Yesterday, while acting as a juror in an art show, my cricket came and sat on my head. I was looking at submissions that might be divided into two groups — those trying for reality and those trying for deception. Here I mean deception in the good sense — the use of the imagination and the bending of norms. Even though we were making our decisions independently, time and again my fellow jurors (they came from a wide range of disciplines) and I came out on the side of deception.
Creativity means imagination. Imagination means fiction. Fiction means deception. It’s the electricity of deception that leads to the jolt of artistic truth, said my cricket, plugging into my ear. Max Jacob, who was a painter and poet, not a cricket, put it another way: “The moment you cheat for the sake of beauty, you know you’re an artist.” We, as viewers, allow ourselves to be deceived and are in turn intrigued and beguiled. A great deal of what makes an artist is our ability to live and work with this sense of duplicity.
Persistent self-delusion, a life in the fictional world, the fantasy machine, or a cricket for an advisor, may be our main keys to creative joy and success. While life experiences and creeping meatballism contrive to knock them out of us, our artistic selves contrive to put them back. There was a lot of wonderful art in that show. But a percentage of the artists would have profited from the technique of crossing keywords with their works while they were in progress. The best keywords, of course, come from a list that an artist originates, but here are a few suggestions to prime your pump:
Exaggerate, obfuscate, mitigate, mutilate, humiliate, titillate, prevaricate, extenuate, truncate, speculate, activate, complicate, facilitate, intimidate, resuscitate and stimulate.
PS: “A picture is an artificial work, outside nature. It calls for as much cunning as the commission of a crime.” (Edgar Degas) “Everything that deceives may be said to enchant.” (Plato) “Deceit is what art does best.” (Meyer Vaisman) “Art is a lie that makes us realize truth.” (Pablo Picasso)
Esoterica: I’m sorry, but artists do not always walk on the ground. They may harbor beliefs about themselves and the world that they cannot always sustain. They learn to live and laugh with lies. An artist often keeps company with an outrageous fakir within. “It is in the ability to deceive oneself that the greatest talent is shown.” (Anatole France)
The following are selected correspondence arising from the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
Words as aids to art
Margot Hattingh, Cape Town, South Africa
Your letter goes into the well of archetypes, advisors and muses who animate the world for me. I haven’t had a cricket there yet, but it’s worth some consideration — Words excite me enormously. Some of mine are metaphor, allusion and illusion, allegory, personification, inversion, and paradox. I find that sometimes — if I’m lucky — I can go on a roll with titles of as yet invisible paintings that bring the image clearly into my mind’s eye. “To become truly immortal, a work of art must escape all human limits; logic and common sense will only interfere.” (Giorgio de Chirico)
Paint who you are
I have studied with Milford Zornes AWS, NA, NWS and a more honest person doesn’t exist. He often says, “Be honest. Paint who you are.” Now, Mr. Zornes does not spend time painting self- portraits, but he does, and I do try to, paint things that have emotional impact. Something that makes me go “ahaa” or “oh #$^%&”. Something that for whatever reason, stops me in my tracks, insists that I spend half a day or longer sitting in front of it trying to capture what is true about it on my paper. I tell my students to paint what grabs them and demands their attention, “don’t look for anything easy, it does not exist.” I encourage them to paint what is important to them, I don’t care what subject matter they choose, the basic problems are the same with an abstract, still life, portrait, or landscape. Joseph Campbell said, “Follow your bliss” — well let’s just try to get it on paper or canvas. The truth of that subject is often very pared down, made up of a few essentials that tell the story and don’t shoot you in the foot with distracting details. I love something that Milford Zornes said to me when we were in Pisa, Italy while our students were doing the tourist bit. We walked through that gate and glimpsed the campanile, the cathedral, etc., and he said, “My God, this is impossible! — Well, let’s do it.”
(RG note) Milford Zornes has taught, influenced and mentored thousands of artists over a long and inspired lifetime. At 94, he says: “I’ve been painting for 80 years and I’ve just about figured it out.” There will be an international retrospective of his paintings in oil and watercolor at Mt. San Antonio College Art Gallery in Walnut, California from September 10th till October 10th, 2002.
Beguiled by the definition
Margaret Cooter, London, UK
To deceive the viewer is to beguile the viewer — what an intriguing idea. (The sentence was “We, as viewers, allow ourselves to be deceived and are in turn intrigued and beguiled.”) This sent me to the dictionary to check the meaning(s) of beguile.
1. to charm or captivate.
2. to cheat, trick, or deceive.
3. to spend (time, etc) pleasantly.
Beguiled (definition 1), the viewer colludes with the artist, who has beguiled (definition 2) them. And beguiling the viewer (or oneself) fulfills definition 3.
Paint a puzzle
Liz Schamehorn, Washago, Ontario, Canada
That’s what I’m always trying to do in my painting: playing tricks with perceptions. I love to create a little confusion between space — object, foreground — background, push — pull (thanks to Hans Hofmann), positive — negative (thanks to Piet Mondrian and his apple tree). This is heavily influenced by my surroundings; I’m always looking through a screen of tree trunks. The spaces between the trees are much the same shape as the trees. And the sun and shadow mixes everything up even more. A picture is always a lot more fun if it gives the brain something to puzzle over. I only have one question: What’s meatballing?
Art and the Internet
Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, Texas, USA
In response to the artist who wanted to hear some success stories from art on the Internet: I sold $10,000 worth of my art on the Internet last year — and I am “practically a nobody”, er, um, I mean that I am not well-known. I myself was shocked since I considered my site to be a marketing tool, not a selling one. My other good news is that 2 of these clients have already gained 2 more Borsheim artworks each this year. I have also been on the phone to gallery/dealers who actually looked at my work online as we spoke! And a more personal bonus is that my faraway family who rarely has an opportunity to visit can see what I am creating. I love it that my Grandpa, parents, and others can share an important part of my life with me almost in real time.
