Yesterday I took part in an advisory panel. This is where a couple of somewhat respected artists take a look, one artist at a time, at the work of up-and-comers. For each half-hour interview, my accomplice Janice Robertson and I were presented with three originals, digital assemblies of recent work, and the artists themselves to talk about their goals and aspirations. Many wanted to know if they were ready for galleries. Some were looking for higher status in some organization or were wondering about more workshops and seminars. Most were simply asking, “What do I do now?”
I’ve always been suspicious of advisory panels, but artists seem to want them and not all artists are masochists.
Over the afternoon and evening we looked at beginner wanderings, wild imaginings and remarkable, professional accomplishments.
Funnily, we advisors often found ourselves telling one artist to stop painting big and to move to smaller works, while others were told to give their small stuff more power by painting bigger. Some are advised to paint “looser,” others “tighter.” So it goes.
I’m not a believer in critically picking at works here and there. I rather like looking at artists’ general direction and trying to see what they might wish to become. A few observations were clarified by yesterday’s encounters:
Artists need to learn to be their own best critics.
Artists need to go to their rooms and hone their styles.
Artists need to fall in love with their own processes.
Artists need to march to their own drummers.
Artists need to constantly ask, “What could be?”
Almost all artists need to further sensitize themselves to their subject matter and their passions, as well as to the further possibilities of their chosen media. They need to think ahead and work their plans. They need to be impulsive and audacious. Artists need to be — artistic.
PS: “Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.” (Erica Jong) “In those days he was wiser than he is now — he used frequently to take my advice.” (Winston Churchill)
Esoterica: Cao Dai is a significant Vietnamese religion founded in 1926. A synthesis of Pragmatism, Christianity, Buddhism and other eastern philosophies, its saints include diverse figures such as Victor Hugo, Jesus and William Shakespeare. A couple of days ago on the Mekong Delta I entered one of their cathedrals. My first thought was, “These folks need an advisory panel.” The décor was so over-the-top kitsch that it blew my socks off. A blend of Disneyland, McDonald’s and Salvador Dali, the garish colours and eclectic motifs were like a ball of candy-floss pushed in your face.Sucking up the incense, cruising the diversity, stared down by the “Divine eye” and giving myself a couple of minutes of quiet contemplation had me thinking “How wonderful,” and “Why not?” I was remembering Marshal McLuhan‘s remark: “Art is what you can get away with.”
A Cao Dai cathedral
Surviving the inquisition
by Winston Seeney, Speightstown, Barbados
The hallways of art are made famous by the honoured presence of many iconoclastic, non-conforming individuals. It would seem like a pretty exclusive process if artists meet to compress the works of their peers into what their perception of a marketable style is. When members of such a committee tell up-and-coming artists to loosen up and paint with more spontaneity, the ghost of impressionism looks over their very shoulders. Ironically, poor old Vincent Van Gogh would have never survived such an inquisition. In turn, his loss from the world of art would have eliminated the judgment of those very advisory board members who seek spontaneity and looseness in the works of those they judge. And so the circle goes round.
(RG note) Thanks, Winston. While survival is important, many artists are not at all concerned with marketing. To defend the panel concept, the ideals are much higher than that. And yep, for sure, a design panel would certainly have put Vincent off his game.
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The world we know has changed
by Valerie Seligsohn
Thanks to my dear friend, Caroll Drazen, I am now a recipient of your letter. Caroll was the first professor of art history and architect of its program at the Community College of Philadelphia. We became good friends, both graduates of University of Penn’s graduate program in fine art arts — she in art history and me in painting. Now she is an artist. After many years of suppressing her desire and need to be an active artist she is now painting wonderful works. Unfortunately, the world has changed. I have my glory. Of course I want to have more, but with the country in such turmoil, any advice I give her is mute. I do have my work in many important collections (valerieseligsohn.com). I know it is over; the world we know has changed. Art is not viable. All art is ephemeral.
(RG note) Thanks, Valerie. Several artists wrote today with pessimistic forecasts for the future of art. Maybe I’m stupid and don’t know what’s going on, but I’m optimistic. Sure, wiser minds must prevail to pull the world out of its current fiscal funk. But these things have happened before, and they will happen again. Art will prevail.
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by Linda Saccoccio, Santa Barbara, CA, USA
I would add to your list: Artists need to commit and recommit to their work again and again. Being an artist takes self-discipline and self-motivation with courage not to do what anyone expects. Artists are visionaries and have the opportunity to pave a new way. It is a fantastic path but not a comfortable one. Artists have to learn to work with discomfort, find the edge of creativity, and move away from what is safe. If you want to see yourself, Paint!
by Kelley MacDonald, Tiverton, RI, USA
I know myself, I feel like I want advice from more established artists. But when they give it I bristle and think to myself, “He/She has no idea what I’m trying to do! To go smaller/bigger or focus on this/or that is totally against my instincts.” I think, yes, time alone in the studio, miles and miles of canvas, exposure, rejection, more exposure and more rejection, with a little bit of hope tossed in here and that is just the way it has to be. It’s painful. It’s exhilarating. It’s frustrating, and yet sublime. Ms. Jong hit it on the head — we know the answers, we just wish they were easier.
