Being largely self-employed, we artists don’t have the problems of group stubbornness or committee incompetence. In gratitude and joy we make our private mistakes in an atmosphere of personal reflection, even in the face of self-doubt. Artists are pretty well masters of their own rise or demise. For artists, all attempts to improve standards are of interest. For those among us who might be thinking of New Year’s resolutions, here are a few thoughts:
People don’t always do what they tell themselves to do, even when they know it’s best for them. We all have a contrarian within us — like a mole in the lawn. The stubborn little guy gnaws away at the grass from its roots and makes a mess of the place. In other words, keep an eye out for resolutions that your inner mole may thwart.
Beware of reaping the opposite of what you intended. Funny thing about human nature, people who set out to get wealthy often find themselves systematically getting poorer. Oddly, others who set their sights on joy can surprise themselves with wealth. Similarly, folks who seek truth can find themselves tangled up in webs of falsehood. Play it as we may, within all of us lies the potential for sloth, ignorance, stupidity, hubris and pride.
If you do set goals set short, achievable ones and give yourself a star when you complete. The short-goal habit is key to larger success and is at the root of human greatness. Life is think and do, think and do, think and do. Small steps can be greater than great leaps.
Risk-taking for artists is not like skydiving or catapulting over parked cars on a Ducati. Risk in art is experimentation. There is no sorrow in self-driven experimentation. If it doesn’t work, so what? We try again.
No matter what your calling, no matter what your profession, the coming year will bring new challenges. While we are in difficult times, change is in the air and green shoots are poking through. As self-governing entities, artists have a profound interest in change. Embracing change, we embrace growth and we embrace our future. We grow into our jobs. The head governs, the heart assists, the body acts.
PS: “The Lincoln who is a lawyer in Springfield, Illinois, isn’t the same Lincoln as the one who addresses Gettysburg.” (Barack Obama)
Esoterica: To live, to grow, to take risks, we need to understand ourselves and our spiritual nature. We need to be our own spark and know well of our high calling. As artists, we need to cherish art’s democratic nature and hold dear its nobility for all peoples. If you include music, theatre and literature, art is probably the most civilizing thing we’ll ever do. With an honest prejudice for quality above all, we artists, among others, are going to have to be above ourselves. It’s my sincere wish that your New Year be filled with gratitude and joy.
New Year’s wishes
by Niranjan Mhamane, Pune, India
Take a walk from shadow into the sun! May the sun rising on New Year liven up every nook and corner of every mind! I wish you all a very Happy New Year, full of joy and peace!
(RG note) Thanks, Niranjan. And thanks to everyone who widened the wishes to everyone in the Brotherhood and Sisterhood, worldwide. This year we figure there were greetings from more than ninety countries. It seems art and the wish for joy and peace are universal sentiments.
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It’s all in the heart
by Rob Zeer, BC, Canada
I agree with this letter except for, “The head governs, the heart assists, the body acts.” THE HEART MUST GOVERN and the HEAD ASSIST! Art and life from the head lacks soul. It has been a long process for me to know and trust my heart. Like our bodies, our heads are just important tools. The trick is first knowing one’s heart and then serving it.
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Strictures to the self-employed
by Elle Fagan, Hartford, CT, USA
Your letters are always such food for thought. I never miss them. More often than not I can agree. Agree and be refreshed and inspired, as here, except on this one point: In actual practice the self-employed have more bosses and committees and regulations, not fewer. If we sell our art to live, there are the same basic controls, structures and mandates – just not on site all the time. But you are right to say that THE meeting is at the easel, between artist and the galaxy of elements of creation. And yes, we do evolve and “grow into” our jobs. May we make every day in our job a light to our lives and those around us.
Value to writers
by Kumar Grewal
As a student of journalism in university, I appreciate this wisdom and perspective, and while the letters are directed at visual artists, the material covered also applies to those of us who would become writers. So much is similar — self-employed (often), working alone and in need to regular self-motivation. At the beginning of a literary career (and there are enough going into it these days) everything is speculation and risk. I hope I am up to it. The Painter’s Keys website is posted on our board and several students here have signed up to get the letters.
The art of fugitive gifts
by Maggie Van Ostrand, Pine Mountain, CA, USA
My refrigerator door has more macaroni art than a Sicilian pasta factory. I’ll date each child’s industriously crafted artwork and store it in the attic, hoping mice don’t go for dead noodles. We grownups must make the traditional fuss and enthusiastic acclaim, largely because we don’t want to be riddled with guilt if our kids grow up neurotically starved for appreciation. Still, pasta art favorably compares with what older kids give to their parents. Perhaps this was the origin of the expression “faking it.”
