During the past year, Canada’s Leader of the Opposition Jack Layton, died of cancer at the age of 61. In his final message Jack said, “My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world.”
These words resonated across our country. It has always struck me that both love and anger are two of the main motivators in the making of art. Both emotions can work equally well. It’s just that love is so much the more pleasant of the two.
Discouraged early on by economic conditions, disabilities, contrarian parents, peer pressure, teachers or others, a few artists are able to fight the uphill battle to overcome or at least channel their anger. Daily they are driven to “show the world.”
Other creatives take a more gentle, loving path. It can be a love of some particular someone, a family, a principle, a passion or a charity. It can be that peculiar and miraculous state of simply doing something for the love of it. Each work we produce is our very own baby brought into the world for a span that may extend beyond ours. It’s been my observation that these main brands of working love can be bound together into a wholesome bundle where tangible, finished work is key to hope, optimism and a sense of well-being. “Work,” said Kahlil Gibran, “is love made visible.”
The finding of love within our work unlocks the studio and prompts the actions of hand and mind. The extraordinary prevails and even ordinary and well-trodden subject matter can be freshly explored and rejuvenated. One might even be blessed with the aura of popular greatness. “He alone is great,” said Gibran, “who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.”
In my last letter of the old year I mentioned the gentle productive hum of studios. Between the turning on and the turning off of the lights there’s a span of privilege. Held steady by the gentle hand of love, we begin, we keep going, and we sign off. There may not be a higher calling.
PS: “In the arts, as in life, everything is possible provided it is based on love.” (Marc Chagall)
Esoterica: One of the great features of studio life is the capacity for renewal. Daily love manifests itself and is a fairly reliable prod. Some projects can be measured in no time at all. Sometimes three or four projects can be performed and completed in a single day. Other projects progress over days or weeks, dependent on the uncanny sleep-work that lies between. “Love does not just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” (Ursula K. LeGuin)
Love in the lovely environment
by Sarah Zoutewelle, The Netherlands
All my creative activities are ultimately driven by love. I love my materials which makes me take care of them. I love the privilege, as you say, of having my light, airy studio to quietly work in, and being surrounded with my paints, books, the work I’ve done, and am yet to do. I’ve even realized that cleaning the house is directly linked to loving my painting work, because caring for my surroundings isn’t separate from the caring I do in the studio. A clean, orderly house (well, ‘clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy’) spills over into the studio and brings a sense of peace.
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Artists show the world
by Rick Rotante, Tujunga, CA, USA
At the end of this year there were reports of spontaneous “love” happening. Reports of people doing good things for others with no rewards for it. It was heartening to hear, especially when it’s not so newsworthy. We are told by skeptics, “When things are bad, people close up and turn away.” I’ve found the opposite to be true. People band together to get through — we just don’t hear about it on the news. Last year may not have been a banner year for art in general but it hasn’t stopped many from continuing to create, teach and exhibit their work. Being an artist is a privilege even when unnoticed by the populace. If artists go away, the soul and conscience of humanity will lose its way. Artists show the world as many don’t take the time to see it; we show how it can be if we take the time to try.
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Love what you do and try to get better
by Phil Chadwick, Southampton, ON, Canada
Love is better than anger… goodness knows there is plenty to be angry about. “Generosity is better than greed” might have been added to Jack’s list. Frankly I doubt that the CEOs making 189 times the average annual Canadian income could care less about artists freezing their butts and occupying a park in Downtown Anywhere. Most artists only dream about achieving the average Canadian income. But rather than being perpetually angry, it is better to love what you do and try to get better. Changing the world could begin with improving your art and yourself. Loving your art and being hopefully optimistic that your next canvas will be better could make you a happier person that $8.2 million can’t buy. I don’t need much — just my paddle and a brush…
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Art is to love
by Mona Youssef, Ottawa, ON, Canada
I’ve always believed that Art is a manifestation of love, loving the nature around us and the people we share our world. Art reflects a wealth of culture, history and identity as affirmation of man for it is a self-expression of how one perceives matters. In turn, art will work as a powerful tool and a silent international language that can convey messages to the world reflecting culture, history and civilization. This language can speak up, announce, express, make known, unify, bring together, support, encourage, share, care for, show compassion and kind feelings toward all. When we truly love what we do, we do it whole-souled and become professionals at it. In two words; Art is to love.
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What I did for love
by Deb Lacativa, GA, USA
This post cuts to the chase of the question I have been hearing from a lot of my fellow artists lately, myself included. We have looked back over a year of work and have asked out loud, “Why?” One or two sales, one or two exhibits? No. It must be love.
Just recently, I dyed a piece of cloth (the raw material of my work) using a new technique. I was so pleased with the results that I put it up on the studio wall, took a picture and out of expediency, named the image “Ilovethis.jpg.”
Sometimes this is a problem for fiber artists, falling in love with a piece of fabric making it difficult or impossible to cut into it or use in conjunction with others, its reason for being in the first place. It’s akin to mixing a particular color on your palette and saying, “I love that blue,” and being unable to move it to the canvas. But it will be the combined love of the process and the outcome that will move me to use that cloth and go on making art. And “I love that” remains my highest praise when I look at art others have created and hope that they said it to themselves when they first stepped back to call it done. The haters will say that this is naive and uninformed. I say it’s the distillation of the truth behind my motivation and I’m glad I don’t have to live in or even visit their heads.