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Unqualified critics at home
by Tom Murphy, Madison, WI, USA
You might want to devote a letter, or part of one, to the folks at home who tell the learning painter what’s “wrong” with his or her work. I’ve been teaching an adult education oil painting class for nearly fifteen years (and sell my own work exclusively through galleries), and time after time I see the disappointment of someone who did the right thing in class, only to be told that someone at home doesn’t like it. These “critics” are uninformed in composition or color or brush work, of course, but they slow down the student who is unsure of his/her abilities. It happened to me when I was beginning to go professional, and I have a stack of half-finished works in my studio which some day I am going to complete, despite my wife’s unqualified “critiques” of years ago. I told a student the other day that if “Mrs. El Greco” had told him she didn’t like those elongated human figures, and he’d listened, the world would have suffered a loss of great beauty.
Limited advice needed
by John D. Stevenson, Gatineau, QC, Canada
I have to agree with your conclusions regarding the artistic direction. My goal is to paint like myself and not be pulled into the age old ”You should paint like X, or your work looks like such and such’s work.” I only want to paint like John Stevenson. I think the advice I would like to receive from the ”pro’s” is: “‘Does the scene look and feel complete?” I find when everything in the painting works, the painting says something to the viewer. Sometimes it says something different to each individual viewer.
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Make your own way
by Terry Gilecki, Delta, BC, Canada
Critiquing another artist’s art, in my opinion, is somewhat a contradiction in terms. I too am not big on advisory panels or even juried art shows. Having entered only a few shows in my career, I left them on a high note placing a third by jury and, what I had hoped for more than anything, the people’s choice award. That was the critique that I prized the most then, and still do today. Even if advice and critique are given with good intentions in mind, it can be as negative as it is positive to the development of an artist needing or hoping to improve (which is pretty near every artist I’m sure). There are potentially brilliant artists that seek critique and guidance but take it too seriously. This could limit their range of expression and creative freedom to the limits of the critics themselves. All artists strive to be identifiably unique, innovative and original. I seriously doubt anyone can direct an artist there based on an opinion of what could have been a poor presentation of their work, or their foggy dreams and unrealistic aspirations. I wouldn’t want the responsibility of not recognizing a talent greater than mine.
Art is easily as diverse as music. I don’t believe a “Classic Opera” aficionado can even hope to critique “Hip Hop” or “Grunge” or most music in general. At best, they could only offer an opinion. Their opinion would likely have far less effect than that of the general music loving public.
For me, making art is a personal journey. I rarely ask directions from another lost traveler like myself, regardless of how long they have been travelling. I have found that even though the proverbial road less travelled is often longer and tougher, there is a far greater satisfaction and reward in “making your own way” than there is “taking another’s direction.”
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by Caryn King, VT, USA
Your list of observations today reminds me of what I hoped I would develop after art school. I wanted independence of artistic thought, which for the most part, I have. I know your list verbatim but sometimes it gets lost in my very busy mind. It is when I get caught up in what is or might sell I lose my way, my excitement with process, and inventive possibilities. It is what gets lost when I dwell on to much external happenings.
You can view Caryn’s artwork here.
You can’t stop art
by Nev Sagiba, Katoomba, NSW, Australia
I agree with most of your stuff, but this one in particular resonates strongly. Put anything alive in a box and it stops breathing and soon dies. Art is art verily because it’s alive and bursting boundaries. That’s what makes it original, unique and expanding like the universe does during new creations. Otherwise it’s merely process work. Art cannot be compared to other art because if it were not unique it would not be art! Cloned “art” is dead. Living art comes from deep within and may be a struggle or an obsession but never needs to be forced. You can’t make love “by the book” and neither can you do art by mimicking someone else’s formula or because it is Tuesday night or something. Real artists are driven; they don’t sit around with “artist block” whining they have no ideas. They have too many and have to grasp one to put it down before it goes. It’s a soul thing, a madness bursting through the bonds of matter and molding matter to capture the visions splendid. Otherwise it’s nothing but an emotional fart forced out for no good reason or copying something insecurely striving for recognition. Art, real art, needs no recognition. Mostly it is politically incorrect because it lives in the realm of freedom no tyrant can reach: The heart, mind and soul.
Art is! And there is no mundane force that can stop it. Art is the breath of life that gives life to the worlds and which some lucky few have allowed themselves to become channels of its expression.
Art is living nature reflecting the impelling universe itself through a human being. Universal magic itself!
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Autumn in the hills
oil painting by
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Brad Greek who wrote, “The bottom line is that we all want to hear that we are on the right track.”
And also Jim Cowan who wrote, “General De Gaulle asked his aide, ‘If as I get older I begin to make bad decisions… will you tell me ?’
‘Oui mon general’
To which DeGaulle replied, ‘Yes… but will I believe you?’ ”
And also Nancy Cook who wrote, “Take all the advice everyone you respect has ever given you, fold it up and put it in your back pocket (so you know where it is). Then follow your dreams, work very hard, be persistent, and grow.”
And also John Ferrie who wrote, “At the end of the day, it is just an opinion… everyone has one.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Advisory panel…