It’s that time of year. Spring. You know—in with the new, out with the old.
Checking the studio supply cabinet, I found ten jars I didn’t recognize. Lined up in front of me, I have to ask: when did I buy that? It can’t have been ten years ago.
But you know how we creative types love to experiment. We tell ourselves unless we try things out, we won’t know if we like them. (Which is true, but don’t I understand moderation.) For good measure, I also tell myself that a new brush or paint could make all the difference in my painting.
Today I spent the afternoon trying out various supplies with a hodge-podge of found objects from paint trays to pill packaging to test out the types of texture and markings they would make on board, heavy paper, and Japanese paper. Can you believe I had four—no five kinds of gesso. Who knew they made so many? (Well you did of course.) And then there were tubes of dried paint.
Where does all this lead? Hopefully to extra space on the shelf and to well, shopping. You know, just a little paint…and maybe more gesso.
Think of how often we say something is beautiful—a painting,
a home, a young person, especially a young woman. But what is beauty? How do we
define it? Is it a vista of pink mountain laurel or a sunrise over a calm
ocean? Is it red cheeks, softness, or tallness? And if we are visual artists,
is it bright colors, a specific form, smoothness, roughness or texture? Or if
we are musicians or dancers, perhaps it is sound and movement?
It is easy to understand why there are so many ideas of beauty—whether we are describing a person or a piece of artwork or the natural world.
Looking for Perfection
While I was hiking the Pink Beds Trail in the Pisgah Forest
this past weekend, I noticed the numerous contrasts in nature. I photographed
early flowers like trillium, mountain laurel, bluets, and one or two rhododendrons.
But I was most drawn to the beauty of the dead trees either those left standing
as food and habitat for birds and those already fallen lying in the bogs or
Perhaps I was attracted by the rawness of the visual or even
the shapes and dramatic look of the dark colors against the bright green and
the pale sky. Whatever the reason, they touched something in me. I found these
decaying trees beautiful in their less than perfect form.
In a recent “Brain Pickings” blog, Maria Popova wrote “there are so many kinds of beauty.” She was writing about love and living with purpose, specifically writing about Rebecca Solnit’sCinderella Liberator, which she called an empowering retelling of the Cinderella story—a story in which Solnit’s characters become their “truest” self—even the stepsisters.So, the limited view of beauty is certainly not the only myth expressed in this childhood story. There is also the limited view of love and what makes for a happy life.
But perhaps if we can look at beauty differently, then we
can also realize that there is more than one way of living a beautiful life.
I feel that I am not so much the painter as the conduit for a painting. That is
the case with many of the pieces in my current series about dementia. “Embrace,”
the one you are viewing here, is about my personal journey with my mother, but
it is also about other people. First, it is a story created by people who
traveled the same path before me, though with less science and perhaps less support.
It is also a story about those that traveled with me, those that cared for and
about my mother. Finally, it is also about the people who are still on this
me an embrace is normally a good feeling, a comforting feeling. But the term also
describes how the lead and partner function on the dance floor as they glide
across the floor. I always thought dancing was magical. Yet, after taking
lessons, I found out about the hard work and frustrations as well as the rewards.
husband and I were taking ballroom dance lessons just about the time my mother
was diagnosed with dementia with Lewy Bodies. My father had already died; my
brother was in another state and ill as well. So her care fell to me. I usually
just take charge, but that doesn’t always work with someone whose judgement is
impaired. She resisted strongly; I became frustrated. Much like a dance, we
went back and forth and back and forth. I came to wonder was I her lead, or her
reading Daniel Siegel’s The Developing
Mind, one quote stood out : “A story is created by both teller and listener.”
The quote made me question if this could also true of the visual story in my
paintings. When I paint, is it my story
alone or is the viewer involved?
my mother I attempted to understand how she was feeling? But I also realized
that my capacity for endurance, pain, and suffering was different from hers or
even my husband’s. I was left with my imagination and hopefully, my empathy. But
I did wonder how she felt about being told she must move into assisted living,
that someone would to be there when she showered to make sure she didn’t fall,
and when she toileted to keep her clean.
what about the viewer or the listener? I
now recognize their part and know that they can add to the story or even change
look at myself and other artists as both archeologists and architects. We are diggers of history and truth,
gatherers of ideas, and manipulators of bits and pieces. Perhaps none of my of
my paintings are completely my own for I am history, a bit of this and a piece
of that, a part of her and some of them.
I have bartered for a couple pieces and bought one small original
when we were in France years ago. Otherwise it is prints—and yes, early in our
marriage signed posters. But we are better about other types of art. We have a decent
pottery collection with inherited pieces and those purchased from places we
have traveled (though we are trying to curb the habit). Still, I recently purchased
several pieces from a Kings Mountain, NC, potter Renee Matthews. I have
purchased numerous pieces of handmade jewelry over the years (the last piece from
Lark and Key Gallery https://larkandkey.com/
), and we also have a carved box from David Anthony Fine Art in Taos http://davidanthonyfineart.com/ ).
of Art Love
One of my artist friend Jen Walls (https://www.jenwalls.com/ ), who now lives
in her beloved Portland, is wonderful about buying art from other artists. Not only that, she always shows a photograph
of the art and gives a shout out on Facebook. She is also great about
commenting on other artists exhibitions, events, and publications.
