“I am very depressed and deeply disgusted with painting. It is really a continual torture.” That could have been taken from my inbox, but it wasn’t. It’s a quote from Claude Monet.
Monet may have been brilliant, but he was also a grumpy old man. Given a different disposition or perhaps another occasion he might have said, “I am very excited and greatly pleased with painting. It is really a continual joy.” Monet’s not fooling me. In that shimmering water-lily room in New York there’s little evidence of depression. Struggle, yes, but depression, no. A woman, openly weeping beside me, said she could feel the artist’s delight: the pond’s wetness and the summer light.
What’s going on here? It seems that artists can be grumpy on the outside while at the same time loaded up with inner joy. One of the reasons is that artists carry around with them the burden of perfectionism. A certain amount of disappointment is inevitable when we’re so closely connected with idealized potentials and high personal standards. Also, in the process of chasing and finding your Prince of Creativity you’re going to have to kiss a lot of frogs. Artists easily adopt the warty skin of pessimism. Self-deprecation and false humility are also on the agenda. It may be a defense mechanism or a smoke screen. Is it necessary? Do we who are the most blessed of all workers need to be party to this deceit?
It’s my observation that what’s said and what’s written about art ought to be carefully looked at and taken with a grain of salt. It may be part of the game that we all hand out a certain amount of baloney. Furthermore, while it is well known that it’s possible to fool others, the easiest one to fool is yourself.
I’ve noticed two main types of artists: Those who believe their own baloney, and those who do not believe their own baloney.
PS: “I will not forget that poverty and riches are of the spirit. Though the world knows me not, may my thoughts and actions be such as will keep me friendly with myself.” (Max Ehrmann)
Esoterica: “I am not sincere, not even when I say I am not.” (Jules Renard) An idea worth tossing around is whether personal authenticity is a key to authentic art. Are sincerity and truthfulness still virtues? If sincerity is a virtue, consider this: “The main thing is sincerity, and when you learn to fake that, you’ve got it made.” (Cody Fisher, and others)
The following are selected correspondence arising from the above and other letters. Thank you for writing.
Watching my own baloney
by June Raabe
I had a chuckle over this letter, and Monet being a grumpy old man! I have noticed that paintings I am NOT happy with seem to please my friends. A recent effort to paint dahlias so annoyed me I had three goes at it. An out of town friend said “well what’s wrong with THAT?” pointing at one, and all I could say was “it didn’t turn out right.” I gave her the “failed” one. The baloney? I told her it was worth $200.00. She’s cheap and I knew she would not frame it properly. She just stuffed it in a frame she had, sans mat, chopping off a little to fit. It will match her bedroom. She’ll be happy. What more do I want? I think it’s the inner vision that keeps us painting. The same vision that trips us up when we realize the washes were not as pure, clear and fluid as we had planned, the colors are muddy, the composition leaves a lot to be desired, or the whole thing looks amateurish. I try very hard to watch my own “baloney.” I want to keep my opinion of my art and myself realistic, without depressing me to the point of not painting at all, and yet positive enough to urge me on towards an inner perfection.
No sinecure on baloney
by Gerald Priest, UK
Artists come by baloney (as you delicately put it) naturally because they are often endowed with a more active imagination than others among the population. They do not, however, have a sinecure on the trait, take barristers for example, whose living depends on it.
No baloney, period
by Diane Voyentzie
I am an artist who doesn’t believe my own baloney. I am married to a man who also doesn’t believe my baloney. That may be the most important part of being an artist. Joining up with someone who doesn’t take you too seriously.
Grouch as source
by Stewart Turcotte
Is it possible that Monet was motivated by something other than joy when he painted those lily pads and pools? I have always been impressed with nature and feel joy in the beauty that I see around me, but painting clear, deep and dark pools may not be the crystallization of joy to everyone. We may look into the depths, the darkness, the warmth, the sensuousness, the satiny feel of water with a longing for something that is tantalizingly close but unattainable, a return to the security of the womb. All that is presented to us in nature exhibits the fecundity of the world and hence the beginning and the possibility of what can be but also something that may not be. If Monet were a grouchy old man it may have been these feelings that caused him to paint the lily pad covered pools in his garden.
