Perhaps it’s the unsettling variety or the mind-bending sunshine. I’m at sixes and sevens and my stuff is all over the place. Maybe it’s just being away from the home studio. Maybe I’m coming up on another period. Last night, with the lazy fan turning and the wall-geckos chirping, I was dreaming of Corot.
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875) was born in Paris. Early on he was a gentleman painter around Switzerland and Italy. One of the first plein air “pochade” painters, Corot’s early works showed “right on” values, fresh colour, and a sensitive treatment of light and form. He was what Kenneth Clark called “an optical painter with an innocent eye.” While keeping that eye to the French Salon and commercial success, he developed a parallel genre of classical and religious subjects. These he further combined into carefully composed landscapes that don’t seem to lean on his field-sketch experiences.
By the early 1850s, perhaps in an even more catering mode, he started exhibiting soft, woolly, poetic landscapes. Grey greens and fuzzy browns dominated casual or nonexistent drawing. These works were of course a roaring success which ensured a crowd of imitators. (Someone said that Corot painted 10,000 pictures, 15,000 of which were in the USA.) In his seventies, for a new challenge, he produced portrait and figure studies that were reminiscent of the young Manet, whom he admired.
Corot was a nice guy. In order to give young and self-taught painters a chance to be part of the action, he lobbied to lower the hurdles that were then necessary for Salon entry. Thus began the Impressionists. Corot was straight-forward, entrepreneurial, unpretentious and generous. He supported the blind painter Daumier and provided a cottage for Millet’s widow. Corot wrote the book on creative giving and was one of the first whose work was a wiz-bang at fundraisers.
Artists of all stripes can find themselves mirrored in historical figures. I’d rather be Corot than Pollock. In the brotherhood and sisterhood, art history is both comfort and challenge. Have you ever tried to make a palm tree fuzzy?
PS: “In preparing a picture, it seems to me very important to begin by an indication of the darkest values–and to continue in order to the lightest value. From the darkest to the lightest I would establish twenty shades.” (Camille Corot) “He is still the strongest. He anticipated everything.” (Edgar Degas)
Esoterica: A Corot that I’ve always fancied is Diana Surprised at Her Bath. It’s in a private collection now but it’s often published. You can even buy a 72″ x 36″ hand-made oil reproduction of it for $299. It’s a sylvan scene — a pool under fuzzy trees — with, I think, five female bathers in various states of distress at the imminent arrival of a distant whoever. Diana, still in the pool, doesn’t seem to give a damn. It’s romantic, innocent, and in Corot’s mind, I’m sure it’s totally sincere. Okay, I’ll go somewhere and cool off.
Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796-1875)
by Warren Criswell, Benton, AK, USA
No, actually Diana does give a damn. In Diana Surprised at Her Bath, that’s her pointing toward the offending voyeur Acteon near the left edge of the painting. The pointing serves two purposes. First, to change him into a stag — you can see the antlers already starting to form on his head — and secondly to point him out to her man with the hounds which will soon tear Acteon to pieces. Beholding beauty and making art are related activities. Both can be dangerous.
Motorcycle and Corot
by Coulter Watt, Quakertown, PA, USA
How wonderful to see an appreciation of one of my favorite painters, Camille Corot. He was fresh, vibrant and lively. He opened doors and that helped free artists to successfully explore painting beyond the confines of the Paris Salon Society, a snobbish, elitist clique. He inspired me to get off my duff and do some plein air painting, so I bought a pochade box that would fit in my motorcycle saddle bags, and off I went.
A few years ago I started painting a series of great motorcycles. One, titled If Corot Had a Motor Bike is of a 1974 Ducati 750SS. I wanted a classic Italian scene for the setting and chose Corot’s painting: Florence, Vue prise des jardins Boboli as the source material. About 100 years separate Corot’s death and the first manufacturing of these great Ducati V-Twins.
