Immortal art

Dear Artist, I’m laptopping you from a persimmon grove in a corner of an extensive archaeological site known as “The Terracotta Warriors.” Thousands of (mostly Chinese) tourists are grabbing souvenirs and thronging into an arena-sized building known as Pit No. 1. Over 6,000 life-sized figures are in there — only a third excavated so far. Qin Shi Huang (259BC – 210BC), the first Emperor of China, employed and enslaved more than 700,000 workers here. Together with his nearby mausoleum, craftsmen took 35 years to ensure his immortality.

A worker in a Chinese factory making Warrior souvenirs.

The warriors and their horses were fired from local clay in a complex process of casting, sculpting and layering. The detachable heads were finely finished and everything was originally painted in lifelike colour. Face to face with these 2200-year-olds, I see they’re alternately serious, eager, philosophic, amused, tense, or lost in thought. Lots of personality is revealed, but no apparent theatrics in these faces — immortality, even then, was a serious business. Scholars speculate a wide range of potters and other workers were employed — some perhaps ceramic workers from the court who may have been familiar with popular soldiers and generals. In a way, though, the faces are unitized. Roundish chins and noses are the norm and moustaches are pretty well consistent. Some of the types are rough and ready, while others look positively intellectual. It’s all very spooky — these guys seem ready to jump into action. Looking for evidence of personal style, researchers have found the signatures of more than 80 individual sculptors. Craftsmen and artists, even though they might happen to be slaves in those days, were held in high respect. All this effort and all these soldiers were supposed to take Qin safely through his eternal afterlife. Maybe they did. But looking now through the veil of time and the fragility of human nature, it’s also possible that only the art is immortal. Best regards, Robert PS: “In Chinese history, almost all emperors paid attention to two things. One was to try all means of gaining immortality, and, failing this, to at least build a grand mausoleum.” (Wu Xiaocong, Archaeologist) Esoterica: What can we learn from Qin’s vision? (1) We artists need to make our art as permanent as possible. (2) Even though we may be part of a great crowd, we need our art to have individual personality. (3) If what we make turns out to be half decent, people will eventually show up to take a look. (4) Someone will always be around to make cheap imitations. When Qin died at age fifty, he’d consolidated China into one large state. He also standardized the currency, modernized the language, unified weights and measures and got a good start on the Great Wall. He was also a mean one. “Everything will be dictated,” he announced at the beginning of his rule. Minor offences were to receive various ghastly versions of the death penalty. Delivered finally to his underground mausoleum, even his spare concubines were buried with him — alive. On the other hand, he was, as they say, a great supporter of the arts.   Terracotta Warriors 053113_tc-pit-no-1 053113_terracotta-warriors           053113_tc-warrior-1 053113_tc-warrior-8 053113_tc-warrior-3 053113_tc-warrior-4         053113_tc-warrior-5 053113_tc-warrior-6 053113_tc-warrior-7 053113_tc-warrior-2             Post-post modern installation for the ages by Mike Young, Oakville, ON, Canada  

“Dragon’s eye”
original sculpture
by Mike Young

Working in stone does give us sculptors the edge in the immortality stakes — for good or bad. I have speculated on how a work of mine, dug up by an advanced — or returned to primitive — civilization, say 4000 years hence, will view their abstract “find.” A fertility symbol? A Shaman’s altar piece? Part of a larger, lost mechanism? Who was the artist, and why did he make it? The list of speculative possibilities goes on and on. Hey, maybe I’ll throw a few assorted pieces into a bog somewhere as a post-post modern installation for the ages.   Similarities spark speculation by Jackie Knott, Fischer, TX, USA  

Pottery at the National Museum in Beijing

I’m so pleased you are visiting China, especially Xi’an and the Terracotta Warriors. We visited in 2010 and it was a memorable trip. Interesting how we don’t recall the emperor’s name without Google’s help but everyone knows of the Warriors; as you say the art is immortal. The enclosed photo was taken at the National Museum in Beijing. When I saw this pottery I literally broke stride and stared. The caption stated it was carbon dated to 10,000 years old and the similarities of this grouping and others, to Southwest U.S. design pottery cannot be mistaken. There is speculation that some Native American tribes could be related to early Asian explorers. There is no archeological proof of that and I deeply wish that theory would be investigated. Further is a painting I did of a Navajo woman. I can assure you the likeness is exact.