Internet connections and links for artists
I too have found that the Internet is a wonderful way to let people see your art. Although there are still several things about my site that I’m not completely happy with, apparently thousands of others are, as I get thousands viewing the site every month. This month was my first sale! It was not from anywhere as exotic as Indonesia but rather Washington State. We have even experienced site piracy. We have since changed the site displaying only a few pieces at a time and have lowered the resolution only slightly. We do not yet have a secure site so I am still using cheques or money orders for payment.
Taking photographs for the Internet
Joan Gaetz, Calgary Alberta, Canada
Reading last week’s letter again and the responses re: online galleries etc., my question is, What are the basics about just getting the photo of one’s work right? I hired a photographer to take slides and prints of all my work and found the colour in the prints wasn’t true to the work and the slides looked overexposed. I am loath to use these prints now because they essentially “misrepresent” my work relative to colour. Any tips for accurately conveying non-representational works? I use a lot of texture and figure/ground reversal effects which do not show up well when I scan a photo into the computer. I’m attaching a sample to illustrate my problem.
(RG note) I’m a believer in taking them out in the bright sunshine. Whether photographing art digitally, by slide or print film, here’s a tip that works wonders with textured works. (Don’t do this while a painting is in a frame as frames cast shadows.) Bring the painting around from the direct sunlight until the sun is just beginning to glance off the surface. You can fine-tune this to take advantage of the textures, slubs and juicy parts as much as you want. You need to control the reproduction of texture to your own standards — understatement or exaggeration. I also find it useful to rotate the painting so that the light is essentially from above — this may mean turning a painting on its side so that the shadows from the texture project downward. In this way your painting, in reproduction, is as textural as you want it to be. As far as I can see, color veracity, when taken in bright, near mid-day sunlight is as good as it gets.
International Artists Magazine
Susan Flaig, UK Editor, International Artist Magazine
International Artists Magazine represents artists from all over the world. We sometimes have logistical problems of co-coordinating all the differing types of work in many media and subject matter and putting together a cohesive issue each time with content that is varied, not repetitive and is representative of the many countries we represent and that also is appealing to our readers worldwide. I am unhappy that Angus McEwan (in the last clickbacks) stated that we took two years to publish his article as in fact it is not true and hope that he can send an amendment to Robert Genn stating this. I am also sending his letter on to Vincent Miller, our Publisher/Editor in Chief. I sincerely wish that Angus McEwan finds ways in which he can sell and become successful.
No intention to criticize
Angus McEwan, Scotland
I would like to apologize to the International Artists Magazine for suggesting that they had taken 2 years to publish my article. The material was received by the magazine in March 2001 and published in August 2002. My mention of 2 years referred to the fact that my work was 2 years old and that I had moved on as an artist in this time. I was, and still am, more than happy with the article — and certainly did not intend to criticize the International Artists Magazine in any way.
Student of human behavior
Jane Lake, Boulder City, Nevada, USA
I visited the Guggenheim-Hermitage in Las Vegas, Nevada, to view the Masterpieces and Master Collectors Exhibit one more time before it left to go back to St. Petersburg, Russia. I was in there for hours trying to soak up every stroke and color nuance of these wonderful paintings. I tried to burn them into my mind because I probably won’t get the chance to see them again for a very long time. From the center of each gallery area I observed not only the art, but also the people viewing the art. It really struck me how each piece affected each person so differently. Isn’t it amazing I thought, that the Chagall that I could hardly bring myself to look at because it was so HORRIBLE, actually enchanted a few others! Two of the Cezannes I could barely take my eyes off of were simply glazed over by some. One of Picasso’s most infamous paintings “Three Women (Trois Femme)” seemed to be universally snubbed and two of the Matisse pieces just drew confused looks from people. I could almost read their minds, “What qualifies as a masterpiece, anyway??” It’s fun being a student of human behavior as well as art… I am continually amazed! After my afternoon with the masters I left the museum with a head full of wonderful thoughts, images and color, but still saying to myself that art and people are funny, aren’t they?
Methodology a strong means
Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia
My results over the past year have been positive. I have learned a great deal. Especially methodology. The spiritual qualities of Western art often correlate with ours – it is a spiritual realism in the best sense, it corrects the world and souls of the people. The methodology for the artist is a strong means, it is stronger than money, and sometimes and more strongly than professionalism, when the weak professionals appear ahead of the strong ones. There are many themes on methodology for the artist:
Methodology of reception of art education;
Methodology of a choice of correct specialization according to abilities and opportunities;
Methodology of increase of productivity of creative thinking of the artist;
Methodology of increase of productivity;of work in a material;
Methodology of self-financing of the artist;
Methodology of work with art product as by the goods;
Methodology avoiding of deceits and losses;
Methodology of construction of contacts for work;
Methodology of activity of the artist in a community;
Me and my art
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 105 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002. This includes Lesta Frank from San Antonio, Texas who says, “I have a lizard on my porch that talks to me with more wisdom than most humans I know.” And Lyla Shaddock who says, “The whole process has been a new beginning in the art of seeing, and a new respect for abstract art.” And Patrick Davis, of Calgary, Canada who says, “In with all the ‘ates’ that an artist should consider, I think the word “irritate” should also appear. Certainly, all of one’s work should not do this, especially if one relies on sales to put food on the table, but every once in a while it is good practice to tweak noses.” Other artists also suggested other, less publishable “ates.” Thank-you.