For those who might wonder why music plays such a great role in human life and culture, Daniel J. Levitin has written This is Your Brain on Music. The book contains remarkable insights and new information on music, song and dance. Some researchers think music may actually predate speech. Others see it as a wayward deviation that only ends in harmless play. Curiously open-ended and open-minded, there’s something on every page of Levitin’s book that has me asking similar questions about the brain and painting.
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Having recently set up a new studio in a new locale, my friends are calling with the same question: “Are you feeling creative in your new space?” Pregnant with myth and mystery, a new room can ignite all the original dreams and fears of even the most seasoned studio-hopper. Without sounding too superstitious, the question can feel a bit blasphemous. While we all may swim in the mystery of creativity’s delicate alignment, and tremble at the juju of a new space, it’s the occupant that determines a studio’s potency. Studio vibes — ineffable, designed, cultivated or summoned — are, in the end, artist vibes. They’re germinated by sweat.
A subscriber wrote, “I was wondering just who buys all the art. I came up with a few possible demographics. Then it occurred to me that I should ask my favourite guru — you.”
Thanks for the elevation… These days there are five main types of art buyer. Some are a combination of more than one type. While it’s not something that you must make a study of, it’s often useful to recognize these birds when you see them in the field.
A couple of months ago, Peter and I wandered into an all-white room in the Auckland Art Gallery during moments of the museum’s opening show. This tour had already visited London, Buenos Aires, Shanghai and other hotspots. The room, set up like a typical New Zealand home with lounges, dinette, kitchen, piano and TV, lay in wait to be covered by visitors with sticky dots. Within minutes, a flurry of toddlers exercised their born obligation to vandalize the pristine little homestead with stickers. Like many starts, it was sputtered, incoherent, and a bit anti-climactic.
A subscriber asked, “What do you say to people who are acrylic snobs? One of the oil painters who is in a show with me said that it might not be a good idea for me to mention the word acrylic on the title cards. ‘After all,’ she said, ‘it’s just plastic goop.’ This hurt me and I can’t stop thinking about it. Worse, I couldn’t think of a nice comeback — nothing better than, ‘But I love acrylics!’ ”
In 1970, Geoffrey Bardon was teaching elementary school art in New South Wales when he could no longer ignore the emotional struggles of his Aboriginal students. In an effort to gain insight, he applied for a teaching post in a remote government assimilation centre 240 kilometres west of Alice Springs. In his diary, he described Papunya as “a hidden place, unknown on maps, considered by officials as a problem place,” where 1400 people had been gathered from scattered tribal groups, having been forced from their land and way of life.
In 1954, when Ernest Hemingway learned that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he remarked, “This prize belongs to Cuba, since my works were conceived and created here, with the inhabitants of Cojimar, of which I am a citizen.” Attracted at first by marlin and swordfish, Hemingway fell in love with Cuba and moved here in 1939.
For Hemingway, Cuba meant new scenery, new people and a clean start.
Friends give books because they need to help you with their thinking. Fortunately, or unfortunately, most of my friends are pleasantly agreeable. Here are some from under our tree:
Vincent van Gogh: The Drawings — This is a big fat museum catalogue with lots of illustrations and touching excerpts from Vincent’s letters to his brother Theo, and others. We see his life-loving, inventive, optimistic mind as well as technical delights such as the ‘perspective frame’ that Vincent used for six formative years.
Artists and art-material suppliers come together at Pearl Paint’s Great American Art Event in New York. “Secrets” here are bought, sold and given away. Popular instructors demonstrate “trees, rocks and water” or “fruit, vegetables and lace” or “how to paint ‘itty bitty’ paintings” or “how to master abstraction.” With lots of free paint, brushes, stretched canvas and art boards, it’s a creative rummage. For many, the gods are in the equipment. Others come for motivation or inspiration. Most are looking for techniques to match the quality of today’s materials.
Spain is a country that gives lessons in the organization of form. I’m thinking of whitewashed villages with soft cubist motifs: light, shade, colour surprise and varied textures of tile, masonry and stone. These magic places seem to tumble from their hillsides for the benefit of art. In narrow streets with singing canaries and sunlit geraniums, there’s abstract energy. Even clothes hung out to dry take on a significance unfelt at home.