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Posts Tagged ‘Advice’

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“Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust…. and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.”

― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

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I have always felt a companionship of sorts with the words of the Bohemian-Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke (1875-1926). I find the themes in his poetry and writings often echoing in the feelings and sensations of my own life.

Perhaps the piece of writing with which I feel the most connected is a series of letters he wrote between 1902 and 1908 to a young Army officer who was conflicted about the choice between pursuing a career either a military officer or a poet. The officer, Franz Xaver Kappus, released them as a book, Letters to a Young Poet, in 1929, three years after Rilke’s death from leukemia at the age of fifty one.

There is so much tremendous advice and guidance in his words that apply to anyone seeking a creative life. I have been mentoring a young artist as part of a program with a local arts organization and I only wish I could pass on a tiny fraction of Rilke’s advice to this artist. I had a very enjoyable talk with him the other day and while I believe there was some good advice given, it certainly didn’t approach the depth and breadth of that given by Rilke.

Take the bit at the top of the page, speaking of how to deal with the artist’s journey and growth. He describes the solitary nature of this journey, one that creates changes that sometimes take the artist mentally beyond and away from those people around him. That is the natural course for the artistic journey. In order to grow, the artist must be willing to seek and travel to places internally to which they cannot fully take or even properly describe to those around them.

This inner journey can be both a testing and a blessing. Finding common ground in which to live in this world with those around the artist is an important step in coping with this inner journey.

I didn’t mention that to the person I was mentoring. Maybe next time.

The painting at the top is from 2004 and is titled, appropriately, Common Ground. I definitely see the wise words from Rilke in this painting.

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A Way to Work

I have been saddled with a chest cold for several days that is severely limiting my activities and making work feel like a real chore. In need of a little pick-me-up I came across this very early post from back in 2008 that is a good reminder of what I consider my work ethic. Reminds me that I need to dig a little deeper on days like this. See what you think:

997-341-labor-to-light-4001This is a piece called “Labor to Light”, a smaller piece that is at the West End Gallery in Corning. It features one of what I call my icons, the field rows running back to the horizon. To me, they represent the act of labor and the results derived from it.  The ability to work hard has been very important to me in this career and something I stress to kids whenever I get to talk to them.

I remember years ago reading an interview with author John Irving (of “The World According to Garp” and “The Cider House Rules” fame) where he talked about his work routine. He talks quite a bit about wrestling in his writing as he was a high school and college grappler and he used a wrestling analogy to describe how he approached his writing.

He said that if he aspired to compete and win at the highest level as a wrestler, which would be an Olympic or world  champion, he would have to train harder and longer than the men he would be competing against. If a wrestler in Bulgaria or anywhere else in the world was training 7 hours a day, he would need train at least that much and maybe more. He knew he would be basically competing against every wrestler in the world.

He then turned this mindset to writing.

His writing became a competitive effort of Olympic proportion, where he saw himself as competing with every other writer in the world for each reader that came into a bookstore. If you were buying someone else’s book, you weren’t buying his and in his mind, he had lost. So he began to train himself as a writer with the same effort as though he were an Olympic athlete, writing 7-8 hours per day, forcing himself to forge ahead even on days when it would be easy to just blow it off and do anything else.

When I read this it struck a chord. I realized that in order to reach my highest level I would have to be willing to devote myself to working harder and longer than other artists and be willing to spend more time alone, away from distraction. It would require sacrifice and hard, focused labor. But Irving’s example gave me a path to follow, a starting point.

I have since realized that there is a multitude of talented people out there, many with abilities and knowledge far beyond mine. But art is often more than sheer ability. It is the communication of an idea, a feeling, to others. And to do this successfully with your art you need to push that ability fully, in order to go beyond what your mind sees as an endpoint. I see this as my goal everyday in the studio. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I come up short but I’m out there competing everyday.

