Sanctuaries of sensitivity


Dear Artist,

In Cancun we see the Disneyfication of our world. The Jungle Tour, Dolphin Show, Folklorico and Caribbean Carnival are dressed up with a lobster dinner. Even a six hour “Bar-Hopping” can be had with a guide.

Mexican culture takes second place to shopping malls, McDonald’s and Burger Kings. All is replicated including motorized Columbus’s caravels throbbing with bumping bikinis and the smell of coconut oil. Tourism has superceded travel.

For an artist there are joys in the lagoons we discover on our own. A flight of plover on yellow sand reminds us that some things are still natural. Life beneath the water goes on the same — opening a world of wonder and specificity. While artists can retreat into these sanctuaries there is still the dance of humanity — worship at the altars of food, power, leisure and luxury. It seems more than can be easily handled or ingested. The artist-mind has the gift of observation, whether committed or not to the medium of choice. The rubble, the advancing trash and traffic; even the graffiti we have made of our cities is grist, and the choreographed floorshow is full of genuine love and lust. There’s an obligation to grab and keep, to comment or to honour. Certainly we can never run out of subject matter.

We are in the time of the sunset of cultures, where anyone can be any place in our world if he is willing to sacrifice a day. And with the exception of a few hard-won treasures an artist must be willing to accept that culture is now by and large resurrected for a price.


“View of Ornans”
by Gustave Courbet

Best regards,


PS: “To be able to translate the customs, ideas and appearance of my times as I see them — in a word, to create a living art — this has been my aim.” (Gustave Courbet)

Esoterica: Gauguin lived for a short time in an unsubstantial hut under the rumbling presence of Mount Pelee on the island of Martinique. You can walk alone among his flowers, under his palms, and down the path to his beach. “A poor thing, perhaps, but my own.”

It’s a modern miracle that you’re hopefully getting my mail from this sleepy lagoon. Your letter goes in nanoseconds from Richard’s laptop and if you hit reply I’ll get one from you on mine. If you feel inclined please drop me a note. I’m just painting.

The following is correspondence relating to this and previous letters. We have no other motivation than to encourage dialogue between artists. Thanks for contributing.


Values in artificiality
by Dom Mauro

I often wonder to what extent I, (as an artist) should record and report on the tourism scene. The Disneylands, Jungle rides, Las Vegas Casinos and the like are really just modern versions of the dance halls, saloons and salons of the Impressionist era in France in that they are man-made and man-designed to put their clientele into a fantasy world — at least for the time they were there, much like we are as “tourists”. I guess I’m wondering whether we should overlook our aversion to artificiality and attempt to produce valid works of art based on the visual merits of these tourist traps much as the impressionists did of the aforementioned attractions of their time. Taking it one step further, isn’t any man-made contrivance artificial? And do not we, as artists, revere them. Things like fishing boats at a dock, park promenades with repetitive patterns, architecture, etc. In other words is the subject as important as our approach to achieving a beautiful or at least meaningful representation?


Authentic creativity
by Warren Criswell, Benton, Arkansas, USA

I think many of us painters tend to think of ourselves as isolated individuals, alone in a room or in the middle of a desert. There’s a certain subtle pressure — even when you think you’ve put it behind you — toward the original, the unique, the novel and the new. It’s easy to confuse this with authentic creativity. But the way you put it makes all painting suddenly looks like a single wave function (sorry, I’ve been reading quantum physics) of which we are all a part and whose length of 50,000 years or more seems like one long moment of discovery — or as you put it, a dance. It reveals that the perceived danger of repetition is unfounded, and that the feeling of isolation is an illusion.


Current culture valuable too
by oliver, Texas, USA

While some of the worst of the tourist excesses are deplorable — for the highly uninitiated consider it the first grade over simplified primer of a historical culture. Note the use of the word “historical” I believe a stagnant culture is a dead culture. The current real culture of Cancun maybe inextricably linked with its economic tourism base — there is a middle class of entertainers, arts and crafts folks, hotel restaurant workers etc. Overlaid is a historical and catholic base — with a still large and struggling lower class. I’m not sure that the historical Mayan/Aztec blend of culture prevalent in that area — (the Aztec’s invaded the Mayans) that as I recall included human sacrifices which would be something most would want restored in full glory.