“Navajo woman”
original painting by Jackie Knott


Chinese young woman

Note the lidded eyes, flat nose, and complexion… put this lady in appropriate costume and you just might assign her to a province in China.         There are 2 comments for Similarities spark speculation by Jackie Knott
From: Anonymous — Jun 04, 2013
From: Jackie Knott — Jun 04, 2013

Fascinating! Thank you so much for the link.

  Vibrant energy by Alev Guvenir, Istanbul, Turkey  

“The touch”
oil painting
by Alev Guvenir

Artists communicate through vibrant energy. This energy is an imprint of the Universe. Art, definitely, is immortal. But what about the artist? Whether famous or unknown, the artist no doubt achieves immortality through his or her work. “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” (Richard Bach)         There is 1 comment for Vibrant energy by Alev Guvenir
From: Ed Flagel — Jun 06, 2013

Only art is immortal. That is why we have an obligation to do it well for all time.

  Hidden caves and longevity by Peter Brown, Oakland, CA, USA  

“Crisis intervention”
original painting
by Peter Brown

As for “immortality,” there is no such thing. At best, one can leave a message, some bit of communication that may have an incredible endurance. The Chauvet Caves in France seem to hold the record for human communication across 35,000 years. The secret of that longevity is that the cave opening collapsed, and no one saw that communication for thousands of years. For any artist seeking “immortality,” I would suggest sculpture in granite that is buried deeply under a concrete slab and far away from a subduction zone. My interest in traditional art media is that it has proved trustworthy over hundreds of years. I am thinking about making my own cave, painting it, and having it sealed up and hidden. There are 2 comments for Hidden caves and longevity by Peter Brown
From: carole — Jun 04, 2013

We were talking about the cave painters today. My daughter Kim lives in New Zealand and she says most homes have no paintings on the walls and I said what a shame as it is a basic human trait to want to decorate the walls The other thing us humans like to do is decorate ourselves with necklaces ect and nowadays the human skin is decorated too

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Jun 04, 2013

I like your painting. It is full of meaning and thankfully, is lacking the horrible oddness of much cartoon “art” ala Juxtapoz magazine these days.

  Thrilling trip to China by Donna Veeder, Utica, NY, USA  

China in 1986

I went to see the Terracotta Warriors in 1986. That was also when the Beijing Airport was not much larger than a local bus station. It was my first and most thrilling trip abroad. We watched shepherds leading their sheep through the neatly planted trees toward home and old men playing a gambling game under sparse streetlights. I am so glad I saw China before Beijing began to look like Las Vegas. There were hutongs (narrow streets and alleys) under our windows–we could see into them from the school where I stayed. We took a train ride out into the western desert as far west as Dun Huang, after visiting Xian, at the other end of the Great Wall. Trains were comfortable, the windows opened and we could talk or trade with the people at stations for food or souvenirs. Everyone wanted to talk to us on the train and practice their English. Artists were treated like special people! What a change from home. We were respected. I came home and built myself a studio. There is 1 comment for Thrilling trip to China by Donna Veeder
From: Ed Gagen — Jun 06, 2013

It is difficult to look into many of the hutongs now. Those that have not been razed for high-rise developments, are in many areas closed off to visitors. China is trying to present a uniform front of middle class prosperity. No statistics are available, but it is generally thought that vast numbers are better off than when you were there.

  Two parts of immortality by Pat Merriman, NC, USA  

original painting
by Pat Merriman

I have an inventory and, reaching into my late seventies, I realize that I need to consider the “What if” and “When I die.” So I am creating a codicil to my will that will include my collections of art as well as my own inventory. (In my professional and current life I’ve been a volunteer in the cancer and integrative medicine field.) I have asked two artists to be curators, and with my chosen cancer nonprofit to be event specialists… stage a bang up sale, memorial, jazz dance etc., with the funds going to the cancer center. It should be done within about 6 weeks of my death. I would love to hear what others have to say on the subject. Immortality is that my art carries on for the purchasers but contributes to the essence of my lifelong work with cancer. There are 2 comments for Two parts of immortality by Pat Merriman
From: Carol Jessen — Jun 04, 2013

What a great idea! I’m sure many of us have had the same thoughts, and I really like this solution. P.S. Monhegan Lighthouse?

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — Jun 04, 2013

Excellent idea…why wait…I can’t wait to let my children know that this could be my plan, too! I will ignore their complaints!