Types of baloney
by Radha (Linda Saccoccio) NYC, NY, USA
I am wondering what kind of baloney are you talking about. Is it the baloney that is often common in galleries these days to explain and defend art that is all head and often not so visual? Are you talking about the thoughts or feelings that may inspire an artist to do what they do, and that the audience may or may not see in their work? Or are you speaking of an artist’s attitude and myth about their relationship to art? Possibly you mean all of the above. Even if we are deceived by our own story about what we are doing I don’t think it matters how you get there as long as you get there. I guess for me creativity has become a spiritual activity and it just sweeps me away. Perhaps it is still a relationship of love, inspiration and mystery or awe because I have limited time to work on my art. With two children, a husband and many responsibilities, my precious, limited time in the studio still remains sacred. Maybe if I had all the time in the world to paint I might have a different relationship with it. As my mother used to say about romantic relationships, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.” Here’s to staying in love with art no matter how much time you have for it! After all, in the big scheme of things what could be better?
Actions represent true desires
by Kelly Borsheim, Cedar Creek, Texas, USA
I am not sure that only artists exhibit the traits you discuss here. I have often found myself confused when I realize that the words some people say (including myself at times) differ from the actions they take. Sometimes what we say to one person is influenced by an encounter we had with another person somewhere else. Our resulting communication problems are often a lack of that kind of information. Other times, I think our wants and feelings are expressed “inaccurately” because we are struggling to determine what our true desires and feelings ARE and sometimes hearing something out loud or “bouncing it off” another helps us clarify our positions. Maybe we are all just brainstorming out loud. I try to live in the concept of “It is your life, make it what you will.” vs. the “blame everything else but me” style, and I believe that ultimately, we all make choices. While words are powerful and necessary, our actions represent our true desires.
Faith in ourselves
by Faith Puleston, Wetter, Germany
“You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.” I think that whatever Monet was saying, he believed it AT THE TIME. If he said it without believing it he must have had a reason. Maybe people wanted to hear it. So whom can you believe? Yourself, on a good day or on a bad? This morning I found an article on the web offering advice as to what to do with failed paintings. I went to the artist’s website. Oh dear! If that’s the best he can do, what’s the worst? Are the pictures in his galleries recycled flops, or what? Why am I bothered about my own standards when someone doing that level of work is offering advice to others (and me) about what to do if? This artist put his head in the noose, as we all do, from time to time, and we are all hopefully protected by our own unshatterable faith in ourselves from a fate worse than death. Is that what makes us “normal”? Are artists more “normal” than others are since we survive all sorts of put-downs and even thrive on them? Of course, I run exactly the same risk of being challenged for my opinions as much as for what I do, or don’t do. Every now and again I get out my old stories, poems, music arrangements, and artistic attempts, and take a good, hard look at them. It’s like turning out old clothes and sending them to the Red Cross. It’s freedom! I defend tooth and nail the bits left over after the purge. How many water lily flops did Monet have, that we shall never know about?
Look for the real person
by Shirley Erskine, Ontario, Canada
Being an artist is an introspective career with the world wanting to take a peek inside your head and heart. It is very difficult to get past the created persona of some artists and look at the real person. I believe that the exterior burdens that some artists carry around are nothing more than affectations. The artiste who howls and snarls is a royal pain in the butt and should be allotted a fair share of the remark “baloney.”
