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Posts Tagged ‘Inspiration’

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What wisdom can you find that is greater than kindness?

Henri Rousseau

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I still have a lot to do before I can deliver my new show, The Rising, to the West End Gallery at the end of this week so I don’t have a lot of time to spend on the blog today. But taking a few minutes to look at the work of Henri Rousseau always does me a world of good. It both settles my mind and sets off sparks in it, making me want to grab the nearest brush and just go at it. I don’t need that inspiration this morning but I will gladly embrace the calming effect found in Rousseau’s colors and forms.

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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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“What does that represent? There was never any question in plastic art, in poetry, in music, of representing anything. It is a matter of making something beautiful, moving, or dramatic – this is by no means the same thing.”

 Fernand Leger

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I found it hard to believe that the French artist Fernand Leger (1881-1955) hadn’t shown up on this blog before. I’ve always enjoyed his work, especially his use of simplified forms, visible line and dark-tinged color. These were qualities that I knew I wanted for my own work in the early days when I would look at his work and that of a few other artists. I liked most of his work, from his early Cubist inspired abstractions and his later more figurative work.

But I really identify with his words above. The idea of painting moving past the idea of pure pictorial representation into something more like the expressive phrasing of dance, music or poetry is an idea that has clanged around in my head for a long time.

It is to look at a painting of a cow, to use an example, and feel the same sort of response which comes with experiencing the grace of a dance or the beauty of a musical passage.  The gesture of the painting, its movement and rhythm, and the emotions that it evokes have transcended the apparent subject it portrays. The cow as the subject of the painting is replaced by the emotional response to the forms, lines and color in the painting. That response becomes the subject and that cow becomes less of a symbol for a cow and more of a representation of the emotions that the painting brings forth.

Some magical cow, huh? Don’t know why I chose a cow as an example. It was the first thing that came to mind and it is early, so bear with me.

The point is that I see often this in Leger’s work. I feel an emotional response to some of his work without even recognizing what might be considered the obvious subject on the surface.

It’s something I desire for my own work. I would imagine that most other artists do, as well. But I don’t know if there is an actual way of ensuring that it takes place within one’s work. Maybe it’s either there or it’s not. Maybe it has to come without conscious thought, from a clear and empty mind.

I don’t know. But I can hope.

Here’s video slideshow of some more of Leger’s work.

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The value of the prototype does not consist in the rarity of the object, but in the rarity of the quality it represents.

–Victor Vasarely

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I have to confess up front that I am not a big fan of Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) or the Op-Art movement of which he is at the forefront. It’s not that I am denigrating it. I have seen a number of pieces that I do like and I can certainly see people being intrigued by its color and forms and how it can reverberate in certain environments.

If I had a mid-century home with lots of glass and chrome, I might think about hanging this type of work. But I live in a cabin in the woods.

It’s just not to my particular taste, that’s all.

That being said, I immediately nodded in agreement when I read the quote above from Vasarely. As I read it, it jibes well with my own views on the intrinsic value of art and how the artist behind it affects the artwork’s value beyond that of a mere object.

When I have spoken with students in the past I try to impress on them that while they must learn their craft, they should also focus on making themselves fully rounded humans with an individual voice that reflects their uniqueness and individuality.

I urge them to read more, listen more, and to look at more things, all preferably outside their own known preferences.  I believe it creates a sense of fullness that will extend into their work, giving their work a greater sense of that quality that takes a piece beyond being a mere object of decoration.  And today, when there are more artists than at any other time at any point in history, its that rare sense of this quality that can make the difference in how seriously an artist’s work is viewed.

I don’t know if that ever gets through to these kids or if it even holds true in reality, but it seems right to me. I personally try to view each piece as a combination of skill, experience, acquired knowledge and influences, and the flaws and strengths of my own character–hopefully, the better parts of it.

Sometimes it works and at those times I see the quality represented by it that Vasarely described. When it doesn’t, I see a mere object that lacks the fullness that I am trying to put in it. I can see that I have somehow withheld some part of myself from that work and I try to figure out how to overcome that deficiency.

But most of all, I keep trying to find that rare quality…

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The power of imagination makes us infinite.

John Muir

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The image above was taken by NASA’s Juno spacecraft of the tops of the clouds surrounding Jupiter. I find myself constantly staring into it this morning with a mix of awe and dejection.

Awe at the sheer beauty and power of it. It is spectacular on a visual level in so many ways, at least to my eyes. The force of its rhythm is immense and the enhanced colors capture an emotional tone that rivals the work of the greatest painters. Looking at it, I see the ghosts of Van Gogh– I mean, this image is Starry Night taken up to the next several levels— Picasso, Goya, Chagall, Bosch and so many more.  With my last glimpse I saw Munch and Dali and an image of the Minotaur. And Thomas Hart Benton. I think any of these painters would look at this and find inspiration, would see that intangible force in it that begs to be painted.

I know that I feel that way but that is where the dejection enters the picture. It inspires but in a way that seems far beyond my meager talents and my simple mind. It’s like being a Golden Retriever watching his master, let’s say it’s Einstein, pondering the Theory of Relativity at his chalkboard. I know there’s something there because it seems so important to my master and I want to help but all I can do is bark and wonder what the hell I am looking at.

I am like a frustrated dog trying to describe the power of the universe.

But it’s early. I’ve only been looking at this for forty minutes or so. Maybe the dejection will pass and the longer I look, the more I will move myself into those swirls of cloud and color to find a rhythm, or even a trace of one, that aligns itself with the simpler ones that run within myself.

