Recently, Stacy Brooks of Golden Bay, Clonbur, County Galway, Ireland wrote, “Somehow I have deleted your letter that quotes Picasso saying, ‘I want to live like a poor man with lots of money.’ One of my favorite letters, I’m wondering if you might be so kind as to resend it to me? It’s the one about living a monk’s life and the ideal lifestyle for artists.”
Thanks, Stacy. We’ve forwarded the letter to you. We actually get lots of letters like Stacy’s asking us to resend emails that somehow get lost. Some subscribers ask us to “send it again but make it shorter and easier to understand.” Simplified letters aside, the best way to retrieve them is to go to the Painter’s Keys clickback pages. The letters are posted just minutes before your personalized email version is supposed to hit your inbox.
One nice thing about the Internet is that you can work it into your lifestyle in your own sweet time. I’ve come to visualize our readers as self-motivated Energizer Bunnies — artists in a constant state of self-edit — making judgments about what to do, how to change what’s been done, whether to look outside for more stimulation or to dig down into the personal well. Some subscribers confess they have many unread letters which will be read when they feel like it. Others are gratified by pressing “delete.”
As managers of our own destiny, we artists are party to a unique lifestyle — a self-anointing attitude based on self-trust. Daily, we demonstrate the triumph of egocentrism — in a nice way.
Perhaps more than any other race of humans, artists are in a position to hone a lust for life. With the addictive dope of Universal Creation in our blood, daily we sharpen our processes, explore new opportunities and rebuild our belief systems. “For everything that lives is holy,” said William Blake, “life delights in life.”
How do we harness this great power? Self-management is key. I’ve noticed that the business of self-management is automatic and regular for only a blessed few. It is fitful and difficult for most others. But with application and self-knowledge, patterns evolve and in time self-management becomes the default habit. Self-management makes possible the grace and beauty of choice. In life we can say “no” and we can say “yes,” and the delete button is always an option.
PS: “Life has been your art. You have set yourself to music. Your days are your sonnets.” (Oscar Wilde)
Esoterica: Calendars, day planners and “to do lists” are the choice of many. Some highly effective artists of my acquaintance need only move around their workspaces, bumping into things that need doing. Theirs is a life of picking up and putting down, of repairing, deciding, and beginning again. In the creative life there is always something left to do. Thus our days to their end are filled and fulfilled. “Do not fear death,” said Bertolt Brecht, “but rather the inadequate life.”
Living with the cycles
by Warren Criswell, Benton, AR, USA
This is all true, but on the other hand these patterns of self-discipline, so necessary to keep us working, can also be deadly to our creativity. Instead of leading us into branching paths of discovery, they can lead us around and around the same circular path. It’s less dangerous than when we started out and didn’t know the way, but art without danger is empty. The other day I re-watched an old DVD from 1995 called U + Me, about the abstract expressionist Milton Resnick‘s return to the figure in his late ’70s. Resnick says:
“There’s something peculiar about artists. They have ups and downs… After a while everything you do is just wonderful… then you slide back. If you’re a good artist you’re going to go down. And then it’s up to you. And pulling yourself up again is the most important part of your life. Getting out of the bottom that you put everything into — yourself! That’s why… you always have the memory of the bottom, and fear of the bottom. And when you start going to the bottom you panic. There are people who can’t stand the pain. What happens is they begin to develop some kind of technique to keep out of that hole. Once they do that, they’re finished. They never go any further. They’re done.”
By “technique” he means just the kind of working patterns you’re talking about — and which, ironically, are so important to keep us productive! I guess that’s why I’m always exploring new mediums — sculpture, printmaking, and animation — trying to stay out of that circular path. I like to always be on that dangerous edge where I don’t know what I’m doing. Somehow the paint knows, the clay knows, and I just try to follow them. As Resnick says, “You have to give in to what the paint says…. You have to do what it’s telling you to do.”
But that’s when the muse is singing. When she’s silent, like now, I need a good dose of the Genn self-discipline to get my butt in gear. Either that or the lightning of inspiration! Sadly, I usually mope around waiting for the latter.
Lifestyle of Trust
by Carol Mayne, Leucadia, CA, USA
I’ve only had one J O B that took me briefly out of my home-based and self-employed lifetime. It has come to mind that a definition of the Lifestyle of a ‘free spirit’ (artist) may be ‘those who don’t have to answer to others on a daily basis’ (ie: at a J O B) but rather present themselves when their work is ready for the marketplace. Sometimes that’s way too soon and our work is immature, but it’s never the wrong time to go for it. I’ll share my favorite quote: “There’s no such hour on the timepiece of Fate as ‘too late'” I’m still heading uphill, and there’s no one to tell me otherwise! Early on I consciously traded security over freedom, and found security in freedom. What a Lifesyle, indeed, that stretched my muscles of trust.
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The magic of indecision
by Susan Holland, Bellevue, WA, USA
“Theirs is a life of picking up and putting down, of repairing, deciding, and beginning again. In the creative life there is always something left to do.”
You have described my life… that is, the life I have at last claimed and own now after a lifetime of not quite giving myself permission to own it.