So, if we love art and/or produce art, we need to find ways to
support art beyond just buying tickets and drinking wine at a gallery opening.
There are so many wonderful artists and craftspeople that produce not just
paintings and sculptures, but handmade journals (Jackie Radford, https://etsy.me/2VQShWU), jewelry, carvings,
clothes, and so much more.
And when we love a piece, it would be nice to let others know.
This past weekend I had the experience of a sculpture
stopping me in my tracks, moving me to tears, and sending me on my way—feeling
better and almost hopeful.
The Moment of Intrigue
My husband and I were camping at a state park on the coast of South Carolina and decided to visit Brookgreen Gardens on our way home. We were leisurely walking the paths admiring the plants as much as the sculptures when a small piece drew me forward. At first all I saw was movement, then I recognized them as figures. Finally, I saw them dancing. And since I’ve been working on a painting called “Come, Dance,” I was intrigued.
The Moment of Connection
Called, “Can-Can,” the artist Jane DeDecker, shows five dancers, which represents a cancer victim with four friends helping her through the process of dying. It was possibly more moving because of my mother’s recent death or because I could see the stroke of fingers in the work and was moved by the intimacy. Whatever the reason, I stood for a long time and walked on with a sense of awe in the human spirit.
That is art. It takes you in and moves you forward.
I really don’t like elevators with or without speeches. They
make me nervous, and no matter how hard I try to relax I always feel like I’ve
left my legs on the floor where I got on. So I tend to smile nervously, face
the door, and think there is no way I can turn and talk to another passenger.
Having read advice in books and blogs from quite a few marketing gurus, I’m always thinking about what I should say when someone asks what I do. If I say, “I’m an artist,” I am usually asked a follow-up question about what kind of artist. If I say mixed media and leave it there, I know I’ve missed out big time. I have learned that this is an opportunity to share myself and to get to know someone if only for a very short time.
If you listen to the experts, they would have you prepare a
two-minute statement that tells someone “why you create.” Unfortunately, I have
found that doesn’t work for me. As an introvert, I come across as stilted,
pompous, or stuffy. What I’m learning to do instead is tell them something
about my current work. Chances are I’m excited about it and that comes through
in my body language. It doesn’t come across as prepared or memorized.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
I’ve got less than a couple minutes, so I have to keep it really
short. Second, if I want this to lead to a look at my website, a visit to my
studio, or a possible friendship, then I need to know at least one thing about
this person. So after describing my most recent work, I ask a question. “Are
you involved in art, who is your favorite artist, what kind of art do you like?”
Then I have a real conversation that I can continue briefly when the door opens
or I can exchange information for a later date.
In my excitement talking about what I am working on, I have
to remember not to overwhelm them. They don’t need an artist statement or a
curriculum vitae. I try to connect with them by using descriptive language they
can understand. If they seem sincerely interested, I invite them to a show or
just to my studio.
While I believe in being as prepared as possible, a canned
elevator speech just doesn’t work for me. I can’t make it sound authentic. I have
found it is far more important for me to be genuine—to be myself and talk about
something that I am passionate about. That makes me sound…well, like me.
How do we respond as artists when the technology we have been depending on goes a bit…well haywire? While most of my artwork is done by hand, the old-fashioned way, I do depend on my computers, various programs, and my printer.
When You Least Expect It
This morning I watched my husband as he dealt with the Bluetooth in our car. He said he was riding along when suddenly the Bluetooth announced that it was changing the language to French. He swears he pushed no buttons and even tried to fix it by calmly asking the “French woman” to change the language back to English. Instead, he got a terse, “Pardon?”
It was not quickly resolved. Even with manuals, the
internet, two telephone calls to different car dealers, and a plea to a daughter
fluent in French, no one could offer much help (though the daughter offered a
few choice words he could say in French when it didn’t work). So like any good
American he went out punching buttons. The first punch got him another
language, but it was Spanish. No problem, our other daughter is fluent in
Spanish!) All he had to do was figure out which buttons he had pushed in which
sequence. Finally, on the third try he was able to get the car to talk to him
in English again. And incidentally, the only car dealers that called him back
wanted to know if he would like to trade the car in for another one.
Obviously, the younger artists are most comfortable with
technology, but I have seen a few of them get frustrated when something didn’t
work “as advertised.” I guess the reality is that when it works, it makes our
life easier and probably more creative even if we produce primarily with our
hands. I know being able use technology to view and discuss the work of other
artists influences my work. Videos teach me about new techniques, and the
simple means of communicating allows me to share my own work with thousands of
people even in other countries.
Our Art and Soul
In some ways
adaptation to different circumstances is the heart and soul of art. I recently
discovered that Matisse began his “cut-out” series after cancer forced him to
use a wheelchair. While the work was a departure from his large paintings,
critics often refer to them as among the best works of his entire career.
While I would miss technology, I believe artists are among the
most adaptable people in our society. Perhaps
it would be a good idea for all artists to develop their “other left or right
hand.” By this I mean develop more than one method of creating, challenging
ourselves to go beyond our daily borders.
what has worked for us in the past might open the door to even better work in