Yearly Archives: 2016

Letters UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1950:  Photo of Nina Simone  Photo by Tom Copi/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

In times like these, artists may examine their role as grabbers of attention, sources of information or providers of comfort and hope. Some find it impossible to separate a creative voice from one that reveals truth and engages action. Some wouldn’t dream of separating art from activism.

In the 2015 documentary “What Happened, Miss Simone?” director Liz Garbus unpacks the story of 3-year-old Eunice Waymon, a classical piano prodigy in Tyron, North Carolina. The sixth child of a Methodist preacher, Eunice performed at revivals and walked across town to study Bach at her piano teacher’s house. By nineteen, she’d made it to New York but

Letters Winslow-Homer_Boys-in-a-Pasture

A subscriber wrote, “I know by experience that art-making is a conduit to something higher than workaday life — but I’m finding it harder and harder to overcome depression about the low status of my day job and the low status of visual artists. It’s not just that painters are viewed with some contempt; increasingly, our work just isn’t viewed at all. Look at the entertainment section of any newspaper. It will have articles on just about every other art form but painting. It seems that painting is terminally ill or dead. At age 42, I have the typical dream

Letters Cory-Trepanier_Glacierside

Painting on location is an event. One begins with the idea of where to go and then takes the trouble to get into that spot. Once there, gear is set up and brushes dipped with the knowledge that light and temperature are fickle and fleeting co-conspirators. A special kind of grit is gained from the entire ceremony — accidents and frustrations mix with the thrill of the unknown. From the corner of one’s own garden to the planet’s most pristine crags, a location waits to be painted. With location work, we’re rewarded with unrepeatable moments and wisdom — the resulting paintings but a record of a larger devotion to the natural world

Letters Vincent-van-Gogh_wheat-field-with-Crows_1890

I always like that scene in the movie The Jerk where Steve Martin leaves home saying, “that’s all I need…” He takes only a chair. Then he takes a lamp. He apparently doesn’t take a belt because out on the sidewalk his pants fall down. I think I identify with his situation because deep in my heart I know I can do quite well with less.

This time I left home without any art materials. I knew there was a box of old art materials in the closet of our friend’s home — enough to get started.

Letters brian-jungen_whale

Carefully curated images on social media of shiny children and food, vacations and relationships presented by regular breathing humans, are irking social scientists. Apparently, the suffocating display of a polished facsimile of human experience without evidence of the associated toil, rather than delivering the desired feeling of connection and love, is alienating us and giving us the blues.

When it comes to painting, we do expect a level of proficiency and an absence of mistakes. And to call it art, we look for magic. As humans, we may also need some sign of struggle to know we’re dealing with the real

Letters jack-hambleton_boats

If you’re going swimming, you’re better off if you swim with a friend. So goes the theory. Folks who get together and paint on Thursday mornings know what I’m talking about. There’s something to be said for collective consciousness, shared energy, or maybe just the joy of like-minded companionship.

Here’s a buddy system for studio-introverts or home-workers. You need a telephone friend who is in the same business, some music and a clock. Squeeze out and get all your stuff in order. Phone your friend and propose a time-frame. Two or three hours are good, or it can be until

Letters Robert-Henri_Edna-Smith-in-a-Japanese-Wrap

The most exciting thing about giving a workshop, I’ve found, is the kindling of ideas on how to do it better next time. Inspiration from other artists has informed my work and approaches. It’s easy to forget, working in our studios day after day, about the silent and knowing spirit that exists among lifelong learners.

The most endearing lesson I learned from taking a workshop is how much there is to learn. A wealth of skill and knowledge is out there in other artists who have been seasoned by their muses and, again, by other artists. Joseph Addison said, “What sculpture is to a block of marble, education is to a human soul.”

Letters natalie-goldberg_paris-moon

From the place where you leave your kayak to the foot of Opaekaa Falls there’s a forested walk of about half an hour. The trail winds between the medieval roots of giant koa and baobob. Black boulders have been tumbled here and there by an ancient eruption. Unseen akikiki call from the canopy, and red junglefowl scratch in the underbrush. On the path there are fellow-travellers coming back from the falls. Others, going the same way as I, linger, while yet others, perhaps more professional walkers, dash on by.

Letters helen-frankenthaler_mountains-and-sea_1962

Examine the work of an accomplished painter in any genre and you’ll likely witness the understanding and employment of flats. By this I mean those unsung, unapologetic saturations of colour without shine or impasto. Flats acknowledge the painting surface as a flat thing and at the same time enhance other features that give the painting its delicious illusion of depth. Good flats are technically difficult to execute — steady swatches of evenness must dodge the textural momentum of brush strokes in acrylic and oil. Most of the time, louder surface energy is the desired effect and it becomes the usual spotlight of the picture plane. But, oh, to be flat.

Letters owen-merton_snow-scene-long-island_1919

Just for today I’m going to try to make a better painting. We’re not talking Sistine Chapel here, just a piece of joy begun and ended between sunup and sundown.

Just for today I’ll be happy with it. As Abraham Lincoln said, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” Today I’m making up my mind to be pleased.

Just for today I’m trusting in luck, intuition, chance and happenstance. Today I’m going to fit myself and my work around some of these minor miracles.

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