Lost opportunities
by Deb

I’ve been to Cancun and completely understand what you are talking about. I’m a student and have only been working at my art for about 3 years now. In fact, I’m taking some classes at a local community college. But I have traveled a good bit and wish so many times I was sketching and painting when I visited Moscow, Caracas, St. Lucia, Switzerland or any of the other places. I’ve been, Sigh… lost opportunities. But, now I am excited and looking forward to my next trip.


Being here now
by Holly, Quebec, Canada

It has been a nice January after a bitter December. The snow is knee deep most places, but in the streets the warmer weather has reduced the snow to applesauce, so the pavement looks warm, brown and wet, making promises of spring. This kind of weather often contrasts blue to brown — the warm coloured streets under brilliant blue skies, the hollows of the snow filling with pools of sapphire light, somehow more brilliant than the sky they drew the colour from.

It is nice to read of the Mexican sand and the plovers, though. We have in their place, quarrelsome sparrows, round slate juncos, and plebeian starlings shouldering each other off the bird feeder, and the wine will be sipped indoors for at least three more months.


Avoid big cities
by Julie Rodriguez, New York, USA

In Mexico I was most happy when we were in a very small town with nothing but one mom and pop store. No one spoke English. What a joy. The location has been untouched by time — save electricity and indoor plumbing.

I have made a resolution that when I travel, especially to another country, that I will avoid the cities. I will stay and go where there are no tourist buses, no McDonald’s, no English spoken if possible. I will walk around with the locals carrying my green bag that holds my paper, pencils and implements of color and draw as the spirit moves me. I will talk to the old people if I can speak their language and revel in the fact that there are still a few untouched areas of the world. Indeed, there can be simple abundance in our travels too.


Client based art life
by William B

Taking in the sun and relaxing with a paint brush. That’s all I needed to hear in my little area of the world, with its two feet of snow, and deadlines to be met. I just want to paint and take a nice afternoon off in the snow. There are dozens of areas with streams, pathways and old Victorian homes just waiting to be put on paper. Reality is I have to some-how call a client and see if he will wait until Monday to help him meet his deadlines. I have about fifteen illustrations in watercolour due on Tuesday for another client. I basically have no life.

Another e-mail like this and I’m going to pack it up and get into painting full time.

(RG note) The penny dropped in my head many years ago when someone asked me to do an accurate pen and ink drawing of a chain link fence. I got about three rows up and said to myself, “I don’t want to do this.” I gave the job to a commercial artist friend and since then I have only allowed myself to ask: “What do I want to do today?”


Calling on the Art Gods
by Ele, British Columbia, Canada

Isn’t it great to do what we do, but at the same time what else drives us so mad. I have been “just painting” now for four days on my latest piece. I can’t hear the sounds of nature, the roar of the waves and screeching birds but here I am trying desperately to capture the movement of the water the rocky shores covered with seaweed and a few starfish from photos and memories of a trip to Galiano Island. Who would have thought seaweed and kelp could be so much of a pain. It seems so simple. As I work in Acrylic in a thick impressionistic way, a few slashes of green, yellow ochre some deep violet strewn across the rocky shore and it should look like seaweed—right? Not. I’m calling on the art gods and inspiration. How humbling, just when you think you are mastering this craft to some degree, it knocks a few brushes out from under you.


The good, the bad and the ugly
by M.

When I was in Mexico the ‘federales’ were earning their salaries by intimidating tourists. Often enough I was looking down the wrong end of a rifle for just being on a beach. There is one place I was amazed by. It is a beach outside of Acapulco called Pie de la questa. Here one can watch the sunsetting into the sea for hours. The colours are exquisite and almost unnatural. There are pinks, violets, mauves, blues, greens, oranges, etc. but in such brilliance. I stayed there for 2 1/2 weeks doing watercolors. At the end of each I didn’t know whether to applaud or get on my knees and pray. And then the cold steel and the cocking of the rifle held to my head woke me up. They were looking for drugs and wanting to bust someone with tourist money. I was clean and eventually they left me alone. I would walk up and down the beach finding beautiful stones and used syringes and vials scattered in the sand. I think the artist must make choices about what experiences are kept and what experiences are discarded. Beauty is where you find it and how you see it.


