Yearly Archives: 2017

Letters N-C-Wyeth_The-Duel

Studies have shown that if you gather a bunch of nine-year-olds in a gymnasium and describe to them the physics of a back handspring, you’ll see in return a collection of head cocks and fidgets. Instead, researchers noticed that kids will jump to their feet when an actual gymnast performs this right in front of them. A back handspring — like a life in art — is perhaps easier to attempt when you’ve witnessed someone else doing it.

Letters jack-hambleton_cariboo-autumn

Spain is a country that gives lessons in the organization of form. I’m thinking of whitewashed villages with soft cubist motifs: light, shade, colour surprise and varied textures of tile, masonry and stone. These magic places seem to tumble from their hillsides for the benefit of art. In narrow streets with singing canaries and sunlit geraniums, there’s abstract energy. Even clothes hung out to dry take on a significance unfelt at home.

Letters jasper-johns_according-to-what_1964

While travelling in my twenties before the camera phone, I’d carry a Canon SLR with a 300 millimetre lens — a graduation gift from my parents. The thing weighed 7 lbs — a practically extinct albatross by today’s standards. I accepted the neck ache in exchange for the special reminder to look and compose.

These days, our camera phones and their features take high-res snaps that can be tricked out for saturation and white balance, cropping and sharpening. Instagram and other online sharing platforms allow for immediate connection with other like-minded image junkies.

Letters jerry-wennstrom_nurse-log_detail

After painting steadily for six months while doing a minimum of socializing, I gathered my accumulated works and destroyed them. Oh, maybe I kept a few of the better ones. I had made up my mind that this six months was going to be strictly about learning and experimentation. There were piles of half-finished paintings showing every touch of goofballitis that hit me. Stuff was dripped, rollered, squeegeed and scraped. Paint was on discarded doors, chunks of Styrofoam, linoleum panels and hand towels. Some paintings attempted materials and techniques that found me incompetent. Other works had occasional modest glimmerings of goodness.

Letters ruth-robbins_illustration_a-wizard-of-earthsea

Ursula Kroeber was eleven years old in 1940 when she submitted a story for publication to Astounding Science Fiction magazine, and it was promptly rejected. Her parents, anthropologists at the University of California, Berkeley, had been taking Ursula and her siblings each summer to an old ranch in Napa Valley where Ursula read fantasy books, including Alice in Wonderland, The Wind in the Willows, Jungle Book, Worm Ouroboros and Alpha Ralpha Boulevard. “Wow!” she thought, “This stuff is so beautiful and so strange, and I want to do something like that.”

Letters pierre-auguste-renoir_children-reading

In a previous letter, I touched on the idea that your vocabulary might be responsible for personal happiness, effectiveness or creativity. Could it be possible that we are formed by the words we use? For example, might the elimination of the word “failure” promote “success?” Might the constant use of the word “happy,” make you so? You may see a few problems. We may know of folks who give lip service to “love,” while they practice “hate.” You might think that the program will not work if you think one thing and say another. But the idea behind the concept is that the words themselves are what you may become. Words maketh the man.

Letters andrew-wyeth_master-bedroom

Last night in Vancouver, a sparkly-eyed woman in a wide-brimmed hat introduced herself to me as an artist’s coach. “What kinds of problems do artists bring to you?” I asked.

She began with a gentle, meandering observation on the individuality and uniqueness of all artists, then described how many grapple with uncertainty when it’s time to grow. In all her years working in galleries, art advising and coaching, she has witnessed how creating an enjoyable artist’s life requires knowing why we make art in the first place.

Letters al-hirschfeld_ella-fitzgerald

In 1926 a young man by the name of Al Hirschfeld sketched a caricature of an actor on a theatre program while attending a New York performance. A friend convinced him to copy it onto a clean sheet of paper and submit it to a newspaper. Thus was born one of the great caricaturists — more than 7,000 published drawings and a career that lasted until his death at age 99 in 2003. Hirschfeld, who studied art in Paris and New York, had noted how sunlight bleached out colour and turned people into what he called “walking line drawings.”

Letters david_michelangelo

At the Galleria dell’Accademia in Florence, David gazes past the selfie-sticks towards Rome in a qualified stare. A vibration detector at his left heel monitors traffic, construction, earthquakes and the incurable footsteps of his visitors, dribbling now in controlled numbers into the atrium. At 17 feet tall and 6 tonnes, he’s perfect except for tiny fractures in his ankles. Italian scientists found them during some tests recently, while trying to figure out why he was leaning a little past his intended contrapposto (the body-twist and weight distribution designed by his creator). While David’s balance is just so, those first 350 years outside in the elements of the Piazza della Signoria have threatened his fifth century of uprightness.

Letters emile-gruppe_2

Two kayakers take particular interest in the operation of the floating easel. Brothers Karl and Guenter Schuerer have been on the Mackenzie and it’s tributaries for three months. Grey-bearded and bronzed, these are seasoned river-men who have shaken off their bindings in Bremen in exchange for a life of adventure in a wild and challenging land. Their folding boats are masterworks of neatness and organization — they have to be — they must explore efficiently.

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