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.

 

 

Mixing It Up for the November Show

Today was a gallery day as I rearranged the work from last month, switched things around and added two new pieces.

The new additions are from an earlier series. and I wasn’t sure they’d work with the more abstract pieces already in place.  I loaded the trunk with an assortment, so I’d have plenty of options.

I had fun and smiled to myself when I realized this felt like pulling things out of the closet, trying them on and discarding them one by one as I shuffled the paintings around – put one up, take two down, take those two down and try something else.  It was all about color balance and also – for me – about symmetry.

I’m never quite taken with shows where the work seems to be placed at random on the walls.  It’s a matter of taste more than anything, but also a matter of knowing how you want your work to be seen.

I want my work to be seen in a relatively ordered manner allowing viewers to focus on each painting without distractions.  Quietly. Thoughtfully.  Other artists are going for something else.

When I had things the way I wanted and had used all the tools of the gallery hanging trade including the handy level, the gallery owner dropped by and gave me a thumbs up, noting too the symmetry. “I wouldn’t add a thing.”

And the new pieces from my “Frank Lloyd Wright” series worked beautifully.  Here they are. I’ll have a picture of the entire wall in a few days.

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Deconstructing Frank Lloyd Wright
18 x 24, Acrylic on canvas, c 2016

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Frank and Vincent Go for a Walk
18 x 24,  Acrylic on canvas, c 2016

I’m ready for the Friday opening and grateful to have this terrific opportunity to show my work and for the sales that have been happening every week. Small steps, but this artist’s journey of a thousand miles has begun with one small show in San Diego.  Who knows what’s next…

 

 

 

 

Another Month in the Gallery!

October has been a happy and busy month with the show at HYPE Gallery and my gigs as a participating artist gallery-sitter through the month.  I don’t know about the other artists in the show, but I love being at the gallery and talking to any and all who wander in.

The good news now is that the show has been extended through November.

I’ve met so many interesting – and interested – people and have enjoyed engaging them in conversations about the work on the walls as well as, in a few instances, their own work.

Artists like to see what other artists are doing, so it’s always a reasonable guess that some of these folks are also doing creative work.  A few of them have been musicians or working in some other creative field.  More than one has been involved in high tech, and my abstract paintings have been of particular interest to them.  I like hearing about what they see in the abstractions.

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“Blue in Green,” ©, 2016, 20 x 24 acrylic on canvas

One of my choices to do abstract work is the whole idea that the viewer can add his or her own narrative.  When I have the chance to hear that narrative, it’s especially gratifying for me.

I’ve also sold some pieces, always good news, including one that’s on its way to Germany, purchased by a young couple touring the western United States.  I was happy to meet every buyer and to know where the pieces would eventually find their homes.  Although selling artwork online is popular, I don’t think it’s for me.  I have too much fun getting to know the folks who enjoy the work, although I’d be happy to make the sale to any of my readers who might be interested.  We’ll just have to get acquainted some other way.

One couple who started taking art history classes “just for fun” during their early retirement bought one of my first collages and were already discussing just where it would go in their home as they walked away, happy owners of one of my own favorite pieces, one I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to sell.

Selling one’s work, all of mine are originals – no prints, is a lesson in letting go.  But when we know our work is making someone else happy, that’s a good thing.

In his book The Art of Loving, Erich Fromm wrote about generosity and noted that the most generous among us are not afraid to let things go because they know they can create more of whatever it is – money, love, art…  I keep that in mind.

And now I’ll have another month in the gallery – more art, more conversations, maybe more sales.  As we say in southern Cali, “It’s all good.”

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“Celestial Bodies,”  ©2016, 11 x 14, mixed media collage on illustration board

Hype Gallery/Studio Door in San Diego’s North Park Arts District
3750 30th Street, San Diego, CA
For information, contact The Studio Door, 619.255.4920

 

 

 

 

Who Put the Art in the Party?

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Part of my wall at the HYPE Gallery

It was no coincidence that “art” was right in the middle of “party” on Saturday night at the Studio Door/HYPE Gallery in San Diego.  Live jazz, good wine, happy people, great conversations, a little dancing and – of course – art!

Like writers, artists like me without a big studio where I can invite people in work much of the time in solitude.  The possibilities of getting our work to the public are generally limited to street fairs or a neighborhood coffee shop or competitions where we might exhibit (if we’re lucky) one or two paintings.

But the chance to show our work in a gallery, several pieces of our work at one time, is a break we don’t take lightly.  And the possibility of making sales on the spot is a possibility that means a lot.  Most of us are not starving in garrets, but selling our work is not just about making money with it.

I sold two of my smaller collages Saturday night, one to someone I know and one to strangers, a delightful couple who told me how much they liked it and talked about where it would go in their home.  That’s the part that means something to me.  And the person I knew did know about my art but had not seen it.  When she did, she wanted to own one of the pieces.  We were both happy.

As a born people-watcher, I also enjoyed observing the flow of the crowd on Saturday night – the folks who come to see a specific artist as well as the art aficionados who enjoy a pleasant evening out and want to see what’s new. It’s instructive for an artist to watch what happens when they pass by your own work – the ones who take a quick glance and move on, the ones who stop to take it in, spend time with the work, sign the guest book or pick up your card and slip it in a pocket.

