Iconic Books, Individuality and Confidence

Robert Henri and his 1923 book, The Art Spirit, continue to be wise and welcome companions on this artist’s journey.

I have begun to carry the book around with me the way I once carried Walden and Yevtushenko’s Selected Poems and Steinbeck’s Log from the Sea of Cortez.  There were others over the years. We all have our iconic books at one time or another.

Henri, of course, speaks directly to art.  No need for Emily Dickinson’s telling anything “slant.”  It’s all there in plain language to the working artist.  Here’s a passage I came across recently that struck me in its simplicity and applicability:

The technique of a little individuality will be a little technique, however scrupulously elaborated it may be. However long studied it will still be a little technique…The greatness of art depends absolutely on the greatness of the artist’s individuality and on the same source depends the power to acquire a technique sufficient for expression.  The (artist) who is forever acquiring technique with the idea that sometime (he) may have something to express will never have the technique of the thing (he) wishes to express.

No little individuality! For me this is a call to have confidence in our work, whatever it may be, and to take the risks that go with it.  Individuality is about that confidence, not about behaving wildly or wearing mismatched socks.  It’s the individuality of our work, not some quasi-Bohemian idea of the artist as an unusual person.

Dressing, as someone once wrote of a character in a book, like a person leaving a burning building doesn’t make anyone an artist.  It just makes the person – well, look like someone leaving a burning building.

Artists and other creatives are rarely run-of-the-mill individuals, to be sure, but there’s no need to call attention to that or make it the basis for any kind of entitlement.  In the communities I’ve loved the most, creative people – artists, writers, musicians and more – are treated not with entitlement but with the same respect other members of the community are accorded, no more and no less.  Those who claim entitlement become smaller in my eyes.

So we soldier on, toilers in the creative vineyard like toilers in any other vineyard.  We encourage each other, laugh with each other, engage in serious discussions with each other, feed each other when called upon and breath the same air as everyone else in the community.

Our difference – Henri’s “greatness of art” – is in our fearless individuality and our power (read confidence) to express that.

To my artist sisters and brothers, I can say only, “Keep on keepin’ on.”  (Yes, I’m that old!)

Here are the three pieces I’ve been working on…I’ll write more about the process and lessons learned next time.  These are 15×30 acrylics.  No titles yet.  The center panel which a week or so ago was wanting to be horizontal changed its mind in the company of the other two.  We never know…

IMG_2192   IMG_2191  IMG_2193

 

 

 

Advertisements

A Note on Technique

Last time I posted a photo of a recent painting, “Map of the Elusive Waterway,” and it generated a couple of questions about my technique.

Did I have a plan when I started a painting?  Did I just throw the paint on and see what happened?

I think any abstract artist might be asked similar questions.  Anyone who thinks Jackson Pollock’s drip or action paintings are entirely random and could be painted by a five-year-old must have the idea that there was no thought behind the finished work at all.  (Please don’t think that my mention of Jackson Pollock is in any way a comparison of my work with the master.  I have miles to go…miles and miles!)

Yes, abstract painting has a different “feel” than realistic work in which the subject is readily and clearly identified.  But most abstract painting includes thought along with emotion.  The answers to the two questions I was asked are Yes, I have a loose idea of what I want to create when I start a painting and No, I don’t just throw the paint on and see what happens.

Like other artists I consider design and space along with color theory, matching how the painting feels as it evolves with what I know about the basics of painting.  I also work in layers – layer upon layer – for the end result.

Because a single photo can never show the depth or detail of what’s on the canvas, I’m including here the original photo of “Map of the Elusive Waterway” along with a few close-ups of various sections of the painting to give a better idea of the texture and layers.

It’s all in a day’s work.  Or in the case of this painting – several days’ work.  I paint with acrylics which dry quickly – both a blessing and a curse – but even though the paint dries quickly, it still takes me several days to complete any one painting.

img_1927

 

Hippos in Tutus and Other Odd Thoughts about Art

img_1892

As I work at my continuing/continual self-education in the art world, I read a lot of articles and blogs about art.  They’re often quite helpful and informative, but I realized recently that few of the articles I read actually have to do with the work of art – technique, problem-solving, materials, tools, etc.

Rather, nearly all the articles from any art source these days are about marketing.

So much talk about price points and the relative salable merits of oil over acrylic over watercolor.  Talk about which sizes sell best and advice on salability of paintings that are (a) larger or (b) smaller.  Realistic paintings vs abstract.  Competitions vs art fairs.  The marketing discussions never seem to end.

img_1893

Let me say that I know most of us want to sell our work . Let me say further that I am not a cock-eyed optimist who believes some major buyer will one day – sooner than later, I hope – see my paintings and the clouds will part, angels will sing, I’ll get a one-woman show in a well-known gallery, and I’ll sell every painting I’ve done.

(This scene is related to the one in which the plain young secretary takes off her glasses, unpins her hair and  the young executive says – breathlessly, “Why, Miss Havisham, you’re beautiful!”)

Yeah, it happens in the movies, but hippos dance in tutus in movies, too.

In many arts – theatre, dance, and music for instance – it’s understood that you keep “taking class” as long as you keep working.  You keep learning all the time – practicing, rehearsing, polishing, perfecting.  Sure you audition and try to get paying work, but not without continuing to make your work better.

That’s where I am, this recently fledged artist who is no longer a beginner, working on the craft every day, rehearsing and practicing and then evaluating as best I can what I’ve done and what more I need to learn.  Plenty.

As I do this, the through-line for me (to use a theatre term) is color.  It’s the consistency I want and can depend on and which makes my heart sing.  If your heart doesn’t sing, why are you doing what you do?

img_1891

I can draw and I thought recently that I’d try something a little more realistic, but my mind, body, and art spirit just balked.  So unless something changes, I’m in the colored world of abstract expressionism for the long haul.  I don’t think I’ve found my voice yet in visual art, but I do know where to look for it.  I’m guessing it will turn up somewhere among the azurite blue, cadmium red and Naples yellow.

The recent 8″ x 10″ pieces here are my latest step on the journey…