by Nicoletta Baumeister
Who the hell cares about authenticity in art? The only thing worth knowing is yourself, and if you’re not authentic, honest, in tune with yourself, you have nothing. Art is evidence. Words are evidence. Work is evidence. Nothing we do is separate from the functioning entity we call our selves. It is an absolute falsity that our brains are capable of creating independent thought. Our brains are incapable of autonomously producing either sincerity, or falsehood. Where does the command to be one or the other come from? Nihil est intue… etc: “Nothing exists in the intellect that has not first gone through the senses.” “When a man’s struggle begins within oneself, the man is worth something” (Plutarch) Recent brain research finds that there is a specific site in the brain that is responsible for our ability to perceive the difference between “outside” ourselves versus inside our selves. People with defects in this part of the brain, cannot distinguish what phenomenon exists outside their senses versus inside. Coincidentally, people who achieve the highest states of meditation, or transcendental experiences, show decreased activity in this part of the brain. Our brains are responsible for our perception that reality is separate from our selves. Without this function, we would perceive ourselves as being one with the universe.
by Sharon Williams
I am an experimental mixed-media artist. I paint how I paint. I am not trying to copy or emulate anyone else’s style, composition or color. Some claim fault with composition or color, others just love the sincerity and personal expression involved. Can’t please them all I guess, and when it comes down to it, I’ll go for the heart over the formal any day. The only problem is that we get too close to our own work so that it becomes almost impossible to view it subjectively. I’ve tried the tricks — sneaking up on it, putting it away for a while, mirrors, etc. — yet I can always see what I was trying to portray, the meaning of the piece, which sometimes gets in the way of the formal analysis. In asking others for input, I have found the best question to be: “What do you see/feel/react to this piece?” That allows for subjectivity rather than the questions “What do you think” or “is it any good?” It’s interesting to hear those kind of reactions as they give you a place to begin thinking where alterations may need to be made if the message isn’t clear. Rejections don’t really tell you anything useful, other than a particular juror, on a particular day, didn’t like your painting better than he liked some of the others. The true virtue is to be honest with yourself, and the expression will follow. If others don’t like it, it really doesn’t matter. Note to self: remember that!
Turned on by poets
by Adrienne Moore
I make art to stay in control of my cluttered life but at earlier stages, I did not even question my reasons, I just needed to paint. Later when I questioned myself on my reasons for painting, I realized that my painting allows me to escape for a few precious hours each day to explore and get my headspace again. More than ever with painting I gain knowledge and experience of what makes me function as a whole thinking person. I find myself getting back to the poets who fired me with enthusiasm many years ago. W.B. Yeats at once comes to mind with “like a long legged fly on the stream, his mind moves on silence” or Wordsworth’s Intimations of Immortality “…our life’s star has had elsewhere its setting and cometh from afar.” O for the insight of T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men to realize the power of abstract thought. It is the poets, musicians and writers who challenge me to express myself in paint because that is the medium I understand to convey my thoughts, share my experiences and find an audience of like minds who are also searching to express themselves and who have this kind of drive. That is really why I enjoy making art. It is a personal journey of exploration, those playful moments that do not have monetary value but stand out as time to be myself. If, in fact, the work is at any point commercial, I almost feel guilty for having so much fun with the process.
Why do I make art?
by Diane David
I make art, because my heart would break without it. My parents’ worst fear was that I would do something dangerous, unconventional, and unreliable. However, I have found that the single most dangerous personal choice is to turn my back on my intuition, my creative vision, and the things and people I love. Therefore, after many years of waiting and percolating, my creative self expanded its passion from my sons and employment as a teacher of highly volatile and risky special education students to my own personal loves including art friends, art process, art production, art showing and art selling. What could be better than this?
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 97 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.
That includes Nicole Best Rudderham who was thinking about self-discipline, inspiration etc., when she put this up on her studio wall:
OPEN most days about 9 or 10, occasionally as early as 7,
but some days as late as 12 or 1. We usually close at 5:30 or 6,
Occasionally 4 or 5, but once in awhile as late as 11 or 12.
Some days, or afternoons, we aren’t here at all,
& lately, I’ve been here just about ALL the time,
except when I’m somewhere else, but I should be here then, too.