In the last letter I wrote about our tools for artistic growth. Letters bloomed in my inbox and my messy studio became a testing ground for working methods. I had that warm glow that comes with feelings of frustration and imperfection.
Although some artists may put me down for this, I’m pretty sure that the production of art has to do with a sense of well-being. I’ve found that art is at its best when the art more or less takes over your life. It’s great if you happen to be a fan. Other specifics contribute as well, like the ability to access both sides of your brain. I call this “bicameral wobbling.” Sometimes “BW” is automatic, at other times you have to put a cattle-prod in your ear. We all know about taking the time to half-close our eyes, but do we always remember? There’s also proper planning, a knowledge of the basics, and the surety of the rightness of each project. But there’s more to it than that. Effective work includes the whole artist: health, mind, family, self-esteem, intuition. When your machine is hitting on all four you can feel it in the whole chassis. “Our body is a machine for living,” said Leo Tolstoy. And while living in our work may at times be difficult (you may even hate your work) we are thankfully given a lifetime to search for the warm and fuzzy to guide our hands. And I’m here to tell you that in life and art you must learn to love.
“Thou shalt love thy work,” is a commandment that artists have long taken for their own. Other professions have seen the wisdom of the idea. Love is deadly because you can look at your work and see when there isn’t any. When you’re loving your work, you know what you’re doing. Where does it come from? It’s a cricket you keep in your pocket. It’s a state of evolution, a double-mindedness, a giddiness, abandoned control, controlled abandon, it’s supercalifragilisticexpeialidocious.
And it’s all such a beautiful mystery.
PS: “When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music. To love life through labor is to be intimate with life’s innermost secret. All work is empty save when there is love, for work is love made visible.” (Kahlil Gibran)
Esoterica: How did I come to be so blessed? What miracle has led me to this easel? How daring of me to flirt with the gods and to take part in these marvels.
The following are selected correspondence arising from the above and other letters. Thanks for writing.
Stress and struggle
by Bill Cannon, California, USA
Your mention of artists thriving on comfort reminded me of what I learned last weekend. There are lessons for artists in winemaking. My wife and I went to the Paso Robles (CA) Winefest this last weekend. Paso Robles is rolling hills, and vineyards run up and over all the hills. Flat fields produce mediocre grapes, but rolling hills produce the greatest grapes. Why? Because the vines must struggle for survival. Struggle for survival ‘stresses’ the grapes and they last longer on the vines and produce more flavorful grapes. The other aspect of Paso Robles that produces great grapes is the severe temperature changes. It can be 106 degrees in the daytime during growing season and 40 degrees at night. This also stresses the vines to produce longer, hardier, more flavourful grapes, the kind that produce $50 bottles of wine. I felt that the analogy to genius and artistic endeavor was a great insight. Mozart. Vivaldi. Van Gogh. Stretching their genius on struggle, stress and survival. Perhaps those artists who thrive on comfort do so within the boundaries of the struggles and stresses within. Struggles and stresses, like the vines, they have learned to overcome.
Don’t believe it
by Phyllis McDonough
I would just love to believe that love is it, but am not so sure that it can be true. After all Van Gogh was not a happy man and both Degas and Picasso were said to have disliked women, Munch was a puzzle to put it mildly and on and on, leads me to believe that “happy” is somewhat over rated! Love is grand but doesn’t necessarily lead to good art.
The process we go through
by Bev Willis, Fresno, CA, USA
I fully agree that in order to really enjoy life to its fullest you must learn to love life and whatever you do as your life work or hobby to love it also. There are a lot of people who do not love and they become unhappy and unfulfilled people. However, sometimes it is almost beyond their control that they are like this. I am always reminded when I come in contact with these people that perhaps if I had been exposed to what they have been exposed to, I might be just like them. It is sad for them to say the least. If we can help people to learn to love life and their work or hobby that would be a good mission for us to take on when the opportunity comes to us. I have seen lots of people that love even though they have no reason to do so with what they have put up with. I am a fortunate person in that I love life, I love people, I love art and many other things. I am a very happy and fulfilled person. Many things have come into my life to help me have this happy life and I am so thankful for this. Each person has to find his own way to love life and what they are doing in his own way. I know what works for me. Life has not always been easy. There have been problems and bad times but perhaps even those bad times and problems have helped me to love life even more. And I love art even though I am not a famous artist and probably never will be. That’s not what it is about. As we have mentioned before sometimes the best part of life or one of the things that make people love life or art is the process that we go through.
Art reflects mood
by William Dudley Gilhooley, Motueka, South Island, New Zealand
I agree wellness and feeling good helps a great deal with the art output and input. Winter often brings on unwell feelings, which in turn don’t make me feel like working. As I usually end up in bed with muscular spasms it leaves a lot to be desired and even reading is not sometimes possible. That’s when the frustration sets in and not feeling good in the head because of the impotence of not being able to create makes one more angry and more frustrated. People have heaps of stuff to come out and bottling it up must show through in the work when it does get out. I suppose people may say in the future: “Ah yes, that was Billyg’s angry period,” or some such. Good always to know that we are not alone.
Being in love
by Lorraine McCrory
I do so agree with what you have to say about being “in love”! I also happen to pick subjects I love, or think of themes that I would love to explore. Since I make contemporary art, sometimes the “love” part can escape others because it’s not a literal translation of a subject. I also find that having a “catalyst” (someone/ something that inspired me to create in the first place) is vital. You can think you’re alone in the creative process because you are the only one making the work, but you’re not. You’re surrounded in your thoughts by those who give you inspiration, whose work reflects your own, whose influence you “love”!
Would love to love work again
I love to hear how well everyone’s doing in their studios and with their art and how they get inspired, but what about artists, who because of some change in their life or career, have no time to devote to their art? I know more of us exist than I think. When is it right to just give it all up and say “you know what? Forget work, forget my responsibilities I’m just gonna paint all day.” I’m 30….. I can’t wait until I retire. I wish it were that easy. I really wish I had a wealthy benefactor to pay for my studio time and basic necessities…. ha ha ha don’t we all, you say? My point is I would love to love my work again…… if I was blessed with an extra day of the week.
Name withheld by request
My concern is with images from the newspaper/media. I like to use them as a starting point, not to copy them exactly but as a trigger to some other idea. Sometimes I am concerned with the placement of them as newspaper images and their incongruous relationship to each other. The fact that they are in the newspaper is relevant. I see them as part of our landscape, something we take for granted almost. Something that most of us are familiar with. That image of the woman with the eyes from Afghanistan for example. These images are virtually forced on us, surrounding us everyday. Are they not part of the public domain? Often it is simply impossible to find the source of the image. Again, I’m not talking about just copying the images but using them (distorting them, placing them in a new context etc.) to make another point. I’m thinking of Gerhard Richter here. As artists can we “use” this imagery in anyway we like or do we have to hunt down the photographer and or the publisher who may now have the copyright. Do we have to get written permission? Developing new work from another’s doesn’t always mean you are following but may in fact be leading off in another direction, subverting the original intent or implication. I’m thinking now of Cindy Sherman’s work. Does copyright only become a concern when the work is to be sold? Can we exhibit new ideas based on old ideas with out fear of libel?
(RG note) In an ideal world there would be a parade of influences and images all evolving one from the other. Unfortunately some worker-bees own some of those images and they can be like hornets if you muck with them. Try dropping Gerhard Richter a note before you use his stuff, and while you’re at it ask him where he got his.
The following are a few more of the 400 or so entries that have come in since the contest was announced. They are not necessarily finalists in the “Free Painting Workshop in Brittany with Robert Genn” contest. The contest is open until June 15, 2002.
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 100 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2002.