Thanks, John Irving

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A blog post that ran here a couple of years back with some advice from poet e e cummings is consistently one of my most popular, always getting a number of hits. For example, there was quite a pop in its numbers yesterday. I don’t know what brought it on but it made me want to revisit the post. Reading it again made me appreciate even more the words. Even though it was aimed at potential poets it rang equally true for me as a painter, especially when I substituted the word painter for poet, paint for words, and painting for poetry.

I thought I’d replay it today doing just that. Where there is a word like [thiswith brackets, I have substituted an equivalent word. And if you’re not a painter, feel free to use any word that describes what it is you do to express yourself.

I think you might find it inspiring.

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Whenever I am asked to speak with students I usually tell them to try to find their own voice, to try to find that thing that expresses who they really are. I normally add that this is not something that comes easily, that it takes real effort and sacrifice. It is a never-ending struggle.

The great poet e e cummings (you most likely know him for his unusual punctuation) offered up a beautiful piece of similar advice for aspiring poets that I think can be applied to most any discipline.

Or to anyone who simply desires to feel deeply in this world.

I particularly like the line: To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. That line alone speaks volumes.

Take a moment to read this short bit of advice and see what you think– or feel.

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A [Painter’s] Advice To Students

Borrowed from (e e cummings)

A [painter] is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through [paint].

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And [painting] is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in [paint], that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a [painter] can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using [paint] like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not [painters].

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve [painted one part of one real painting], you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become [painters] is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

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GC Myers-  Inner Perception smallThis is a painting from a few years back that has toured around a bit and found its way back to me. Called Inner Perception, it has been one of my favorites right from the moment it came off my painting table. Maybe the inclusion of the the paint brush (even though it is a house painter’s brush) with red paint in the bristles makes it feel more biographical, more directly connected to my own self. Or maybe it was the self-referential Red Tree painting on the wall behind the Red Chair.

I don’t know for sure. But whatever the case, it is a piece that immediately makes me reflective, as though it is a shortcut to some sort of inner sanctum of contemplation. Looking at it this morning, the question I was asked at the Principle Gallery talk a week or so ago re-emerged, the one that asked what advice I might give my fifth-grade self if I had the opportunity. I had answered that I would tell myself to believe in my own unique voice, to believe in the validity of what I had to say to the world.

I do believe that but I think I might add a bit to that answer, saying that I would tell my younger self to be patient and not worry about how the world perceives you. That if you believed that your work was reflecting something genuine from within, others would come to see it eventually.

I would also add to never put your work above the work of anyone else and, conversely, never put your work beneath that of anyone else. I would tell myself to always ask , “Why not me?”

This realization came to me a couple of years ago at my exhibit at the Fenimore Art Museum. When it first went up it was in a gallery next to one that held the work of the great American Impressionists along with a painting from Monet. I was greatly intimidated, worrying that my work would not stand the muster of being in such close proximity to those painters who I had so revered over the years. Surely the greatness of their work would show me to be a pretender.

But over the course of the exhibit, that feeling faded and the intimidation I had initially felt turned to a type of defiant determination. I began to ask myself that question: Why not me?

If my work was genuine, if it was true expression of my inner self and inner perceptions, was it any less valid than the work of these other painters? Did they have some greater insight of which I was not aware, something that made their work deeper and more connected to some common human theme? If, as I believe, everyone has something unique to share with the world, why would my expression of self not be able to stand along their own?

The answer to my question was in my own belief in the work and by the exhibit’s end I was no longer doubting my right to be there. So to my fifth-grade self and to anyone who faces self-doubt about the path they have chosen, I say that if you know you have given it your all, shown your own unique self, then you must ask that question: Why not me?

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Charles Burchfield- Sun and Rocks- Albright-Know Art GalleryAn artist must paint not what he sees in nature, but what is there. To do so he must invent symbols, which, if properly used, make his work seem even more real than what is in front of him.

