You may not be the kind of artist who makes New Year’s resolutions, but you may be the kind who makes plans. Last year at this time I invited artists to send us, in confidence, resolutions for 2004. Our agreement was that I’d file them and ask Andrew to return them to you on New Year’s Eve. There are 611 ready to go out on Friday night. It’s my sincere wish that you’re not disappointed.
Some of these were pretty ambitious — like a painting a day. One artist gave no figures or promises, just the intention to “stay in the flow for 365.” One promised she’d put 400,000 painting dollars into Citibank. One resolved to make new resolutions every day — to update them.” One “fairly recent” art school graduate simply vowed to “start painting.” Whether you’re the resolutions kind or not, here are a few ideas to consider:
Get a jar of dried beans and one of those plastic pill-boxes that have a compartment for every day of the week. Every time you put your signature on something, take a bean from the jar and put it into the box. When you can’t get the lid down on say Monday, start working on the other days. When you can’t get any of the lids down, take the rest of the year off. It’s called “reverse-pilling.” It’s restorative to style as well as providing a healthy bank balance.
Set up your computer to print out hundreds of sticky labels that say Avoidance Activity. Put the labels on brooms, dustpans, phones, TVs, refrigerators, computers, etc. Don’t put a label anywhere near your easel or workstation. Go about your business as usual.
Get a special chair and call it The Planning Chair. Use it to contemplate blank canvases and the unwritten sonnets of your life. Do not do anything in this chair — just look, think, dream and make plans. Don’t let anyone else sit in this chair.
Go on a cruise and buy one of those cheap watches that can be made to alarm every hour. When it rings make a quick account in your day-book of what you are doing. If there are too many notes that say, not doing anything, apply for a long-term contract to clean chicken ranches. You’re not cut out for art.
PS: “The system is the list. A piece of paper, a scrap, a page in a book, repeated often at bedside, desk, easel, traveling notebook, breakfast setting.” (Sara Genn)
Esoterica: An old friend, Jack Hambleton, once gave me some advice: “Lighten up,” he told me. This is a fun job. It’s like no other. Do not feel guilty of the joy you give yourself. Laugh. Laugh when your failings are exposed. “Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans: it’s lovely to be silly at the right moment.” (Horace, 65-8 BC)
Please feel free to send in your confidential plans for 2005 — no matter how foolish or impossible. You might just be surprised when we return them to you in 365 days. Thanks for your friendship.
Character and values
by Mary Madsen, Las Vegas, NV, USA
I wonder what would be possible for us as individuals, communities, cultures, and nations if we threw out our plans and goals and “to do” lists and focused our thoughts instead on our values — honor, respect, compassion, integrity, dignity, forgiveness, understanding, and action. My plan for the coming year is to focus on my values, and make sure I apply them to myself and my work, as well as to others and the natural world around me. I don’t see how a painting, poem, or a successful life can come from any place other than a plan to live a life of character and values. Values are the pigment of our art; what we do with them is our masterpiece or kitsch.
P.S. The modern myth of goals is why Robert Burns once wrote, “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men gang aft a-gley.”
(RG note) Robbie Burns notwithstanding, hundreds of artists are now lighting up this studio computer with resolutions and plans for 2005. Thanks for the trust. You’ll get them back in 365 days.
Awareness of choice
by Peter Ciccariello, Providence, RI, USA
For several years, I kept a to-do list. Somewhat religiously every night I would update it and print it out to go over first thing in the morning. I broke items down into categories like calls, appointments, tasks, etc. I began to notice that certain items remained undone over and over. I also noted that these particular items were not necessarily timely and were also more of a precious and personal nature. After a while it started to become clear to me that these items were actually the most important actions on my entire list. I wondered why I had time in my life to accomplish all the petty and relatively unimportant things on my list and didn’t have the time to do the things that really mattered to me. I created a new category, Real Priorities, and placed the persistent items there. I remembered a distinction about Intention that I had heard – the difference between wanting to do something but not having the Intention to actually do it. By placing my desires in the Real Priorities column, I marked to myself a real intention to do them. When you really intend to do something, and commit yourself to doing it and if you have integrity about it, you are forced to consider your motives and desires.