I am wondering where my next financially secure month will come from, but I am meanwhile in a phase of what you described: everywhere there is art happening in my studio and workshop. It is, by far, my favorite kind of life. As you describe, I often put something down when I am “not sure” whether to do more or leave it this way… and then move to the next thing. A thousand next things! At day’s end there are collections of paintings and bowls and paintingson bowls and paintings of bowls. They litter my life and they are what I get up for the next morning.
If asked what else I might want, I would ask for a person to answer my phone and do my accounting. Those are two grumpily neglected areas, along with housekeeping and social doings and such. Never mind. I have done a year’s bookkeeping in a week at tax time and it works okay. I just think of it like putting out the rubbish — not fun, but necessary. The social stuff is okay, too, since people just accept that I am friendly if approached, but not a party person, i.e., eccentric. It seems to be alright to be that way if you are putting out some nice art.
It’s so nice to have the affirmation from someone in the art world that has some mileage and accomplishment behind him so that I can go on with my odd life and feel triumphant about it!
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On not bumping into things
by Gail Caduff-Nash, Mountain home, NC, USA
This summer I set my ‘studio’ up on my front porch and started piling into it. I had started a pretty good momentum and was getting some work done when I decided I should revisit my older work and maybe even finish some unfinished pieces that I like. So I brought them into the studio area. Then I made some new backgrounds and they sat there. And I switched from oil to watercolor for a bit. And the next thing I knew I was overwhelmed with all the things I’d put in there, not able to pick which was to be done next, everything calling me to it, nothing getting done. So I stopped going out there. And painted my bedroom instead. Talk about “bumping into things”! Note to self: don’t do that again!
Other stuff coursing through the veins
by Marvin Humphrey, Napa Valley, CA, USA
The “addictive dope of Universal Creation”…great phrase! It’s an elixir that courses through my veins, and, as part of my self-management, accompanied occasionally by French Roast, and (not simultaneously) red wine.
The poor man spends less
by Jean Burman, Australia
Picasso’s quote “I want to live like a poor man with lots of money” ties in unexpectedly with self-management. The artist with financial woes can neither create nor have any peace. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Money isn’t everything but it does buy peace of mind. When the bills are paid, with enough left over for a relatively comfortable life, almost anyone can apply themselves to paint!
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Art is the breath of life
by Gail Shepley
I have a feeling the Picasso quote meant more like he wanted his woman to live with him poor while he had all the money. I think we want to find a comfort zone in our heads regarding ‘money’ and ultimately it is what it is and sometimes just the luck of the draw (ing?) Here’s my quote: “Art is the breath of life… and when I am invalidated I hold my breath until I turn blue, then my survival instinct kicks in and I create yet another breath…”
by Susan Hildreth, Tucson, AZ, USA
While looking at some 1920’s paintings by J.E.H. MacDonald recently, it surprised me that his colors were so dark. “Why is this 20th century painter using such dark colors? That was common in earlier centuries but was that normal for his era?” I’m still thinking about this and have brought my inquiry to a few areas of speculation about an artist’s color palette. Are we as a society moving towards lighter and more colorful paintings? Was that his personal choice? In earlier centuries were dark colors available and light colors were not? Do oil paintings tend to darken with age? Your letters and their responses brighten the week (to use a pun).
(RG note) Thanks, Susan. Over the last few decades palettes have lightened up. Part of this has to do with the resurgence of Impressionism in popular art and the current emphasis on optimism and the sunny outlook in art as opposed to darkly sentimental and oppressive considerations. Regarding J.E.H. Macdonald, he was one painter who used sophisticated darks deftly and with limited stroking. And yes, oils do have a tendency to darken over time.
Living with a broader stroke
by Dean Wilson, Victoria, BC, Canada
I always find it interesting how you discuss everything as if the only people reading your observations are actively involved in creating works of art. Your twice-weekly letter was recommended to me during a time of rehab work, where I spent a great deal of time, by choice, with paint and pencil. At present I am not actively producing but find myself drawn to the process of thought that creative people seem to live in. Your column exemplifies this. I have been reading (and forwarding to others) your writing for two years now and look forward to each insightful foray into your world. This helps me think in abstract, and I endeavour to live my time with a broader stroke.
PS: If your writing didn’t have me, your wonderful collection of quotes would keep me coming back.
(RG note) Thanks, Dean. While it has been difficult to figure out, we think there are more than ten thousand readers of the twice-weekly letters who are not actively involved in the creation of art. Many are collectors, dealers, dentists and lawyers, creative professions all, and yes, a lot of the good stuff comes from the Resource of Art Quotations.
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Enjoy the past comments below for Lifestyle…
Listening to music
transferprint collage, 9 x 12 inches
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 Gavin Logan who wrote, “It is not laziness that propels us to work harder than the others, but that the possibility always exists that a shorter, more efficient and more elegant route will be found.”
And also George Kubac who wrote, “We used to be quite poor under the Nazis and Communists. I know what it means to live on bread and potatoes only. Unfortunately, this society is spoiled and the pubs and eateries are crowded while the population is complaining about low income and poor living standards. People have to work so that they will know the value of stuff and recognize the work of the working class.”