My friend Ted Hesketh is both a painter and a musician. His main business is going around to schools and universities giving workshops in musical composition. The day before yesterday, while we were out in my floating studio, he mentioned that one of his interests was showing music students how to make melodies out of random note configurations. “Take a look at the line of that mountain range over there,” he said. “If you plot that on a bar scale and connect the dots, you’ll have yourself a pretty good tune — all you need is a nice line.”
I told him I didn’t like the word “nice.” He said that any line was good enough to start — but that it was necessary to add any number of extensions and refinements. I was drifting off into my painterly thoughts of mountains. I realized that we were both pretty well in the business of composing.
Many of us pay a lot of attention to line. We find that the edges of things practically always need adjustment, improvement, emphasis or restyling. Mountains particularly have rhythm, harmony and counterpoint. Where they suggest drama or majesty, these characteristics need to be truly observed, properly understood, and magnified. This also goes for just about everything we might point our brushes at — daisies, doggies and dingbats. It’s what we do to a thing that counts.
Watching the sinews of mountain reflections undulating in the incoming tide, I saw what lines might be: Lost and found, anticipating and climactic, echoing, mirroring — strong, weak, delicate, forceful, draftsmanlike, casual, intermittent, energetic, passionate, fluid, static, soft, hard, controlling, lazy. They can be colour-saturated or colour-deprived. They can be demanding or lyrical — or both. Music and song were before me in the water. Lines are the leitmotivs of the spaces they enfold.
PS: “Drawing is not following a line on the model, it is drawing your sense of the thing.” (Robert Henri) “The serpentine line, or line of grace, by its waving and winding at the same time different ways, leads the eye in a pleasing manner along the continuity of its variety.” (William Hogarth) “To draw, you must close your eyes and sing.” (Pablo Picasso)
Esoterica: Yesterday morning was particularly clear. I set up my telephoto camera as the first light came across the mountains and photographed them all on a roll of 36. The result is a scrolled panorama of adjoined prints. I gave the scroll to Ted. He’s going to turn it into a symphony. “Some of those lines are already pretty nice,” he said. I knew which ones.
Thoughts on creativity
by Faith Puelston, Wetter, Germany
Melody, harmony and rhythm are the three elements in music. I can’t think of a single other art form or even any other form of life where these elements are not equally vital.
If melody is line, then harmony is colour and rhythm is composition in painting. If awareness of these elements cannot make someone a Schubert or Monet, at least it provides a framework within which to develop one’s artistic awareness.
I teach my music students to make better use of their ears — if you can’t hear discriminately you cannot make music — many are not aware that their hearing is lacking in discernment until they are asked to clap a simple rhythm or imitate a short melody. Similarly, I believe that the level of observation — the act of seeing — is the ultimate secret to pictorial art. The more discriminately you look (even in the mind’s eye/imagination), the more you see.
(RG note) A previous letter and responses on the use of music in art and creativity is The Mozart Effect.
by Warren Criswell, AK, USA
A kid with a heavy metal band in the UK wants to use some of my paintings for the booklet/cover of a CD he’s producing. It’s no big deal, he’s just starting out, and I told him he could use them for free, but I said jokingly that if it goes gold I want a cut of take. He understood I was joking but thinks it would be a good idea to write up an agreement stating it in legal terms. If you’ve had any experience with royalties from the use of your images, my question is — what is a commonly acceptable percentage? Or — since the royalties wouldn’t cut in until the thing went big time and therefore became free advertisement for my work (which is about as likely as hell freezing over) — should I take no royalties at all? Any advice would be appreciated.
Paint the music
by Alfred Muma
I’ve been interpreting music for some time now and have had composers tell me they could read my paintings as a score. I’ve worked with composers in the past painting their music and then having a joint exhibition/concert. A well known Canadian composer (whom I’ve had the pleasure to be in his choir many years ago.) R. Murray Schafer’s scores look like drawings rather than traditional scores. He has shown his scores as art framed in a public gallery. It was a very interesting exhibition.