Now as I look back over the years of lists, I see that it’s all right to choose to just want something and never really intend to do it. Because even with using intention as an outside force to act upon inertia, some of the Real Priorities were accomplished and some not. I suspect that the difference is that now I am actually aware that I am choosing.
Yearly blueprint pays off
by Diana Miller, Plantation, FL, USA
Four years ago my art teacher asked the class to make four columns on a sheet of paper. Each was titled as follows:
1. Who and what am I? (personally/professionally)
2. Where am I now?
3. Where do I want to be?
4. What can I do to get there?
I eagerly completed the assignment in great detail, listed everything that was relevant, then handed a copy to her and filed mine away. When I took it out the following year I was quite pleased with my progress, crediting the year’s progress to the combined efforts of my teacher’s focused mentoring and my accountability.
Perhaps it was less intimidating because she had us do this in July, so it didn’t seem like the doomed perennial list of New Year Resolutions. Each summer since then I have revised my ‘blueprint for success’ and my teacher adjusts (accelerates) her mentoring of me.
In reviewing my yearly ‘blueprint’ I recognize that there are a few things always lagging behind. Specifically, things that have a high degree of avoidance (fear) associated with them. My Official New Year Resolution will be to select one or two of my fears and make them my strengths. For example, I’ve been afraid to learn about and use to my best advantage websites and fine art prints.
I am by nature risk adverse so I need to say ‘yes’ to a few more things that I would prefer to avoid… in my life, not just art. They are after all, one and the same.
The value of purposelessness
by Sharon Knettell, Woonsocket, RI, USA
I find that my model schedules me. She comes at 10:30, whether I am ready or not. It is generally a large drain on the exchequer so I am prepared to start, with all the household tasks and other morning trivia completed. I wish every day were so efficient.
The future is never something to be controlled so making plans for it is, as they say, like writing words on water.
Each piece I do pushes and pulls me into directions unforetold. Each piece is unique and takes its own time to be realized. I am not concerned with the quantity, but only that they communicate my understanding of life and my craft at that particular time.
A good friend recently told me about the value of purposelessness. The time to just do nothing. We should not feel obliged to constantly fill up all the air of our lives with this insane desire to achieve something. This just creates anxiety. It is the spaces in between our work and thoughts that can be the most creative.
Explaining these clickbacks
by Virginia Wieringa, Grand Rapids, MI, USA
The Painter’s Keys is such a joy! Receiving your letters is a real thrill, but what doubles the blessing is the responses you elicit from other artists. I love the clickbacks and myriad of viewpoints. It’s great to see the images along with the comments and the web info for when I have time to surf. It’s like being in a giant studio together. However, when I’ve talked with other artists who are on the list, many don’t know what I’m talking about when I talk about clickbacks and I have to explain it to them. Perhaps that little blue line at the end is lost among the text for people in a hurry. Sometime when you’re pitching around for an idea, you might lead with the clickbacks and re-explain the concept for people who are missing them.
(RG note) I was at an egg noggin’ the other night and a subscriber identified herself and asked: “What are clickbacks? — I have always read about them in your letters and wondered what they are.” Yes Virginia, I’m resolving to be clearer in 2005. The clickbacks are the best part.
