there was another one called Mom falling down the side of the road in search of the perfect view, that that one mysteriously disappeared twenty years ago.)

I don’t necessarily believe I am obsessive. I’ve realized that before I became a painter, I was recording my observations in other ways.  Whenever we traveled, I would stare out the window, photographing every dip in the landscape that caught my attention, what I secretly called my “drive-by shootings” before that term took on such horrific meaning.  What I’m trying to point out here is that as artists we automatically observe the world, taking in every nuance and experience.  That is a remarkable gift, if you ask me.  We can look at artwork created in the past and participate, vicariously, in another existence.  A continuing thread, thousands of threads, a memory veil if you wish, that shows up in different forms in our own work.  An ongoing conversation.  Lives lived that are each unique and yet filled with common experience.

That might actually be the core mystery behind creativity.  And as Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her book, Big Magic, we don’t need anyone’s permission to express our creativity.  Yet artists often struggle with the belief that they do need permission.  If they don’t get that commission, or a gallery response to their portfolio, or accepted into a prestigious show, the sense of rejection can set the studio work back for months.  I speak from experience.  And it isn’t just the rejections, but the sense that we must do more important things (important to whom?) before we can justify stepping into the studio and paint yet another painting that won’t see the light of day. 

Again, I speak from experience. Due to unexpected circumstances, I returned to work three years ago, spending endless hours doing emotionally draining and exceedingly boring work and leaving my full-time studio dedication behind.  It paid the bills.  But the drip, drip, drip of the mundane did far worse for my sense of creative entitlement than the lack of money ever could.  That, my friends, can feel deadly.  It’s as if you don’t deserve the muse.  Pointlessness again creeps in and logical arguments grow proportionally.  With each step you move further away and it becomes harder to return, because, after all, now you are a full-fledged fraud calling yourself an artist when you can’t even get into the studio more than a few times a month. 

But I don’t think creativity cares.  Let me tell you a story.  Back when I was living the Real Artist Life I met a fellow artist who became a role model for me.  She was my age now when I met her over a decade ago, and during the 1970’s, while I was busy with young children and photographing tunnels, she was discovering her unique personal voice. In the 1990’s, while I was merely feeling restless, she was living in Mexico and Guatemala, creating works on handcrafted paper made of corn, perfecting her unique style reminiscent of Marc Chagall, and creating highly acclaimed work in her teaching studio. When we finally met, I idolized her while I was sure she hardly recognized me.  But one day I opened a wonderful email from her expressing admiration for my work.  Now, I am not attempting to connect myself to a famous person here, because this story does have an important lesson.  Perhaps a year ago, now, I was back visiting with my old gallery director, and I asked about this artist.  She was fine, my friend explained, leading me back into her shop and pulling out several canvases.  They were in various stages of the initial drawing or first few bits of paint.  My role model, she explained, was very happy, but she had forgotten how to paint.  She could not remember enough to finish the work.  I left that day with two of her sable brushes and several canvases, in various stages of development, which to this day and into the future will remain just as they are.  And that’s ok.

We do not have time to worry about whether we are entitled to or have earned the right to be in our studios creating pointless works of art.   Nothing is pointless, just as nothing is so earth shatteringly important that if it isn’t perfect or accepted by the world than it shouldn’t be done. It takes courage to resist the voices so eager to tell you no, not yet, this isn’t your time, me first.  But for many of us, we don’t get brave enough until we actually see the finish line of our own lives, and realize if not now, then probably never.

But late-blooming bravery is ok too. Because the way I see it, when I paint, I am doing it for myself, recording, exploring, analyzing my experiences as I work my way through life.

Which is really the only way I want to live my life.

 


When the Thrush Calls You

I woke up today to the sound of the bird tapping at my window, my own personal Hitchcock movie.  This bird - of the thrush family, I think - has taken on the task of cleaning the insects from the web that clings to the clerestory window, too high for me to clean by ordinary means.  He sits on the edge of the pergola, then flies up - tap, tap, tap - then back down, over and over.  At first I thought he was tricked by the reflection of clouds and was flying away home: by the end of October, it's too cold for most birds to stick around.  But the diligence with which he works -  moving his way across the upper quadrant of glass, where the webs are filled with summer gnats - tells me this is not a bird misinterpreting the reflection of reality.

I tell this story because it reminds me of something I heard, once.  Vision, or inspiration, is given to the person who sees value in an action that others view as pointless.  Perseverance, too, is given, for it takes determination to keep tap, tap, tapping at an invisible barrier that will not let you pass, if that is what you are doing, or tap, tap, tapping because there is something else you are trying to achieve.  The fact that my thrush repeats his daily ritual despite reflections that change, weather that shifts, tells me he is not concerned with illusions. There is intent behind his repetition. 

