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Archive for the ‘Advice’ Category

In Radiance

“In Radiance”- Now at the West End Gallery

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Change the focus of the eye. When you have done that, then the end of the world as you formerly knew it will have occurred, and you will experience the radiance of the divine presence everywhere, here and now.

–Joseph Campbell
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Change the focus of the eye.
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Is that the purpose of art? It makes sense. Through the years, many artists have talked about painting beyond what is there, painting the invisible, the intangible.
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To make the viewer see the ordinary in a new or extraordinary way.
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Sounds easy enough, right?  Well, it can be done but you don’t always find the divine radiance of all things. That can be frustrating and unfulfilling. But on those times when you do, you understand what Joseph Campbell was describing. And it drives you on.
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Change the focus of the eye. It most likely applies to life in general, as well. I will have to try that.

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“Trinity Isle”- Now at the West End Gallery

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I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.

—Lao Tzu

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Too tired today. It’s been a combo fatigue, both physical and mental, that has been building and really hit this morning. That just woke up but want to take a nap fatigue.

I think I am going to take a short break, a few days off to not think about stuff, to not worry about things that are out of my control. To not push. To not write.

Catch up on some reading. Listen to some music. Maybe focus on the words of Lao Tzu.

Simplicity. Patience. Compassion.

Or is it Simplicity- Patience-Compassion-Camera-TV?

See? I need a few days off.

We’ll see how it goes.

Stay cool and take five, okay? Here’s Dave Brubeck with his always cool Take Five. See you in a few days.

 

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Painting and art cannot be taught. You can save time if someone tells you to put blue and yellow together to make green, but the essence of painting is a self-disciplined activity that you have to learn by yourself.

–Romare Bearden

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I came across the quote above from a painter, Romare Bearden, whose work I have admired for some time. It’s something I have known for a long time, the thing that makes this a difficult profession in which to succeed.

You can be taught certain aspects of an art form but there’s no way of learning how to make use of your own perception of things or how to make visual representations of their own feelings and emotions. Or how you react to the world. That is all internal and personally distinct.

What works for me may not work for you.

I always urge young people to try a life in art but there is no way that I can tell if they have what it takes to make a life as an artist. There are few metrics for determining one’s ability to take rejection, to allow their emotions to run free, to persevere, to sense the innate rhythms of the world or so many of the other intangibles it takes to be an artist.

But, even so, it is always worth trying.

Actually, while I believe this and could go on for some time discussing this, this was just a way to get to a short blurb that ran here a few years back.about Mr. Bearden which also acts as an introduction to a favorite song of mine. I am busy, much like when I first wrote this short entry.

Here it is:

Don’t have much of a chance this morning to write a proper post. Busy in a good way. But I came across this image above from the late painter Romare Bearden who lived from 1911 until 1988. I was going to say African-American painter as it does in most of his biographies but that kind of bugged me in the same way that bios often point out that an artist is a woman. Seems like they are creating a distinction and putting them into a sub-category for no reason at all, especially when the person in question is creating great work.

So I am just calling Mr. Bearden a painter.

And a fine one at that, one whose work always jumps into my eyes. Just plain good stuff.

Anyway this image has been sticking in my mind for about a week now and I thought it would be a great companion to some music for this Sunday Music by the one and only B.B. King. Especially since the central figure in the painting looks a little like B.B. King. I somehow have only played one song by him in all these years on this blog and it is definitely time to correct that oversight.

I came across his Live at the Regal album as a teenager and it just destroyed me. It was a live performance from the Regal Theater in Chicago from 1964 and it is one of the great live recorded performances ever put down on vinyl, regardless of genre. It just reels and rocks and is filled with classic after classic tunes from B.B., Lucille–the only guitar whose name you probably know– and a band that kicks it big time. As with Romare Bearden’s painting, it’s just plain good stuff.

Take a listen to the great Sweet Little Angel and have yourself a good–no, a great– Sunday.

 

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Make your interests gradually wider and more impersonal, until bit by bit the walls of the ego recede, and your life becomes increasingly merged in the universal life. An individual human existence should be like a river — small at first, narrowly contained within its banks, and rushing passionately past rocks and over waterfalls. Gradually the river grows wider, the banks recede, the waters flow more quietly, and in the end, without any visible break, they become merged in the sea, and painlessly lose their individual being.

