Amid 20th Century masterworks here at the Art Gallery of South Australia glimmers a collection of small watercolour landscapes: delicate white ghost gums striped in creeping shadow, wisps of desert brush and tumbleweed, weighty, dirt-red hills under distant clouds. Unlike the museum’s flashier acquisitions, the landscapes hint at timeless spaces, their strokes describing light and leaves, inviting us in with a quiet ease. I drag my nose through a plump, dauby stand of sap green gums, whispering aloud, “Who, what, when, where?”
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“Pride,” said Alexander Pope, “is the never-failing vice of fools.” This certainly applies when we kid ourselves that something we’ve done poorly is somehow worthy. Fact is, pride’s always suspect, even dangerous. Religions warn against it. Along with envy, gluttony, lust, anger, greed and sloth, pride is one of the Seven Deadly Sins.
In 1970, Geoffrey Bardon was teaching elementary school art in New South Wales when he could no longer ignore the emotional struggles of his Aboriginal students. In an effort to gain insight, he applied for a teaching post in a remote government assimilation centre 240 kilometres west of Alice Springs. In his diary, he described Papunya as “a hidden place, unknown on maps, considered by officials as a problem place,” where 1400 people had been gathered from scattered tribal groups, having been forced from their land and way of life.
In 1954, when Ernest Hemingway learned that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, he remarked, “This prize belongs to Cuba, since my works were conceived and created here, with the inhabitants of Cojimar, of which I am a citizen.” Attracted at first by marlin and swordfish, Hemingway fell in love with Cuba and moved here in 1939.
For Hemingway, Cuba meant new scenery, new people and a clean start.
Artists and art-material suppliers come together at Pearl Paint’s Great American Art Event in New York. “Secrets” here are bought, sold and given away. Popular instructors demonstrate “trees, rocks and water” or “fruit, vegetables and lace” or “how to paint ‘itty bitty’ paintings” or “how to master abstraction.” With lots of free paint, brushes, stretched canvas and art boards, it’s a creative rummage. For many, the gods are in the equipment. Others come for motivation or inspiration. Most are looking for techniques to match the quality of today’s materials.
A subscriber wrote, “Do you ever get stuck? I’m not producing, yet I have endless ideas. I have a studio doggie, take walks in nature, eat well — all the right stuff — but I’m still stuck. There’s some kind of block when I come back to the cabin. Any ideas?”
n addition to the pillars of a studio dog, a daily walk and a quality snack, one other mysterious component could perhaps aid in the recovery of the blocked artist.
Painters sometimes run into problems when they attempt larger works. This goes for artists who transpose smalls into bigs, as well as those who make bigs for their own sake. For many, bigs and smalls can appear to be the work of separate artists. Spontaneity and simplicity in the small give way to complexity and labour in the large. In the larger painting we may be trying too hard or trying to “give too much.” Big paintings can fall into the “mish-mash” category — too much going on. Small paintings rarely have this problem.
A friend phoned and brought my attention to a study done at the Harvard Medical Center. It seems that nurture, not nature, is the big factor in the making of creative genius. Talent and genius are not inherited. These were the findings of Dr. Albert Rothenberg, the principle author of the study. Thirty years of research concluded that creative intelligence is due largely to parents’ own unfulfilled dreams of high creative achievement. Researchers used Nobel Prize laureates, Booker and Pulitzer Prize winners, and other cultural and literary awards as evidence of literary genius.
Last night, I dreamt about being part of a group of friends who, one by one, were consumed by a giant python. Before anything permanently terrible happened, the python spit us out and everyone survived. This morning, I went to Google and, according to Carl Jung, the snake dream was a kind of subconscious, impending transformation. As soon as I read this, I felt my skin loosen and start to peel.
A burgeoning screenwriter recently told me about a side-hustle in her industry called, “pay to play.” For $30, a writer can book 10 minutes of Skype-time with a producer or distributer looking for new projects. After narrowing her pitch to seven minutes with three minutes for questions, her Skype ends abruptly with, “thanks!” and she awaits feedback by email. New to this system, my friend has already received a follow-up request from a global network for her latest script. When I asked how she knew about “pay to play,” she told me it’s a common path for actors looking to audition without an agent, or if their agent can’t get a meeting with a desired casting director.