Monthly Archives: January, 2016

Letters sam-francis_untitled-1962

While walking recently through a California olive grove, a budding art collector and I ruminated on love and investing. “I’m an intuitive collector, but my husband likes to research. He wants to learn about the artists and their drives,” she confided. “We have an agreement. Whatever we buy, we must both love it.”

“As an artist,” she asked, “does it bother you if a collector buys your painting but later sells it?” Without hesitation, I replied, “The art world needs speculators. What would emerging artists do without someone willing to take a chance? And what fun would collecting be without the gritty discovery of future treasures?”

Letters Galen-Rowell2

Photographers, unencumbered by a thousand years of process, have shone their light onto new levels of pictorial creativity. Good examples are Galen Rowell and his wife, Barbara. Through countless adventure-photography assignments to the Rockies, Tibet, Patagonia, Galapagos, Antarctica — even to a falcon’s nest at skyscraper top, Galen’s eye and brain have reassessed the business of viewfinder seeing. As well as taking spectacular photos, he has written about the process with clarity and charm. Noted for his invention of selective neutral-density filtering, he has also helped re-define other systems. For artists of all stripes, many of his ideas and observations are worthy of naming and claiming.

Letters andy-goldsworthy7

Recently, Steve Howard, Head of Sustainability at IKEA, declared that developed countries have reached “Peak Curtains.” He was speaking at a Sustainable Business debate hosted by “The Guardian.” “In the West, we have probably hit peak stuff,” said Steve. “We talk about peak oil. I’d say we’ve hit peak red meat, peak sugar, peak stuff… peak home furnishings.”

After reporting an annual net profit of $3.5 billion — achieved by providing fast furniture to Western consumers and by finding new customers in developing countries — IKEA announced a goal to double its sales by 2020 by pivoting away from disposables and instead making things that can be repaired and recycled.

Letters pollock-studio

A friend of a friend phoned this morning and said, “Don’t waste my time Bob — what’s your all-time best tip?” I had to put down my brush for that one. I used to think it was “Keep busy while you’re waiting for something to happen.” After some thought I realized I had honed the advice further: “Pick up your tool,” I told him.

It’s been my observation that pretty well all growth, success and creative happiness are based on the discovery and exploitation of our tools. Some tools, tried and true, come back and are used again to new advantage.

Letters david-bowie_ziggy-stardust

In Francis Whately’s 2013 documentary, David Bowie: Five Years, there’s a scene, shown in split-screen, of David Bowie’s longtime guitarist Carlos Alomar casually riffing, then building layers for the anchoring groove that became the 1975 hit, Fame. In that moment, the shifting shape of an artist seems to unfold in real time. Young Americans would be Bowie’s ninth studio album, releasing past Glam Rock personae to grab at his latest obsession with R&B, funk, soul and dance hall music. In style, Bowie adopted a term for his new sound: “plastic soul.” “I put together all these odds and ends of art and culture that I really adore,” he said. “Every time I’ve made a radical change it’s helped me feel buoyant as an artist.”

Letters Paul-Cezanne_The_Large_Bathers

One of the essential principles of creativity is MAD. It’s also known as OTD, but they amount to the same thing. MAD stands for “Make A Delivery,” OTD for “Out The Door.” These concepts resonate with the idea, long since proven effective, that writers write, painters paint and tortillistas make tortillas. It also says that if you want to be an apple vendor you better have apples in your apple cart. The idea goes beyond commercial considerations. Even poor Cezanne, with all his neuroses, thought a little bit better of himself when, finally at age 55, the Paris dealer Vollard saw fit to give him his first one man show.

Letters RG150-Bright-Pattern-Chatterbox-Princess-Louisa-Inlet-11x14

Patty Oates from California wrote, “Could you comment on the red dots your father used in so many of his paintings? I’ve never seen a word about this practice, which is so effective.”

Thanks, Patty. You’re referring to the personal technique of Dad’s called “counterpoint and colour surprise.” Think of it as a “signature move” — one that bumps up vibrations so the work dazzles and identifies it as uniquely his. While the dots are especially Dad’s, you can find your own signature move by first understanding the mechanics of his.

Letters Johann_Heinrich_Wilhelm_Tischbein_-_Goethe_in_the_Roman_Campagna

I’m laptopping you today from Goethe’s chair. I’m in his “poetry room” here in his family home in Frankfurt. The five-story building, leaning out over a street called Grosser Hirschgraben, was restored after WW2. The surrounding buildings are now a museum and one of the main attractions in this city. Here are manuscripts, drawings, paintings, childhood toys — a furnished interior locked into 1749. There’s a library, picture gallery, theatre and conference center. On the third floor I bumped into a shaggy young poet, his eyes on the ceiling, notebook and stubby pencil in hand. In the library I watched Japanese schoolgirls copying his drawings and giggling at his poetry.

Letters saint-exupery3

Some artists don’t believe in resolutions. Others find talking too much about ideas neutralizes the power needed to execute them. Some artists worry about sabotage. Many value the accountability that comes with a public declaration — they set goals, create a strategy, tweak tactics and pull from ineffable inner resources when needed. Like John Beeden, who this year rowed from San Francisco to Cairns, Australia in his 6-metre boat, “Socks II,” some artists create what once seemed impossible.