After a recent letter several artists asked what I meant by “relaxed pressure scheduling.” When I’m wandering around in my studio, bumping into things, talking to myself, I call it “RPS.”
RPS is less of a system than an attitude. It tries to let desire and lines of interest determine your direction. The idea is to let the process of art-making keep you at it. I figured it out when I was a kid — trying to discover a system that might keep me on a job. It works like a dream for desirable projects, poorly or not at all for mowing the lawn.
Relaxed: You must know that in the world of creativity — things will take care of themselves. Creativity needs optimism and self-confidence. Clear the clutter and, as they say, center yourself. I know it’s kind of dumb, but I’ve found the most effective affirmation is to tell yourself: “Be cool here.”
Pressure: While your nature remains cool, your working tool becomes energetic — I call it “hyperstroking.” First thing you know you are deep into one process or another that in itself generates excitement. This work-zone further engages the mind. Work is its own imperative. Simply stated, there’s enough going on in a few running washes to cause an artist to miss her lunch.
Scheduling: This can vary between addiction to the day timer — to merely leaning into the direction of your inner voice. Ideally the artist is self-directing. Ideally the artist is able to keep the next few moves in her head. Ideally she is a whiz-bang at changing direction. Ideally she knows when to put paid to a job and move on to the next.
Many of us do all of this quite unconsciously — without having given it a name. You know you’re in it when the clock spins by. You are lost in play. It’s a casual, giddy, energetic, dreamy, pushy, know the next move, more or less satisfied, euphoric high. It’s sort of heavenly; almost spiritual.
PS: “Each energy calls for its complementary energy to achieve self-contained stability based on the play of energies.” (Paul Klee) “Try to relax and enjoy the crisis.” (Ashleigh Brilliant) “He rose early, worked strenuously, and retired late.” (Otto Bacher on James Whistler) “Out of the work comes the work.” (John Cage)
Esoterica: Hyperstroking means pushing yourself up to concert pitch. It’s a habit pattern that brings to bear a lot of concentration, bodily energy, creative mind, and “what could be” thinking. It’s learned. Professionals have to teach it to themselves. Start small: Paint a small one fast and loose in the full knowledge that you’re going to throw it away. You might not.
The following are selected responses to the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
Play, spontaneity and joy
by Nina Meledandri, New York, NY, USA
I’m preparing for a show and while I seem to be getting enough actual painting time in, I find myself lacking the space to float around and just “be me.” My gut feeling is that without this, the work will start to look forced or processed or too uniform. I know to get that sense of play, spontaneity, joy, etc. into the work I am going to have to find a way to allow for more RPS. It is always helpful to have someone else “verbalize” an aspect of your process, it gives a sense of “rightness” (as opposed to “wrongness”) to it (even when it’s the difficult part), but I guess that’s what these letters are for, so thank you.
Like pieces of a hazy dream
by Scott Altmann, Levittown, NY, USA
“Paint a small one fast and loose in the full knowledge that you’re going to throw it away. You might not.” One lousy night I whipped out a small 6″ x 6″ oil self-portrait and liked it. I just finished 2 more of these little portraits. In moments of time constraint or high stress — these little portraits have been gifts to myself. In my daily work I try to fuse ideas with technique and this sometimes results in successful work. It can happen immediately or over a period of time. Often they emerge like pieces of a hazy dream as they transfer from my mind to my hands.
The zone, the flow, the go spot
by Keena Friedrichsmeier Payne, Bella Coola, BC, Canada
I call it “the zone.” You have described it perfectly — hours fly by like minutes and you are lost in the world you are painting.
(RG note) It seems we all have different terms to describe the point where we enter our inner worlds of effective productivity. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls it “flow.” This is a total involvement in a chosen activity. It includes concentration and the appreciation that the job may be complex. Czikszentmihalyi is professor and former chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. The author of several books and many research articles, he has concentrated on the concept of flow, the state experienced when one is engaged in an activity that combines the right balance of challenge and interest — the state experienced when one is being creative and productive.