Help on the path
by Gail Rubinfeld, Siesta Key, FL, USA
Thank you for this wonderful biweekly art class. I love the emails. They have helped unblockme! I am in the creative flow the last 2 weeks, made 20 new prints! Some from half finished works. It’s nice to be “tapped in” again. I appreciate your thoughts and look forward to reading The Painter’s Keys book. There was a great article in this month’s O Magazine. I originally bought it to cut up for collage mostly, maybe paint Ophra’s portrait to send to her. I have tried to email her for some interest in the cancer center in memory of my twin sister, also an artist. Maybe doing her portrait is a good idea. My NY art daughter thinks not — my 17-year-old thinks it’s a good idea. The article How to get Unstuck by Lisa Dierbeck describes a blocked writer. There was the sculptor Eva Hesse. Fear had engulfed her painting. She wrote to artist Sol Le Witt who wrote her back: “Your work isn’t a high stakes, nail-biting professional challenge. It’s a form of play. Lighten up and have fun with it.” She became a famous sculptor, but she died young. It is great that artists can have other artists help us to travel this art path!
The process of creation
by Jamie Morhaim, Parkland, FL, USA
An artist must reach some kind of understanding about his own objectives as an artist. Despite involvement in many juried shows, awards, and possibly countless praises about one’s work, selling this artwork is another matter. Thus, the same people who praise your work are usually those that make no effort to buy it. Hence, other than falling into the trap of artistic self-pity, the artist must appreciate the only constant that remains, that is, the nourishment he attains by the process of creating art.
Living with a disability
by Terri Unfug, Christiansburg, VA, USA
I am an automotive artist who is unable to paint at the present time. My doctor has prescribed Lithium for bipolar disorder which has left my hands so shaky that I am unable to work. It is so frustrating! I was told that it could take four months or more for this to clear up. Has anyone else gone through this? What do I do during this down time?
(RG note) Thanks, Terri. We all fear a breakdown in some faculty — eyesight, concentration, steadiness. Those who have all faculties intact can only guess at what we might have to do to keep going, and how we might fare under such circumstances. Suggestions such as turning disabilities into abilities can only be academic to those who haven’t been there. I hope that artists who may have had a similar disorder may come forward and be with you.
The Harley Oath
by Raynald Murphy, Montreal, QC, Canada
The other day, after reading “The Harley Oath” on page 126 of the book Harley Brown’s Eternal Truths for Every Artist, I promised to do a 30-minute drawing from life every day for the rest of my life. I forwarded this intention via email to some twenty or so artist friends. I was surprised when quite a few responded that they would also adopt the same and thanked me for sharing with them. So for 2005 I will continue to forward to my artist friends any artistic ideas or suggestions I come across to them via email, but only after I have done my 30-minute drawing!
Photo a day
by Barbara Merrill, Boise, ID, USA
On the morning of January 1st last year, I made a personal challenge and decided to take a photo a day in 2004. Thanks to the ease of the digital camera, most days I was able to take 20 – 50 photos. Quite early in the game, a couple of friends asked to receive my photo du jour via email. This, plus their feedback occasionally, really lit a fire under me! It wasn’t long before I began occasionally writing a little piece to go along with the photos, which had now mostly grown to 3 a day, instead of one. As of today, there are 50 people who receive it daily. I never cheated once (well, the photos are dated, so that would be difficult to do). I even had surgery and never cheated (a quick shot of a flower as I was walking out the door to the hospital). I did catch-up after trips.
Soon, I had to take a look at what it had become. Was this a daily diary of my life? Yes, sometimes. My feedback kept saying, “Thanks so much — I feel like I really know who you are through your pictures and comments.” The whole thing had taken on a life of its own, somehow.
Now, sadly, my 365 days are almost over, and I am faced with what to do with my constant companion. I have written to everyone on the list and asked if they want to keep this going with their contributions. It could be published bi-weekly or bi-monthly, if everyone would commit to contributing artwork of their own. I had originally intended to have a show with a few of my favorites, grouped into abstracts, florals, and the like — with a DVD of some of the other photos. I can’t just kill my best friend, but how can/should it evolve?
I won’t quit taking photos, of course. What is your take on this? Do you have a suggestion? Your letter must have evolved, as well. I can’t tell you to how many fellow artists I have forwarded one of your letters, and most have signed up to continue receiving it. I would love to hear your ideas.