And maybe something will come of it. You can never tell what the end product, if any, will be from any point of inspiration. Maybe it will set off a series of thoughts and ideas that takes you galaxies away from the original inspiration. But an image like this has an effect in some way, even if it does show up right away.

I feel the need to look a little more. Take a deeper look for yourself.

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I have been working on some new small pieces. When I finished this piece, which is 2″ by 6″ on paper, and was trying to read what I was seeing in it, I immediately thought of the blog entry below from several years back. The article and the painting both deal, as I see them, with how we often look for answers from far outside ourselves and fail to see the riches and possibilities that surround us in plain sight. I call this painting In the Gem Fields.

“The more intensely we feel about an idea or a goal, the more assuredly the idea, buried deep in our subconscious, will direct us along the path to its fulfillment.”

—Earl Nightingale

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It’s funny sometimes what you take from an experience in your life.  At one point in my life I was in the retail car business, working at a Honda dealership both as a salesman and a finance manager.  In order to keep their sales staff engaged and excited about pushing their product, the management there would periodically send us to seminars with industry-specific motivational speakers and would also have sets of motivational tapes from other speakers that they would encourage us to listen to in our free time.

One of the sets of tapes was from a famed motivational speaker named Earl Nightingale who had a deep and engaging voice that added a serious dimension to whatever he said.  As I listened to his tapes, it was easy to feel my interest growing as he told his little tales and his lessons began registering within me.

One of his stories was a short retelling of a classic lecture  called Acres of Diamonds from Russell H. Conwell (1843-1925), an interesting fellow who was a baptist minister, a lawyer, a philanthropist and the founder and first president of Temple University.  The lecture, one that Conwell delivered over 5000 times during his lifetime, made the point that the riches we seek are often right in our own backyards.  His tale is of an African farmer who sells his farm in order to go in search of diamonds and finds nothing but failure that ends with his suicide.  Meanwhile, the man who took over the farm found an abundance of diamonds and ended up with one of the largest diamond mines in Africa.

There were a lot of lessons to be learned from this tale but primarily  what I took away  was that I must leave the car business–it was not my backyard.   It was the place to which I had come in search of my own diamonds.  I had not even, at that point, began to search my own backyard. I am not sure if that was the message that management had been hoping would sink in.  Or maybe it was.

The other part of Nightingale’s message was that you had to set a course, aim for a destination.  Everything was possible if you knew where you wanted to go and truly set your mind to it.  He gave a laundry list of great human accomplishments that were achieved once we put our minds and wills in motion towards their fulfillment.  That resonated strongly with me.  I had seen many people over the years who seemed deeply unhappy in their lives and most had no direction going forward, no destination for which they were working.  Aimless, they drifted like a rudderless boat on the sea, going wherever the strongest current took them without having any influence over this motion.

If you can name it, you can do it in some form.

As I said, it’s funny how things influence you.  It’s been about twenty five years since I heard those words but they still resonate strongly with me, even now.  I try to be always conscious of the goals I set, knowing that the mind and the universe will always try to make a way for the possibility of achievement.

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GC Myers- Canyon of DoubtsCreativity requires introspection, self-examination, and a willingness to take risks. Because of this, artists are perhaps more susceptible to self-doubt and despair than those who do not court the creative muses.

Eric Maisel

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This new painting, 8″ by 10″ on panel, is called Canyon of Doubts. For me, it represents the navigation that takes place in the creative process as the artist tries to get past the formidable obstacles of self doubt.  Doubt often throws up barriers that has the artist asking if they are good enough, if they have the talent, training, and drive to create true art that speaks for them to the world. Doubt makes them fear that they are out of place, that they don’t belong, that every other artist has more right to create than them.

Doubt keeps the artist seemingly boxed in with no apparent way forward.

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Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.

Kahlil Gibran

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I’ve been trapped in that canyon many times. I’ve thought many times that there was no way out, that the fears posed by my doubts were the realities of who and what I was.

I have always felt alone with my doubts.  Words of encouragement from others often felt hollow when I was lost in those canyons.  They didn’t know how steep the walls of doubts seemed to me or how inadequate, how ill-prepared I felt in that moment.

The only option that seemed available to me was to trust that I could somehow fight my way out of those daunting canyons. It would mean mustering every bit of talent, every ounce of energy, and a sustained belief that I deserved to have my voice rise from out of  those canyons. It was matter of  either having the faith in my own value as human to find my way free or withering away in a canyon of doubts.

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Your doubt can become a good quality if you train it. It must become knowing, it must become criticism.

Rainer Maria Rilke

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I still find myself in those canyons. I still find myself periodically looking up at the walls that surround me and wonder if I am talented enough, strong enough, or even entitled to escape them.

But I now know that there is a path through them, one that is well worn with my own footprints from my past journeys in that shadowed place.  I know that, even though it is lonely and seemingly unbearable in that moment, I don’t have to be trapped in that place of doubt.

I’ve traveled this path and there is indeed a way out.

It takes time and effort and devotion.  It takes the belief in yourself, forged from past experience, that you will make the right decisions and not be trapped in those walls.  It’s in having the faith that when take a wrong turn, when you make a mistake, that you will recognize it and get quickly back to the path that sets you free.

At the moment, I may well be in that canyon still but I have the moon guiding me and its light shows me where the canyon ends.

And then I will be free once more.

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