New tax increases could benefit art
by Janice Kelly, Sydney, Australia
While middle- and lower-income Americans were granted permanent tax relief, individuals earning above $400,000 and households earning above $450,000 will see a tax increase of close to 5 percent. Of course, that echelon — and the stratosphere beyond — is the domain of most prominent art collectors. So will the dent in their pocketbooks decrease the likelihood that they will patronize the arts? Nina Ozlu Tunceli, chief counsel of government and public affairs for “Americans for the Arts,” doesn’t think so. “The research shows that the higher the tax rate, the more incentive you have to reduce your tax bill by giving to charity,” she said. “But the best indicator of positive charitable giving is a strong economy. So if this leads to stronger economic growth, then charitable giving will be part of that economic bandwagon.”
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by Lucy Barber, Sarasota, FL, USA
I’ve been painting for years and have always used oils. Recently I’ve started using acrylics, my thinking being I’d have to work faster because the paint dries faster, and also the color mixing so far seems brighter (as opposed to my tonal tendencies). What’s happened with me over the years is I’ve slowed down way too much when I paint and I need to get back to laying things down much quicker. Are you using acrylics? I ask because I noticed in one of your videos, that at one point you do a quick bluish glaze over the painting. I thought you could only do that if the under paint had been dry.
(RG note) Thanks, Lucy. I switched to mainly acrylics from oils in 1974. For about a year after that I truly hated acrylic. Then the medium began to win me over and then I fell in love with it. There are so many things you can do with acrylic. One of its main beauties is efficiency and consequent speed — hence the recourse to glazing that you noticed. In acrylic, happiness comes a bit faster.
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by Judy Richer Decker, Lima, OH, USA
I ordered a full size Obama cardboard cut-out for the local office. I never got him all put together … He is still wrapped in the plastic (he came in three sections). One day, I may assemble him and do what I planned and just set him up in my office. I was going to make a big word bubble to switch out famous quotes. I did save a lot of the same ones you have in the Resource of Art Quotations. One day, I may write to him and tell him why I couldn’t fight as hard for him locally. “You can’t let your failures define you — you have to let your failures teach you. You have to let them show you what to do differently the next time.” (Barack Obama — National Address to America’s Schoolchildren) I’m passing my collection of Barack Obama quotes on to you.
The misunderstood mole
by Jean Sonmor, Wolseley, SK, Canada
Today I write you directly in defense of the poor misunderstood mole. Among the good points in your essay, you presented an analogy in which you stated incorrectly: “…like a mole in the lawn. The stubborn little guy gnaws away at the grass from its roots and makes a mess of the place.” Moles do not, in fact, do this!
We named our resident mole Mortimer when s/he arrived a few years ago. The neighbour trotted out an old (probably illegal) spring steel trap, a grisly looking thing … the Saskatchewan farmer’s favourite mole mangling mechanism. My wife recoiled and I shuddered then returned the trap unused.
Instead, we did a modicum of research, and guess what? Moles do not eat plant material at all. A mole will starve if kept in a cage no matter how big a variety of garden plants you put in for food. They do however eat cut worms, slugs, and a long list of other protein-rich creepy crawlies … many of which are not good for your plants. Moles are quite territorial and do not infest or overrun small garden spaces. The adults drive their young away at maturity to maintain optimum territorial size.
We have seen little evidence of lawn damage as Mort seems to prefer the flower and vegetable areas which he amply cultivates. One of his favourite places is under our rough compost pile and we dig the nicely aerated soil he leaves and use if for soil replenishment. We simply step on Mort’s breathing holes whenever we find them so that the mice/voles cannot easily get below ground. Some may slip by but that is the cost of gardening without harm. We use no poisons, other than bio-degradeable insecticidal soap or plain soap and water. People admire our yard which includes many wild places with indigenous plants and shrubs to make bird and bee and butterfly-friendly spaces. Last summer was great for monarchs and swallowtails.
In the past few years we have lost a total of two hostas and a few carrots to undergound damage. This was caused by mice and voles who infiltrate mole tunnels seeking food like plant roots. We lose far more beets to surface attacks by the mice but just cut away the gnawed parts.
Moles got a bad rep from royalty and upper class twits, and now yuppy suburbanite perfect lawn freaks … also the proponents of those greenish strip mines called golf courses.
I do sympathize with the farmer who might lose valuable livestock to broken legs… if pastures have many mole tunnels. Here in Saskatchewan it is mostly gophers, not moles. The agriculture family must balance nature’s right to live with their right to make a living. Actually, I doubt if there are very many cattle that fall victim to mole holes or gopher holes each year… even in beef country. Cattle walk slowly, head down to feed, so they probably avoid stepping in holes fairly well. Most livestock never get to wander around and eat grass these days, so the real injury numbers would be interesting (and I would bet small enough to be statistically insignificant).
(RG note) Thanks, Jean, and thanks to all who let me know that moles are carnivores.
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Featured Workshop: Adam Cope
acrylic painting, 11 x 14 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 Elihu Edelson of Tyler, TX, USA who wrote, “The operative word beyond quality is integrity.”
And also Hermann Lange of ON, Canada who wrote, “When peace prevails, art will rise to take the place of killing and guns, and all humankind will witness our Brotherhood and Sisterhood.