A recently retired schoolteacher shared her career-long response to students complaining of boredom: “Only boring people are bored.” I strained to think of an artist who had ever complained of being bored. I wondered: Are artists innately gifted with a love of time? Are they anointed with savvier powers to daydream, to reflect, to be curious, inventive, doodling and self-reliant? Do they possess a diminished need for pastimes and entertainment? How did they get here? Are artists born not bored?
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In July 1977, a broke and couch-surfing screenwriter was sparked to action by a book of paintings by a Swiss surrealist. He called the artist in Zurich and invited him to work on some concepts in Hollywood. The artist, an insomniac who suffered from night terrors, was also afraid of flying, so they agreed instead on England, where for 11 months the artist lived above a pub in Shepperton, Surrey. There, he built a prototype out of Rolls Royce parts and reptile vertebrae, working only from a brief sent in the form of a letter from Los Angeles
Last weekend I attended an exhibition of the work of a wide range of painters. A lot of it was photo-derived — some of it really crackerjack — others not so hot. Why is it that some people can take photographic reference and make it exciting, while others only succeed in reproducing a photo?
A lot of it has to do with the analysis that an artist gives to the reference prior to picking up the brush. Here are a few ideas you might find useful
Near where I live there passes an ancient pathway called the Semiahmoo Trail. It was first used by native peoples — the Semiahmoos — then by gold seekers, and later — not much more than a hundred years ago — by the first settlers in our area. Much of it has now been overtaken by urban sprawl. Some sections have been designated a heritage trail, bike path or nature walk. In some places it calls for a strong heart — small posts mark kilometers and encourage citizens to use it to increase their heartbeat.
Good karma is a creative tool. By contrast, bad karma can interfere with your work, slow your progress and spoil your fun. Your words and deeds are your honour and your glory. Future power is needlessly given away every day by thoughtless moves and ignorant remarks. It’s sad to realize that most of the world’s evil begins with our mouths. Here are some karmic tips for artists:
As a little girl in South Ohio, Nova Scotia, Maud Dowley suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which kept her small, with almost no chin and other physical differences. She spent her childhood at home with her parents and brother, and when her mother encouraged her to make hand-painted Christmas cards, Maud found that she could fashion a world of her own and depict the abundance of rural life.
“There is no such thing as an amateur artist as different from a professional artist,” wrote Paul Cezanne, “There is only good art and bad art.” And so a better question might be, “How can I make my work more professional?” Besides the game changers of working every day, using quality materials and being vigilantly unafraid to trash stuff that doesn’t measure up, professionalism emerges through refinement and intimacy developed over the course of a thousand conversations with your process. You might even say that when it comes, you’ll recognize it immediately.
You may have noticed the odd times when something is irking you, putting you into a bad mood, and you sit down at your easel and do good work. While it’s not as pleasant as when you’re in a good mood and everything is coming up peonies, it works to your benefit in another way. In my experience, a bad mood helps the attention span and the critical faculties — not necessarily to be more creative, but with a wider vision and a sharper focus.
Although some artists may put me down for this, I’m pretty sure that the production of art has to do with a sense of well-being. I’ve found that art is at its best when the art more or less takes over your life. It’s great if you happen to be a fan. Other specifics contribute as well, like the ability to access both sides of your brain. I call this “bicameral wobbling.” Sometimes “BW” is automatic, at other times you have to put a cattle-prod in your ear.
“There is no agony,” said Maya Angelou, “like bearing an untold story inside of you.” Coaxing the physical shape of this story into art can be painful. As a solo act, it’s all on you. Arriving at this minor miracle, day after day, invites a special kind of struggle, though we understand, as artists, that ours is a privileged suffering. Bestowed upon us by ocean-deep urges and childhood sparks, the process could at times be described as what Wassily Kandinsky called “a painful duty.” Perhaps we’re also simply propelled by the fantasy of an independent life, and it makes sense…