–Bertrand Russell, How to Grow Old

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Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) is one of those names I come across whose words seem to always make incredible amounts of sense. That is, the words and thoughts that my pea-sized brain can comprehend. Russell was one of those multiple threats, with great proficiency and expertise in a number of fields– history, mathematics, philosophy, logic and political activism, to name just a few. I guess you might just call him a deep thinker or a great mind.

The words above are from a short selection, How to Grow Old, from a collection of his essays, Portraits From Memory and Other Essays. It’s a surprisingly down to earth collection of observations about facing the aging process.

It was the section featured at the top that caught my eye. I was entranced by this idea of going through life beginning as a narrow, rushing stream that gradually widens and slows into a river that heads to the gathering of waters that is the sea.

It made me think of my own father’s life and how he never actively tried to widen his course, never sought to expand his interests in his later years. If anything, his stream somehow became narrower, even as it slowed.

That might sound like harsh criticism to some but it’s a simple observation and I think if it were presented to him at a point when he could still understand what you were trying to say, he might even agree. He might not like it and might tell you to mind your own effin’ business but he probably wouldn’t argue the point. Not much interested him as he aged and the things that once brought him a degree of enjoyment, such as sports, no longer interested him.

Not much did. His stream narrowed and slowed.

It is one of the things about my dad’s life that sadden me. On Father’s Day, I see all of the glowing tributes to other people’s dads, about all the good traits handed down to them from their dads and I am a bit embarrassed. Because for all the worthy traits I have inherited– and there are a few– it is the object lessons learned from the deficits in his life, behaviors and traits I want to avoid, that I find most valuable.

And while there are more than a few of these from which to choose and which I will not go into here, this narrowing of one’s stream is the one I seek most to avoid. I think I have been able to do it thus far. But, even so, though there are days when some genetic predisposition start whispering to me to stop paying attention, to show no interest.

To just sit and stare into the void. To slow my stream and narrow the banks.

But I fight that feeling. Fight it hard.

Years ago, I echoed Russell’s words, writing here that I sometimes see myself and my interests and knowledge as a river– a mile wide and an inch deep. I am still as shallow but I am forever trying to carve my course wider and maybe just a bit deeper.

I am shooting for two miles wide.

And two inches deep.

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“And Dusk Dissolves”- Now at the Principle Gallery

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Great artists make the roads; good teachers and good companions can point them out. But there ain’t no free rides, baby. No hitchhiking. And if you want to strike out in any new direction — you go alone. With a machete in your hand and the fear of God in your heart.

–Ursula K. Le Guin

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I felt compelled to put up a piece of new work from my current Principle Gallery show along with a piece of advice for aspiring artists from writer Ursula LeGuin. Make your own road, baby.  Do the heavy lifting and don’t depend on any one person to guide you through. There are no shortcuts– no hitchhiking as she puts it. You’re on your own so learn to hear what you have to say to yourself.

Show who and what you really are then stand tall. Own your road.

That’s it. I’m going to be concise because it’s a busy day for me. While my show at the Principle Galley is ongoing, I am working hard on new work for my next show which opens in July at the West End Gallery. Plus this morning I am leaving the safe bubble of my studio and home to accompany my dad on his first radiation treatment for a cancerous growth on his temple.

It’s the first time in 13 weeks that I am seeing him as the nursing facility where he resides is under lockdown from the covid-19 virus. I am both looking forward to and dreading seeing him. The dread comes from anticipating what changes may have taken place in this past quarter of a year from the dementia and skin cancer that plague him. Perhaps his awareness and power of recollection has eroded even more? Will he even recognize me now, especially with the mask I will be wearing?

I guess I’ll soon find out.

Odd days, indeed. Have a good one, folks.

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It has bothered me all my life that I do not paint like everybody else.

–Henri Matisse

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Well, Mr. Matisse certainly did not paint like everybody else and I, for one, am glad of it.

But I believe I know what he is saying. As an artist, you’re always torn between poles of confidence.

When it is at its highest point, you believe so strongly in what you are doing that it doesn’t matter what everybody else’s work is like.

But at the low points, you lose confidence in the credibility of your own voice and vision. At these low points it seems like it would be easier to have the comfort of being able to judge your own work against others who do the same type of work so that you could gauge whether your creations were worthy of notice.

I certainly have swung wildly between these two poles and have at points wished that I painted more like other artists, as though I would somehow benefit from their credibility. I know that this sort of thinking is misplaced and the result of low self-esteem in that moment, but it happens. And on a more regular basis than one might think.