  A deep understanding of art by Catherine C. Reed, Ukiah, CA, USA  

“Green Fuse”
mixed media
by Catherine C. Reed

For many years I taught science classes, studied science and completed advanced degrees, yet I never had a true and deep understanding of science until I engaged in research at a large university. The knowledge and focus I gained from observing and working with experts at the cutting edges of their fields made me think about and practice science in a far more intense and intimate way. Now I’m retired from that work. Time is short. How can I develop a true understanding of what art is and how to practice it? I make art quilts and strange crocheted objects. Any suggestions you and your readers can give me on developing a deep understanding of art will be greatly appreciated. (RG note) Thanks, Catherine. You used the word “research” as key to your understanding of science. Apart from getting a wide-ranging understanding of art through books and gallery tours, your own research within the walls of a home workshop can be the most rewarding. In my experience, every work we make is an assay into new territory and an opportunity for study and modification. It is this daily investigation of the potential of creative media and our own capabilities that rewards best of all. We find our most joy through the action of our hands and our minds. It’s a certified way to die happy. There are 5 comments for A deep understanding of art by Catherine C. Reed
From: carole — Jun 04, 2013
From: Carrie Berry — Jun 04, 2013

Catherine, that is one Great Green Fuse! I love it. Keep those hands and that mind in motion.

From: Anonymous — Jun 04, 2013

It seems to me that crochet and knitting have gone big time…people are covering street lights, cars, etc, with crochet…what ever art is, you are in the mainstream!!

From: andre satie — Jun 04, 2013

Wow! My thought for you … just get out those crochet hooks and explore. The answer is in the making! I love this piece.

From: Anonymous — Jun 06, 2013
  A challenging situation by Kamal Bhandari, India  

“Tanisha Bhandari”
oil painting
by Tanisha Bhandari

I am an India based realist artist. I regularly read your letters through which I come to know about the challenges faced by various artists and also I get to know helpful advices given by you and others. I would like to discuss one challenge which I face as an artist. Few years back when I visited a gallery to show my works, the gallery owner appreciated a few pieces and kept them with him for display and subsequent sale. I was delighted to have the feeling that now I have entered the list of professional artists. But when I was leaving the gallery, I suddenly felt my eyes becoming wet. I held back my tears from coming down. I felt as if I have sold my kids, whom I have given birth and brought-up with much care, to someone. I couldn’t bear the pain of being separated from the works which were close to my heart. When I returned home I prayed to have my paintings in which I had put all my heart and soul returned. The Lord heard my prayer and after 2 months I got a call from the gallery owner who told that none of my paintings had sold. I thanked God and brought my paintings back. Since then my paintings adore the walls of my house. I keep painting but do not sell now. Please advise if it is the right decision or what else should I do. (RG note) Thanks, Kamal. My rationalization is that even though my paintings are on other peoples’ walls, they are still my paintings. And they are better there than in my storage. Letting other people share my work in this way makes it possible for my family to enrich our lives with travel, education, collecting and more painting. If we think of our work as our children, then these children need to be released to have lives of their own. Consider the words of Kahlil Gibran: “Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.” There are 4 comments for A challenging situation by Kamal Bhandari
From: Mike Barr — Jun 03, 2013

Paint for yourself – make yourself happy. Paint for others – make the world happy and yourself!

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jun 04, 2013

Being a fiber artist- where most fiber artists are female- this sticky sweet sentiment makes me want to puke. You poor thing. Get over it. Grow up. Paint- and then let it go. And then paint some more. And Some More. AND SOME MORE. You paintings ARE NOT FOR YOU- THEY’RE FOR EVERYBODY.

From: Patsy — Jun 06, 2013

Kamal, take no notice of Bruce. He says this sort of thing to all of us. The rest of us are nice, so don’t let him put you off. ;-)

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jun 06, 2013

That I do- and you’re funny! OMG! OMG! OMG! I pray to ‘the lord’ (Krishna- Buddha- Shiva- Shakti- Kuan Yin- Mary- The Universe- All-That-Is- though I’m assuming you meant Jesus or his DADDY)(the male patriarchal lord figure) every single day that something I’ve made- SELLS. That’s right!!! SELLS. Can you believe that!? I hope to SELL my work- my CHILDREN (as my mother finally referred to them) forcing my children to support me! Because they have to! Or I’m dead. And just so you know- every time I sign something I GIVE BIRTH without anybody’s help. So I’m going to call it what it is- a Dysfunctional Attachment Disorder. Or- DAD. And even I don’t believe how funny that is!!! For those people (females)(and some males) who suffer from DAD Syndrome- it is the height of arrogance to think that you own your children- (ART). Really. You don’t. They may have used you to get through you- but they have their own lives to live. And if you believe in the Creative Spirit- to think you are the only person who get’s to gaze on ‘YOUR ART’ because you can’t let go of it- because it took you so much time to produce- because it hurts your heart- or whatever- is pathetic- at best. Sorry. Cut the (only in your mind) non-existent umbilical cord. Free your children to be themselves and have their own lives. Now mind you- I’m not telling you to NOT hang them on your wall and NOT spend some time with them- because that is very healthy. But selling the work helps all us artists- because it helps people to recognize the (monetary) value IN ALL ART. Something that apparently (ap-parent-ly) we all must do every day- as buyers don’t grow on trees. And definitely- take no notice of me- because I’m actually telling you THE TRUTH.

