Peter and I are rumbling along a dirt path on a rented quad, switch-backing the volcanic slopes of Milos, the southwestern-most island in the Cyclades. The road is ours — the last of the summer cruisers have embarked for still-hopping Santorini or returned home. Along the shoulder, shiny, amber hens peck at split watermelons, content with the honey and walnut breezes carried in from the Aegean and across the sun-baked olive groves. The sea, once worshipped as the goddess Amphitrite, the consort of Poseidon and mother of the fish, seals and dolphins, winks and dazzles into an infinite, cobalt sky.
Yearly Archives: 2019
For two hundred years Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) has had something to say to creative people. Goethe (pronounced GER tuh) was a German poet, novelist, playwright and scientist. Some things he didn’t get right. Going against the findings of Sir Isaac Newton who had determined that colour came from white light, Goethe figured colour was merely a form of darkness. Too bad. An aristocrat with financial resources and terrific connections, he could turn his mind in any direction he wished. He was fascinated with the spirit and methodology of art-making.
Once, while on a two-hour stopover in Houston, I took a cab to the Rothko Chapel, sat alone beneath the baffled skylight cupola and blinked into the fourteen inky canvases until it was time to go back to the airport. My long-dreamed-of pilgrimage had overwhelmingly confirmed not only the immersive drama and eye-filling trickery of Rothko’s surfaces, but the power of context. Like the Sistine and the Guggenheim, the Rothko is, perhaps, the highest achievement in spatial devotion to art and its spiritual purpose.
Yesterday, an artist emailed with a basic but vital question: “I was curious if you have any tips on how to motivate yourself to paint. I love painting; however, I haven’t had much motivation to do so. It’s been a few months. Any suggestions?”
It may be a help to understand that work is not work when work is loved. This thought brings affirmations from legions of artists who have no trouble being motivated.
The first rule of storytelling is that something must die in order for something else to be born. In your art story, this means that if you want your work to grow, you’ll need to kill something. The good news is that you probably have something to sacrifice lying around your studio — a studio barnacle you once deemed too good to slash but that’s not quite ready for the dance floor. As the sole, designated arbiter of quality control, you are beginning the rest of your life.
Artists need to be constantly on the prowl for ways to make their work more visually exciting. Art needs magic bullets beyond mere subject matter. Fact is, perfectly dull subjects can be made more interesting with a little extra thought and effort. You may already be applying some of these ideas, but if my request seems more like a tough order, perhaps these exercises will be all the more important for you.
When I was a five-year-old girl growing up in Canada, I remember opening the basement door of our 1959 split-level ranch house to tiptoe barefoot through the rain puddles to my dad’s studio. Inside was a world creatively ordered for one — an intimate deluge of feathers, beach stones, vintage English car parts, every size of nail, frame, canvas and brush and hundreds of partly squeezed tubes of paint. A giant, north-facing picture window was all that separated this universe from the nests of herons and eagles.
I was putting the title The Red Canoe on the back of a painting when my friend Joe Blodgett walked in and said, “Nice painting, too bad about the red canoe.”
After a couple of single malts I was looking at the painting through Joe’s eyes. I was pleasant enough when I urged him to go down to the smokehouse to get our smoked salmon, and while he was gone I took off the final varnish and hauled that canoe out of my picture.
“This is why you must love life,” says Bernadette Fox, the artist-turned-wife-and-mother in Maria Semple’s 2012 comedic novel about art, failure and the domestic cage. “In one day you’re offering up your social security number to the Russian Mafia; two weeks later you’re using the word calve as a verb.” Bernadette, a once-lauded star-chitect is languishing in the suburbs of Seattle, unable to put her finger on the cause of her erratic behavior, anxiety, sleeplessness and misanthropy. She loves her husband and child, but something has gone terribly wrong with herself.
Three others hang out with me when I’m painting in our garden. Lester and Mary were around here last year. This year they’ve brought along an oversized teenaged layabout with an annoying voice. Jack is often on his own, but Lester and Mary, who may be married, spend a lot of time strutting about, discussing, among other things, Jack. The parents are a bit co-dependent, but they like each other and seem smugly contented with their day-to-day routine. Lester, Mary and Jack are crows.