Imagine, if you will, an artists’ encounter group. Imagine they are sharing, in one sentence each and with impunity, their current processes. It might sound like this:
I look in nature until I see something that appeals to me. I look in my environment for elements that lend themselves to my style. I look into my imagination for images which I can make real. I wait for requests from dealers and patrons and give them what they want. I look at my recent work, see what I’m doing, and try to go further in the same direction. I look and find what is exciting in the work of others and transpose it to my direction. I study trends and popular motifs, colors, etc., and produce works that echo those trends. I begin work with nothing particular in mind and see what comes up. I gather elements either simultaneously or in sequence and synthesize them. I think up new trends, explore their possibilities, and make them happen. I read reviews and find out what critics are talking about and make stuff to give them more to talk about. I let my reference material suggest subjects worth working on. I make art because I’m curious if it will sell. I wait until I feel like working, and when I’m quite sure I do, my work simply flows, and I let it.
There’s no right or wrong in this. If you let your mind coast over these statements, you’ll find a resonance with some of them. You may be prompted to closer identify your own processes, and defend them. You will probably think of combinations and others not mentioned. It’s been my experience that when artists are confronted with statements like these, they find some they believe in but for some reason do not practice. They also find practices they in fact use but for some reason are reluctant to admit.
PS “There is a vitality, a life-force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost.” (Martha Graham)
Esoterica: In five volumes of Modern Painters, John Ruskin (1819-1900) chipped away at the processes of the artists of his day. In the end it seems he concludes there was only one who got it right — J.M.W. Turner. Later he gave a nod or two to a couple of the Pre-Raphaelites.
The following are selected correspondence relating to the above letter. If you find value in any of this please feel free to copy to a friend or fellow artist. We have no other motivation than to give creative people an opportunity to share ideas and possibly broaden their capabilities Thank you for writing.
None of the above
by Bertram McAdams
This is a truly excellent exercise. All creative people ought to push their minds around your imaginary encounter group and put in their own two-bits worth. More would come to the reality of their motivation, get a sounder understanding of what makes them tick as artists, and be clearer and less self-deluding. I, for one, did not relate or “find resonance” with many of your encounter attendees. For me art is purely learning and fun. I have little thought of monetary gain or critical glory. It’s a great mystery to me. I just like doing it and I can’t put my finger on why.
All of the above
by Bill Daly
I am a chameleon. I guess that is why I am successful. At one time or another I have been each of those artists you paraphrased. Early financial need made it imperative that I paid attention to the trends. But, as you have said somewhere else, one “falls in love” with the activity and pulls out all of the stops in order to keep it going. If you stay pure you are liable to remain in the dumps.
Gets the point
by Bev Willis, Fresno, CA, USA
It is so easy to get in a rut – always trying to paint what others are painting or what is being sold and not really expressing what is inside of one and creating! What Martha Graham states should be imprinted in our minds each time we begin to draw/ paint/ create.
The next part of this is to look at what others have created in this light — remembering that it doesn’t have to look like what is out there and that the person creating the art could have a masterpiece. But again, so what if it isn’t a masterpiece ! If it is not a masterpiece, it is a means of expression for that person doing it and there is the revelation, perhaps a stepping stone to a masterpiece at a later date or something that another person might be able to take in and enjoy! Furthermore, thoughts and ideas are often gone, gone, gone, fleeting out there somewhere in the air and lost forever. Some people sleep with their dogs, I sleep with my paper and pencil! Oh, ouch, just got stuck with a sharp point!
Advancing the artistic language
by Louise Cass, Ontario, Canada
I’ve found that my own process has more or less four elements. Technique, first of all. What is the first step in making a painting, the second, third and the 75th. Sources: what gets me going? Beauty in nature! Excellent work in just about any field; environmental, Psychological: What must I have around me to get my work done? Support, good friends, alone time, music. This element includes frame of mind. It’s important to me to have the decks cleared which I do in the mornings so when I go into the studio in early afternoon, I’m there for the long haul — until 7:00 or 8:00 without interruptions; and finally Goals: I’m not painting to please a commercial market, but to advance the artistic language one step further along. The product is a naturally occurring after-thought of a thoughtful engagement in the process, not the prime objective.
This seems a bit obsessive, but truth is with this Process clearly defined, I can branch out, try something new and if it doesn’t work, return to the tried and true, build my confidence, and try again. I also have a business plan I update once a year. Heresy, I know.
Art as disease
by Warren Criswell, Arkansas, USA
Those are all very deliberate strategies aimed at some goal. What’s missing is the artist who works out of some irrational internal necessity. This self-contained pressure has nothing to do with goals — except the goal of getting this image, which is growing like a tumor inside him, out into the open. Sure, once he has done this he may want to show it to people and hope to sell it to them, but those aren’t the prime causes. Hey, there are lots of SENSIBLE ways to make a living! For this artist I’m talking about it’s a matter making these spontaneously generating subjective images into real objects. Ignoring the images leads to anxiety and despair. Good or bad fortune may follow his artistic acts, but they are first and foremost acts of necessity. The rest is secondary.
by Albert C. Reck, Swaziland
Hunter gatherer pictures did not seek to copy nature. The San shaman went into a trance and from there the pictures came to life. This was not in his daily routine; neither did daylight illuminate his pictures. One may search in vain for a grayish or bluish shadow in his images. The Bushman was not restricted by his basic space for his paintings. He had the whole rock wall available for his images. However the contemporary artist has limited area of a paper or canvas for his use. He is limited by its length and breadth but he may overcome this by declaring the outline of his base and the cut lines. The cut lines define the character belonging to the paper. Meaning the material and the immaterial (or the outside, the void, the nothing). Speaking in Bushman language, the artist is able to go into a trance by using the nothing or the immaterial. One calls this type of trance the imagination. With ‘her’ help, the artist becomes more inventive than his bushman colleague.
As a result of this understanding, not everybody is fit to create Bushman designs without going into a trance. This means using his imagination by entering the ‘nothing.’
Idealism and practicality
by Hugh Garland, UK
It’s the old problem of the conflict between idealism and practicality, the yin and yang of being and accomplishing. Artists who might wish to continue being artists, unless they are uncannily lucky, need to be thoroughly honest with themselves and develop both characteristics.
by L Tanner, UK
As an art student at the foundation level I am just barely able to keep up with the new methods that are handed out every day. I don’t know a lot yet and our instructors are very dedicated to keep us on track. Most everybody in my classes have high hopes at the present time. From your letters I see that there’s more I have to do if I want to hang in there as an actual artist. For me, teaching is a good option.
You may be interested to know that artists from 74 countries have visited these sites since June 1, 2000.
That includes some of tomorrow’s great artists who are currently students in art schools.
It also includes Yvette Muise of Montreal who included this quote for our collection: “The position of the artist is humble. He is essentially a channel.” (Piet Mondrian)