Fearlessness and Cowboy Wisdom

"Messages from Home Are in the Stars" Molly Cook, 2015
“Messages from Home Are in the Stars”
Molly Cook, 2015

One of my favorite books for anyone in the creative arts is Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles and Ted Orland.

I found the book in 2000 although it’s been around since about 1994. My copy is filled with notes, and post-its to mark pages, and underlines for passages I particularly wanted to remember, and goofy little symbols to remind me of something that was certainly important when I put that symbol on the page.

Two of the best pieces of advice for a creative soul that I know are in this book. Others are elsewhere, and the book holds many more, but these two stand out for me:

“You make good work by (among other things) making lots of work that isn’t very good, and gradually weeding out the parts that aren’t good, the parts that aren’t yours. It’s called feedback, and it’s the most direct route to learning about your own vision. It’s also called doing your work. After all, someone has to do your work, and you’re the closest person around.”

and

“We modestly offer this bit of cowboy wisdom: When your horse dies, get off.”

In the writing world, there are people who want to write and other people who want to want to write. Or, as the writing joke goes, want to have written.

I find fewer people like this in the visual art world. People who want to do art generally find some way to do it.

On my walk this morning I ran into a homeless fellow I see often in our neighborhood. We usually chat for a bit. Today he asked me if I’d like to see his art. I said I would.  The content of his drawings is not quite my cup of tea, but the workmanship is there and he wants to get better.  We had a good conversation, the homeless fellow and I, about doing our work and the problems that go with being – or working to be – an artist.

If Scott can do his work, I can do mine.  And you can do yours.

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

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It’s taken longer than I expected to get back to work here – life intervened and work and a hot spell we didn’t expect that has sapped our energy and dried up the gardens and left us to sit in whatever cool spot we can find and read for the duration.

I’ve lately been reading James Elkins’ What Painting Is, a book that uses the language of alchemy as a way to think about painting.  It’s fascinating, mysterious and, because Elkins is a painter as well as an art historian, full of truths about the painting life.

This passage struck me yesterday in a chapter titled “The studio as a kind of psychosis:”

” Sooner or later every one of a painter’s possessions will get stained. First to go are the studio clothes and the old sneakers that get the full shower of paint every day. Next are the painter’s favorite books, the ones that have to be consulted in the studio. Then come the better clothes, one after another as they are worn just once into the studio and end up with the inevitable stain. The last object to be stained is often the living room couch, the one place where it is possible to relax in comfort and forget the studio.  When the couch is stained, the painter has become a different creature from ordinary people, and there is no turning back.”

Even as a fledgling, I felt the shock of recognition.  “Psychosis” may be too strong a word, but I can’t argue with the description.  And since my studio takes up most of the space where I live (a 300 sq. ft apartment), well, the possibilities for paint and possessions are endless.

The nice neat corner I set up for the art when I moved in has expanded to encroach on the living area, the kitchen (counter?  what counter?) and all available wall space, although I’m fiercely defending the “bedroom,” otherwise known as a daybed in an alcove.

Time to get back to work now, but I’ll write more soon about how I’m approaching the “body of work” dilemma.  With a body, of course.

Happy painting!