–Charles Burchfield

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I am a big fan of the work of Charles Burchfield (1893-1967), a western  New York painter who lived and painted in the Buffalo area for most of his life. His work was decidedly visionary in its scope, taking the environment that he knew around western New York and embellishing it with a life force and energy that he sensed beneath the surface. That’s what he was referring to in the quote above– taking what you see around you and not simply recording it but painting how it moves you emotionally. To me, his work is as emotionally charged in the same way as that of Van Gogh.

Charles Burchfield- An April Mood- Whitney Museum of American ArtCreating symbols, as Burchfield refers to in the quote, has been a big part of my work. I have long emulated his use of creating a visual vocabulary that moved through a body of work. It becomes a sort of language of its own  that people who take it in and understand it find easy to read and absorb as they move from picture to picture. Those who can’t read it find less in the images and feel less drawn into them. In an earlier post featuring Burchfield, I wrote about an artist friend who just didn’t get Burchfield’s work in any sense.  He just one of those people who couldn’t read the language clearly written in the work.

I also have been influenced by the way Burchfield would constantly go back to earlier work and use it as a new starting point, as though the added knowledge gained through the years would take this work in a new direction. I often do the same thing, constantly revisiting images and motifs from years ago looking for a thread or path to follow anew.

Even this post is a revisitation, going back and looking at an influence, trying to pull that original inspiration from it. With Charles Burchfield, that’s always an easy thing to accomplish.

Charles Burchfield- Childhood's Garden

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GC Myers- Jumping Off PointWhenever I am asked to speak with students I usually tell them to try to find their own voice, to try to find that thing that expresses who they really are.  I add that this is not something that comes easily, that it takes real effort and sacrifice.  The great poet e e cummings (you most likely know him for his unusual punctuation) offered up a beautiful piece of similar advice for aspiring poets that I think can be applied to most any discipline.

Or to anyone who simply desires to feel deeply in this world.

I particularly like the line: To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.  That line alone speaks volumes.

Take a moment to read this short bit of advice and see what you think– or feel.

 

A Poet’s Advice To Students

(e e cummings)

A poet is somebody who feels, and who expresses his feeling through words.

This may sound easy. It isn’t.

A lot of people think or believe or know they feel-but that’s thinking or believing or knowing; not feeling. And poetry is feeling-not knowing or believing or thinking.

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel. Why? Because whenever you think or you believe or you know, you’re a lot of other people: but the moment you feel, you’re nobody-but-yourself.

To be nobody-but-yourself-in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.

As for expressing nobody-but-yourself in words, that means working just a little harder than anybody who isn’t a poet can possibly imagine. Why? Because nothing is quite as easy as using words like somebody else. We all of us do exactly this nearly all of the time-and whenever we do it, we’re not poets.

If, at the end of your first ten or fifteen years of fighting and working and feeling, you find you’ve written one line of one poem, you’ll be very lucky indeed.

And so my advice to all young people who wish to become poets is: do something easy, like learning how to blow up the world-unless you’re not only willing, but glad, to feel and work and fight till you die.

Does this sound dismal? It isn’t.

It’s the most wonderful life on earth.

Or so I feel.

 

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nopeI spoke informally with a group of college students yesterday during their visit at the West End Gallery in Corning.  I was asked to speak briefly about a career as an artist and the absolute need for hard work in achieving this.  Whenever I do these things I come away feeling that there were many points that I failed to make, that I somehow left out that one little bit of advice that one of them might find crucial in moving ahead.

I know it’s foolish to think that way.  You can’t possibly put all the things you want to get across into a fifteen minute belch of words and even if you could, how much would get through in a meaningful way?

While I did focus on the need find something they can express with passion and the need to work hard, I forgot one thing that I really wanted to stress– the sacrifice that is required for excellence.  The sacrifice that requires one to learn how to say “No” to many things.

To that end, I thought I would rerun a post from a few years ago that features a most enlightening article.  Hopefully, one of those students will read this and find something in it:

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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