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…

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Forget the Axeman – It’s Finished When I Say It’s Finished

The holidays are here in full force, but I’ll admit that my head is more in the studio than in wrapping packages.  I’ll get the packages wrapped in time, I know, but it’ll be a last minute rush because something happened – a good thing – in the studio.

Of course, each good thing is balanced by something else, and yesterday it was balanced by knocking over a ceramic mug holding brushes in water.  The mug smashed to bits on my tile floor and I was left mopping up the gray water and shards before I could get back to work.  Well, Mercury is in retrograde and these things happen.

The good thing is that I began reworking the painting I posted last time (Me afraid of the axeman?  Not on your life!), and the result makes me so happy that I’m off today to pick up a couple more 15 x 30 canvases to turn one painting into a triptych.

Although I had not read any of Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit in the last couple of weeks, this book has become my go-to guide, and yesterday – after the reworking – I happened on these words:  “Very technically speaking, thicker paint, a fearlessness in painting over and not being afraid of spoiling in so doing, may be conducive to a development of more solidity…”

Are you listening, axeman?  The painting is finished when I say it’s finished.

The other part of the good thing is that once I finished, I realized that my vertical painting had become horizontal.  Now this is not just a matter of randomly turning it one way or another; this is a matter of the bricks telling Kahn what they wanted to be.

When I work with writers, I tell them to pay attention to the subconscious which often knows more than the writer about what to say and what’s happening in a poem or essay or story – things the writer may not learn for some time to come.  I’ve had the experience myself with writing and now I’m learning to trust it with the art.  I intend to pay attention.

I’ll be on the alert for the axeman, but as confidence builds – along with the layers of paint – and as my trust in the subconscious takes hold, I’ll do just what I do with the writing:  I’ll start with a general idea of what I want to create, a general idea of the palette, a general idea of where I’m headed, but I will always – always – let the paint have the final say.

Here’s the painting I posted last time along with the final result:

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I’ll wrap the packages later…

Happy holidays and creating time to all!

 

 

Frank Lloyd Wright in My World of Jazz

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My Jazz paintings cozying up to two from my Deconstructing Frank Lloyd Wright series

As promised, here’s a photo of this month’s exhibit of my work at HYPE Gallery. The initial response has been good to this mixing of earlier and newer work.

Hanging a gallery show can be a challenge in the desire to keep the work consistent and not present a mish-mash of everything an artist has done.  As my sculpture prof used to profess about many things – you want something rich and complex, not complicated and confusing.

So I pulled smaller pieces from last time and added the two new ones. The first comment I heard was from a visitor who liked the arrangement and how the colors worked together.  That made my heart sing as, for me, it’s all about color.

The entire show this month with six women artists is rich and complex with color, and not one bit complicated or confusing. I’m delighted to be part of it.

As a side project, I’m also participating in the Postcards from the Edge exhibit this month at The Studio Door (our mother ship), a national project that benefits visual artists with AIDS.  The original, one of a kind, postcards created by artists all over the country will be sold and proceeds will go to the fund.  Because the postcards are exhibited anonymously, I’ll wait to post a picture of my entry until later this month.

Finally, I offer a couple of short passages from the 1923 book, The Art Spirit, by Robert Henri, artist and teacher.  His writings, nearly one hundred years old, stay fresh and inspire me every day.  He writes about visual art, of course, but his words apply to ever so many other things.

“Know what the old masters did. Know how they composed their pictures, but do not fall into the conventions they established. These conventions were right for them, and they are wonderful. They made their language. You make yours. They can help you. All the past can help you.”

and

“We are not here to do what has already been done.”

Amen to that.  Amen to that.