Yesterday, out of the pouring rain came my friend Joe Blodgett. He was soaked. “You gotta love it,” he said. I put down my brush and poured us some fingers of Glenfiddich. We put up our feet. For some reason we felt like spilling out the places he and I have been — up north, Spain, Portugal. “It’s all a spell,” he said, helping himself to one of my Cubans. “Unless you’re under a spell there’s no point going on.” I agreed. Joe talked:
“It’s based on getting yourself into some sort of an altered state. You may even be drunk on life — at least drunk on what you can make of something. We artists are ever-scrolling tapes of thoughts, ideas, experiences, visions, images. The early stuff is the best. But anything can be potent when it’s recorded as new. Our business is catching and saving our magic. Being bewitched!” he shouted.
I told him I thought we needed a kind of “poetic awareness.” We agreed that many folks unfurl the tapes of their lives without having much of it. “The creative personality fine-tunes to maximize transcending experiences,” Joe went on. “While movement and travel are elements, it’s the depth of the vision that’s most valuable. An artist, if he’s any good, can do damned well in his own back yard. He makes connections. I guess we’re all gifted with it as kids. The nasty business of ‘maturing’ and life itself tends to knock it out of us. But at some point an artist makes a decision to tune in. His eyes open wide and he gets into observation mode. He gets his thoughts organized. He does it alone. It’s a conscious choice. It’s the learned capacity to be turned on by the gift. You have to love this world.
Joe started rummaging around. He dug out my copy of Robert Service’s poems. It’s an early edition, leather bound, well thumbed. I went back to my easel. He started reading, out loud. It was all so good, so great, so real.
The summer — no sweeter was ever;
The sunshiny woods all athrill;
The grayling aleap in the river,
The bighorn asleep on the hill.
A strong life that never knows harness;
The wilds where the caribou call;
The freshness, the freedom, the farness —
O God! How I’m stuck on it all.
Esoterica: Joe and I agree on the value and the blessing of solitude. The “clutter” of conversation or other distraction hinders the tuning in. The “spell” is a private epiphany that requires thoughtful follow up — “What can I do with this?”
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
Heightened state of consciousness
Suejin Jo, NY, NY, USA
The American realist artist Gregory Gillespie called it “the heightened state of consciousness” and said that was when he could paint. I must say I was in it a lot more often when I was in college when I was drunk with life and love most of the time. But Gregory killed himself. I wonder what was the state of consciousness when he did it.
Child-like ability to observe
Stephen Vizinczey, London, UK, via Martha Harron
In The Rules of Chaos, Stephen Vizinczey wrote, “The common sense of children is proverbial, but most of them tire of using it in the face of adult protest. They fear rejection, retribution, or simply being wrong; and so they cease to observe and learn to believe.” Surely what separates artists and visionaries from the rest of us is that they have retained this child-like ability to observe.
Overcome by the passion for life
Radha (Linda Saccoccio) NY, USA
I relate to the idea of catching and saving, because as we begin to recognize and familiarize ourselves with our unique perceptions we become potently creative. If we take our visions and wonderment for granted we have less a chance of developing them deeply or offering to others this concentrated experience that could enrich their lives. Much does come to us in our solitude whether alone or in the company of others. Yes, to be truly overcome by our passion for life is the root of our access to the transcendent.
The spell of China
Peter Wright, Dunster, BC, Canada
I just came back from three months of teaching English in China. I’m still in a spell. Your Robert Service quote reminded me of the canoe trip I made with 3 other friends down the Stikine River, from Telegraph Creek to Wrangell, Alaska. Also, living in Dunster, BC (Robson Valley) for 6 years before I retired last April. We are very privileged. Here in Vernon, BC, I also see how heaven-like it is. In Zhengzhou, China, the people’s most frequent wish was to see real blue sky. It’s usually hazy there from the Yellow River silt being moved by 6 million people in the area. It has certainly reminded me to appreciate the blue sky and forest all around us here. I agree that artists seem to see this daily. The artists here see it without having to go to China. China did enhance the feeling for me. It is like a perfect dream of utopia.
