Author sara genn

Letters Ishiyama Temple Scroll, 1805)
ink scroll
by Tani Bunchō (1763-1841)
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On Friday we went to see What the Bleep Do We Know? It’s part documentary, part entertainment, part lecture. After being recommended by so many fellow artists, I knew it would be like no other film.

It’s about Quantum Physics. It asks and attempts to answer some of the big questions: Who are we, what are we made of, where are we going? The natures of intentionality, possibility, addiction, creativity, and self-love are examined and graphically demonstrated.

Letters CONGO_30th-Painting-Session-11th-December-1957_Paint_on_paper_37x51cm
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Before 1956, Desmond Morris was a surrealist painter who had recently completed a doctorate in zoology at Oxford. That year, he began studying the picture-making abilities of two-year old chimpanzee Congo, a resident at the London Zoo. As Morris had recently agreed to host a show on animal behavior for Granada TV, he caught the whole thing on film.

Letters Composition VII, 1913
oil on canvas
78.25 by 119.1 inches
by Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944)
12

In the incredibly dark and grubby Odessa airport, waiting for the short flight to Kiev, I find a crumpled copy of the English-language Herald Tribune. While most of its words appear well used by previous travellers, there’s an interview with 76-year-old American author John Updike. “I’ve tried to avoid teaching,” he says, “which for all its charm takes a lot of your energy and makes you doubt yourself.”

Letters Six Prayers, 1966–67 cotton, linen bast, silver lurex
186 × 48.9 cm each panel
by Anni Albers (1899-1994)
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Annelise Fleischmann was a teenage art student from a wealthy German-Jewish publishing family when Oskar Kokoschka saw one of her portraits and asked her why she painted. She promptly quit, applying instead to the experimental Bauhaus School at Weimar, where she was rejected and then accepted after a second try. Because women were barred from most classes there except for weaving, Anni reluctantly eased into textiles. “To work with threads seemed sissy to me. I wanted something to be conquered. But circumstances held me to threads and they won me over.”

Letters Vermont Landscape, 1967
Pastel on paper
11.5 x 17.25 inches
by Wold Kahn (b. 1927)
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Where I live, the spiders come out in autumn. They’re in my face when I bend to turn on the garden hose. Going about their sky-harvest and their devious mating-games, they spread their webs across my larger windows. In the nearby forest there’s a surprise of mushrooms. The longer, darker nights bring the owl’s call closer. Even by day the night birds are more active, silently moving between the tall cedars. It’s time to step out into a season — something to do with what John Muir called “washing your spirit clean.”

Letters Venus de Milo, 101 BCE
marble sculpture
6 feet, 8 inches
by Alexandros
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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.

Letters Portrait of Lady Charlotte Campbell, 1789
oil on canvas
197.2 x W 134 cm
by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein
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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.

Letters Red on Maroon, 1959
oil paint, pigments and glue on canvas
266.7 x 457.2 cm
by Mark Rothko (1903–1970)
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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.

Letters Zeus Weeps, 1972 
oil on canvas 
88 1/4 x 115 1/4 inches
by Dorothy Hood (1919-2000)
9

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.

Letters Francis Bacon: Three Studies for Self-Portrait, 1976; oil on canvas, in three parts, each 14 x 12 inches
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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.

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