I will not bore you with my personal struggle, because while I might feel I am done with art, apparently art is not done with me.  My more passionate arguments are an effort to convince myself that perseverance is more than transient experience, but you know as well as I how hard it is to hold on through the mundane challenges - suppliers stop making that favorite canvas, you can't find a brand of paint anywhere. Even your family has turned to glancing at your unsold paintings and then asking sympathetically if you've run out of bare walls yet. And it occurs to me now that my excuses are so pathetic, they are downright funny, and my mouth can't stop twitching.  Art School should have covered Art Crisis, but instead, they leave it as something we all face down, either limping back to the sidelines or beating against the glass.

Asher B. Durand (1976 - 1886), in his book on Landscape Painting, talks a lot about the personality of the artist and the unsolved problems in art.  He quotes the noted painter Jules Breton: "Every new picture brings a new problem, and who knows if we may be able to solve it.  But if there were no new problems we should all cease painting; for there would be no more art." 

I wish I could tell you to do this and you will achieve that, but I can't.  I can't give you the answers to the unique problems you will face.  I can tell you there is a difference, as Durand stated, between a craftsman and an artist, and each must decide what type he wants to be.  That you will probably never think you are good enough but that shouldn't prevent you from trying.  That there is no finish line, literally or figuratively, after which you "have arrived." 

I can, and will write about a lot of things. 

But the most important thing is this:

You either fly up and tap at the window, or you fly away home. 

 

 

 

 


Has Art Become a Spectator Sport?

If the past fifteen years have revealed anything, it is that I am “not in Kansas anymore.” Between the ageist view that art is the “deterrent to dementia,” and the proposal that legitimate art must be raised to a Ph.D. level, older artists are caught in the middle.  Suddenly upended with new expectations, we must evolve, while struggling with the fear of marginalization, lost potential and artistic irrelevance.

As an artist who did not begin the practice until the age of fifty, I find this idea challenging.  Some academics suggest that, with age, the artist becomes more contemplative and less competitive.  I have not found this to be true.  Perhaps I am not old enough.  Perhaps you are not old enough either, and that in itself is a good thing.  But it is also unsettling, the “not in Kansas” thing.  Traditional pathways for upward mobility have disappeared, replaced by something else entirely.  Where there used to be collaborative gate keepers, we are now considering the role of advertising and juried exhibitions in the struggle for visibility.  And the public perception - as Robert Storr says, colleges have for decades promoted the idea that art plays an “accessory role” to the “higher realms of mathematics and science.” Forget centuries of history, theory or abstract narratives.  Can you produce a video, or entertain the public?  One weekend, dozens of artists, all furiously turning out artwork – who couldn’t love that?  And this brings us back to the idea of Art as a Spectator Sport.

I have nothing against plein air events or videos of any kind. In fact the resurgence of Plein Air Painting as a legitimate genre has been a boon for some artists and the collector base supporting them.  I’m talking about those who paint part time because they have to work and worry about fading away on the fringes of the “relevant” art world.  But change, you will recall, is the only thing that stays the same.  The sudden abandonment of the French Academies following the immense popularity of Impressionism destroyed more than one artistic life.  Look at the millions of visual images with the capacity to catch and hold your attention.  Art still holds power, but that’s not the problem.  The problem is more akin to access.  Over the centuries, access was controlled, the way water is controlled through dams and culverts, pipes and faucets in kitchens.  There was always someone who regulated the flow, and those who received it valued the consistency and appreciated the benefits. No bad water in the glass.  When you wanted a drink you knew what to do: turn on the faucet, fill the glass.

Now take away the control.  Visual artifacts are like rain, falling everywhere, millions of drops that vary by size and velocity but, well, essentially are the same thing and free for the taking.  There is no way to describe the feeling of being invisible while compelled to be a visual communicator, which is exactly where the “Art as Spectator Sport” mindset puts you.  Are you falling for that?  Is it any different than the research that proves “doing art” puts off the onset of dementia for about ten years, essentially diminishing the work of thousands of artists over the age of sixty to the equivalent of doing cross word puzzles?  No, if you accepted the offer to become an artist then you accepted the rules.  You don’t do it for recognition.  You don’t do it for money.  Only you know what – or who – you do it for. 

Along with mindset, there are a few other things of importance.

Training can take years, but that is normal and in fact training never ends.

Teachers can’t often teach what you want to know, or even what you need to know, but that does not mean you don’t need a teacher now and then.

The act of creating is more than meditation, but only if you are also filled with awareness of the unpredictability of insight.  If it is only meditation, then it is self-occupation.

No matter how much practice, without knowledge of formal training and informed self-critique, then practice is just meditation, also known as self-occupation.

And this quote from Ann Lauterbach:

You cannot plan for the new, since by definition it arrives out of the conditions that give rise to it. Now, on the other hand, also arrives out of the conditions that give rise to it, but instead of these conditions being akin to the prow of a ship (the Great Ship New), they are more akin to the buoyant waters that hold the ship up, in which horizontal surface (space) and vertical depth (time) are in a mutable, ambient relation—the relation, we might say, of scale. Where your particular ship is on the waters of Now is what you need to discover when you are making a work of art.

