Yearly Archives: 2018

Letters sargent_mussel-gatherers-ca.1877
9

A good friend, Ron Longstaffe, now passed away, was an off-and-on fishing companion. A significant collector of what we amusingly called low- and medium-skilled art, he and I frequently whiled away boat hours discussing the virtues of his multi-million dollar collection. As he didn’t care for my work and didn’t have any to speak of, we always felt we could be quite straightforward with each other. Finely art-literate for a capitalist, he surprised me one day when he told me he didn’t know John Singer Sargent painted landscapes. “I thought he was just a society portrait painter,” he said.

Letters helen-frankenthaler_in-her-studio
30

Recently, an aspiring screenwriter friend told me she’d quit her day job. “I tried to just reduce my hours, but they kept creeping back to full time,” she said. “It was really hard to let go. I realized I was afraid of losing something I might never get back, instead of facing forward and going for what I truly wanted, which is to be a writer.” We agreed that committing ample space for a creative venture is a common barrier for would-be pros. “If I don’t go for it now, I’ll never know,” she said. We made a toast to the extravagant void in front of her.

Letters cartier-bresson_5
9

In 2004, at home in the south of France, Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the world’s best-known photographers, died. He was 95.

“One eye looks within, the other eye looks without,” said Cartier-Bresson. Starting with the simplest of box cameras, most of his life he worked in black and white with a quiet Leica, without a flash. He didn’t believe in cropping, staging, tricky developing or dodgy printing. His business was trapping the momentary visual delights of life in motion. “For me, the camera is a sketchbook

Letters Judith-Leyster_self-portrait_ca.1630
35

A recent study conducted by German neuroscientists scanned the brains of artists to try to figure out why so many of us are broke. When presenting subjects with a button that delivered a cash reward when pushed, researchers noticed that artists’ brain activity flatlined when compared to dentists and insurance agents. MRIs and dopamine measurements showed artists to have a reduced activation in the brain’s reward system. On top of this, a second test showed the artists were having a heightened response in another area of the brain. When told they could reject the cash prize, dopamine surged. Renouncing money, it seemed, is what got artists fired up.

Letters edgar-whitney_la-carriere
15

Why do some achieve mastery and others not? How is it that some “get good” and others never seem to? For many of us who teach or practice art — this is a question that we ask every day — about others and about ourselves. With all the interest in formal art education, workshops, self-promotion, sales, and other secondary art activities, there is, after all, no greater value than simply becoming a “master.” How does this happen? In my experience it largely occurs when the artist is alone. It’s a function of individual character.

Letters saraincontraluz-hornbyisland-bc-20x24-Robert_Genn
22

A subscriber wrote, “I fear I lack what’s required to be a great artist. My work seems to blend in with the work of others, I have trouble putting myself forward and I’m plagued with self-doubt. Am I just lacking the ego to do it properly?”

Thanks. You’re not lacking ego — everyone has one. You may have merely misplaced your ego’s good stuff while mistaking its darker qualities for the absence of one.

Letters de-kooning_oil-on-paper_untitled_1958
7

A subscriber asked, “What about cerebral vs. expressionist painters? Is it in the genes? Is it a non-choice or can a person change? Any reason to want to change? Is there any benefit in specifically working in another way as a new and hopefully expanding experience?”

These are questions that used to haunt me when I was younger. These days, being older, I’m haunted still. To put the record straight, I believe in giving in to your instincts — no matter how seemingly wild or insignificant.

Letters Velazquez_Kitchen-Maid
22

When asked if culinary school was a good route to celebrity chefdom, Anthony Bourdain, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, implored aspirants to first spend a year as a line cook. “You’ll make no money for a very long time, it’s physically demanding, you’ll have no life, and if at the end you can’t imagine doing anything else,” he said, “you’ll know it’s the life for you.”

Letters onley-lodi-tombs_big
1

Not everyone knows what I’m talking about when I drag the word “homeomorphic” out in mixed company. Specifically to do with equality of shapes in differing chemicals, it’s not in the art books. But it’s a valuable creative concept. Without always knowing its name, homeomorphism is generally pointed out as a type of compositional problem. Typically in amateur work, it’s a lineup of equidistant trees, or a mountain that rises up conveniently in order to avoid colliding with a foreground element. It’s a natural tendency of the human mind to automatically organize things neatly and in a regular manner.

Letters henri-matisse-in-hermitage-in-st-petersburg
11

Of the three million items to ponder in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Peter and I have gravitated across the Palace Square to the comparatively meditative General Staff Building. As if our own little secret, behind its 580-meter long façade (the longest in the world) is a dreamy block of pastel-coloured galleries recently opened to the public; the new home to 74 French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings unveiled after being thought lost for 50 years after the end of World War II. First titled “Hidden Treasures Revealed,” the collection opened in 1995 as a Soviet triumph of preservation and safekeeping.

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