It’s always very exciting and inspiring to be collaborating with a composer. It forces one to think of painting as interpreting sound through colour and line. Quite a challenge and difference from looking at a subject and drawing and painting what one sees!
Love of line
by Linda Saccoccio, CA, USA
My paintings have become all about lines in space and color. I just kept simplifying until that is what I was left with. I have often described the lines in my paintings as lyrical. I see in the interplay of line, color and space a dialogue as well as sensation. The lines interact in parallel to the way music moves and carries us. They create an experience beyond the literal. There is so much potential in losing and finding the line again. Like letting go and being awakened. Lines like music create potential for mystery. Their quality, density or spaciousness, boldness or loftiness etc, offer a world of visual experience. The challenge is often saying something poignant or precise with the least amount of distraction. Having all the lines support a complete whole. I think one can fall in love with line and the act of spontaneously creating a visual experience with line. Line can enchant us as music does.
The following was originally published in Responses to The assertive eye on February 26, 2002.
Just go and shoot
by Bruce Meisterman
Along with my own work, I teach a workshop on photojournalism. I try and get the students to “shoot with intent.” One of the many questions this gets is, “Doesn’t that get in the way of spontaneity?” My response is often along these lines: “No. It means using your camera (Medium) alertly; responsively, hell, even reactively if that’s the case; with awareness of your surroundings; what are you seeing and trying to reveal; and lastly — use the damn thing! Be actively involved in seeing. Having it in the case with the lens cap on doesn’t get many good images. Make it an active extension of your eye and your creative mind. Don’t go out and plan to shoot a masterpiece. Just go and shoot. The rest WILL come… at some point.
by Keith O’Connor
Interesting how information sometimes seems to arrive. I have been asked to prepare a drawing class for seniors and was considering teaching ways of looking for and seeing patterns to stimulate the eye, in an attempt to avoid the trap of trying to draw a photographic likeness. I had been taking my cue from a newspaper article on the jazz guru Kenny Werner who talks about his personal fear of consciously trying to be perfect. The demand and desire for perfectionism can go a long way toward blocking the creative flow.
by Judith Jones, Pleasant View, UT, USA
Sometimes, the painting just takes over. It takes over the mind, the pencil, the brush. It even chooses the colors. It is a weird and wonderful feeling to be all caught up in something that is almost other worldly, no time to think, no time to question, just paint, one brush stroke after another. Perhaps it is the deep recesses of the mind, but if one can just let go with it, the painting that results is usually one of the better ones. I wish that it happened to me all the time, but of course, there are the paintings where everything is a struggle. Those are the ones where I learn.
The following was originally published in Responses to An artist’s statement on April 17, 2001.
Your letter about artspeak reminded me of a book I read many years ago which was titled “Egospeak.” The book pointed out several ways in which language and everyday conversation is used to affirm or try to confirm status in society. It opened my eyes to the dynamics of many interactions I have observed. Reading this book was an excellent way to develop objectivity into the foibles of human language.
Prefers to remain silent
by Terri Steiner, Princeton, MA, USA
I’d prefer to be silent most of the time, just because I feel so inadequate in speaking — no, oftentimes I just don’t want to say what’s been said before, over and over! I don’t need to hear myself talk, like so many do. So I paint! I take comfort in my father, the man is so brilliant that when he does speak, it’s mostly over people’s heads — so I say — “still waters run deep.” I’m sure some intellectual, learned person out there can tell me who said that. Me, I’d prefer to FEEL it and paint it!
Where does it go?
by Ginny Brink, Cardiff, Wales
I spent 3 weeks in Africa over Xmas. My parents live in a beautiful, peaceful village set in between 2 mountain ranges. On the one side — wide, flat rolling wheat fields, on the other side — semi-desert. The village itself includes fruit and grape farms. The colours of the differing terrain are astonishing and I became addicted — couldn’t stop painting. The work just poured out. No boundaries, brilliant colours, detailed, minimal, no ‘ what — sort-of –artist-am-I?’ doubts. Who cares! Just get it down! Good or bad? Doesn’t matter! Just play and enjoy, drink in the space and lusciousness — commentary and criticism can wait! I did 102 sketches — which in fact are almost complete paintings in 2 weeks. And good ones too. My language has moved on. I am amazed.