(RG note) Coulter Watt’s motorcycle pochade can be found at: DickBlick.com or Pochade.com — The Guerrilla Painter Web Site
by Julian Merrow-Smith, Porte Gerin, France
It is amazing how often you seem to tap directly into my thoughts. Sometimes I think that maybe I write your letter in some other parallel life — a life in which I have much more energy and time! Regarding Corot, it is extraordinary that those little plein air studies fail to feed through to the big stuff, although saying that I can think of similar examples (Constable for one). I spent a lot of time looking at them in the Louvre in January and the small landscapes seem ahead of their time and almost perfect as landscape paintings. Who would want to be Pollock?
By the way have you ever thought about your letter being published as a blog?
(RG note) Thanks, Julian. My angle is to lay out ideas, opinions, methods and insights that just might trigger creativity in others. Also we like the idea that we can edit and hone up items so they don’t waste the time of those that are already fully occupied in a creative way. We are currently looking into ways to make the letters and the Painter’s Keys website even more valuable for artists. Incidentally, in an excellent example of the use of a blog, Julian Merrow-Smith posts a painting a day at ShiftingLight.com
by Lynda Kelly, ON, Canada
Your words are providing more than a vicarious vacation for me — the clear view that you express that comes from being away the observer. The insight you are expressing is so blessed. I can clearly see the capuchins surveying you curiously and the hilarious description of a “fashion show of shells.”
It reminded me of a time in Costa Rica when I lay on the beach watching a chain of hermit crabs rocking back to pull the shell off the smallest one, freeing him to find a bigger shell, and then working on the next one in the chain — it was truly mezmerizing.
by Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, Texas, USA
People create and enjoy art for a number of reasons. None are wrong. Selling (or not selling) art are personal decisions about how we want to live our lives. Artists should stop beating each other up about the choices our peers (and ourselves) make about what we each choose to do with our creations. Also, those folks that say “you should get your art out there” could very well just be trying to express their admiration for what you have done. As social creatures, the natural response to good news and wonderful “secrets” is to share them with others.
by Brad Greek, Mary Esther, FL, USA
I’m a multi-stylist, multi-medium, multi-subject artist. I know that galleries and collectors look only at those artists that have defined their direction and know what to expect from that artist. But I enjoy all the varieties that I do and continue to be productive in them all. Why is it accepted for an artist that is known for a certain style to change up their style and work in that style for a “period,” but it’s not accepted to work in two or more styles at once? And just how often does it happen that an artist does work in several styles, yet only lets the one style be known? Is it possible to reach recognition in several styles at once if I kept them separated and in different markets?
(RG note) Thanks, Brad. If you do split your personality and multi-track your styles in different markets, you won’t be the first artist to have done so.
Hero artist myth
by Margaret Henkels, Santa Fe, NM, USA
Thanks for the reminder of Corot. I do believe he was sincere in the Diana piece. Those painters were true pioneers — exploring art so that it could move away from the confines of recording wealth or church doctrine. We still solve that problem today. But I agree that “playing” may be the future of art.
Our Western culture creates a need for stardom and fame. The twice weekly letter is an antidote to slick magazines full of expensive ads posturing success that is, basically, not attainable. Observe the careers of Julian Schnabel and David Salle. They “arrived” almost before they began as artists. Now they are in retirement. A sustaining place to make work is important. Your young friend should read The Legacy of Mark Rothko by Lee Seldes. A big fat book, it’s full of substance on the pitfalls of the Hero artist myth. His doctor colluded with his lawyer in supplying him with pharmaceutical drugs, knowing how alcoholic he was.
In praise of Costa Rica
by Vicky Earle, Vancouver, BC, Canada
It has been a few years since I visited Costa Rica, and interestingly I have been back, in my mind only, but none the less re-visiting places and sensations of this beautiful country. It truly is a magical place. While there, I re-discovered pieces of myself. I had the luxury of wandering jungle trails and beaches whenever I was moved to do so — and this became a daily sacred ritual with sketch book in hand. It is a place of connection. To others you meet along the way, connecting to the earth and most importantly for the artist in all of us, making a connection back to ‘the self.’ It is a place that provides a very real sensation of connecting to an ancient pulse, if we are able to open up and feel it. I regained ‘my sight’ in Costa Rica, figuratively speaking. Delights beckon at almost every turn — the personalities of rocks, trees, waterfalls and animals greet you at the most unexpected places. For me, I couldn’t wait to honour them on paper. It is a place that opens you to the spirit of all you encounter.
