Recently, a young artist who is self-taught and self-employed asked if I might help with a letter of recommendation for grad school. Knowing her work and self-starter style, I agreed and asked her to draft the letter herself, in order to feature the details she thought would be most helpful. She replied with a list of bullet points about what drew her to the school’s program, her artistic aspirations and a mostly completed letter draft. She also sent me an updated CV listing the eight shows she’s participated in since graduating from university in 2017.
I thought about her paintings and scanned her bullet points. And while re-composing the recommendation in my own words shed light on what had drawn me to her work in the first place, it occurred to me that the benefit of the exercise was in her compiling the letter herself. Zeroing in on the object of going to school to learn how to paint — and what that really means — can crystallize in a few short sentences. I remembered an old friend who once told me that his MFA at Yale was the most joyful period of his life — for the sheer beginning of it — and the creative energy and cross-pollination of its milieu, teachers and friendships.
Later that evening, Peter and I had dinner with friends — one of them, a local sculptor who is married to a life coach. “What’s the difference between a life coach and a therapist?” asked someone. “A therapist is the person you break up with, once you’re happy,” said Peter. “A life coach,” said the sculptor, “can help you identify your limiting beliefs, then offer ideas on how to leap over them.”
We drove home under Orion’s armpit star, Betelgeuse, which is 700 light years from Earth, dimming in brightness this winter. Astronomers have identified Betelgeuse to be in its final, near-explosive stage of life, with only about 100,000 years to go. After that, it will collapse, rebound in a supernova explosion and probably leave behind a black hole. Or, say the scientists, it could just be old. Elderly stars are moody, they say. In their transformations, they cough up gas and dust that can make them appear temporarily dimmer, while simmering inside as their cores evolve and change.
PS: “My money all along has been that Betelgeuse is going through a somewhat extreme, but otherwise normal quasi-periodic change in brightness.” (J. Craig Wheeler, expert in supernovas at the University of Texas, Austin)
Esoterica: When seeking a letter of recommendation, draft the letter yourself, so that the person sending it need only tweak it to be personal and truthful to them. This is both to be specific to the goals of the letter and as a sign of respect for the recommender’s time. In art, a letter should include details about the nature of your relationship, then three or four features about your work and its suitability. Be specific, but concise. Your recommender will have the option to embellish with personal observations about your practice and sign off with her contact information. The whole endeavour is an exercise in knowing yourself and pinpointing your “why”s. The application itself is also a test to see if you can follow instructions and see the process to its end. In my experience, in art, this little marathon will make an appearance in some form, in every stage of your professional life.
“Growth itself has the germ of happiness.” (Pearl S. Buck)
This workshop/retreat will be ideal for artists who are serious about improving their painting skills, but who also enjoy great food, terrific accommodations and a bit of adventure. The instructor has many years of experience in both teaching and painting and is dedicated to passing along her knowledge to those who are eager to learn. Small class size will insure individual attention. We will be working from life and previous experience mixing color will be necessary.
Casa Buena Art Retreat, between Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan, is a calm and beautiful place to relax and explore your creative energy. Please check out their website for photos and detailed information about this exciting opportunity http://www.casabuenaartretreat.com/Retreat_LauraRobb.htm Non-painting travel companions are welcome too.
For more information on the instructor or to contact her, please visit http://LauraRobb.com
My art represents an artistic journey that has been on-going for more than thirty-five years with help and guidance from many wonderful artists. Now, with years of plein-air painting experience, study and solo exhibitions, I believe that my current work has reached its highest level, reflecting the depth of my absorption in the wonder and beauty of the world around me. I have learned that, as an artist, I will never stop looking for better ways to express my feelings in art and that struggling to more fully understand myself is integral to my painting; a philosophy that was part of every workshop I taught. Still is.