I’m in art school and your letters have made me realize something. The work is one thing — it has its own ideals, conventions and dimensions. But there is not a built-in right for every created piece to be seen by the world. Some works, perhaps many, are not worthy of it. It’s misleading because my instructors are often telling me this is how it ought to be done–but I’ve found their motives are suspect. Is it possible that a whole generation of young artists is being promoted to a “light weight” school of creativity where craft and technique are becoming lost arts? Please don’t publish my name or the name of this well respected school.
Her art was rejected
by Joan Bazzel, near Asheville, N. Carolina, USA
I have just had the experience of being censored for a “piece” of work that I absolutely love. I was not surprised, not even angry, but I regret that the work cannot be shared without fear of retribution. It was not a commission, so a client’s payment was not the issue. Indeed, the theme of the show was “New Traditions,” but it sadly spoke to old worn-out values. The work really created itself… I was but an instrument, a talented tool. Unlike commission work, I didn’t even have a sketch… just a “plan” which I gave a life to. It still lives… in a box… waiting for resurrection. The piece is called “Lickety Split.” Please do not misunderstand me… I do not consider myself a feminist… I love men and women, and I truly believe we need and compliment each other, but to ignore the fact that sexism prevails in a most unfair and brutal way throughout the world, is to turn our backs and close our minds to our collective potential as human beings on a planet called paradise.
Rules for art making
by John D. Vedilago, Göteborg, Sweden
Recent letters were on the subject of “rules, techniques, order and chaos” and then the subject of “mentoring.” Here’s a quote: “Art is a private thing, the artist makes it for himself; a comprehensible work is the product of a journalist … We need works that are strong, straight, precise, and forever beyond understanding.” Tristan Tzara (1896-1963), Rumanian-born French Dadaist. Dada 3, “Dada Manifesto 1918” (1918; repr. in The Dada Painters and poets, ed. by Robert Motherwell, 1951).
What rules could there be in painting or art? The need for the rules have all been successfully challenged and found unnecessary and unwanted. In painting, the history of the negation of preconceived rules and formulas has been concretely expressed, visually and validated for over 60,000 years. The final conclusion of the journey brought painting, as vehicle for moving the concept of art forward, to final dramatic end in Ad Reinhardt’s Black Squares. After that boundary of total personal negation was conceptually breached, all else, in terms of painting, becomes journalism or illustration.
Painting now becomes a personal journey and struggle for the artist to be able to freely exist without the need for rules and without the need for their work to have external validation. Is my work truthful or contrived, is it “strong precise and forever beyond understanding” and therefore eternal. Picasso once pointed out that, “you don’t have art until you have a mistake” You can’t have that mistake unless something in you is telling you to go beyond the rules.
More openness needed
by Gertjan Zwiggelaar
With regard to the phallus on the totem pole, which you described in the recent letter, I think you chickened out and should really have encouraged your clients to keep the thing intact. By taking off the phallus, you emasculated the thing, which is what various churches have done to us, over the ages. We are men, embarrassed of our erections. How sad. We should celebrate those things that got us here, not those things that remove us from this plane, i.e. images of death and destruction, which are just fine in galleries. Show a penis, or a vulva, and the world closes its eyes and hopes the offending parts will just go away. It reminds me of something I read concerning how some orders of nuns shower. They wear a big collar so they can’t see down onto their naked bodies. Sooooo perverted!
