Sometimes You CAN Judge a Book By Its Cover

A beautiful Art Nouveau book cover. If this image belongs to you, let me know and I'll remove it.
A beautiful Art Nouveau book cover. If this image belongs to you, let me know and I’ll remove it.

I’m a writer as well as a sloooowly developing artist, and I love books, especially older books which were designed with care and treated as something more than bundles of information.

At the library today I ran across a lovely book about such books, or more precisely about book covers.

Alas, the days are gone when book cover artists worked their magic.  I’m not talking about dust cover art which is what we see on hard-bound books today but the covers of the books themselves.  If a book did come with a dust cover you could take it off and have something beautiful in hand.  Remove the dust cover now and you’ll have colored pasteboard with no art at all.

I lament this condition.

Book cover art in America had its heyday in the Art Nouveau period, and the covers are beautiful, often tending toward water lilies and other flowers as was the wont of much Art Nouveau design.  But these were not “art books” that cost an arm and a leg. These were ordinary books any bookseller might stock.  What a joy it must have been to walk through a bookstore in the 1930s or so – a walk through a gallery!

The publishing world has changed, of course, and is now run by people motivated by a lot of things unrelated to art.  I’m reminded of the words of writer Tom Robbins, a man with an artist’s heart I’m absolutely certain:
“People who sacrifice beauty for efficiency get what they deserve.”

And so do people who sacrifice beauty for the all-mighty buck.

Ruts Are for Wagon Wheels

"An exuberant city" Molly Larson Cook
“An exuberant city”
copyright 2014, Molly Larson Cook

I realized the other day that I’ve been working on my mixed media collages for a couple of years now and that I’m in a rut.  Or was in a rut.  I climbed out of it today.

When I started the collages after years away from doing art, I took the safe way, and I think that’s a fine way to begin.  I didn’t want to spend good money on supplies that might or might not lead me anywhere. I dug into my boxes of pastels and small tubes of paint and watercolors and charcoal sticks I’d carried around for longer than I want to admit.

I don’t regret carrying all that “art freight” through one move or another because it was the realization that of all the things I’d paid to have shipped from place to place, the art freight always came with me. I figured it meant a lot to me.  And I was right.

But just as I wanted to economize on supplies, I economized on supports.  Collage is a great way to reuse all kinds of things, and it’s conducive to all kinds of supports, but I’ve reached a time when cutting up and covering pieces of old cardboard boxes is just not as charming or rewarding as it once was.

It’s time to pull on my big girl paint-covered sweatshirt and go long.  Today, I visited the art supply store and brought home a beautiful gallery wrapped heavy duty canvas, 18 x 24. Canvas costs way lots more than old cardboard boxes. I’m not ready to use it yet, but that white surface reminds me of things to come and inspires me to be brave.  I do know buying it ready-made from the art store separates me from the harder working real artists who build their frames and buy the canvas and stretch it themselves.  I’ll get there.

Artists will tell you that the blank canvas is as daunting as the blank page to a writer.  They’ll also tell you to just begin.  Put a mark on it – or a word on the page – and something will happen.

This week, I just want to look at the lovely white canvas. Next week I’ll be ready to make a mark.  I can’t wait to see what happens.

A Sunshiny Shower

It’s raining this morning in sunny Southern California and I’ve been standing by my open door looking out at puddles asplash with raindrops. I’m here for the sunshine, but soft rain never fails to stir my senses.

They said it couldn’t be done, that the drought was upon us. Dire predictions ensued.  One day of rain doesn’t end a drought, but it does remind me of an important fact of life: Things change.

Beware dire predictions.

This Is Your Real Life 101

We can only guess what flowers mean in dreams.
“We can only guess what flowers mean in dreams.”

One of my collages…

Are you living in a world of “the magic if”?

Actors know about the “magic if.” It’s a method they use to get fully into a role. It’s useful in stimulating emotional responses to whatever’s happening on the stage or screen. You see it all the time if you watch anything at all. You didn’t think those actors were really weeping at the funeral or frightened in that creepy old castle, did you?

Nah. Not with all the chaos and clamor surrounding a movie shoot or standing on a stage in front of a few hundred people. Actors use the “magic if.”

“Hey, what if your old dog Shep ran away and got hit by a car?” That’ll get the tears coming for the funeral scene. Or “What if you were giving a lecture and realized you didn’t have your pants on?” Well, this might depend on how much of an exhibitionist you are, but chances are you’d feel bad enough to demonstrate the required panic in the old castle.

Unfortunately, many of us make our way through real life confusing the “magic if” with the not-at-all magic “if only.” You know the one: If only… I could win the lottery … I could see my high school sweetheart again … My boss would give me that great job in Manhattan…I were shorter, taller, older, younger,  (name your own).

A variation of the game is to consider the big-picture past. If only… I had gone to Harvard… married the nerd who developed that billion dollar software program… spent more time studying for the exam… paid attention to that “road closed” sign… and the list goes on.

And what, I hear you ask, is the point here? The point, dear asker, is that “if only” will keep you from living your real life. Every. Damned. Time.

You want tulips in the spring? Well, then,  get to the garden store, buy the bulbs and plant them in the fall. You don’t wait until spring when everyone else’s tulips are in lovely bloom and whine, “If only…”

You want to work on art? Well, then, get out of your Laz-E-Boy, buy yourself some art supplies, take some classes – or don’t, and get busy. You don’t leave everything in the packages and whine, “If only I had the time, money, inspiration…”

As artist Chuck Close says, “I always thought that inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.”

The point: You are not an actor on a stage or in a movie. You are a person in a real life. One shot. One time around. It’s a choice. Except for the lottery thing. I can’t help you there.

All Things New – and Old

It’s definitely spring now and the tulips are beginning to fade in the warming weather of San Diego.  But I find them beautiful still.  Hence the photo that accompanies this site. My grandmother, a mistress of the garden, loved a book I gave her with photos by Irving Penn of flowers in all stages of bloom.  She pointed out to me how beautiful the withering and faded blossoms were and said, “They hold the seeds for the next generation.” As my life changes and the wrinkles (smile lines!) become more visible every day, I think about her words.  She lived to be 103 and was beautiful every day. In the art world, they refer to young or new artists as “emerging.”  I like that word.  I think of butterflies emerging from cocoons, chicks from eggs, babies from wombs, and new lives – no matter how old we are – from whoever we were before. I’m not an emerging artist yet.  Maybe I never will be. I’m still trying to regain whatever footing I once had back in my days at art school and with later workshops.  I’m experimenting and learning all the time.  I’ve been brave enough to put a few things in small local art shows and was happy to get feedback, but I know enough to know that “I like that” is not the kind of critical feedback artists need. A “crit session” is part of the education of an artist.  In a serious crit session, you listen.  And you learn.  “I like it” is not part of the vocabulary in a crit session. I’m in a new life now and it takes time to find your tribe in a new place.  Meanwhile, I do the work and keep in mind the words passed on during a crit session at Maine College of Art – words from sculptor and instructor Gary Ambrose:  “What you want is something rich and complex, not complicated and confusing.” Words to live by.  In art and in life.