My friend Joe Blodgett has a painting on his secondary easel that’s been there for three months. “I’m sitting on it,” he says. Joe is a mature artist. He generally knows what he’s doing. He and I have often talked about the relationship between painting and writing. He likes Jack Kerouac: “And this is the way a novel gets written: in ignorance, fear, sorrow, madness, and a kind of psychotic happiness as an incubator for the wonders being born.” It’s “psychotic happiness as incubator” that interests both of us.
Incubation is the business of anticipating surprise. Sure, there’s calculation in trying this and that in the studio of the mind — better pattern, more light, tone down, subtraction, injection. But there’s also the matter of letting the thing hatch naturally. Sometimes the solution just simply appears. “Sometimes the egg has been shaken and there’s no hope,” says Joe. By that he means too many early sins that are difficult to erase — too much unpleasant history in the piece. We both agree on three major boo-boos — a too hasty beginning, lazy passages, and poor overall conception.
I’m looking out the window of his studio. There’s a late evening light on the dry hills. It’s the last week of summer. In the orchard, peaches and apricots are falling. I’m thinking that it’s all a great privilege. You live with your own art, never giving up, going through the cycles, going quietly nuts with chronic personal optimism, waiting for something to happen. “Conception, gestation, labor, delivery — not always easy,” I say, using the metaphor at hand. We start giving each other our two-bits worth on finding desire. Then Joe leaps to his feet and grabs his painting. “Get out,” he says, “I’ve got it.”
PS: “The best kind of writing, and the biggest thrill in writing, is to suddenly read a line from your typewriter that you didn’t know was in you.” (Larry L. King)
Esoterica: When I was at Art Center School in Los Angeles we had a marvelous instructor named Strother McMinn. He said little, showed much. One day when we were grinding away at our work he spoke quietly — almost subliminally — four words from the back of the room: “Let’s get imaginative here.”
The following are selected responses to the above letter. Thank you for writing.
Not quite mad
by Ronald Clifford, Kittatinny, New Jersey
“Quietly going nuts with chronic personal optimism” sums up my life as well as any line or sentence or paragraph I have ever read. Because of the nature of our profession, the fragility of our muses, and the regularity that we must draw from our well, we teach ourselves to be optimistic and positive. We also need this attitude in order to live through criticism, rejection, slow sales periods, and often lack of understanding of those around us. Yes, and what we have may border on the psychotic, and while not necessarily fully nuts, we are often at least borderline. It is perhaps because we are inclined to be “full of ourselves” that we stand out as a bit deranged, or eccentric. I’m reminded of the remark by Salvador Dali: “The only difference between myself and a madman is that I am not mad.”
The deaf canvas listens
by Paul Hibbard, Plymouth, UK
The flow of words from a writer’s keyboard is not unlike the flow of the brush, and the white of the writing paper is the same as the white of the canvas or paper. In the words of Walter Richard Sickert: “On a series of apparently tiresome, flat sittings seeming to lead nowhere — one day something happens, the touches seem to ‘take,’ the deaf canvas listens, your words flow and you have done something.”
by L H McKenzie
Those falling peaches and apricots remind me of Sir Isaac Newton’s falling apple. The elusive truth of gravity came to Newton as simply as the falling of fresh fruit when it was good and ready. He merely paid attention and understood a higher power.
by Tanya Dion, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
Tonight, most of the day actually, I worked on a script that has troubled me for some time — not unlike your friend Joe’s painting sitting on the easel three months. Earlier today, I spoke with a friend, a mentor who’s timing is also uncanny when it comes to re-charging my spirit. I am undecided as yet whether the thing will “hatch naturally” or if, now shaken, there is simply no hope. “You live with your own art, never giving up, going through the cycles, going quietly nuts with chronic personal optimism, waiting for something to happen.” Yes. And something happened when I read those lines. Wisdom seems to land in sync with the moment I connect to (or choose to scramble) a piece I’m working on.
You can’t wait for something to happen. Sometimes nothing happens for weeks, even months on some deadly projects. You have to do something else in the meantime. I have here a note of what you said in one of your seminars: “Keep busy while you’re waiting for something to happen.” (Robert Genn)
Fun with focus
by Elle Fagan, Connecticut, USA
Without focus, nothing is achieved. Fun with focus: dive into it, meander and sashay into it; sometimes a roundabout approach gives a delicious feeling of inevitability of focus; run to it in panic over a moment, like a hero; use it to calm your nervous breakdown, through focus of the creative fire, light a candle in the darkness, or dissipate it, lighting a cigarette; get deliberately disorganized and bounce back to focus like a rubber band!
The answer is to slow down, focus and set yourself a small goal to achieve and so not to be free or lost — as in one of your letters you “pencil it in,” and stay on track. Your letters are all written very differently. Some have subliminal notes. But they are very caring in the way that they are written and the reader thinks that they have discovered the key themselves.
by P K Sharpe, Santa Monica, California, USA
Feelings themselves are helter-skelter. While an artist often seeks regularity and evenness in subject-seeking and production, it is often from a perspective of disorientation that the best work emerges. Jack Kerouac’s thinking and his approach to writing are valuable: “Work from the pithy eye out, swimming in language sea. Something that you feel will find a form.”
by Skip Van Lenten, Rochelle Park, New Jersey
I just came from the Norman Rockwell exhibit in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, and have to say that it was quite an experience. I don’t know where you can see so many original works of one artist on display at the same time, but this exhibit was fantastic — up close and very informative — and if you’re anywhere in the area I would recommend it highly. Whatever you think of Rockwell, he was one of the greatest storytellers on canvas that ever lived, and his work is a real pleasure to see.
Don’t leave home without one
by Ron Carwardin
A “John Pike” watercolour palette with its 20 compartments, 9″ x 12″ interior mixing area and airtight lid makes a great travelling companion. It can even go into one’s briefcase or carry-on bag without threatening the already oil-covered clothing therein. The 9×12 mixing area can take a plastic or hardboard mixing surface or a standard 9×12 strippable paper palette. Dried up oils can be scooped out of the compartments using an old 1″ carpentry chisel, leaving a clean pocket for new colours. This whole thing can also fit into a backpack and setup on the tray of a French easel. The palette lists at about $20 in most art supply stores. I now have one each for watercolour, acrylic & oils. (All with magic marker medium labels on the covers)
In her jammies
by Tracy Call, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
More of what has let me know I have found my style than what others have said, is how I felt when I painted my most recent canvas: calm, natural, focused, happy, energized, motivated and alone (no critic telling me it wasn’t good enough). When I finished it and even during the process of watching it emerge I was in awe at the fact that I was actually painting it. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not bragging. I’m relieved. I was going to give up. Now I really think for the first time that I just may be able to not have to get on the train to go to work one day. I just may be able to stay in my jammies, paint for 8 hours a day and make me and other people happy while I make my living, not contribute to some corporate machine. Even though I am a graphic designer and I am creative all day long, it’s advertising and that’s not really how I want to contribute to this world.
A relationship with your mind
From writer, poet, and teacher, Natalie Goldberg (author of Writing Down the Bones): “The positive thing about writing is that you connect with yourself in the deepest way, and that’s heaven. You get a chance to know who you are, to know what you think. You begin to have a relationship with your mind.”
(RG note) Every quote that comes our way gets considered for the Resource of Art Quotations. This one will definitely be included when we add almost a thousand more in October. We are talking about moving to six volumes instead of three — for even easier and more speedy use. The resource is by far the largest art related quote collection anywhere — online or in a book. It’s at http://www.art-quotes.com