  Favourite warriors by Stewart Turcotte, Kelowna, BC, Canada  

Robert Genn

I read today’s letter, and then went to the clickbacks to see some of Robert’s favourite warriors. A nice selection of stalwart companions, no doubt. But a warrior is many things; he is a champion, a knight, a trooper, someone who fights a struggle for the betterment of some part of society, someone who struggles on for a long time, perhaps a lifetime, to correct or improve a situation. This is a photo of my favourite warrior. This man has waged a one man war for the improvement of the artist’s situation and for the unlimited access to information and communication for that long struggling class of people in our society. This may be a new class of warrior, the artist warrior. “Share your knowledge. It’s a way to achieve immortality.” (Dalai Lama) There are 5 comments for Favourite warriors by Stewart Turcotte
From: Anonymous — Jun 04, 2013

I totally agree!

From: Ed Shumsky — Jun 04, 2013

With seeming effortlessness he has created a genuine service that has turned out to be so valuable to so many. He also must have a very good staff…

From: Sarah — Jun 04, 2013

What a great way to see Mr. Genn. He is “sui generis”.

From: Richard Coburn — Jun 06, 2013

Yes and he does his letters briefly and with humor. He is a one man band against mediocrity. Always valuable information.

From: Richard Coburn — Jun 06, 2013

Yes and he does his letters briefly and with humor. He is a one man band against mediocrity. Always valuable information.

  Art and Poetry by Alexandra Fajfer, Port Credit, ON, Canada  

“Old Meadaville”
oil painting
by Alexandra Fajfer

For a long time now I enjoy reading your stories, advices, tips, thoughts you share with complete strangers. I admire your paintings and appreciate time you spend teaching others what you have learned through your professional career, answering questions or to commenting specific subjects. For this reason reading your letters is like being in your studio — I feel like taking classes. I have never taken any art painting classes or courses (except for years at school), even I understand I should. Your work is remarkable. I sent a link of your page to my friend in Poland — he is a poet, too. He was really impressed with your art. As it is spring, I am sending a poem which I wrote two years ago about the same time of the year we enjoy now. spring is emerging from every part of breathing soil dressed in thoughts we share about tomorrow dressed in greens radiating from your eyes and your cheerful smiles freshness of what we say and do like the new beginning of every day like the water we drink while thirsty from each other’s lips and the hunger only you and I can fulfill Spring 2010 — Port Credit    

Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Immortal art

From: Ann Davis — May 30, 2013

All about the Tomb guy!!! as were the Egyptian/Sumerian/Mayan tombs…no one else mattered…no works of art were signed…sigh….probably under penalty of death:))

From: Chris Everest — May 31, 2013

Its a good job his Missus didn’t tidy up after he died and chucked all his stuff away. An attic full of books and paintings doesn’t seem so bad now does it ?

From: ReneW — May 31, 2013

Some things never change. If you have a bigger than God ego and enough money you can become immortalized. If that does’nt work claim insanity and paint starry nights. That works too.

From: Susan Kellogg, Austin, TX — May 31, 2013

So they were never to be put to use? I just learned about the Ghost Army…the the US WWII effort to put fake military vehicles in place, with sound effects to mislead the Germans. They didn’t go so far as terracotta or inflatable soldiers, but did put some painted curtains over truck interiors.

From: Mr. Shen Yuen — May 31, 2013

I paint traditional in China and not much in it for us. Everyone do the same over and over, not much individual expression except in university if taking but not much. Your site very good and friendly people. It helping me with English. Welcome to China.

From: Jack Jarville — May 31, 2013

It’s nice to have the idea that someone will eventually show up to look at our stuff if it’s good enough. I guess it’s like those glass Coke bottles that were all around 20 years ago. Glass Coke bottles are now rare and collectable. Who would’ve thought.

