In 1898, 28-year-old Charles Frederick Goldie returned to his hometown of Auckland, New Zealand after studying painting at the Academie Julian in Paris. He moved into his former art teacher’s studio in Auckland and the two began co-working on a large-scale, historical painting – like Raft of the Medusa – depicting the arrival of the Māori people to New Zealand.
Friends give books because they need to help you with their thinking. Fortunately, or unfortunately, most of my friends are pleasantly agreeable. Here are some from under our tree:
Vincent van Gogh: The Drawings — This is a big fat museum catalogue with lots of illustrations and touching excerpts from Vincent’s letters to his brother Theo, and others. We see his life-loving, inventive, optimistic mind as well as technical delights such as the ‘perspective frame’ that Vincent used for six formative years.
In R.J. Palacio’s 2012 children’s novel Wonder, about a boy living with a rare medical facial difference, a middle school teacher named Mr. Browne encourages his fifth grade class to use precepts to guide the school year. “Like a motto,” says Mr. Browne. “Any saying or ground rule that can motivate you.” On the first day of school, Mr. Browne writes on the blackboard, “When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind.”
Artists and art-material suppliers come together at Pearl Paint’s Great American Art Event in New York. “Secrets” here are bought, sold and given away. Popular instructors demonstrate “trees, rocks and water” or “fruit, vegetables and lace” or “how to paint ‘itty bitty’ paintings” or “how to master abstraction.” With lots of free paint, brushes, stretched canvas and art boards, it’s a creative rummage. For many, the gods are in the equipment. Others come for motivation or inspiration. Most are looking for techniques to match the quality of today’s materials.
A subscriber wrote, “Do you ever get stuck? I’m not producing, yet I have endless ideas. I have a studio doggie, take walks in nature, eat well — all the right stuff — but I’m still stuck. There’s some kind of block when I come back to the cabin. Any ideas?”
n addition to the pillars of a studio dog, a daily walk and a quality snack, one other mysterious component could perhaps aid in the recovery of the blocked artist.
Here, in France, potions are in fashion. Miraculous mineral waters, copper bracelets, Thalassotherapy, algae injections, mud activities, the pleasantries of colonic irrigation — there are ways of purging the bad stuff from the lungs, brains and bowels. Going by the number of Boxters and Beamers parked outside the fashionable Miramar in Arzon, Brittany, it would appear that the schemes that sell some of these elixirs are big business. Perhaps it’s got something to do with the perennial French interest in “The Cure.” I overheard one woman say, “Thalassotherapy has better odds than Lourdes.” As an aside, in my opinion, these folks aren’t getting enough roughage.
Studies have shown that if you gather a bunch of nine-year-olds in a gymnasium and describe to them the physics of a back handspring, you’ll see in return a collection of head cocks and fidgets. Instead, researchers noticed that kids will jump to their feet when an actual gymnast performs this right in front of them. A back handspring — like a life in art — is perhaps easier to attempt when you’ve witnessed someone else doing it.
Spain is a country that gives lessons in the organization of form. I’m thinking of whitewashed villages with soft cubist motifs: light, shade, colour surprise and varied textures of tile, masonry and stone. These magic places seem to tumble from their hillsides for the benefit of art. In narrow streets with singing canaries and sunlit geraniums, there’s abstract energy. Even clothes hung out to dry take on a significance unfelt at home.
While travelling in my twenties before the camera phone, I’d carry a Canon SLR with a 300 millimetre lens — a graduation gift from my parents. The thing weighed 7 lbs — a practically extinct albatross by today’s standards. I accepted the neck ache in exchange for the special reminder to look and compose.
These days, our camera phones and their features take high-res snaps that can be tricked out for saturation and white balance, cropping and sharpening. Instagram and other online sharing platforms allow for immediate connection with other like-minded image junkies.
After painting steadily for six months while doing a minimum of socializing, I gathered my accumulated works and destroyed them. Oh, maybe I kept a few of the better ones. I had made up my mind that this six months was going to be strictly about learning and experimentation. There were piles of half-finished paintings showing every touch of goofballitis that hit me. Stuff was dripped, rollered, squeegeed and scraped. Paint was on discarded doors, chunks of Styrofoam, linoleum panels and hand towels. Some paintings attempted materials and techniques that found me incompetent. Other works had occasional modest glimmerings of goodness.