But the work itself is usually the voice of reason, the thing that brings me around once more. Just getting lost in the creation of a piece and sitting in front of it in the aftermath, still fully immersed in the life force it then exudes, washes away that need to be like everybody else.

But even in that moment, I know that nagging feeling, that desire to be like everybody else, will still be there waiting for me when I inevitably swing back to that other pole.

So, Mr. Matisse, thank you for not being like everybody else. I know how hard it sometimes must have felt but we appreciate you staying true to your own voice.

Here are a few more of his interiors, a group of his work that I really love.

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“Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies-“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.

― Kurt Vonnegut

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The words above are from the book God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater from the late Kurt Vonnegut. They are are spoken to the infant twins of a neighbor as part of a baptismal speech from Eliot Rosewater, the book’s protagonist.

It seems like a ridiculous bit of advice to speak over infants at a religious ceremony but the sentiment is striking in its simplicity and practical application.

In nearly every instance, kindness will make the situation better.

I don’t know why I am writing this today. Maybe it’s the shrill ugliness of our society at the moment, marked by naked tribalism and selfish greed.

Or maybe its our attack mentality that has become the norm, one where reason and logic are thrown aside and replaced with insults and slurs.

These negative aspects, the hatred and selfishness we are so often displaying, are not sustainable for us as a society. They are the signs of an undisciplined and unprincipled people.

On the other hand, kindness is a sustainable and enduring principle of guidance. It builds up, not tears down. A hand up, not a push down.

Like I said, I don’t why I am writing this. Maybe the thought was that we– maybe just I– needed a reminder that a little kindness does more for the world that all the ugly words spoken with hatred by one person toward another.

So, this is your reminder. We have a short time on this world. Don’t waste your time here being mean-spirited and vengeful.

Be kind to others. Be kind to yourself.

This made me want to hear a little Otis Redding this morning. Try a Little Tenderness. Doesn’t get much better than that.

Have a good and kind day.

 

 

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nope

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Earlier, I began to write about the huge amount of sloppy thinking being displayed lately by many people. You know what I mean, those people who grasp at the first meme or video clip or article that confirms what they want to believe the truth should be. They react in a visceral manner and immediately pass it on, not considering its veracity, source, or the context in which it is presented. They do no research at all and just take its credibility as a given.

As I wrote, I asked myself if this sloppy thinking was a product of ignorance or apathy. My answer of “I don’t know and I don’t care” made me think it would be best to save this subject for another day.

So, moving on, I read the other day that a lot of people are struggling with the isolation because they find there is actually more intrusion into their private time by their commitments to video chats and things of that sort with friends, family and co-workers. The article mentioned that their inability to say NO was a real issue for these folks, who felt an obligation to accept every invitation to participate.

It reminded me of an article that I ran years ago and again four years back about the necessity of saying NO. This is one of the first pieces of advice I offer to young artists when I speak with them, telling them there are sacrifices and choices that need to be made in order to succeed. One of those  choices is how you spend your time. My advice to them is that just learning to honestly say NO will make their artistic path easier and their lives infinitely better.

Here’s that article about the power in that word NO:

noThere’s an interesting article on the website Medium by tech pioneer Kevin Ashton (best known for coining the phrase “the internet of things“) called Creative People Say No. In it he talks about how productive creatives —productive is the key word here–  understand the limitations of their time here and as a result weigh every request for their time against what they might produce in that time. It immediately struck a chord with me as I have known for many years that my time as both a living human and artist are limited and that for me to ever have a chance of capturing that elusive intangible answer that goads me forward, always just a step ahead of me and just out of sight, than I have to mete out my time judiciously. We have X numbers of hours and doing something other than that which I recognize as my purpose  represents a real choice.

no 2Ashton echoes my own feelings when he  writes:  Time is the raw material of creation. Wipe away the magic and myth of creating and all that remains is work: the work of becoming expert through study and practice, the work of finding solutions to problems and problems with those solutions, the work of trial and error, the work of thinking and perfecting, the work of creating. Creating consumes. It is all day, every day. It knows neither weekends nor vacations. It is not when we feel like it. It is habit, compulsion, obsession, vocation.