(RG note) Please put us on your list, Barbara. Great idea. From the Painter’s Keys experience of having an online service grow like crazy I have discovered two golden words: “Empower others.”
by Win Seaton, Caledonia, NS, Canada
I was busy preparing art cards for the summer of ’05 when the computer bell rang and your email Making Plans arrived. I was feeling cabin fever because it’s 15 below and storming and I can’t get to my studio (a 12 by 12 foot shack) 100 feet from the house. It has a wood stove but I would freeze to death if I sat in my Planning Chair (1860 barber chair) and gazed at a blank canvas. The Avoidance Activity stickers I would like to apply to the weather but can’t. So rum in hand I shall seek the The Pill Box and start the bean project. All the best in ’05 and keep up the great news.
by Anne Copeland, Lomita, CA, USA
I used to teach a one-day workshop right after New Year’s Day called, “A Conscious Alternative to Making Resolutions.” In the workshop, the participants listed all the categories of things they wanted to change — finances, health, relationships, education, spirituality, travel, etc. They then made affirmations within each of these categories and added paper collage from magazines to support their affirmations. It was a very positive workshop and the results were very good.
You have to be careful when you make affirmations though. You do get what you say you want, but what you say you want isn’t always what you thought it would be. So put some thought into those affirmations and be sure they are things you really want. A good practice is to not put specific amounts on anything — example: “I will paint 50 pictures in 2005.” You may finish 50 paintings but you may also hate them or you may feel pressured to get that 50th painting done. Better to say something like, “Painting comes readily to me and I am enjoying every piece I complete.”
A process of births
by Jan Zawadzki, Ontario, Canada
Resolutions are not unlike the sound of toilets flushing. Their causes are merely the sorcery of clocks ticking incessantly over exitless orbits… keeping one’s second life from escaping the limitations imposed by the first. The failure of too many immaculate conceptions causes the fleshless existence of manifesting the need for redemption… but mostly needing… soon to fill the jar with self-indulgences… a process of births from which one can never return or escape… sort of like trying to paint what ain’t… you know it’s there, you’ve seen it, but you can’t step out of yourself to do it. Cheers all, and thanks for the flak.
All art is commercial
by Gail Ribas, Bass Harbor, ME, USA
How unfortunate that Anonymous can’t see past the fact that Sundblom’s wonderful paintings were created for a commercial product. Aren’t most paintings for sale and does it really matter who the buyer might be? — da Vinci, Michelangelo, etc., worked mostly on commission. They were, after all, illustrating biblical scenes on canvas, walls and ceilings of churches. It really doesn’t matter whether you are selling soda pop or life in the hereafter.
“In 2005, I plan to really give the work the attention and effort it deserves… and to stop setting myself on fire.”
Thank you to all artists who have noted their contributions and given to the organizations listed below. At the beginning of a disaster such as this, it is cash donations that are the most important. As usual, it is individual generosity that counts the most.
Tsunami Relief Web Sites :: Canada Red Cross, UK Red Cross, Australia Red Cross
AMERICAN RED CROSS
International Response Fund
P.O. Box 37243
Washington, D.C. 20013
1-800-HELP NOW (4357 669)
ACTION AGAINST HUNGER
247 West 37th Street,
New York, N.Y. 10018
DIRECT RELIEF INTERNATIONAL
27 South La Patera Lane
Santa Barbara, Calif. 93117
DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS
P.O. Box 1856
SAVE THE CHILDREN
Tidal Wave Relief Fund
54 Wilton Road
Westport, CT 06880
INTERNATIONAL MEDICAL CORPS
1919 Santa Monica Boulevard,
Santa Monica, CA 90404
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, 2004.
That includes Larry Johnston who wrote, “When a person fails to recognize talent for talent’s sake, and denigrates someone for being a “mere” illustrator, I can’t help but wonder if that person is making a living with his or her artwork.”
And also Pepper Hume who wrote, “Wonderful art can be added to our culture even by commercials!”