Accessing the alpha mode
Lorna Dockstader, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
How often have we who are both artists and mothers heard the voice of a child calling “Earth to Mom?” Mine learned at a very early age that this was the only way to bring me back from the spell that was often cast while in my studio. I can remember reading books about achieving this state — the one called Power of Alpha Thinking by Jess Stearn comes to mind. Today if one were to do a search on the net on Alpha they would find-vitamins, power systems, microprocessors, males and various software companies. There is hardly a whisper about Alpha Brain Waves. These are those produced during moments of deep creative thought or, for the average person, during sleep. I believe that multi-tasking women have an advantage in creating this state. Yesterday, while walking on a treadmill, talking on a telephone headset and watching TV (no sound) I could vaguely hear the washing machine in the background. After this, painting while listening to music, quickly helped me to enter the intuitive mode — probably because by then I was feeling half-asleep.
Sometimes difficult to love this world
Lately it’s been more difficult for me to “love this world.” I wonder how can I be so euphoric in one moment, and so helplessly hopeless the next? I am blessed with a 14 year old daughter who has the gift as well, and it causes much concern when I hear my own words to her about life. What do I tell her when I have no idea myself why things are as they are? And then along comes banter between Joe and Bob… and I will savor another day, and another and another, reading its magic every day to keep myself grounded.
Recently I turned fifty and cut off my waist length brunette hair, which I have had for over forty years, and dyed it Bright Royal Blue — like the Pepsi can. The reactions I received from strangers and friends have been the most uplifting thrill. I can’t say how much fun I have had, except to say no one should have this much fun! The reactions are from stop in mid-sentence and stare to bent-over laughter. It’s a hoot and I totally recommend everyone go “blue” once in their life. No matter how bad my day is going all I have to do is look in the mirror and smile.
The spell of university art school
Zoe Pawlak, Montreal, Canada
This year I’m studying under the watchful eyes of four teachers, but have mainly been mentored by Lee Plotec, (Concordia University, Montreal, Canada) who is not only a great painter, but an intellect, musician and a charming man. His attention paid to my progress has encouraged me and his criticisms of my work are observant, which leads me to make bold decisions about how I treat a surface. He has also made me aware that I must have a relationship with my painting. Using that metaphor (though not as removed as a metaphor often implies) I am better able to be aggressive or tender or whatever the relationship demands of me. This gives more responsibility to the painting and in turn, asks me to respond. Teaching fine art is beautiful and powerful when done with attention to the individual student. But the question most asked amongst my peers: Why am I not painting in my garage for free?”
Spells at home
Cesar Girolamo, Padova, Italy
Here in Italy thousands of American art students take in the dusty spells of our ancient art. Many in Italy would allow themselves to be bound by the spells of America — the space, the energy, the freedom. It makes me think that we all ought to just stay home and try to figure out where the spells really come from.
Ethics of print editions
Is it ethical to have more than one kind of limited edition print, for example, one Giclee print of “A” on watercolour paper, numbered 1 to 49 and one of “A” on canvas numbered 1 to 49?
(RG note) The “Certificate of Authenticity” which should accompany every copy of every multiple edition must state the further existence of all other editions, APs, PPs, Hors Commerce, as well as copies reproduced on other supports or grounds. That way the collector can get an idea of the relative rarity of his investment.
How creative are you?
Catherine Jo Morgan, Georgia, USA
Your book, The Painter’s Keys, inspired me to look for the Eugene Raudsepp book you mention: How Creative Are You? Since it is out of print, I decided to look on the internet. Sure enough, the basic quiz is available online, with some hints as well. The link is http://www.mercer.edu/csil/Resource%20Files/How%20Creative%20Are%20You.PDF
Karen Fitzgerald, ArtistCares, Long Island City, NY, USA
After 9/11 a group of artists began a project here on the East Coast of the USA. Like all beginnings, it was messy, but grew because it was based on the good of the hearts of participants. As we continue to grow, one thread of conversation running through our collective voices is the one dealing with the purposeful power of the creative process, the magic of it and the essential need of everyone to grab this innate ability. The mission of ArtistCares is to promote healing through creative expression. The Dreamway on your site lies directly along our path. What a gift to have discovered it. I respect the bearer of this gift.
Me and My Art
Vitali Komarov, Prague, Czech Republic
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 David Louis of Coventry, England who writes, “At last you have written something that really starts to hone in on what this game is all about. It’s unfortunate for so many people, that they get sidetracked into superficialities that have no real relevance to their personal vision or life aim as an artist.”
And also Moncy Barbour who writes, “As a poet and artist 30% of my work is done in my bed. And I wonder if I painted harder during my waking hours maybe I would fall asleep sooner. So you do not even have to leave your own back yard to paint. And you can do much before your dreams arrive in your very own bedroom bed.”