I find when I can quiet myself, taking time from the busy-ness of life, I can hear my inner voice and where it wants me to go. A feeling of ‘what’s right’ and in which direction speaks loudly and clearly when I am able to listen. A very wise friend has shared with me that when we can get the ‘thinker’ out of the way and listen to our heart, any decision(s) we make will be the right one(s) for us. I would not want to set goals any other way.
Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take …
but by the moments that take our breath away.
Creating our history
by Mary Lapos, Danville, PA, USA
From someone who is freezing her ass off and anticipating yet another gray, cold, dreary day of interminable winter here in the northeast, I would take in a heart beat the “unsettling variety or the mind bending sunshine” and let it do whatever it was going to do to my art. I think for all of us there has to be a basic understanding that what we do comes from a unique well and whether or not it is following a formula or mindset is a moot point… we are the filter for an experience that is unlike any other filter in the universe. Whether it translates into “success” or an outcome that keeps us where we think we should be isn’t the point. I think all any of us can do is stay true to the experience with which we are involved “at the moment” and ride it out, like a surfer’s wave, and hope that when we are done we can look back and relish what has just happened and then get ready for the next one. And, in that fashion, create our history as an artist. Maybe one of us in 500,000 will achieve the stature of a Corot or a Manet but whether we do or not is irrelevant. What is important is that we allow that spiritual or ethereal process to flow through us because that is the really important function of an artist. Others of our species will make of our work what they will — that must never guide us at our core. We can operate at another level with what works financially for us, but we must understand that we are doing that — we must recognize that duality. I think many people go astray because they don’t acknowledge that there is a duality; let the palm trees sway, fuzzy or not, green or purple, drawn or not. The critical thing is how are they speaking to you? Just paint or whatever and keep soaking it up because the formula is changing every second and you are the medium (not the paint or the brush) that captures it. That’s all any of us can do or should do.
New York Artexpo
by Joan Larson, Coombs, BC, Canada
I just returned from the New York Artexpo. It was a visual extravaganza — there was so much to see that it was overwhelming. So much of it was done in lavish style with massive marketing budgets that it resembled a Hollywood production. There was a pretty fair bit of “razzle dazzle.” I have known for some time that success at venues such as this really has more to do with marketing than the art itself. However, seeing this type of marketing was an education in itself.
The Solo Exhibit, where my booth was, is a section with smaller booths (4′ x 10′) for artists that are self represented. Most of the solo artists sold very little or nothing. The few that sold well appear to be regulars at this show and their customers know to look for them (they have done their homework). I sold enough paintings that I am modestly pleased and have some galleries now that would like to represent my work.
There is always a lot of grumbling when sales don’t happen but, in my opinion, the Artexpo Show did exactly what they claimed it would — a lot of people were attending and a lot of people were buying. However, the larger booths, publishers and galleries definitely had more success. The general consensus among the Solo artists is that they were here for the contacts that would be made — sales would be nice, but it’s the contacts that are valuable.
I would go back again, in a heartbeat, but I would definitely look at having a larger booth, knowledgeable staff, and much, much better promotional material. I know that I let a number of contacts slip through my fingers, but there is part of me that still insists that if people like it, they’ll stop. I know I’m naive, but I’m also stubborn.
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, 2005.
That includes Luc Poitras who wrote, “Plein-air-time is just around the bend and I’ll go look at Corot to see how the osmosis will stir my spirit. Hey, I might even meet Diana at her bath!”
And also Paul Kane who wrote, “How can one rather be Pollock or Corot? There is something to be learned from either.”
And also Corrie Scott, Barbados who wrote, “We also have turquoise seas and blue blue skies. And wearing my $16 drug store sunglasses with polarisers makes the world even more vivid.”
And also Tatjana Mirkov who wrote, “I am glad to hear that you are experimenting with styles.”
And also Carol Sommers who wrote, “I never have understood how anyone can really paint on vacation.”