Quincy Jones says that when it comes to making good music, God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money. By “God,” Quincy doesn’t mean organized religion — he doesn’t believe in an afterlife and disparages the peddling of “smoke and fear.” Instead, he believes an ineffable magic occurs when the heart is present. “Another word for it,” he says, “is love.” Quincy says you’ve got to be prepared. “Make your mistakes now and make them quickly. If you’ve made the mistakes, you know what to expect the next time. That’s how you become valuable.”
There’s no doubt about it, stress in the life of an artist can contribute to the diminishment of the art. Not only the amount created, but the quality as well. Simply put, daily stresses block the clear flow that exemplifies the artist’s life. Apart from that, stress over a period of time can lead to high blood pressure, stroke, and a host of other disorders that greatly interferes with the quality and duration of life itself.
“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work,” wrote E.B. White, “will die without putting a word on paper.” Instead of looking to the future for better working conditions, we can begin now, understanding that the idea is merely a draft, and a draft is merely an idea.
Elwyn Brooks White was born in 1899 in Mount Vernon, New York, and grew up with a love for books and animals. At Cornell, he edited the university newspaper while completing a Bachelor of Arts degree and after graduation worked as a reporter and advertising copywriter.
A subscriber wrote, “I’ve been a photographer for longer than I care to mention and have recently taken up painting in acrylic. I find that all the subject matter has been expressed through my photography and not much, if anything, catches my eye for painting. There are always subjects to paint, but none that I want to paint. My wife and I are packing up and moving to the B.C. Gulf Islands in an attempt to spark the creative juices again. Have you ever run into this kind of block?”
At the top of the staircase at the National Gallery in Budapest hangs what many agree to be the last Hungarian historical painting. Commissioned for Budapest’s bicentennial and finished in 1896, it depicts the moment two hundred years earlier when the troops of the Holy League, led by Commander Prince Charles of Lorraine, took the city back after 150 years under Turkish rule. At over 23 feet long and 11 feet high, the painting puts me at eye level with the iridescent pink flag and golden boots of an unknown colour guard, who has been crushed beneath the slain body of the Turkish pasha Ali Abdurrahman. They lay strewn across the painting’s almost dead-centre foreground.
Early in my career I came to know an artist by the name of Lawren Harris. On one of our walks together he told me that he thought paintings came out of themselves. He explained that the painting you are doing right now is the springboard for the next and the next after that. When paintings follow one another, in series or in similar format, they “learn” from one another. A useful technique is to vary the approaches to the development of the series. The whole idea, as I’ve come to understand and apply it, is to better extract the spirit of subjects. Here are a few methods:
Growing up hunting and trapping in rural Texas, Wyman Meinzer believes he’s covered every foot of the Badlands. “In August in this region, Texas is a virtual hellhole,” he says. “And I’ve seen some cold weather… as cold as it gets in this country and my dad telling us to go saddle up our horses and the winds out of the north are 30 miles an hour and it’s 15 degrees and I was thinking, ‘My God. Not today, please.’”
Here’s a simple system that builds creativity immediately. (Writing that line made me feel like a snake-oil salesman. But I digress.) I’m talking about pushing yourself to doing just one more thing every day. Results are guaranteed if you do it for a week. (Sorry, there I go again.)
With personal biorhythms, obligations, as well as climate, season, and other factors, we all have our times of maximum creativity and efficiency. In my case I seem to be at my best in the early morning
When Georgia O’Keeffe’s husband, Alfred Stieglitz, died in 1946, she packed up her home in New York for the last time and moved permanently to Ghost Ranch. She was 59 years old. Having first visited Taos in 1929 with her friend and fellow artist Rebecca Strand, Georgia had already fallen in love with the Southwest and poured herself into painting it. “Well! Well! Well!” she said on first glance. “This is wonderful. No one told me it was like this!” From that year on, she had made Abiquiú her second home, even customizing her Ford Model-A with an easel so she could drive out into the desert alone and paint in the back seat.
A few years ago a thief looked in a gallery window and saw what he thought was a painting by a relatively expensive, dead artist. Using an accomplice to distract the dealer, he grabbed it and fled. It turned out to be one of mine. I know the disappointment he must have felt because the painting soon appeared in a nearby dumpster. This is an example of someone trying to steal something that might have been successfully fenced in an auction or another gallery. I fooled ’em.