Origin of final varnish
by Bill Kerr
I expect in 50 years we will be beyond the current UV protector technology. The conservation people will no doubt have something better to put on but it beats me what could be better. Removing the varnish with the dirt, which is surely embedded to some degree, instead of trying to soften and remove dirt or scrub away the dirt, seems unbeatable. The acrylic finishes that are removable with ammonia started as wipe-on floor vinyl acrylic co-polymer emulsion wax for linoleum and vinyl floors in maybe the mid ’60s. They built up and yellowed and had to be removed. But some bright guy saw the relatively minuscule market that we comprise and figured out how to make a good varnish that could be dealt with in the same way. I’ll not use in my life the volume of this product on paintings that my mother used on the floor in a month.
by Barbara Fracchia, Mill Valley, California, USA
I belong to a golf club and it was recently remodeled. The committee in charge of the interior suggested that photographs and paintings of favorite areas of the golf course would be ideal. Since I am one of three artists that belong to the club that was interested in doing the paintings I agreed to be in charge of the artwork. A bit of notoriety for my resume. Now the manager and board of directors who know nothing about art are pushing me out of the picture. What to do? Leave them to their own boring tastes and say nothing or try to convince them that I am a fully qualified artist for the commission? They do not want to even discuss the issue. Upset? Of course I am and will not go into detail how hurt I am.
(RG note) Take setbacks with a degree of equanimity. In life and art, this sort of thing goes on all the time and the only thing you can do is be philosophic. I’ve found that there’s a funny kind of Karma that comes out of reverses. When one door closes, another opens. Don’t let it upset you. Get out onto the golf course and whack the little white ball. There will be another opportunity to make your contribution. Always is.
Elements of creativity
by Annette Waterbeek
Regarding the illustrated slide show showing the progress of your totem painting I’m looking and seeing and realizing and I notice similarities in works that are produced with similar methods. To draw or not to draw. To under paint or not under paint. To tone your surface or not. To preplan or not. To follow the beat of your own drummer or not. Is it mud… or is a heavy value to set up the illumination. Yin and Yang. Stay open absorb…discard. Stay true to one self. Planning for some RPS. Sharpen the saw. Clear the clutter. JUMP
Ultra-violet light protectors for oil paints
by Renato Muccillo
In your online demonstration of that large acrylic commission you mentioned using the Golden Acrylic UVLS varnish. I’ve been considering using the product as well for some of the Acrylic based canvases. Obviously you have been satisfied with the product. Do you know if they have developed any UV protectors for oil-based paintings?
(RG note) To my knowledge there are no specific UV protectors for oil paintings other than the standard Damar and other final varnishes. The theory is that oil paintings are in depth their own protectors because the paint is (generally) so thick that UV light does relatively little damage. The main fear with oils is oxidation — the gradual transformation of surfaces to unwanted colors and powdery surfaces. Varnishes go a long way toward avoiding this problem. The acrylic painting demonstration is at http://painterskeys.com/slideshow/
Humility and good will in mentoring
by Alar Jurma, Montreal, Canada
Back in the early seventies in Toronto, my girlfriend and myself were invited to a party by a Spanish psychiatrist who lived in our apartment building at the time (he had a thing for my lovely French stewardess which is how I got invited!) Andres Segovia, the Spanish classical guitarist was the celebrity guest on this particular evening. He had just played a concert at Massey Hall earlier that night. I remember him as a short, pudgy and pompous older man who enjoyed all the adulation he was receiving from the many of the guests that had gathered there. Among them was a young and pretty female classical guitar student named Leona Boyd. She came to recite a piece of classical music before this famous and great Master of the Guitar. He sat in the living room on a regular dining room chair and leaned his forehead on the back of his hand on the handle of his cane, and closed his eyes to listen. After she finished playing, he raised his head slowly, looked at her for a very long moment and then blurted out in a loud, condescending voice “This is STUPID!” (in English). We were all completely shocked by this outburst of insolence, including poor Leona. I was a young guy and I almost went up to Senor Segovia to say something equally impressive to him, and every bit of which he would have deserved. But instead I restrained myself and kept this incident in my mind for all these years as a reminder to myself of what it means… or doesn’t mean to be an artist. I realized that all that fame, all the artistic and technical skill, all that hoopla and hullabaloo of trying to be a “serious artist”… what does it all mean? When there is no humility, no compassion, no goodwill, no patience, no love in the heart and no understanding in the mind… in short, when there is no humanity, what’s it all mean? My answer is still the same: nuttin! Nuttin at all!
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