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.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Making Our Marks in the World

Frank and Rothko in Manhattan
Frank and Rothko in Manhattan
Frank and Claude on the bridge at Giverny
Frank and Claude on the bridge at Giverny

I’ve just been reading an article about the ways different artists “make their marks.”  “Markmaking” is a topic that often engages artists as they talk about their work.  Or it engages critics and gallery-goers as they view the work.

When I was in art school in Maine, our drawing instructor, a well-established painter,  gave us one key rule about our drawings – no erasers allowed.  She emphasized the importance of every mark to an artist’s work.  She also called on me as a writer to talk about this related to writing.

Yes, we eventually edit our work, but in the beginning the words all stay.  I strongly believe that computers have played a negative role in the writing world because it’s so easy to instantly erase a word or a phrase or a page.  Writers were a lot more thoughtful about their words when pages had to be retyped for the smallest mistake!  (Without intending to offend anyone, I think computer generated art has the same problem.)

Artists also eventually “edit” our work – cleaning up a painting, redoing a line that’s not quite what we want, adjusting here and there – but not at the beginning. My favorite writing guru, Miss Fidditch, says:  “Get the words down.  Then fix them.”

Miss Fidditch, who has joined me on this art journey, now advises: “Get the paint down. Then fix it.”

In the writing world, I’m what’s known as an “organic writer.”  I didn’t start out with a plan for a story, but with an idea – a character, a scene perhaps, a seed.  It turns out that I’m the same kind of painter.

I have an idea in mind, colors I can see in my head, shapes – a seed.  But I like to see what happens when I make the first marks.  I used to live in a city where there was a wonderful little store that advertised:  “Come in with nothing in mind and leave with something you love.”

Apparently that advertising line is my artistic spirit guide.  I could do worse.

As I wrapped up my “Deconstructing Frank Lloyd Wright” series of ten paintings in which the architect meets various artists, I realized that my mark making had changed.  After a lot of work with brushes, I’m now a devotee of the painting knife.  I proved this to myself today when I began a new, larger color field piece.

The pieces I did earlier were done with brushes.  But this one got right in my face and put the painting knife in my hand instead.  I am already in love with what’s happening.

When architect Louis Kahn was asked how he came to design certain buildings, he said:  “I ask the bricks what they want to be.”  And writer E.M. Forster said:  “How do I know what I think until I see what I say.”

For me who has taken up residence in the color field, a painting is not about a plan.  I ask the paint what it wants to be. Then I load up the palette knife, begin, and see what I say.

Making my marks, for better or for worse.