Right now I’m looking toward Omey — a small island viewed from an unimportant place called Claddagduff on the Connemara shore. In the foreground, designer rocks step down toward the weedy tide. Beyond, in patchwork fields, whitewashed houses huddle against the weather. Donkeys stand like gray statues in the fields and blue peat — smoke furls from chimneys. I’m trying to get my brush around a 16 x 20. I’m trying to make a “landscape” of the landscape.
Why do some of us persist in this habit? What’s the purpose? Why does this convention endure?
Firstly, it has something to do with the way we honor and have a sense of place. The way something tells us that our earth and her variations are worth looking at and perhaps preserving. Like bricks and mortar there’s permanence in land. Still, it’s the most sentimental subject of all: I’m humming “My Little Gray Home in the West.”
It’s also got to do with the ready availability of common forms: trees, rocks, fields, mountains, water, sky, homes — that’s about it — a variety of familiar elements which an artist may bless with a style and in so doing claim for his own. A critic might call it trivial. I rationalize I could be bowling, or golfing, or on that heath over there with those gun-carrying fellows who appear to be unsuccessfully stalking grouse. But I get my thrill stalking the little knowledge I’ve accumulated when making previous paintings, learning something new from this one, and though I’m exposed and shaking with the cold Atlantic chill, the time flies and all’s well with the land.
“Land of Heart’s Desire,
Where beauty has no ebb,
Decay no flood,
But joy is wisdom,
And time’s an endless song.” (W B Yeats)
Esoterica: Some artists report on the human capacity to simply collect. This may be why photography is the world’s most popular hobby. “Been there, done that, got the picture.” A painting is perhaps the ultimate collectible — the end result of a personal and private toil for treasure.
The following are selected responses to this and other letters. Thank you for writing.
by Jack Teague
I don’t find any pleasure or satisfaction in working outdoors. My work is poorer there. It’s bad enough in the studio. It’s all work and you must have everything just right to do it. “I don’t know why we are here, but I’m pretty sure that it is not in order to enjoy ourselves.” (Ludwig Wittgenstein)
PS: “My determination becomes colder to grab this twitching, living monster, and lock it away in crystal-clear, sharp lines and planes, to quell it and strangle it. I do not weep: I loathe tears, for they are a sign of slavery.” (Max Beckmann)
Act of communion
by M T Gebremedhin
To be alone with nature is to be one with nature. Artists ought to get it into their heads that painting in the out of doors, particularly in exotic places, is an act of communion. Results are often less than satisfactory, but this first hand feeling more than compensates for the inconvenience in the increased genuineness of the produced article.
The soul at peace with itself
by Elle Fagan, Connecticut, USA
I am more emerald green than the Erin Isles …with envy to travel to family roots there, between my disability and financial recovery, travel has been out of the question for much too long. But that is due to change soon and I have been doing short trips again, and trying not to spin my wheels to go farther and longer. However, thanks to the time/space travel in the virtual world, my spirits have been excellent for the most part, and your letters about your travels often (but not always) allow me to roam virtually. I like the Yeats quotes; hadn’t consulted him in ages, and I put the one about the Swans on my desktop easel to do a quick study from my imagination and wondered how it would compare. Recently, my college professor informed our class that landscape is the symbol of the soul at peace with itself.
“May the Road Rise to Meet you”
by Deborah Putman, Vancouver, BC, Canada
I read your letter about great great grandmother Brigit Ward in Galway and her ideas about art. Having just returned from my little home town, what do you suppose I had done there… being curious and all? I revisited the church of my youth and what do I see but an image of the opened heart of Jesus with rays of light emanating from it! I hadn’t seen this image for years. What struck me was that this was an image of the heart chakra. I wonder how many devout Roman Catholics realize they have an icon which embodies ancient concepts of the energy body from India in the midst of their glorious gothic church.
Change of heart
by Misa Gidding-Chatfield, Seattle, Washington, USA
I have been bathing, romping, cavorting and indulging in your letters. After many years of working with homeless children and being witness to so much despair, finding and reading your e-mail letters has put the breath of hope back in my heart. Last October, I left another non-profit organization behind me due to their deep desire for their incomes and protection of their jobs… not the children and families. Yes, I am a wee bit bitter. I took up my pencils and watercolors and set out to help people paint from their internal well of images. Since that decision, my life has shifted. The healing, the ache, the itch have united to push me toward total financial destruction. However, I am feeling so deliciously alive. I am past the terror I felt when I realize that I am painting instead of beating the streets for another life and heart-draining position with yet another non-profit organization.
Nudes in the street
by Chantal Fontaine, Montreal, Canada
Spencer Tunick, the 34 year old artist from New York who took photographs of 2400 nudes on St Catherine’s Street in Montreal (see letter in previous responses) was doing the same thing as you Robert when you got those shots of Brigit Ward in the Irish pub. You probably think you are doing fine art. Mr. Tunick is happy to report to all of us who were glad to participate, and signed a release before the event, that “It was not necessarily good art, it was not bad art, but it was art.” Period.
Group nude photos
by Harley Pittfield
Group photos are nothing new to Montreal. Before the turn of the last century William Notman was photographing hundreds of individuals separately and montaging them together and re-photographing them and selling them to the models. Skaters, hunters, men’s clubs, in Victorian days, mostly with the clothes on. This is what Spencer Tunick obviously has in mind. Those who took part in the event cannot resist the big photo. “That’s me there, I think, see, see.” Acceptable exhibitionism by popular consent.
by Denise Duncan
I have just had someone take a photo of one of my sculpture without my permission & sell it to a publishing company who used it to illustrate a section of a magazine they produced for yet another company! I was not credited for the creation of the work. I am wondering if you or your readers had any thoughts on how to proceed. The problem with having the end user correct the copyright infringement is that this run of 275,000 is done for the year. Too bad because it’s a very expensive, glossy magazine. Is that considered a small distribution? The image looks as though it has been digitally manipulated & cropped to 4.5 x 2.5. I understand that apart from making it available to the public without my permission, it is also against the law to modify it in any way. Unfortunately I am not in a position to hire a lawyer to sue him. What about small claims court?
(RG note) I suggest that you send a pleasant note to the end user and mention that you are aware of the photograph and that it is your work they are using. Date the letter and keep a copy for yourself. You may have a note from them acknowledging the situation and asking if they can remunerate you. If they do not name a figure I suggest asking for a small amount — say $100, and recognition in small print below in any further uses. Approach the whole thing in a spirit of good-will. If you think it’s worth a bundle you will have to get a lawyer to go after them. The gloves will be off and it’s been my experience that the lawyer fees generally swallow up the windfall. There are a lot of factors in play here. How much was the image modified? Please send me a copy of the infringement and a photo of your work. I’ll put them up here side by side, and we’ll get the advice of our more knowledgeable subscribers.
Art success on the Internet
by Alec Rutgers, Ontario, Canada
I would like to hear something about artists’ successes and failures on putting their images on a site that they have made themselves vs. one in which you are one of many. I am measuring success in terms of eventual commissions from people seeing their work on line. You have had your site for awhile so you could certainly speak on having a personal site but what about all the groupsites? Are these people having much success?
(RG note) We have done considerable research into this. To sum up our findings as reported by subscribers: The art groupsites are do-nothing overweight pussycats. Single artist sites are becoming marketing and informational Cheshire cats. And bricks-and-clicks art galleries are currently unleashing a sleeping tiger.