From: Kenneth Mitchell — May 31, 2013

All cultures at all times have striven for some sort of immortality. For the time being it’s built into human nature that there’s a strong wish that the good stuff continues. It’s a nice idea. Unfortunately for all the promoters and those with vested interest in this idea, you are probably right; the only immortality is probably in what we leave behind. And that’s not bad when you think about it. And it’s not quite as selfish.

From: Maureen O’Keefe West — May 31, 2013

I was there but didn’t see them due to a tour guides choice to look at a flower garden instead????

From: Milan Koster — May 31, 2013

In those days with ignorant minions in fear of you a guy could get things done. Now we have Democracy

From: Patty Oates — May 31, 2013

We were there in 2004, it was fascinating. I understood at that time that each warrior was individual and each had a different face and clothing. It looked that way to me. I bought a statuette of one of the warriors who was supposed to be a general, and who my husband resembled. You must see the great wall, and cruise on the Yangtze river, there are so many wonderful sights to see. Go to the Shanghai museum, too!

From: Maynard W James — May 31, 2013

When I was there it definitely struck me that the faces were portraits, perhaps of favorite generals of the Emperor or of soldiers who might have been attached to the royal household. I think the main quality he was looking for was loyalty.

From: Elizabeth Bertoldi — Jun 01, 2013

Lucky you to see so many of these wonderful sculptures! I was lucky enough to see the exhibition of these terracotta warriors in Montreal a few years ago, and that sense of presence, power and personality was definitely there, even in the relatively few pieces that were on display. Amazing work!

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Jun 01, 2013

There’s nothing like a death-dealing dictator to have as a supporter of the arts- is there? So truly- now we have democracy- and one of the unintended side effects of democracy- is mediocrity- where everybody’s art looks the same because the same teachers travel the world teaching the same techniques- which everybody copies. Time to make something that’s yours- and yours alone. Unless you believe that that’s not possible.

From: Thomas Wells — Jun 02, 2013

You didn’t mention that the Terracotta Army was only discovered in 1974 by local farmers when they were digging a water well about a mile from the previously discovered Emperor’s tomb. Previously, only occasional shards and pieces had been found–the Emperor had the stuff buried pretty deep. It’s the largest ancient pottery find ever.

From: Peter Nevin — Jun 02, 2013

I work in sales and consulting. Came across your ‘twice weekly’ about a year ago. Read it for inspiration and to push out the recesses of my mind. Thanks for adding culture, history and perspective to my day. From a suit guy who loves expand his chimp-like brain.

From: Leendert van Orden — Jun 02, 2013

This is the most amazing forum on the Net. I don’t know how you do it all and paint too!!!

From: Tom Relth (Morocco) — Jun 03, 2013

I visited in 1993 and 96. Amazing. Bowers museum in Santa Ana CA held an exhibition which gave a great overview of discoveries since I had visited. More amazing. But now you are there and there is no replacement for seeing the art in its place.

From: Rick Rotante — Jun 03, 2013

From what I have read, all the faces were of actual people. If you examine the faces, they are all different. Even more spectacular don’t you think?

From: Nils Hans Nyborg — Jun 03, 2013

If I was a despotic emperor, I would invite specific loyal soldiers and generals to achieve immortality by having their spitting images included in the great fantasy. Only I wouldn’t use the word “fantasy.”

     Featured Workshop: John Skelcher at Le Marche Retreat, Italy 060413_robert-genn John Skelcher workshops Drawing & painting, printmaking and digital photography held in beautiful Italy at Le Marche Retreat.   The Workshop Calendar provides up-to-date selected workshops and seminars arranged in chronological order.     woa

Teapot with Shallots

oil painting by Bobbi Dunlop, Canada

  You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013. That includes Bob Frank of Westford, MA, USA, who wrote, “All of the terracotta artists were killed after they completed their work so they would not reveal the location. A steep price to pay.” And also Jackson Chan, who quoted Woody Allen: “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it through not dying.” And also Richard (Dick) Quis, who wrote, “Thank you, Robert, for mentioning me in your passion article.You have quite a reach. I heard from an art teacher in Paraquay who introduced me to some great Spanish artists and writers. It was quite an experience.” (RG note) Together with Eugene F Moynihan, Richard Quis is the author of the quirky but valuable Thinking Anew: Harnessing the Power of Belief.    

Robert and Sara Genn Twice-Weekly Letters

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