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Unlocking the imagination
by Sharon Cory, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
The past year was a challenging one for me as I made a major change in my thinking processes. I have always been driven by the need to create art to pay the bills. I am now attempting to unlock what I hope is an imaginatory wealth of ideas that have been sidelined so many times in the past. I won’t be able to use the old benchmark of someone pulling out a credit card to gauge my success, so I’ll have to trust my instinct and the belief that I started the project with love.
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Anger turned to charitable love
by Ryan Wollard, Maitland, FL, USA
I couldn’t agree more regarding the power ofboth love and anger as inspiration. I started a project in anger last April. I felt the tone of politics was toxic. Foreclosures cluttered every street, banks were bailed out, and public servants were paying the price in a battle in Wisconsin. Vital services were cut in every state.
I started Charity Paintings to deal with my frustration. I decided to paint portraits of inspirational people then sell them and donate 100% of the proceeds to organizations that fight poverty, support public education, the arts, feed the hungry, and improve our environment. Over time the outpouring of support and gratitude has helped my project evolve into one of love. When I paint a portrait of someone’s deceased parent, then donate 100% to fight cancer, I can’t help but swell with love and further inspiration. I started with a goal of 20 portraits in six months resulting in $1000 to charity. I’ve painted well over 40 and donated over $3,000 so far. Every portrait seems to add to the love I feel and my appetite to do more. Interest in my project has lead to articles in The Huffington Post and Orlando Sentinel. I’ve set a loftier goal for 2012. I want to surpass the $10,000 donation mark.
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New studio, new environment
by Pam Carter, Wellington, ON, Canada
As I type, my Builder Boys are outside, in -15 degrees, hammering away happily on the studio I’ve been dreaming about all my life, but have only now been able to realize. Though I’ve been on a high every day since I first did my little sketch for the designer over a year ago, the thrill of seeing it actually evolve, day by day, is something I never anticipated. I may have included too many windows, but I couldn’t block out all this amazing country light and I figure I can always draw the blinds when need be!
Moving from Toronto to Prince Edward County three years ago, when I bought this 100 year old farm house, I’m in a painter’s paradise with the shores and beaches of great Lake Ontario steps away… towns and villages that haven’t changed much since the Loyalists came here generations ago.
I never tire of the beautiful farms, pastures, old barns and out buildings, the orchards and vineyards… there’s a painting in every direction.
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by Mady Thiel-Kopstein, Turner Valley, AB, Canada
Recently, I have become part of a situation that has left me in an awkward conundrum. I was wondering if you could address this in one of your letters. I will tell you the story and try not to project too much attitude about it, so you can talk about it freely.
A couple, who are both friends of mine, have been after me for the last couple of months to reproduce an image that I had painted. They had gotten the image from a flyer that the gallery had used to advertise the show that I was part of. The art piece had already been sold to another person. The couple had a small image, about 3″ X 3″ cut out and stuck to their kitchen wall. It looked harmless enough. After constantly asking and coming up with various schemes that I could do, such as making several copies on canvas for them, they went ahead and had the image copied into a much bigger than the original piece without my knowledge (approx. 24″ X 24″). They have proudly hung it, framed in their living room.
Some of this is my fault for not being assertive enough and just saying no — though I did act very reluctant and also mentioned that my original photo of the painting was not good enough to reproduce. I had hoped that this would put them off. I also had a talk with the gallery about protecting images on flyers to prevent this from happening again. They were reluctant to do this but would rather work from a position of trust that no one would actually do this.
What has shocked me is the total lack of understanding and knowledge that my friends have. I guess it is up to me to be the educator and try to portray how upsetting this whole experience has been to me. I could start throwing around terms like intellectual property, legal rights, and unethical. This would be easier if it was a total stranger!
(RG note) Thanks, Mady. This is their problem, not yours. Don’t give their pirated photo blowup of your work another thought. Take the high road and carry on with the positive energy you get from working.
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Sharing the letters
by Annie Peinturlurer, USA
May I use some of your words to share with a support group for cancer patients? I would give you credit, etc. I find your writing to be so valuable in different walks of life. I am at this moment thinking in particular of your love and anger letter I have been spending time thinking about and processing. I only tell you that the group I want to use your words to help is one of diseased people, so maybe you can appreciate how far reaching your thoughts can go. You probably know this, but want you to hear it from someone.
(RG note) Thanks, Annie. The letters and their responses are meant to be shared, and we welcome the opportunity. Only now is the true value of art being studied and appreciated for its extended benefits among those in palliative care and those suffering from debilitating and terminal diseases. Please use the material as you see fit.
mixed media painting
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Marney Ward of Victoria, BC, Canada, who wrote, “When I teach, I ask my students to try to figure out what they love most about the flowers they are painting and how they can best express those qualities. All other decisions about the painting — the size, format, colours, composition, values, edges, etc — should be based on that primary consideration.”
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