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Archive for the ‘Motivation’ Category

Francis Bacon
Portrait of Michel Leiris 1976

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As you work, the mood grows on you. There are certain images which suddenly get hold of me and I really want to do them. But it’s true to say that the excitement and possibilities are in the working and obviously can only come in the working.

–Francis Bacon

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I am swamped in work today. I say that a lot and it might sound awful to many folks. But for me it is the best possible situation because being at work means that, like Bacon says above, I am amidst the excitement and possibilities that come with working. Thinking about ideas, mulling what you’re going to do has a place but they are worthless nothings until they go into process, become work. Then they usually become something altogether different because the work allows you to flesh out what the mind alone couldn’t imagine.

The process of working is the true generator of ideas.

There have been many artists through time who have expressed this same sentiment, that doing work generates new work, creates new possibilities. I know that it is true for myself.

Breakthroughs in the work always come while working, with hands in paint and eyes and mind straining to see where the piece before me ends and the next begins.

Here’s one of my favorite inspirational pieces from artist Chuck Close that very much says the same thing: Don’t wait on inspiration–make your own!

The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the… work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.

I am taking that advice and just doing what I do. You do what you do, okay?

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Whether this matters in the long term, I do  not know. But for the time being, it gives me the feeling that I am somewhat in control of my narrative. Here’s a post from a few years back that speaks a bit more about artists speaking about their work and the difference between doing so with words that actually say something substantive and those that are mere fluffy word clouds.

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David Hockney- Mulholland Drive 1980

It is very good advice to believe only what an artist does, rather than what he says about his work.

 –David Hockney

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When I first read this quote from the great British artist David Hockney, a painter whose work I admire and always find very interesting, I wanted to be offended. After all, I am an artist who has said plenty about his work through the years– this blog and gallery talks being evidence of that– and have tried to be always transparent and forthcoming when talking about my work. But even so, I nodded in agreement when I read his words.
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Part of my own desire to be honest and open about my work came from the frustration I felt in reading other artist’s writings that were filled with ArtSpeak, that way of seeming to say something important and meaningful without really saying anything at all. The words danced around all form of meaning and never fully jibed with the images that accompanied the words, leaving me with a single word resonating in my mind.
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Bullshit.
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And I know bullshit. I was a longtime bullshit artist. I sold swimming pools and automobiles– yes, I was even a used car salesman!– to the public for quite some time. I knew that you could sell by focusing on the strengths of the product and by dancing around questions about its drawbacks. Fill any voids with words that sounded like they were filled with meaning but really made no commitment to anything.
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For me, there came a time when I was determined to not deal anymore in that manner of speaking and when I finally came to painting, I knew I didn’t want my work to fall into that pool of bullshit.  I wanted to tightly control how I represented my work and to be completely open about it.  It’s whole purpose for me was my own honest expression and I want

David Hockney- Arranged Felled Trees

ed people to be able to witness that without a crap filter between them and the work.

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For the most part, I feel that I have been able to maintain that through these last several years.  Oh, occasionally I feel myself straying off the path but I simply remind myself that the product I am representing is the core of my self and once I cross that line I would be betraying everything art has provided for me.
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But these are just words and maybe you should take them with Hockney’s advice in mind.

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Marsden Hartley- Himmel 1915

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I have come to the conclusion that it is better to have two colors in right relation to each other than to have a vast confusion of emotional exuberance. . . I had rather be intellectually right than emotionally exuberant.

–Marsden Hartley
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I have been a fan of the paintings of Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) for some time now. I was reading about him earlier and came across this quote  that caught my attention, making me think about what I hoped to accomplish in my own work.
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I often speak about creating work that has an immediate emotional impact achieved with colors and forms. But maybe, as Hartley’s words have prompted me to think, this first purely visceral and emotional impact is pure exuberance. Just a gut reaction that comes in that instant before the mind has time to engage.
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A shout that makes you turn and look.
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While that is good and desired, it’s doubtful that it can stand by itself and have a lasting effect unless it has an intellectual aspect to engage the viewer’s mind. There needs to be a balance between the mind and the gut.
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If you turn at hearing a shout and the person doing the shouting is shouting just to make you turn and has nothing more to say to you, you keep moving and soon forget that person. But if you turn and the shouter has something more to offer, you might linger a bit to consider what is being said and engage in a conversation.
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When you do move on, you take something from this engagement with you, something that will stay with you.
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I am not sure this an apt analogy but it immediately came to mind on reading Hartley’s words. I don’t exactly know how this mind/gut balance works or how it can be accomplished in reality. Maybe even consciously trying to do so throws the whole thing off kilter.
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It’s early in the morning and I am just thinking here. Time to go try to put it into action…

Marsden Hartley- Portrait of a German Officer 1914

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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 am really busy this morning but wanted to replay the post below from a few years back. I am currently at a point where I am just emerging from a period of great uncertainty and doubt, which had me questioning the path I had followed. But with each painting comes a bit more confidence, a bit more energy and a renewed sense of purpose. It makes me realize once more that the work itself is a sort of perpetual motion machine– it produces energy beyond that put into it.
The trick is in simply trusting the work and just doing it. Which is what I must do right now.

Paul Gauguin- Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?What still concerns me the most is: am I on the right track, am I making progress, am I making mistakes in art?

Paul Gauguin

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At one of my gallery talks a year or two ago, I was asked about confidence in my work. I can’t remember the exact wording but the questioner seemed to imply that at a certain point in an artist’s evolution doubts fade away and one is absolutely certain and confident in their work.