And yet back in my studio in the UK the energy seems to have gone. I keep wondering whether I’m schizophrenic! What was it? Where has it gone! How can it disappear! In order to recapture it so that I can work I have pasted the walls with photographs of the places. This works to a certain extent. Amazing though how the fear of not being able to capture that place, of failure, and criticism comes back. Annoying! Challenging! Perhaps working like this will produce interesting things.
The following was originally published in Responses to Complementary Colors on March 19, 2002.
(RG note) A few artists wrote to ask if I might clarify some of the above.
Paul C. Moors of Tucson, AZ asked, “Could you please elaborate on ‘Complementaries are the key to sophisticated grays.'”
(RG note) We all know that you can mix pretty good grays by using black and white. Sophisticated grays are grays with color nuances in them. By carefully mixing opposites on the color wheel it’s possible to achieve more valuable grays. Even when white (or black) is added to these combinations the results “sing” and interact better with their like-minded neighbors.
Ellie Snyder of Kauai asked what “mother color” was.
(RG note) Merlin Enabnit coined the term about 1930. His idea has been around for centuries; only the name was original. Paintings have more harmony when some amount of one color is mixed in with all colors in the work. For example, put a bit of red oxide in all the colors to achieve unity and overall warmness.
Dana Andersen asked, “…pre-mixed opposites that test out to equal intensity.” HOW DO YOU DO THAT?
(RG note) Cut swatches of paper say 2 inches square. Cover one with a nice bright green. Pick the red (complementary) that is opposite on the color wheel and paint it on another swatch. Lay the swatches side by side and look at them with half closed eyes until they are seen more or less grayed down. One will appear darker than the other. Now go back to your mixing and progressively add white to the darker one until it appears to have the same amount of “intensity” as the other. This is the practical painter’s way of achieving equal intensity. When the colors are “right on” they interact with one another, boggle the eye and grab attention. Merlin Enabnit called this phenomenon “razzle-dazzle.”
The following was originally published in Responses to Encounter with artists on March 27, 2001.
Everybody loves a starving artist
by G.D. McKenzie, Scotland
Joining a bartering association can be an excellent way to do business and get work out into the world. Bartering opportunities can be found in local telephone books and there are 2500 bartering sites on the Internet. You state what you have to offer and see if anyone appears. If the work is appealing then people will see value in collecting it. Everybody loves a starving artist. Another good thing about bartering is that in many jurisdictions VAT (sales taxes) and income taxes can be avoided.
(RG note) “Starving artist” is acceptable at age 20, suspect at age 40, and problematical at age 60.
The following was originally published in Responses to Overpainting on September 25, 2001.
I sometimes have that feeling of something taking over when I play the piano. I whip through whole books of Schubert sonatas, or Haydn, or Mozart, or play Chopin, without really doing much else than look at the pages and read them off with my fingers. It’s like a trance. I don’t think I’m a medium, but I think we all have the ability to tap into our subconscious if we just relax and allow it to take over. Maybe we’re talking about genetic traits or telepathy. This does just occasionally happen when I’m painting. Not often enough, and I haven’t been painting seriously for very long, but sometimes I look at a picture and can’t believe I painted it. At the moment I can turn the key to that secret door of that secret garden more often in music than in art. Maybe it takes perseverance and time. What do you think?
(RG note) I’m currently doing a workshop and can attest to the idea that some artists are lost in a creative world of their own. Even the repeating of their names fails at times to bring them to the reality of where they are. It’s been my observation that those who live for a time in this transcendent state are also reaching into the deep wells of their creativity. Sometimes a brushman’s brand of concert pitch is evident. Confidence fostered by simple mileage is a factor, and any form of negative self-esteem keeps it at a distance. Many artists also notice that the addition of music to the painting act aids and hastens the arrival of the desirable altered state.