So, over the the last 15 years, I have wrestled over every choice that takes time away from the studio, in most cases declining invitations to all sorts of functions and putting off travelling and vacations. Even a morning cup of coffee with friend or family requires serious debate. For a while I thought I was agoraphobic but I know that’s not the case. I just view my time here on Earth as extremely limited and shrinking at a constant rate with each passing day

no 1It reminds me of a conversation I had with a painter friend a number of years ago. He had brought up the name of a well-known artist whose work he admired who was incredibly productive. My friend bemoaned the fact that he himself wasn’t as productive and wondered how this person could do so much.  In the conversation he told me about all the activities that his life held– traveling , classes, music sessions with friends and time with his kids. I couldn’t bring myself to point out that he would have to start sacrificing something in order to be as productive as this other artist. It was obvious that his X amount of hours were spent differently than the other artist, who I should point out also had a studio staff with a manager and several assistants to boost his productivity. My friend made the choices that he felt were right for him and who could argue that his kids didn’t deserve even more of his time?  

I think of this conversation quite often when I am faced with a choice other than spending time in the studio. Even writing this blog entry is gnawing at me because it has exceeded the amount of time I want to spend on it this morning. That being said, I am going to stop right here and get back to that thing that I feel that I have to do.

Read the article. It’s a good essay.

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The_Torment_of_Saint_Anthony_(Michelangelo)

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A man paints with his brains and not his hands.

-Michaelangelo Buonarroti

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I am a little intimidated in quoting the words of a man who is believed to have painted the piece shown above, The Torment of Saint Anthony, at the tender age of 12 or 13. Pretty amazing. It’s obvious from this, and almost everything created afterward over his lifetime, that Michaelangelo had both brains and hands– the highest degree of craftsmanship along with thought and feeling that brought his work to life.

But his words ring true for any painter. Painting should not be mere craft, not formulaic process nor exact replication of the reality before them. No, it is beyond that. It is how the artist imbues the work with their own thought and emotion, their own spirit, their own essence that elevates the work above craft. It requires a total investment of the self.

Doing that is the trick. At first glance, it seems both a tall task and a simple one. Giving what you think is 100% of yourself seems easy, right? But not holding back something, not sharing every bit of yourself, makes it a Herculean effort. In the end, it comes down to simply feeling emotion in what you are doing and being willing to openly display it without reserve.

Now, maybe I am misinterpreting Michaelangelo’s words to fit my own subjective view of painting. Perhaps in these ten spare words he was speaking about taking a more scientific or mathematical approach to painting and composition. That I don’t know. But when I read it, it made sense to me because the differentiating quality I see in painting, from self-taught rough-hewn outsiders to the highest level of traditional representational painters, is how much of themselves a painter is willing to invest in their creations.

An investment of the self.

It is the thought process of the artist that makes the painting, not the mechanical process.

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This post is from five years back. and is shared again because I love this youthful piece from Michaelangelo along with his words. Whenever I see this painting, or for that matter, anything from Michaelangelo, I am humbled beyond description. And that’s not a bad thing. 

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Dr. Seuss- Gosh Do I Look As Old As All That

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Say what you mean and act how you feel,

because those who matter don’t mind,

and those who mind don’t matter.

Dr. Seuss

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I think these words about sincerity from the wonderful and wise Dr. Seuss are good advice for just about anybody.  For myself, I pass this advice on to young artists. Make your own meaning and feeling the focus of your work…

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I ran the short post above several years ago and it resonated with me again this morning. For one thing, it reminded me of how much the imagery and messaging of Dr. Seuss influenced and informed my own perspectives and art. I never thought about it at the time I started drawing and painting but his way of representing the landscapes of his worlds very much infiltrated my own way of looking at my own inner worlds. I see the bendy curves of his trees and smile because I see them in many of my own Red Trees.

The other reason this older post resonated with me were his simple words about honestly saying what you mean and acting how you feel. There are many days when I am trying to write this blog and I feel inhibited by not wanting to offend anyone with my own personal views. I have many times set aside posts that I deemed potentially too offensive. But more and more, I am less shy about sharing my honest opinions for just the reasons that the good Dr. points out: those that matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter.

And that also translates to my work. I am also less shy in sharing work that moves outside my comfort zones for this same simple reason. I figure if I am being honest and sincere in my work and in my opinions, what do I have to fear from the opinions of others?

So, thanks for that Dr. Seuss, wherever you may be. Your words and art and storytelling have changed the worlds of many, myself included.

Here are a few more of his paintings that weren’t in the original post:

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