I think I laughed a bit then tried to let them know that even though I stood up there and seemed confident in that moment, it was mere illusion, that I was often filled with raging doubts about my voice or direction or my ability. I wanted them to know that there were often periods when I lost all confidence in what I was doing, that there were days that turned into weeks where I bounced around in my studio, paralyzed with a giant knot in my gut because it seemed like everything I had done before was suddenly worthless and without content in my mind.

I don’t know that I explained myself well that day or if I can right now. There are moments (and days and weeks) of clarity where the doubts do ease up and I no longer pelt myself with questions that I can’t answer. Kind of like the painting at the top, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, the masterpiece from Paul Gauguin. Those are tough questions to answer, especially for a person who has little religious belief.

And maybe that’s the answer. Maybe my work has always served as a type of surrogate belief system, expressing instinctual reactions to these great questions. I don’t really know and I doubt that I ever will. I only hope that the doubts take a break once in a while.

There was another quote I was considering using for this subject from critic Robert Hughes:

The greater the artist, the greater the doubt. Perfect confidence is given to the less talented as a consolation prize.

I liked that but it felt kind of self-serving, like saying that being aware aware of your own stupidity is actually a sign of your intelligence. I would really like to believe that all those times when I realized I was dumb as a stump were actually evidence of my brilliance. I think many of us can  claim that one.

Likewise, if Hughes is correct  then I may be one of the the greatest artists of all time.

And at the moment, I have my doubts…

 

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Joan Miro, Constellations 1959

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The older I get and the more I master the medium, the more I return to my earliest experiences. I think that at the end of my life I will recover all the force of my childhood.

–Joan Miro, from 1960 at age 67 

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It’s the young people who interest me, and not the old dodos. If I go on working, it’s for the year 2000, and for the people of tomorrow.

–Joan Miro, from 1975 at age 82

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There are two quotes here from the great Spanish painter Joan Miro (1893-1983) that really strike a chord with me. Both come from him when he was older and both speak very much to the way I feel about my own work.

In the first he speaks about gaining more mastery over the medium through the years while simultaneously moving closer to the vibrant energy that one has in their youth. I have felt the same feelings. The more one gains control over their form of expression, the more they are freed from the constraints of conscious thoughts and decisions. The work becomes reactive to the feel and emotion of the moment.

Now, I will add that with this acquired mastery there is also a new barrier erected to overcome. Well, at least, in my experience. I have found that with years of work, which is, in effect, rehearsal and practice, there is sometimes a loss of spontaneity and passion in the actual making of the marks. They become a little too precise, a little too mannered and a bit too clean and neat. They don’t have that feeling of wanting to burst off the surface. I have found ways to get past this–using bigger brushes and making strokes quicker with more urgency, for example– but every so often I will get near the end of a piece and it just feels too neat, too precise, for the underlying emotion.

It needs the innate exuberance of a child at play.

The second Miro quote, made when he was 82, speaks of painting not for those of his age but for the younger and the future generations. I certainly understand this sentiment. I am most thrilled when children react to my work, knowing then that it is speaking to the aforementioned innate exuberance.

It means I am not dealing with intellect or acquired knowledge or conscious thought. It is a pure and uninformed reaction. It means the work is communicating emotionally across and out of time.

And I think this is important because I believe most artists wants to break free from their own era, to not be consigned to any single period of time. To be known for what they were at their inner and eternal core, not where or how they were categorized in their time.

Maybe like the Miro painting at the top, a single small voice among the multitude of stars and constellations in the universe.

I don’t know but that might be my primary goal in doing what I do.

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It was not hard to see the contrast yesterday between the attitude of the oceans of youth that swarmed cities around this country during the March For Our Lives and that of the nation’s current governing party.

These kids are amazing. Stunning, really. They are smart, focused and savvy in the ways of media that goes well beyond their years. They have boldness and strength, a clear-eyed vision of rightness and a true sense of serving the greater good. There is a guileless purity to them that is refreshing and clarifying.

Now contrast that to the politicians who stand opposed to their agenda. The words that spring to my mind are words like cowardly and greedy and self-serving and evasive and deceptive and amoral. Corrupt in every sense of the word. Their craven attitude is bringing this country to the brink of a disaster, enabling a transformation of our democracy that may be difficult, if not impossible, to reverse.

As Andrew Sullivan deduces in his review this week of the book Can It Happen Here: Authoritarianism in America, it may already have happened and we just haven’t recognized it yet.

It’s hard for me to not think that we at this moment in history are standing on the middle of the yin yang symbol above and we could go either way, into light or into darkness. We need to decide right now whether we want concede our future to those who think nothing of selling that future to the highest bidder and lying to us about doing so.

If the great numbers of people somehow are offended by these kids’ call to action, if they prefer to stand behind the craven cowards in congress and in the white house — neither deserve capital letters in my opinion–then I fear we have already moved into the darkness.

But for today, in the wake of yesterday’s demonstration, I see a little light. I have always been disappointed by the youth vote in this country but I have hope that these kids can take the lead to make it the force it should be. If they can unite behind a few issues they have the numbers and power to change this country. The future is their’s if they choose to take it.

I hope yesterday was the beginning of that recognition in this new generation, as well as in the older generations, like mine, who have been asleep at the switch for much too long.

Okay, for this week’s Sunday morning music I am going back to another turbulent point in our history, the 1960’s and anti-war movement in the wake of the assassinations of MLK and RFK. Here’s some Canned Heat from Woodstock in 1969 doing A Change Is Gonna Come.

Have a good day. But think about which way you want things to go and do something to push it that way. Take a page from these kids– get off your butts and make the world the way you want it.

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