Wonderful, isn’t it?
by Duane Hendricks, Canada
I love to paint, show and sell occasionally, and teach painting. But I’m primarily a musician, and have recently emerged from yet another bout of being a hermit. The reason for this particular hermitism was a new composition (a commission for a junior high concert band). This piece began as an idea jotted in my music sketchbook several months ago. In music as in art not all ideas/sketches are worthy of seeing the light of day, but they are all good practice. We must be alert to those which are the moments of brilliance amidst the mediocre majority. I knew this particular idea was worthwhile because it kept coming into my head when the sketchbook was closed. Then, with idea, time, energy and materials all organized, it is time to get in the zone, in the groove (but not in a rut). Ultimately the piece, musical or artistic, must have the potential to be an experience worth repeating. (If it was on another concert program would I go again to hear it? If it was in a gallery would I return another day to see it?) In these amazing “zone times” I become obsessed, it is necessary to set a timer to remind me of appointments (and meals!), and there is an excitement in my gut which lets me know that, not only is this a quality piece of work, not only are music and art what I do, but more importantly, a musician & artist is what I am. My sense of self is reaffirmed. My place in the scheme of things is secure and valid. When that piece is completed, the process begins again. It’s wonderful, isn’t it?
The following was originally published in Responses to The Golden Stations on November 14, 2000.
by Albert Reck, Ngwenya, Swaziland
I never in my life as an artist have been trying to beat foes. And I only have to defeat that one foe Reck.
Durer told us about the “most beautiful”: “Was Du aus der Natur kannst herausreissen, das ist das Schoenste.” (Roughly translated: what you are able to tear or to pull out of nature, that becomes the “most beautiful”.) “Natural painting” means for me positive living and thinking. But if you start to pull out of nature, you are already in the comparative. Here the artist is getting in a somehow hovering state. His position is between positive and superlative. In this position you may find a lot of so called contemporary modern artists. (Non-figurative and all the other hoverings.) They are happy to remain there. But how to reach the superlative? For to explain this I have to talk in pictures or a parable. To tell you this, I will do it in the next letter, because this one may become to long.
The following originally published in Responses to Sensitivity zones on August 17, 2001.
The making of meaning
by Nicoletta Baumeister
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the process of art: For me a huge component of it is the making of meaning. Taking stimuli, sorting it and reconstructing it and communicating it. Context has a lot to do with it. Synchronistically, I recently met a woman who had studied phenomenology and has ended up studying it in relation to my painting.
(RG note) The philosophy of phenomenology, as I understand it, consists of realizing the presence of an object, and finding its meaning through intuition. Phenomenology dismisses theoretical ideas and presuppositions. Thus, and as applied to the production of art — it would mean that one might begin to paint a stone, for example, and during the process of painting, the meaning behind that stone might be uncovered.
The following was originally published in Responses to Easel on March 6, 2001.
by Janet Morgan
I am a belly dancer, so I paint with a lot of Turkish music, especially Omar Faruk Tekbilek. He is truly amazing, and plays with many different musicians, so there is variety, from the sublime Sufi inspired to wild ruckus drum songs. My dancing and my painting have definitely influenced each other, and the music is the driving force in that inspiration. After traveling in the Southwestern U.S. I painted a large series inspired by that landscape and the ancient and living cultures. The Navajo flute player Carlos Nakai would take me right back to those canyons and kivas, so the work just flows out of me. The same thing happens with Andean music after returning from Bolivia. This music is tied to the landscape. I also love Irish music — the Chieftans, eg: SANTIAGO. The two Putamayo collections I love are DUBLIN TO DAKAR and CAIRO TO CASABANCA.
Mandala of the garden
79cm wide by 86cm high pencils
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