Do you have a creed?

21

Dear Artist,

Model-making artist Joe Fig has produced a remarkable book, Inside the Painter’s Studio, in which he visits and photographs the studios of dozens of well-known New York contemporary painters. He also records each artist’s answers to a number of set questions, many of which are practical ones concerning studio layout, painting processes, work hours and habits, clean-up times, unique tools, titling, the use of assistants, and advice for younger artists. His second-to-last question, “Do you have a motto or a creed that as an artist you live by?” picked up a range of answers, both predictable and insightful.

Diorama of Ross Bleckner in his studio c. 2000-2019 by Joe Fig (b.1968)

Diorama of Ross Bleckner in his studio c. 2000-2019
by Joe Fig (b.1968)

Many of these painters didn’t want to admit having a creed. Alex Rockman, Ryan McGinness, Mary Heilmann, Eric Fischl and Inka Essenhigh gave a flat “no.” Chuck Close defined the attitude a little more closely: “Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work.”

Dana Schutz said she couldn’t remember any of her mottos, while Joan Snyder just laughed at the very idea of having them.

Some of the answers were lengthy. The word “truth” was prevalent. Steve Mumford admonished, “Try to be absolutely truthful to yourself and almost try to flout popular taste in seeking out what it is that you really are interested in doing.” Billy Sullivan said it was important “to be honest in the work and to have fun.” Malcolm Morley used only one word: “Fidelity.”

Diorama of Jackson Pollock in his studio (c. 2000-2019) by Joe Fig

Diorama of Jackson Pollock in his studio (c. 2000-2019)
by Joe Fig

“Do what you want to do,” was the advice of Fred Tomaselli, while Matthew Ritchie said, “Remain interested in what you’re doing.” Will Cotton said, “Ask yourself daily if you’re excited.”

Julie Mehretu felt her motto was, “to really put everything into my work so the work returns that to me.” And Amy Sillman observed, “You’re going to die so you may as well make the most of it.”

Barnaby Furnas said it was important to realize, “there are no mistakes,” while Bill Jensen said, “You have to let the paintings lead you.” April Gornik told us, “Great art should be vulnerable to interpretation.” And James Siena said, “Your success will come out of the work you do, not who you know, what parties you go to, or what you wear.” Ross Bleckner also took the high road: “Bring something new, something beautiful and something filled with light into the world.”

Diorama of Chuck Close in his studio (c. 2000 - 2019) by Joe Fig

Diorama of Chuck Close in his studio (c. 2000 – 2019)
by Joe Fig

Best regards,

Robert

PS: “If you hang in there, you will get somewhere.” (Chuck Close)

Esoterica: “I’m very happy that I’ve had the chance to be a painter,” said Philip Pearlstein. Of all of them, Gregory Amenoff seemed the least narcissistic: “Artists need to support other artists,” he said. “When younger, you’re part of a community, when older you need to create opportunities for the younger ones. In the meantime you have a responsibility to work fiercely in the studio in exchange for the privilege of making things the world doesn’t necessarily ask for.” And Joe Fig, the guy who compiled all this? He has a sign over his door that reads: “Focus, Discipline and Faith.”

Self-Portrait by Joe Fig

Self-Portrait
by Joe Fig

This letter was originally published as “Do you have a creed?” on January 4, 2011.

The Letters: Vol. 1 and 2, narrated by Dave Genn, are available for download on Amazon, here. Proceeds of sales contribute to the production of The Painter’s Keys. 

“To float like a cloud you have to go to the trouble of becoming one.” (Robert Genn)


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21 Comments

  1. My motto for my art and life in general comes from Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”

  2. I don’t think I have a creed or motto… or maybe I have several for different circumstances, little saying that guide me forward like “it is just paint on a canvas. If you don’t like it or it isn’t working, scrape it off and start again.”

    I do like what Gregory Amenoff said though: “Artists need to support other artists,” he said. “When younger, you’re part of a community, when older you need to create opportunities for the younger ones. In the meantime you have a responsibility to work fiercely in the studio in exchange for the privilege of making things the world doesn’t necessarily ask for.”

    I have just added another room to my gallery by renting an additional space. I could have filled this new space, the same as the main space, with just my own work easily and my husband was puzzled at first why I didn’t. The answer is in what Gregory Amenoff said. There are emerging landscape painters in our community who I have taught that are ready to have their work join mine on the walls. This will be good for everyone, including the small island community where I live.

    • Not the quote about scheming duplicate paintings and scamming collectors, hand in hand with your dealer who now resides in jail for a few more years (Mary Boone)? She must also have some good quotes by now!

  3. Honor priorities! Yesterday a neighbor wanted to plan a lunch out for three of us. She texted instead of phoning. The other two of us texted back and tried to get a final decision. I looked at the text log after it was finally over, and there was a total of 13 texts from them, not counting my texting answers. This was all in the middle of attempting the concentration necessary to paint. By the end of the half hour or so of the texting marathon I was screaming out loud and ready to throw my phone against the wall. It would have taken a TOTAL of 3 or at the most 4 phone calls, with a max of two to any one person, to reach the same decision.
    I enjoy getting together with my neighbors, and I don’t want to be unavailable. Who knows when an art opportunity will come in a phone call? But I had made it clear I was painting and would call back later. Instead the texts kept coming. It seems I have no choice but to turn off my phone when I’m painting. Life is too short to shortchange priorities.
    If people don’t care enough to understand that painting isn’t “just a hobby,” it’s my choice as to what’s important.
    I just got a phone call from one of the three that the date we decided on yesterday isn’t going to work for her after all. I just told her to make arrangements with the third person, just let me know what they decide. I won’t at all be offended if I can’t join them.

    • Lori M McArthur on

      I too can go crazy with group texts. I did find out you can turn off the ring or notification on a group and then just look at it at your convenience. That way other messages can come through without the multiple dings from the group.

  4. I’ve been looking at expressionism as a theory of art lately because its tenets aren’t satisfying me any more than a classicist view does. It’s interesting that most of the artists’ answers seem to be fully in the expressionist camp.

  5. I haven’t had any particular inspirational quote until recently, but then Sara wrote a week or two ago, “Be a powerful translator of that which you are celebrating.” Seems like a fine creed, and I’ll work to live up to that one.

  6. Words to live by all of them. I heard an interview recently with recovering addicts and how they overcome their inner demons and become more productive by following or being reminded of a creed and it stuck with me when I heard it. It goes like this ”Be authentic, Do the work, Surrender to the outcome.”
    All the best

  7. Though I have always quoted Chuck Close’s famous words re “inspiration”, I limit my creed to : “I Write, Draw, Paint, Sculpt (period)”. To say anything more is an artistic statement and I find those, for the most part, obnoxiously narcissistic.

    • Picasso: “The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.” One of my favorite quotes kept on the wall by my computer.

  8. Actually, I used my limited skills at calligraphy to beautify Marianne Williamson poem “What we fear most is not our darkness but our light”. I used a piece of bristol board and hung it on my studio wall. A shorter one hangs above it, “Done with ease”. Helps me keep on keeping on.

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