The Painting Part — with Singing and Dancing

“Morning Dance” © 2018, Molly Larson Cook
Acrylic on canvas, 24″ x 30″


“Painting is the easiest job on earth, until you get to the painting part.”
Brian Rutenberg
I’d like to meet Brian Rutenberg and if I ever get back to New York, I’ll look him up.  I found this line of his on somebody else’s blog and immediately remembered Picasso’s declaration that great artists steal, so I stole it.  I may not be a great artist yet, but as I continue to work, I practice any chance I get.  And this line was too good to pass up.  Thank you, Pablo. Thank you, Brian.
Robert Henri continues to teach me new things as I continue to enjoy his book (The Art Spirit).  For example–

“Pretend you are dancing or singing a picture. A worker or painter should enjoy his work, else the observer will not enjoy it. It is not good to wear lace that was a drudgery to someone to make. The lace, as well as the picture, should be made in joy. His works are full of the beauty of his enthusiastic interest in life. All real works of art look as though they were done in joy.”


Let me call your attention for a moment to the second sentence here.  “A worker or painter…”  Anyone who is creating anything qualifies for Henri.  And for me, too.  A well-made staircase is as much a work of art as a painting, and one hopes it was done in joy.


Henri’s suggestion about dancing or singing a picture does not fall on deaf ears for this artist.  It’s not a coincidence that I give my paintings titles from the world of jazz.  I may one day move on to something else – country, western or rock, perhaps, but for now it’s jazz.


I don’t start with a particular tune or title in mind. The titles come at the end.  And I don’t listen to a lot of jazz while I paint – most of it’s in my head – but I do a lot of singing and dancing while I work. (And before.) (And after.) I’m an Emma Goldman kind of woman. Emma famously said if she couldn’t dance, she didn’t want to be part of the revolution.  Amen, Emma.  Amen.


Despite Henri’s emphasis on joy, he also wants us to work passionately, intensely.  “The artist is the man who leaves the crowd and goes pioneering. With him there is an idea which is his life.”  (This is my home, this is my work, this is my life.)


I’m currently working on new pieces for upcoming shows.  I’ll be doing one in LaJolla this fall and looking at a couple of other opportunities mid-late summer in San Diego.  As I do this, new things are evolving for me, and I find the challenge of trying the new without abandoning the old to be a bit daunting. It’s not exactly a paradigm shift, but it’s something.  I guess Henri might say that I’m “pioneering.”  The tension between the old and the new is where the creativity sits.  Isn’t there some kind of cosmic law about this?


I have the sense of going deeper with the colors, “deeper” being a relative term that I’m not certain I can even define.  I don’t think that’s a bad thing. I can feel what I’m doing. Not being able to articulate it seems about right.  Surprising ourselves as artists is just what Henri recommended.


So, sing and dance your paintings.  Pioneer.  Surprise yourself.  And – I have to add – talk to and listen to your work.  You might hear the music of the spheres and almost certainly will hear the songs of your soul.



To Frame or Not to Frame

Backstage at the Art Studio

When I began to think about submitting paintings for art shows, I also began to think about frames for those paintings.  As I strolled through framing stores or framing sections of art supply stores, I thought more about it.

Looking at art in galleries and museums, frames are even more on my mind – the many styles and possibilities.

I sometimes wonder why an artist chose a particular frame for his or her painting.  Some of them work, it seems to me, but many others distract.

Some juried shows require a frame and are often quite specific about what kind of frame is acceptable.  I don’t argue the point.  But I’ve made the decision not to frame.  I stick with painting the edges and offering my work unframed with hanging hardware installed.

I have a couple of reasons for this and will be interested in your take on the framing question.

Reason #1 – Frames can be quite expensive and if I add a frame, I have to build the price of the frame into the price I charge for the painting.  By not adding a frame, I’m keeping the price lower for the buyer.

Reason #2 – Frames – to me – fall into the “décor” category and are as personal for the buyers as choosing a sofa or carpet or any other furnishing for their homes or businesses.  Because I work in abstract expressionism with a focus on color, I can guess that the buyer might like color, but beyond that, I have no idea how anyone’s home or office  is decorated or a buyer’s taste when it comes to framing.

I was told a few years back by a framer that most people who buy framed art have it reframed to suit their décor.  It makes no sense to me to spend – and charge – money for a frame that will be removed and replaced by something to the buyer’s liking.

When invited to mount the solo show coming up this spring, I was quite clear with the gallery owner that my work would not be framed.  She was fine with that.  The finished black edges define and don’t distract from the art.  If pushed, my taste would be for the simplest black frames, but I already know, after selling a couple of pieces that were framed this way, that the buyers wanted something else.  Something more ornate that I could not have guessed.

Of course, if a buyer asks to have it framed and we can choose a frame together, I’m happy to facilitate that step.  Some buyers know exactly what they want and others want to try a painting in one room or another before giving it a “forever home.”

Initially, I suggest that a buyer hang the painting without a frame and live with it for a bit before they decide whether to frame or not to frame.   It’s a take on the advice I got from an interior designer years back when I moved into a very modern high rise apartment and had questions about some of my antique furniture.

“Live with it for a while before you decide to make a change,” the designer told me.  I did, and the antique oak dining table and chairs stayed.

One note – if a gallery I’d like to be part of wants to show my work and requires that paintings be framed (as some do), I will by all means frame my work with those simple black frames.  I’m not about to shoot myself in the foot.

If you’re an artist or an art buyer, I invite you to let me know your thoughts on framing.