Looking for Your Lost Joie de Vivre? Try Art!

“Boplicity,” 20″ x 24″, acrylic on canvas,
copyright 2017, Molly Larson Cook

I read a question the other day on one news site or another, a question about art.  I’ll paraphrase here, but it went something like this:  “With all the craziness going on in the world and in the United States, all the corruption and politics, threats of war or actual war, why does art matter?”

My first thought in my often smart-alecky way was “Well, it keeps a lot of us busy in our studios and off the streets.”  My cardio doc would add that it keeps a lot of us healthy.  Only the Fortunate Few would say that it makes anybody rich.

On one level, I understand the question.  But on another level, it makes no sense to me.  It’s kind of like saying “With all the craziness going on in the world and in the United States, all the corruption and politics, threats of war or actual war, why does eating matter?”

There’s a sense of fatalism in this question about art and another more bothersome sense that art has no value.  That we should be stewing and fretting about serious matters instead of indulging in the frivolities of art.

I’m reminded of a moment during the Cold War when Richard Nixon went on the air to say that if there was an enemy attack, he would come on television to reassure Americans.  A kid somewhere in America apparently responded to this by saying that all things considered if the bomb was going to be dropped, he’d just as soon watch “I Love Lucy” reruns.  Amen to that.

But joking aside, art matters even more in desperate times because it reminds us while the economy goes to hell in a hand cart that there is, indeed, still beauty in the world.  Art is the joie de vivre of the human animal, the human spirit.  And there’s something for everybody.

Landscapes, portraits, still lifes, sculptures, collages, abstract expressionism and more.  It’s a free camp. From Damien Hirst’s colored circles to Monet’s garden, from  O’Keeffe’s sex-on-a-stem flowers to Whistler’s mama just a’sittin’ and a’rockin’.  From the caves of Lascaux to Venus on the Half Shell (I say this lovingly).  From the Mona Lisa to the drawing your kid posted on the refrigerator.

Joie de vivre! 

Let the naysayers try to steer us ever thus to the serious business of life.  It is the artists who will always be there to keep us on the wide and playful side of life.  They’ll inspire us, delight us, annoy us, confuse us, offend us, make us think and laugh and wonder.

In troubled times, and baby we got ’em, art is our defense and our protection against the slings and arrows of the serious business of life, the 24-hour news cycle, our dwindling retirement accounts, arrogance and pomposity and meanness.

I’m off now to finish preparations for my own art show.  I’ll be delivering the paintings tomorrow, “The Colors of Jazz,” my small contribution to help counteract all that’s going wrong in the world today.  If the paintings make even one person feel better about things, I’ll call it a success.

 

 

 

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Art, TEGWAR, and Sweet Songs in the Halls of Creation

“These Women in My Life”
Mixed media collage
24″ x 24,” Molly Larson Cook, 2015

“I don’t follow any system. All the laws you can lay down are only so many props to be cast aside when the hour of creation arrives.”  —Raoul Dufy

“Do what suits you…try to paint in the moment…
forget everything you have learned…”
–Jan van Oort

The words of these two painters are near and dear to my creative heart.

Dufy was a French Fauve painter who lived and worked at the end of the 19th century and through the first half of the 20th century.   In addition to being a painter, Dufy was a draftsman, printmaker, book illustrator, scenic designer, furniture designer and public planner.

van Oort is a contemporary Dutch abstract expressionist painter as well as an architect, composer,  jazz saxophone player, writer and advertising concept designer.

In other words, neither of these artists put all their creative eggs in one basket – or even two.   The word polymath comes to mind.

As I look at their short biographies, I begin to detect the great appeal both these artists have to me and why their advice which is essentially advice to break the rules resonates so strongly.

One of my favorite novels and without question my favorite movie is Bang the Drum Slowly. This is a story of baseball, rain and human understanding.  On off days or when it’s raining, the players sometimes engage in a game called TEGWAR – The Exciting Game Without Any Rules.

I’m not proposing a full monty game of TEGWAR for artists and neither were Dufy or van Oort.

But they, and so many others who came before us, know the value of learning the rules and then tossing them aside in pursuit of our own voices, our styles, our artistic ventures into new territory.  As Joseph Campbell once said (and I paraphrase), if you’re following a path, it’s somebody else’s path.

I know this from another side as well.  I’ve taught creative writing for several years and my goal is to teach the writers the basics and – yes – the “rules” of whatever genre we’re working on – poetry, fiction, nonfiction.  They sometimes ask to see samples of my own work and I show them.  But I don’t want them to write like me.  I don’t want them to write like any of the writers they read.  And I don’t want them to be slaves to the rules.  I want them to use the rules as a foundation and the writers they read, including me, as samples, but I want them to write like themselves. 

When we look at the art of those who’ve come before us, when we browse the magazines with the newest art, when we walk the galleries and museums, we get ideas and appreciate the art that interests us.  But we don’t want to paint like those artists – we want to be inspired by them to paint like ourselves!

There’s a kind of poem called a “nonce” poem in which the poet creates a one-off poetry form just for that poem.

I’m all for nonce art.  One-off paintings that will please the artist and won’t be repeated.  The artist will make the rules and the result will be the artist’s voice sweetly singing in the halls of creation.

 

 

Passport Photos of the Art World

“Mr. P.C.,” ©2018, Molly Larson Cook
24 x 36, Acrylic on canvas

Over the years as an arts writer, a steadfast museum and gallery visitor, a buyer, a student of art history and now an artist, one thing remains uppermost in my personal Arts Appreciation endeavors – the photos never look as good as the actual work.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a professional doing the photography or an amateur with a pretty good digital camera, it just doesn’t happen.  And quite likely can’t happen.

I know I’m not alone in this.  More than one gallery owner has let me know that the work received based on photos for juried shows was too often a disappointment.  Or, for gallery goers, the work in person is sometimes a gorgeous surprise after just seeing the photos in the big expensive books.  Photos of paintings are kind of the passport photos of the art world.

The problem is more than changing colors and lighting. It’s also about perception.

On one occasion at a Georgia O’Keeffe show at the Boston Fine Arts Museum, I – a faithful lover of O’Keeffe’s work – came around a corner and face to face with O’Keeffe’s  “City Night.” I had seen this painting countless times in books, but nothing prepared me for the three-dimensional quality of the work.  I started to fall and a kind fellow next to me put his arm out to stop the fall, then smiled and said, “It does that to you.”

Indeed it did.

Although I post the photos here of my newest work, taken with my super duper digital camera for which I’m wildly grateful, I know, too, that what you see is never quite what you’ll get in person.  And I’ve been to enough galleries and museums to know that I rarely get the images I’ve seen.  Nearly always, the real thing is more vibrant and dimensional and that’s not an exaggeration.

Photographs flatten everything, including the rich textures of a painting as well as the highlights of paint colors in reflected light.

The push is so often on now to get our work online.  The new media is the thing.  The new marketing is the thing online.  Aside from my posts, I haven’t made the jump yet.  I’ve started more than once, but when I look from the paintings to the photographs and back again, I know I’m losing something in the translation.

I much prefer to show my work in person or have it in a gallery where potential buyers or appreciators can see it up close and personal.

That said, I’ve included here a photo of the last piece for the upcoming solo show, “The Colors of Jazz: Celebrating poetry, jazz, and visual art.”  The show opens on March 25 at the Inkspot Gallery (San Diego Writers, Ink.) in Liberty Station, San Diego, and the reception will be Friday evening, April 6 from 5:00 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. followed by live poetry.

If you’re in the area, I’d love to see you there.  Like the rest of us, the paintings always look better than our photos.