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This morning, I am taking the advice below from Ray Bradbury and simply doing things.I can tell you from my own experience that his words ring true. All too may times I have started a painting based on an idea, some novel concept that was I believed to be well thought out. Those paintings are usually the ones that die on the easel. The best work, the stuff that seems to have its life force, comes outside of thought. So, my thinking goes on a hiatus starting now. Here’s a replay of a post from several years back on the subject.
ray-bradbury-on-creativity-famous-quotes

I came across this quote from famed sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury on a post on the  TwistedSifter site that featured quotes on creativity. This struck close to the bone for me as I have proudly not thought for years now. I have long maintained that thinking usually inhibits my work, making it less fluid and rhythmic.

It’s a hard thing to get across because just in the process of doing anything there is a certain amount of thought required, with preliminary ideas and decisions to be made. I think that the lack of thought I am talking about, as I also believe Bradbury refers, is once the process of creating begins. At that point you have to try to free yourself of the conscious and let intuition and reaction take over, those qualities that operate on an instantaneous emotional level.

I can tell instantly when I have let my conscious push its way into my work and have over-thought the whole thing. There’s a clunkiness and dullness in every aspect of it. No flow. No rhythm. No brightness or lightness. Emotionally vacant and awkward. Bradbury’s  choice in using the term self-conscious is perfect because I have often been self-conscious in my life and that same uncomfortable awkwardness that comes in those instances translates well to what I see in this over-thought work.

So what’s the answer? How do you let go of thought, to be less self-conscious?

I think Bradbury hits the nail on the head– you must simply do things. This means trusting your subconscious to find a way through, to give the controls over to instinct.

And how do you do that? I can’t speak for others but for myself it’s a matter of staying in my routine. Painting every day even when it feels like a struggle. Loading a brush with paint and making a mark even when I have no idea at hand. Just doing things and not waiting for inspiration.

You don’t wait for inspiration– you create it.

So, stop thinking right  now and just start doing things.

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I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
–Ozymandias, PB Shelley
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If you have ever been to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, you have no doubt seen the painting above. I’ve only been there once and the image of this painting and its strong presence in the space really sticks in my mind. It was painted in 1863 by artist Elihu Vedder, an American expatriate who lived and worked in Italy for over 60 years.

Its title is The Questioner of the Sphinx and it shows a man listening intently at the lips of the ancient monument with the hope, no doubt, of hearing some eternal truth. The skull in the sand makes clear that the Sphinx will not easily relinquish its secrets. The kneeling listener is said to represent man’s futile desire to find immortality.

With the still sand covered Sphinx and the scattered toppled columns, the painting presents us with echoes from ancient history of once mighty empires that are long fallen and forgotten. It is reminiscent of Shelley’s great poem, Ozymandias, shown above, that speaks to the hubris and folly of those who think they can lord over this world.

This was painted at a time when the US was in the midst of the Civil War and there was great doubt as to whether the county would be able to endure the struggle. The US was not an empire at that point. It was still young and finding its way but we still represented a great triumph of democracy, a country ruled by its people and  not kings or dictators or despots– a rarity in the whole of history. But in that civil war we found ourselves in an existential crisis, a tipping point, that put us in peril of being consigned to the dustbin of history before we even grew into any form of our potential.

I write about this painting this morning because it feels to me that we are again at a tipping point, divided in many ways as a country. It feels like there is going to soon be some sort of revelation that is either going to set us on a course that will either allow us to continue to grow our American experiment or will cause us to plummet into a darker and much more dangerous future.

It all hinges on people who are ethical and principled standing up and doing what is right and exposing the truths of our time.

But in the meantime, I find myself feeling like that man with his ear anxiously pressed to the lips of Sphinx.

 

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 I was looking for something to play this morning and put on this album, Blues Twilight, from jazz trumpet player Richard Boulger. I’ve played a couple of tracks from this album here over the years.

While the title track was playing I went over to over to a painting that hangs in my studio, the one shown above. It’s an experiment titled October Sky from a few years back that is a real favorite of mine. I showed it for only a short time before deciding that I wanted it hanging in the studio. I never really worked any further in the direction this piece was taking me. Part of that decision to not go further was purely selfish, wanting to keep something solely for myself, something that wasn’t subject to other people’s opinions.

A strictly personal piece. A part of the prism that doesn’t show.

I look at it every day but generally it is from a distance, taking it in as a whole. But his morning, while the album’s title track played I went  and really looked hard at it, up close so that every bump and smear was obvious. And I liked what I was seeing, so much so that I grabbed my phone and began snapping little up close chunks of it.

It all very much felt like the music, like captured phrases or verses.  Each had their own nuance, color and texture and they somehow blended into a harmonic coherence that made the piece feel complete.

