Browsing: Letters

13 Eye control score

Dear Artist, Every picture you’ve ever looked at has been designed with your travelling eyes in mind. Here’s an exercise for the next time you’re in a gallery: Scan paintings one-by-one in a half squint. Without over-thinking, give each painting’s…

11 The subconscious eye

Our eyes move toward those things already on our minds. A man passionate about model railroading, for example, is likely to look at a painting of a locomotive. But deeper cues move our eyes. Some of these stimulants are with us from birth and are a part of our psyche. Others are learned, selected and personalized by life’s preferences.

13 Making the invisible visible

”To sense the invisible and to be able to create it,” wrote Hans Hofmann, “that is art.” An English clergyman wrote a letter 235 years ago proposing the idea of a giant but invisible star so massive that it swallowed its own light. Based on his calculations, this body could be detected by its gravitational effect on surrounding objects. In 1915, 114 years later, Albert Einstein was developing his theory of general relativity, building upon his already proven theories about gravity’s influence on the motion of light. Then, in the 1950s, astronomers with radio telescopes noticed that seemingly peaceful galaxies were emitting disproportionate amounts of energy from their cores.

12 How to critique yourself

With all the current running off to get things juried and critiqued by others, self-critiquing might seem an unpopular sport. It isn’t. The acquired ability to critique oneself is the fuse of great art and the silver bullet of the pros. While all artists work differently, here are a few thoughts:

Quality develops when the artist and the critic are honed into a functioning co-op within the same skull.

7 The birth of cool

Another studio visitor asked me what had changed since moving from New York to California. “Your work looks like it belongs here,” she said. I’d heard this before, though much of the work had been first imagined before my migration only 15 months earlier. Wishing to downplay the apparent apropos, I diverted attention to the question of whether my eyesight was improving. Pointing towards the immaculately in-focus San Jacinto mountain range, I stated, “The air — the light — there seems to be very little atmosphere here.” “Yes!” she exclaimed, “everything is so crystalline, so articulated; the mountains, the boulders, the stars.” We were fans of the clarity.

9 Learning to draw

Jacob Collins is a New York artist and art educator whose avowed goal is to be “an old-fashioned painter.” Working from life — nudes, still life, figures — in his dark and purpose-lit studio, he laboriously draws and draws out the character of his subjects by the time-honoured method of explore, erase and refine. A modern-day Rembrandt, he eschews the unskilled methodology of many among the current avant-garde.

6 For art’s sake

In 1905, in an effort to increase water flow for farming into Southern California’s Imperial Valley, engineers accidentally overflowed a bank of the Colorado River near Yuma, Arizona. For two years, while repairs were made to the breach, the river flowed into a centuries-dry lake bed, forming the land-locked Salton Sea, about 64 miles southeast of Palm Springs.

9 Prior disappointment syndrome

Artists with integrity and high standards can fall prey to a particularly nasty condition. It’s called “Prior disappointment syndrome.”

Failed works of art and even disappointing passages, particularly recent ones, can haunt and disarm your current work. You may have noticed when returning from a holiday, you sometimes paint freshly and well for a few days and then the old decay sets in. If you’ve ever experienced this situation, I’m here to help you understand why the decline happens and what you can do about it.

7 Theme and variations

Around 1723, Johann Sebastian Bach composed his Two-and-Three-Part Inventions, the keyboard exercises he wrote for his students and his growing brood of kids. Bach described these call-and-answer, contrapuntal inventions as a means of obtaining and carrying out good ideas by learning to play clearly separate voices. Wanting to give his students a taste of how to build compositions, Bach arranged the Inventions in progression, ascending in major and minor keys. The result is a structure that serves as a backbone for understanding the melodic variation possible while hinged on one musical theme.

18 Developing ideas

A subscriber wrote, “I need help with ‘developing ideas.’ I have to show I can do this in my portfolio to apply for art school and although it is an admission of a lack of imagination to ask, I really need a structure to help me. I have to do more than supply completed works. I know that artists get ideas while working, but how do I develop themes and explore subjects?”

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