 

Where the Lauterbach quote originated, and what I am reading:  Art School (Propositions for the 21st Century), edited and with an introduction by Steven Henry Madoff.  

There is no way to avoid controversy if seeking enlightenment. 

 

 


Three Sources of Inspiration

August is Artist Appreciation Month. 

Most of the artists I know list their inspiration sources as either subject matter or style.  We often don't consider the other influences available. There are artists who inspire us through their life experiences.  Others inspire through their innovation.  The primary inspiration for me, though,  comes from the originality and depth of artistic thinking. One significant influence in my present work is Hans Hofmann

Hofmann was a visionary artist and teacher, often described as the leader of the New York School of Abstract-Expressionist Painting: some of his most notable students were Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Rivers, and Louise Nevelson.  Those who know my work may be surprised by this.  But I see it as an example of how an artistic philosophy is not limited to a specific style of painting. 

On Movement, by Hofmann

Movement develops from depth sensation.  There are movements into space and movements forward, out of space, both in form and in color.  The product of movement and counter movement is tension.  When tension - working strength - is expressed, it endows the work of art with the living effect of coordinated, though opposing, forces.

~ excerpt from Search for the Real -Hans Hofmann, edited by Sara T. Weeks and Bartlett H. Hayes, Jr.  The M.I.T. Press

IMG_0888 sm copy
Over There, 12 x 16, Sue Favinger Smith

The Power of Artistic Diversity

Here are some inspiring artists that have recently crossed my path.

Brandon Kidwell.  This Florida photographer describes himself simply as "a husband, father, son brother, friend, part time philosopher and freelance photographer," but his art reaches right to the heart of life. 

Jacob Collins: Seceding From The Photographic Sensibility. This  fascinating 9-part series from At the Confluence Where Painting & Photography Meet is one of the best discussions I've come across in years regarding the interplay between imagery, philosophy, and the intent of art.

Take Five - LINEA, Lessons from five paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, by

As well as these inspiring artists:

Ann Lofquist, with her evocative landscapes.

Pan Yu-laing,with a truly inspiring life story.

And  the artist Patience Brewer, who took her inspiration from a lifetime, followed her passion and developed a thriving business. 

So What About You?

So what about you?  Who inspired you in areas of philosophy, resilience, determination, courage, individuality or innovation?  Write a blog post about it.  Send your links to me and I will post them.  Lets get that conversation going!

 

 

 


Pretty Pictures or Something More?

I attended an event where one of the speakers remarked, “I live in a town of 4000, of which 8000 are artists.” The laughter soon faded as the meaning began to sink in: “There are too many who think they are artists.”  And here we were, aspiring artists, listening to that message from a Master.

Perhaps that’s not a bad idea to consider by those who venture on the artistic path.  By acknowledging that creativity abounds, that each of us brings desire to the table, there are important questions that begged to be asked. 

Does innate talent play a larger role in one's success as an artist than practice, passion, determination and resiliency? I have wondered about this question throughout the more than a decade and a half that I have been writing about art, and I haven’t yet come up with a solid answer.  But what I have done is look to those who have been recognized as “artists” to try to identify what might be unique about them.  And patterns begin to emerge.

They see clearly the end result they want to achieve, and they follow their own direction to get there.  Whether this relates to style, to starting or finishing, to subject matter, what they value most is clarifying their own vision of what it “will look like” when it is finished. 

They have a master's understanding of the tools they use, the historical foundations behind their approach, the mechanics in producing a finished appearance that is both uniquely theirs and uniquely beautiful.

They bring elements that are both personal and universal into the visual message. They know what they are in an intangible way, and it is the underlying support of their painting.

They approach the canvas, paper, clay with a confidence and ease that reveals the level of understanding they have achieved. 

Is this talent? Or a combination of various factors? I found this interview with Daniel Sprick extremely interesting: in it, he said, "One of the things I like to do as an artist is to challenge my own preconceptions."  Between believing in the 10,000 hours concept and grinding out a painting a day - both ideas which may or may not have merit - when do we ever talk about what constitutes substance, authenticity, poetic sensitivity or contemporary relevance except in the vaguest terms?  However you want to articulate it, there is something that some people do that the majority of us have not considered doing.  We can label it as talent, or knowledge and experience, but they are able to produce paintings year after year that impress us.  Call it gravitas, call it courage to produce work that speaks with your own voice, call it an ability to bring life into a flat surface and colored oil - these are conversations more artists should have, something we ought to start amongst ourselves as we search for our own answers. 

An artist needs the craft.  She needs an thorough awareness of art history to better understand the influences that appeal to her.  Seeking out and sharing the sources of information and inspiration, such as the "Liminal Spaces: A Conversation with Daniel Sprick" post by Elana Hagler, and posted on the Painting Perceptions: commentary on perceptual painting blog, can help contribute to the important connections we artists need to make to further our personal understanding of the work we have chosen to do. 

Please share your favorite resources in the comments section below. 

And Thank You for reading today.

"Fall, oil on canvas, SFSmith 2015  IMG_0874 sm copy