In Knockin’s Pub in Galway Town I met up with Brigit Ward. I bought her a pint and then another. She’s a mother times ten, a grandmother times seventy-eight, a great grandmother times thirty-seven, and a great great grandmother times two, she thinks.
“And what would you want with art, then? There’s no future in art. Nothing steady in art,” she says.
“I know,” I tell her. There’s no point in arguing with this kind of authority.
“My first husband, bless him, wanted to be one, but he went into funereal carpentry instead.”
“You mean building coffins?” I ask.
“Right you are there,” she says. “But he was oh so troubled to be an artist, right troubled he was — he drowned himself in the Liffey. After church one day too. Left me with four babes. I never touched any artists after that. No sir. Not after that. Wouldn’t.”
This pub has private stalls that fill with smoke from smoldering peat. When my bounce flash goes off the atmosphere electrifies and patrons look around corners to see what’s happening. “What type of art do you prefer?” I ask.
“The finest. I’d say the finest I ever saw was an oil in the priest’s house at Ballymeena. An oil it was of Our Lord Jesus with his chest open and folded back to show his bleeding heart. But it was the eyes, oh the eyes, so much compassion and feeling in those eyes that made it a great work of art, the art of oil it was, and to think that the artist, whoever he was, could get all of that compassion and feeling into one single oil painting. It was like a bit of heaven. And to think the artist was only a mere mortal man. A mortal man he was, that artist.”
I buy her another round.
PS: “Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.” (W B Yeats)
Esoterica: I’ve asked her. She is willing, even proud that I take candid photos of her. After a while she ceases to notice. I use a wide angle and shoot from here and there without looking through the finder. She is herself — natural and beautiful. The photos are transparencies, a permanent and valuable reference.
The following are selected responses to this and other letters. Thank you for writing.
by H Peter Baumgartner, Berlin
Brigit’s first husband might have been a perfectionist. Researchers have recently discovered a link between perfectionism and suicide. Perfectionists can be of three types: self-oriented (requiring themselves to be perfect), other-oriented (needing others to be perfect), or socially prescribed (believing others expect them to be perfect). There are probably more perfectionists among artists than the general population because, as Brigit noted, “It was like a bit of heaven. And to think the artist was only a mere mortal man.”
by Ted Lacey, Eire
Bridgit Ward’s opinion is just as valid as any expert critic or pontificator on art. The subject of Jesus with his chest flapped open and his heart showing moves her emotionally and reinforces her belief system. No wonder she thought it the “finest.” That, of course, is what’s good about art, and by observing and reporting on this ordinary woman you have subtly put your finger on the heart of the matter and the uselessness of so-called sophisticated art criticism.
Multiple-nude art contrast
by Martine Martin, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Brigit’s human values of compassion and feeling contrast vividly with the recent exploits of New York artist-photographer Spencer Tunick who managed to get 2000 people to take off all their clothes for a group-nude photo or two in Montreal, Canada. The latter is exploitative no matter which way you look at it, and the participants dupes to the tastelessness and irreverence that is now widespread. Though I am not a Catholic or even a Christian I can see genuine value in Brigit’s honest approach to art.
by Keith O’Connor, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Your latest letter came at a very appropriate moment. I am working on an introductory essay that describes and defines art in terms of 19th century art critiquing methods. This essay is directed at artists and is meant to provide a structure within which artists may evaluate their own art and the art of others. This essay grew out of my involvement in an artists news group where both sides (the abstractionists and the realists) had entrenched themselves into front line positions as in WW1. My objective is to bring discussion-structure to the debate. In the process I am clarifying my own aesthetic thoughts. Your letter gives an excellent example of sentiment in art.
Miracle of photography
by Hammond Nye
Talk about being blessed with the gift of expediency. Artists of old would have to ply potential subjects with more than a few draughts of ale in order to win a model. And then there was the time involved. Nowadays we can (with diplomacy) grab a variety of excellent reference in the wink of an eye. Your honesty and straight-forwardness is a relief, Robert. Artists should stop being wishy-washy about admitting to getting this kind of reference and recognize that we are a generation that has been blessed with the miracle of photography.
What is your thinking on taking candid photos of unknowing human subjects—perhaps with a telephoto — and then using them for reference — perhaps with a likeness? (Joel Andrews, and others)
(RG note) Historically, I’ve been a predator. I’ve rationalized this by thinking I’m making a cultural contribution and broadening people’s understanding of ethnicity and the family of mankind. In the past few years I’ve been a bit more careful, and have often asked permission first. Sometimes I’ve been rejected and this makes me sad. I guess I have always felt that there is enough creativity in the resulting works and that my intrusion in the lives of strangers has been justified.
by Susan Keane, Arbutus Ridge, Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
About 20 years ago I drove round the Ring of Kerry and met a young man who had a donkey beside him with panniers of white heather and a dog on it’s back. Very photogenic — but to do so you had to buy some white heather. He asked us to send him a print of the photo and then we discovered that if you didn’t have a camera he would sell you one of the prints! I guess he is now a big business man!
Science of Mind
by Michaela Akers, Atlanta, Georgia, USA
I formerly wrote for the Miami News, a public relations company (Hank Myer, Inc., in Florida), won a journalism award and wrote a book “A Matter Of Conscience” with a subplot that caused American publishers concern twelve years ago (they felt Right to Life would not be around long as an issue) even though I had a commitment from a British house for secondary rights. It was then I began to paint. Ironically, some of my earlier poetry is coming out on a CD-ROM. For me, words are creative vehicles within themselves. Earnest Holmes (Science of the Mind — 1926) gives an insight into the utterly awesome power of words.
Gel medium as canvas adhesive
by Cindy Schave, Platteville, Wisconsin, USA
In answer to Mary Smart’s question in the last collection of responses about the proper glue to use when gluing canvas to hardboard or plywood panels — Acrylic gel medium is excellent for use as an adhesive, and has the added benefit of being archival. It can be thinned with water — preferably distilled, in order to maintain its archival qualities.
Fabric glue as canvas adhesive
by Jack White, Florida, USA
The best adhesive to use is a fabric glue. This glue was designed for this purpose. It remains pliable and is easy to work with. The problem with wood glue it; gets too brittle. Rubber Cement needs both surfaces coated to be permanent and is almost impossible to bray the air bubbles out. Museums use fabric adhesive to remount old masterpieces on linen. It is inexpensive. I think we pay about $15.00 US dollars a gallon. We purchase ours from M&M Tennent, NJ 800-526-2302. TPI Professional Adhesive. If M&M won’t sell to individuals, the company that makes the product is Technologies Products International, PO Box 427, Tennent NJ, 07763. I have successfully used this for twenty plus years. When I am doing a major portrait I mount linen canvas to 1/4″ Masonite using this product. Linen sags on traditional stretcher bars. I use a portrait grade linen (double primed) because it is smooth and mount it to my Masonite. I like to wrap the canvas over the edge and about 2″ around the back. This seals the edge from moisture.