Dangerous woman
by Don Blackwell, Anchorage, Alaska, USA

Like you, I have been spending some time lately reflecting on how artists see the world around them and respond creatively to it. Right now, here in Alaska, while extreme, is yet a wonderful time to reflect on the natural beauty surrounding us. A fresh blanket of snow, provides the catalyst for contrast as I look at the massive mountains surrounding Anchorage.

I have often imagined Alaska to be like a beautiful, dangerous woman. Lovely to look at and admire and even to approach and get to know better but not one to be trifled with! Alaska is a land of extremes in every regard. Extremely beautiful… so much so that it threatens to overwhelm your senses at times. And though I have now lived here for over 25 years I still find that things that others might take for granted after awhile still inspire me. Trying to capture that beauty however can be daunting at best!


Beam me up, Scotty
by Stewart Turcotte, Kelowna, BC, Canada

Just as people once migrated to the New World, people are now migrating to another new world, one which offers pap, placebo and mind numbing drugs as well as a liberal dose of whatever the guy next door has, including pieces of his culture. As we all move towards a technological oneness, adorning ourselves with pieces from many cultures like so many decorator crabs — at a blinding speed — it becomes obvious that we are all living a Space Odyssey 2001. Instead of a handful of people manning a craft spinning in space, we all share the earth spinning in space and eventually we will all eat the same food, wear the same clothes and remember a similar culture. This loss of cultural uniqueness may not be as bad as most forecast, it just is and as we come together in a cultural sense, it may allow us to be more understanding of other people. This shift comes at a time when the world needs to come together as, in the next century, we are going to have to work together to overcome the environmental faux pas caused by six billion people living on this space ship.


Up from here
by Jennifer Seymour, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Regarding the clickback contributed by Jim Pallas about and the state of art on the net. (previous clickback, see below) I am an artist. Still pretty fresh — not a lot of experience. I have a website showcasing my work and I have found it to be helpful in showing the work, not selling it. Those artists who are selling their work online, good for you. Keep doing what you’re doing. Those of you who are becoming discouraged, not to worry. There has been much said recently, in the responses to your letters, about art sites on the net and how they’re doing… or not doing which is most likely the case. As a new artist, I still have a day job, and that job is graphic designer at an internet development company in Vancouver. I see what’s happening to our industry. I want artists to know that it is not just art that is failing to sell online. It’s everything. The internet industry is literally upside down right now. Personally, I’ve lost my job twice in 6 months, am still holding on, but it’s looking shaky. That’s just the state of affairs right now. Investors are wising up and the gold rush on the web is drying up.

Sitting in a Japanese restaurant recently, I overheard two other conversations discussing the layoffs at their company. It was 16 people at mine, 31 for the guy to our right and everyone at the guy to our left. It’s not unusual. I don’t know of a single web related company in Vancouver that is not feeling the effects of this. The biggest and the best recently laid off 25. Art on the web is such a small part of a bigger picture, that I believe, when the entire picture evens out, so too will the art be selling. The economy is putting the internet industry through a giant strainer right now. I think it’s necessary and the strong will survive. So to any artist who is disheartened and discouraged by their forays into cyberspace, please remember that it’s not the art… it’s the web. And we can only go up from here.


You may be interested to know that artists from 70 countries have visited these sites since January 1, 2001.

That includes Peg Winters of the Poconos, PA, who says she has tried so many techniques that she has lost her own, and Josh Segg of Tel Aviv, Israel who says he wants to spend the nest few years trying as many techniques as he possibly can.

And Stuart, from somewhere, who’s friend said, “Stuart, culture is a Welsh pub.”



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