Acting on a tip, I downloaded from the app store a deck of imagination prompts. Originally created in 1975 by musician Brian Eno and painter Peter Schmidt, Oblique Strategies began as a box of index-sized cards for artists, made of cut up, discarded prints from Schmidt’s studio. Now, in 2016, the cards can arrive on your phone. I found them by following the breadcrumbs from a story in the New Yorker magazine describing a world-renowned food critic who sometimes emails his editor around deadline time to say that he’s forgotten how to write. For him, Eno and Schmidt’s “strategies” have been a go-to during moments of creative malaise. But what about deadlocks at the easel? The “strategies” include:
Rain drums on the studio roof. We wait for spring and I’m fooling with the colours of summer. A slip, perhaps, to a borderline zone: the goofy idea that colours are people. It started with a quote from Marc Chagall: “All colours are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.”
Several years ago, my dad asked me to join him for a workshop at Hollyhock, an island retreat on the West Coast of Canada. After a crisis of confidence, I agreed and we found ourselves a few months later on the beach with a group of keen and diverse painters. We took turns with demos, talks, exercises and crits, working as a gelled but paradoxical unit. Our students seemed to enjoy the yin and yang of our strokes.
Architectural visionary Christopher Alexander has produced a four-volume “essay” that attempts to cure architecture. The Nature of Order: the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe makes some valuable assertions. Apart from being interested in the “universals” that he thinks ought to apply to buildings, I was playing with the idea of applying his principles to art in general and painting in particular:
Every morning at 8:30 a.m., Diane Warren drives from her home in the Hollywood Hills to an office on Sunset Boulevard she calls, “the cave.” There, she sticks to a strict schedule, working 12-16 hours per day, finishing one song per week. She credits her process to an obsessive attention to detail and a singular, one-song-at-a-time focus on melody, lyrics and chord choices.
There are eight paintings in these two rooms. Each is two meters high and they vary in length from six to seventeen meters. You already know I’m talking about les Nympheas — the water-lilies of Claude Monet, painted between 1899 and the end of his life in 1926, now permanently on display at the Orangerie in Paris.
In post-war Belgrade, Marina Abramovic’s parents were war heroes, having fought against the Nazis with the Yugoslav partisans and been rewarded with positions in the Communist party. Marina’s father was part of Marshal Tito’s elite guard, her mother director of the Museum of Art and Revolution. Her family of four lived in a larger-than-usual apartment and Marina had few responsibilities other than to do well in school.
This letter’s about truth. I’ve always found that anyone who waded in and proclaimed the “truth” was asking for instant excommunication for someone else’s cult. At the risk of deletion, my cricket and I are going for it. We’re also remembering Josh Billings’ remark: “As scarce as truth is, the supply has always been in excess of the demand.”
A few years ago while working, Scott Adams felt a spasm in the pinky finger of his drawing hand. He was diagnosed with focal dystonia — a neurological disorder where misfiring neurons in the brain cause unwelcome contractions in task-specific muscles. Musicians call it “musician’s dystonia”; archers “target panic”; and, in other sports, it’s called the “yips.” While the causes aren’t well understood, it’s thought to come from excessive overuse of fine motor muscles, and doctors say it’s incurable.
It has recently been discovered that the works of William Shakespeare were actually written by another person with the same name. And lately, around this studio, there’ve been a few anonymous letters like this one: “If I look for my name on the Internet, up comes an artist with my exact name and spelling who is not me. Even worse, the subject matter this person deals in is nothing with which I want to be associated. I’m considering using another name and maybe even one with the other gender. I’m thinking of continuing to use my real name as well but only for paintings that would go to people in my area. What do you think?”