It’s funny but sometimes when I am working hard and in a groove that takes over from conscious thought, I almost forget about those things that I myself like in my work because I don’t have to think about them in the process of creating the work. Looking at this painting this close made me appreciate the painting even more, made me think about it in a different way than the manner in which I now used to seeing it.

Guess it’s a good thing to stop every now and then and look at what you’ve done, up close and personal.

Here’s Blues Twilight from Richard Boulger. Enjoy the music and take a look at the snips, if you so wish. But definitely have a good day.


GC Myers- October Sky detail
GC Myers- October Sky detail GC Myers- October Sky detail GC Myers- October Sky detail GC Myers- October Sky detail GC Myers- October Sky detailGC Myers- October Sky detail

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The Loser

Ah, this little bit of  Shel Silverstein feels just about right on a Friday the 13th morning.

There’s certainly some truth in there somewhere. Maybe it’s that we are all looking for something we feel is missing and all the time, it’s there in plain sight. Or it would be if we weren’t sitting on our heads.

Keep your heads on today, folks.

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When you think of painting as painting it is rather absurd. The real world is before us – glorious sunlight and activity and fresh air, and high speed motor cars and television, all the animation – a world apart from a little square of canvas that you smear paint on.

–Wayne Thiebaud

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These words from the great contemporary painter Wayne Thiebaud ring completely true for me. I have talked and written many times before about those moments in the studio when I suddenly find the whole idea of painting, of smearing paint on some surface, completely absurd. The whole idea of making these two-dimensional things that represent inner feelings about the outer world seems suddenly abstract and, to be honest, a little ridiculous.

It’s a little like waking up one day to find yourself standing in your yard with a forked stick in your hand. You began by thinking it was a divining rod that would mysteriously lead you to something valuable but in that moment you realize you’re just a fool standing in your yard with a stick.

Believe me, there are days when I feel like a fool standing in a room with a stick in my hands. Of course, my stick has bristles with paint on them but it might as well just be a stick in those moments.

But somehow that feeling passes and I find myself immersed back in my own little world and that stick returns to being a divining rod.

Wayne Thiebaud has long been a favorite of mine.  Most people associate his name with his paintings of  cakes, ice cream and confections with their bold colors and beautiful thick brushstrokes. They are wonderful but for me, his most striking work are his landscapes, often set from a high perspective.  They have such great color and their compositions feel as much like abstraction as they do realism.

Just plain good stuff.

I always feel inspired by this work, moving me to try to find that same balance in my own work.

Here’s a video of his confectionery works, which is, as I said, his more popular work. I haven’t found video with his landscapes but this is still a good intro to his best known work.

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There a new piece on the easel right now that is at a point in it’s progress that has me chomping at the bit to get to work this morning. I thought, in the name of expediency, I would share a post from a few years back about trusting yourself when it comes to something like art. I know a lot of people who won’t go into galleries or museums because they think they don’t know anything about art and feel intimidated. That’s a shame because you don’t need to know anything about art except how you react to it. Have a look:

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He knows all about art, but he doesn’t know what he likes.

–James Thurber

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James Thurber Cartoon Art CriticThis may not technically qualify as a quote but who cares?  The message in this cartoon from the great James Thurber is so simply put and true and that’s what I am looking for in a good quote.

 And art.

That’s what I like.

In the past I’ve talked about how many people are intimidated by the idea of art, feeling that they don’t know anything about art.  This leaves them not trusting their own eyes and their own reactions to any given piece of art.

And that is a pity because art is mainly about the reaction to it.  Art is a reactive agent, reaching out and stirring something in the viewer.  All of the knowledge in the world about a piece of art cannot make you like that piece of work if it doesn’t first strike that chord that raises some sort of emotional response within you.

And I think most of us know within a few moments whether a work of art speaks to us or leaves us cold.  The trick comes in recognizing this realization and feeling okay with it.

I’ll admit that there are many celebrated works of art out there that do absolutely nothing for me.  They may have historical importance or elements of beauty or great craftsmanship in them but they simply don’t raise any emotional response within me.

I might be able to appreciate them but the bottom line is that I don’t like them, plain and simple.  That doesn’t mean I’m right or wrong.  It just means I know what I like.

And I accept that criteria from anybody, even with my own work.  While it would be nice to think that it speaks to everyone, I know this is an impossibility.  I’ve had people tell me that they didn’t like my work– in polite and respectful terms, thankfully– and I’m okay with that.

They know what they like.  And that’s good enough for me.

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“… lend your ears to music, open your eyes to painting, and … stop thinking! Just ask yourself whether the work has enabled you to “walk about” into a hitherto unknown world. If the answer is yes, what more do you want?”

― Wassily Kandinsky

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A busy day but with enough time to consider this early Kandinsky painting and his words. Having learned to stop thinking some time ago, I do feel enabled to walk about in his created world. And, yes, I want and need no more this morning.

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