Abstract art is not for everyone, so I didn’t expect everyone to be interested, but I listened to comments and watched.  Learned.  None of this will change what I do – I’m not creating art for the masses – but I did hear things that helped me know I’m not headed into an art ditch either.

I came home Saturday night gratified by the whole experience.  And Sunday morning, I gessoed up a new canvas and got right back to work.  An artist.

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New work.  Only just begun…stay tuned!

Another Opening, Another Show!

As September winds down, and summer as well, my attention is fully on preparations for the gallery show in October.  Selections have been made, titles chosen, labels printed and postcards mailed.  In other words, I’m ready to get this show on the road.

As someone who has done a turn or two on the stage, I can easily compare this first show to opening night – the anticipation, the touch of anxiety, the knowledge that anything can happen, and the pure joy of finally bringing the work into the world come what may.

At the same time, I’m already thinking ahead.  I’ve built a good body of work with my most recent pieces, many of which will be in the show, but I’m itching to explore further and new ideas come to mind.

I don’t question that color will be the defining aspect of my work, but the possibilities are many.  And they gypsy in me wants to travel a few new roads.

I didn’t do much painting over the summer, but I did create a few 8×10 pieces to sell at the show.  Here are samples:

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I’ll also include a few collage pieces from my Celestial Bodies series:

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Again, color all the time.

And about that color, here are the opening lines of my Artist’s Statement that lend a little insight into how that all came about:

“Perhaps it was the 50-color paint set my grandmother bought me when I was nine. Or perhaps it was the technicolor movies, especially Walt Disney who animated music with color. Or it may have been my first college art history class where I fell in love with the vivid colors of Raoul Dufy and the Fauves (as well as my art history professor) when I was eighteen.

“Whatever it was, despite work with charcoal and pastels, clay, collage, or pen and ink, I’ve been hooked on color ever since.”

The show opens October 6 and the reception is Saturday, October 7 from 6-9 p.m. at Hype Gallery/Studio Door on 30th St. in San Diego’s arts district.  I plan to be there!

 

 

 

 

 

Bringing Your Whole Heart Home

drawing 001Pen, ink and watercolor, 2013, Molly Larson Cook

 Forgive me, but today’s post is somewhat more personal than most of what you’ve seen here.  It comes in part as a response to a recent health issue – nothing serious but painful day in and day out.

Oddly enough, it also comes after receiving a particularly fine award and publication for my poetry, a gift I’ve hoped for all the many years of my writing life.  And it comes after a struggle following that award with the big questions of how I’ll spend my remaining years.

Since childhood, I’ve wanted to be an artist.  But – also since childhood – encouragement came for my writing, not any childish drawings.  Writing came easy – poems, essays, plays – along with awards for them and praise.

Over the years, I had secret sketchbooks in which I drew pictures that never saw the light of day except for my eyes only.  I continued to write, but it was the world of art that tugged at me.  In college, I boldly signed up for an art history class, a move that boggled my parents, but I loved every minute of it.

I followed other creative paths in addition to writing – dance and theatre at the top of the list.  I finally took my first art class in my early 40s and was encouraged by the instructor to “consider art school.”  When I heard her words, it was like the moment in the old movies when the homely secretary takes off her glasses and lets down her hair, and the boss says, “My God, Miss Fenster, you’re beautiful.”

Yeah, it was that powerful.  Someone, someone who knew about art, had recognized my heart’s desire.

I continued to take drawing classes from her and others but it was another ten years before I made it to art school and began to understand fully what it meant to me.

Over the years, my desire to be an artist was sidetracked by one thing or another – relationships, the need to support my family as a single mom, once by an art professor who took pleasure in making me feel small and incompetent, and not least – by all that praise for the writing.

Praise is not a bad thing, and I’m grateful for every word of it, every award, every note from others to let me know I was accomplishing something worthwhile in the world.

The problem was inside me.  The problem was that the desire to be an artist was powerful, and feeding it in a half-assed way by creating posters for poetry readings and greeting cards for friends wasn’t doing the trick.

After I received the award for my poem,  I decided to enter a competition for a poetry chapbook.  This meant that I needed to write another dozen poems to go with the best of what I had, and I turned to that during the month of March.  I painted a little, but most of the time I was writing and editing and organizing poetry.

It was about that time that the health problem kicked in.  I didn’t make the connection immediately except to note that I was now spending most of my time at the computer which meant a completely different posture from the one I had when painting.  It also meant that I was spending much less time with all those tubes of colors that I love.

Happily, two pieces of wisdom crossed my desk during that time – one from Rumi and one from Joseph Campbell.

From Rumi –  “A thousand half-loves must be forsaken to take one whole heart home.”

From Joseph Campbell, his wise words that became clichéd in the 80s and 90s – “Follow your bliss. Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it…It is a matter of identifying that pursuit which you are truly passionate about and attempting to give yourself absolutely to it. In so doing, you will find your fullest potential and serve your community to the greatest possible extent.

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Wherever you are — if you are following your bliss, you are enjoying that refreshment, that life within you, all the time.”

 

Writing is important.  Words are powerful.  Poetry is beautiful.   None of my pictures may be worth a thousand words.  They may not be perfect. They may not be worth trying to sell.  But they’re mine, and I know I’m on “the track that has been there all the while, waiting for me.”

I don’t plan to get derailed again.

With love to all of you who are happily doing art, and encouragement to all of you who are hesitating.  Go ahead – bring your whole heart home.

Molly