More than a few of us report that our first inspiration to pick up a brush was Les Automatistes of Quebec or Kandinsky and Der Blaue Reiter. Fast, intuitive strokes invite access to a spontaneous and visceral creative experience — an appealing prompt. Others first fell under the spell of the carefully planned masterworks of Neoclassicism, the incremental chiseling of a hunk of marble or the specific strategy required by conceptual art that leaves the end fabrication to a team of minions. This slower system, set in stages with rules and requiring concentration, focus, observation and accuracy, may have felt the most natural.
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.
“If you want to be an artist — try being artistic.” This deceptively minor slip of info was given to me by a fellow painter, Maurice Golleau, somewhere in Provence many years ago. I’ve come to realize that it’s the life breath of our business. In other words, don’t just paint the boat, paint the most expressive boaty-boat you can drag out of your reference or your imagination.
How to do that? Here are a few ideas to think about and perhaps apply to your own subject or style:
Among the new and old friends who came to Banff last Saturday was a burgeoning painter who told me about a recent switch from oil to acrylics. “Those acrylics, they dry too fast,” he said. “How do I get that stopped?” I glanced over his shoulder at a painting done by my dad while sitting in the sunbeam of a glacier not far from where we were standing. “At first, they dry too quickly,” I said. “With time you may find that they don’t dry quickly enough.”
Artists write to say that they can do it one day and not the next. Simple as the problem may sound, it has always been a great curiosity to me. Some time ago I invented a method called “IAEAS.” It sounds Zeus-like, like a Greek god, and in a way it is. It stands for the “I’m An Extraordinary Artist System.” Before you turn me in, let me explain:
“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.
A subscriber wrote to say that many artists proclaim themselves to be “self-taught.” She cannot imagine that anyone is truly self-taught. She says, “I have learned from books, art exhibits, life, relationships, observations, and conversations with all sorts of people. I hear all comments and criticisms around me. I chew on them. I’m nourished by the ones that I decide work for me and spit out the others.”
I once took a turn as a sometimes player in a New York rock band. The leader, a long-haired, Gibson SG-wielding screamer who also studied Buddhist meditation, told me that in Rock ‘n Roll, making it clear about what you’re against rather than what you love is most effective. With this formula, rockers have successfully defined themselves. By kicking off a point of view, they have united, disrupted and inspired their audiences.
Here’s an exercise that you might try the next time you’re having a bout of creative constipation. I’ll relate it to painting but it works as well if you’re sculpting or writing a short story. It goes like this:
Make a painting that looks like it was done in five minutes, but take at least two hours to do it. Go seriously to work at making the thing and the job look casual and easy. Give it flourish and spin. Get the gestures right with freedom and paucity.