Author ShawnA

Letters robert-rauschenberg_cactus-kiss_1988

A subscriber wrote, “I used to evaluate paintings by looking at composition, technique, color, tone, texture, perspective, etc. Now I realize that even though these are important, they are really about craft and artisanship. I now think they come at a lower priority than the totality. I’ve rewritten my evaluation process: 30 points when the passing viewer comes to a stop. 30 points if viewer gets the point — message, feeling, mood. If too explicit, I deduct points. 35 points to artisanship as before. If, after a year, the viewer still enjoys looking at the painting, it’s worth another 5 points. Does this system make sense?

Letters romero-britto_flowing

This morning in Miami Beach, the hoteliers are battening hatches and tying down the potted palms in preparation for Hurricane Irma, and while she’s not their first storm, Irma has been reported to be one of the strongest in recorded history and has already mowed a path of destruction through the Caribbean. Just a few days ago, the beach splashed with holidaymakers glistening with Brazilian cuts — decorations to a sunbathed paradise of private islands, Lamborghinis and the multicultural, tanned cheeks of an American dream. This morning the dream is sobered by among other things, bobcats and sandbags.

Letters picasso_still-life-with-cheese

Art historian Jack Flam wrote a book about the relationship between Matisse and Picasso. It’s useful reading for any artist who has a close and competitive friend in the same business.

Matisse and Picasso were strikingly different, both as artists and individuals. Matisse, older by eleven years, was prissy compared to the rascally Picasso. Picasso’s approach to art tended to be literary. His works were generally based on the imagination and centered on a particular idea. Matisse, on the other hand…

Letters gauguin_vincent-van-gogh-the-painter-of-sunflowers

“It is useless to advise solitude for everyone,” wrote Paul Gauguin, “One must be strong enough to endure it and to work alone.” In these days of social sharing and manufactured applause, bona fide aloneness has become for many a kind of terrifying emotional enterprise. I’ve even noticed that solitude for some would-be creative types — once the de facto maturation ground for an artist — can now feel intolerable. Add to this the new reality that real, unadulterated solitude can be difficult to carve out — it’s practically endangered. Where do we go to be truly alone, to access our deepest stirrings and hear our inner poetry?

Letters tom-thomson_the-tent

There’s a challenging creative method which produces surprising, often mind-boggling results. Some artists do it instinctively; it’s the way they habitually work. This is such a good system that I would appreciate if you didn’t let it go any further than between you and I. It seems dangerous, but I almost guarantee it won’t kill you:

Block off a big chunk of private time. Prepare a batch of supports — panels, canvasses, paper, whatever. Get everything ready as if a big event is going to take place. It is.

Letters oscar-niemeyer_international-cultural-centre_asturias-spain

When Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer discovered reinforced concrete as a way to construct shapes that seemed previously impossible, he was suddenly free to explore his vision of form following beauty. “The artistic capability is so fantastic — that is the way to go,” he said of his new favourite material. “There is no reason to design buildings that are more basic and rectilinear, because with concrete you can cover almost any space.” Niemeyer’s projects — mid-century houses, government buildings, the United Nations in New York City, even Brazil’s new capital city — were lauded and criticized as “sculptural monuments”

Letters clementine-hunter_doing-laundry

A friend phoned and brought my attention to a study done at the Harvard Medical Center. It seems that nurture, not nature, is the big factor in the making of creative genius. Talent and genius are not inherited. These were the findings of Dr. Albert Rothenberg, the principle author of the study. Thirty years of research concluded that creative intelligence is due largely to parents’ own unfulfilled dreams of high creative achievement. Researchers used Nobel Prize laureates, Booker and Pulitzer Prize winners, and other cultural and literary awards as evidence of literary genius.

Letters wandjina-with-serpents

Last night, I dreamt about being part of a group of friends who, one by one, were consumed by a giant python. Before anything permanently terrible happened, the python spit us out and everyone survived. This morning, I went to Google and, according to Carl Jung, the snake dream was a kind of subconscious, impending transformation. As soon as I read this, I felt my skin loosen and start to peel.

Letters hiroshige_crane-flying-over-wave

It’s raining in Paris. The open-air book and print kiosks along the Right Bank of the Seine are clothed in plastic sheeting, their owners huddled in overcoats. They smoke soggy cigarettes, pull down their caps and complain to their neighbours how the weather is ruining the business.

Notre Dame Cathedral rises up behind, a grey eminence, as if it has always been there. Through the streaming droplets, I’m looking at contemporary Japanese woodblock prints, clothes-pegged alongside inexpensive, shrink-wrapped reproductions of Hiroshige, Hokusai and Utamaro.

Letters dad-proofing-my-poster-for-french-childrens-festival

“Shall I tell you what I think are the two qualities of a work of art?” asked Pierre-Auguste Renoir. “First, it must be indescribable and second, it must be inimitable.” With these two celestials in mind, how might we get closer to our own highest expression of quality? And in these days of conceptual spectacle, deskilling and verbosity, how is it even properly measured?

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