Time to Reconsider Modern Art?
In July I wrote a piece titled Art Investing has Nothing to do with Art. This topic followed a few older pieces written about the bizarre practices of the uber-wealthy who locked away so called investment art after spending far too much in the first place. I do admit that these articles may have sounded like sour-grapes, but honestly these ludicrous purchases are far removed from practically all artist's wildest dreams - or nightmares - depending on your views.
In recent news it was reported that prominent American art critic, Dave Hickey, has "turned his back" on modern art. The article can be read in the UK Guardian. Hickey's scathing comment on the purchasers:
"They're in the hedge fund business, so they drop their windfall profits into art. It's just not serious," he told the Observer. "Art editors and critics – people like me – have become a courtier class. All we do is wander around the palace and advise very rich people. It's not worth my time."
Hickey goes on to suggest that a change of outlook in modern art is required:
"Money and celebrity has cast a shadow over the art world which is prohibiting ideas and debate from coming to the fore," he said yesterday, adding that the current system of collectors, galleries, museums and art dealers colluding to maintain the value and status of artists quashed open debate on art.
"I hope this is the start of something that breaks the system. At the moment it feels like the Paris salon of the 19th century, where bureaucrats and conservatives combined to stifle the field of work. It was the Impressionists who forced a new system, led by the artists themselves. It created modern art and a whole new way of looking at things."
Of course I enjoyed the reference to impressionism challenging the status quo of the Paris Salon. So where does art move to from here? If everything has been said already then what is the point of art. I would like to suggest that modern art still has an important part to play in the world. Whether as social commentary or to tweak the noses of the establishment. I have no problem with art that is committed to its cause by artists with purpose. Whether that cause is to show beauty or satirise a president's backroom antics. It is about freedom and credibility of art.
What does not work for me is art that panders to the hedge-fund brigade and the commission-greedy hangers on who cynically promote such works as significant. It is no wonder that prominent art critics feel they cannot win. There is just too much money involved.
Do we even need to take note of this state of affairs? After all is it not enough to buy what you like and let everyone get the art they want. The issue is one of credibility. In a world where great and beautiful art is still created by honest artists we need to see that those who influence the art world recognise these artists.
If prominent critics can speak out we will see credibility return to art and that is good for everyone.
Rainy Day Painting
Three weeks of rainy weather has put a dent in my plein air work. Today was the last straw so rain or not I headed of to the beach and proved that oil paint and water do not mix - and that is a good thing.
Three quick studies with rain blowing into the back of my studio-on-wheels was a fun experience. More pics
Great Art is Made by Ordinary People
How often do we hear people look at a painting and comment about their own lack of ability to draw or paint. It seems like there is a knee-jerk reaction to explain why they do not create art themselves. When I think about it I do wonder if we were not all created to be creative ourselves. Going too far? I'm not so sure, because there is so much art created all the time and in so many forms that the question should be: Why are you not creating art yourself? You can you know and talent should not be wasted.
The standard answer about not having the ability does not hold water. So lets move on. The reason I suspect has something to do with fear. This is fear of not being good enough from the start and you will look foolish.
There is also the fear of actually being pretty good at first so what comes next? Another painting? What if that is better than the last? What then? This is sometimes called fear of success. A term used by psychologists that I used to find absurd. How could anyone fear success? That is what we all want is it not? Of course I was much younger and all I wanted was to show that I could be good at something. I had my eye on the moment. Later I would understand that adult's forget about being in the moment. They look to the future and think what if... and that is scary so they forget about it.
Recently I read an interesting comment that art is created by flawed people. Someone with perfect virtue would not need to create art. I am talking about a saint or superhero. Regular humans are full of faults and vices. No need denying it. So a regular person full of issues and undesirable qualities creates art. It may be magnificent work, but the thing is the artist is still a regular human being who just happens to plug away at painting or sculpture or song writing. Visit an artist's studio and see the dogs piled up against the wall. Paintings that are not worth the paint used. Sculptures consigned to the recycle bin.
Does the art compensate for something? Is it redemption of sorts? Or maybe it's the human condition and creativity is our God given means to lift ourselves out of the mess. Is there any better way of getting closer to our Maker than to create? I do not believe there is. Not for us regular folks.
There is little doubt that the malaise of daily life lies in people not giving themselves over to creativity. Work in an office? Go home and watch TV - go out and spend money on bright lights and noise. Consume - consume - consume. Consumers. What a word! Sounds like a process of destruction to me. Chomp away until there is nothing left.
What if we try making something. It is hard work, but it fills us up with joy. We do not "follow" our joy - we make it. We create and give back and create again.
It is what makes us ordinary people extraordinary.
Make Your Own Artist's Journal
It is often a pleasure to take some pressure off and indulge in the simple pleasure of drawing in your own journal. The glide of an artist's pen over pristine paper! There is something glorious about making your own mark. Take it further and develop the sketch. Shade - crosshatch - add colour with a wash of watercolour.
I have a growing collection of journals. Leather covered, regular spiral bound notebooks - you name it I want to draw in it. How about making your own journals from start to finish? Choose the paper and go for it. Fill it with unique drawings.
Here is a step-by-step demo on making your journal for yourself or a friend. read more
10 Sacred Rules for Artists
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron (book review)
240pgs Available on Amazon for R110.00
The sub-title A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity gives a clue that this book will require a commitment from the reader to achieve any value from it. When spiritual growth is at stake we need faith and that is not easy.
The Artist's Way is now a classic in this genre of writing and has proven itself as a long term favorite for creative people. Julia Cameron is herself an artist and writer with a background in the Hollywood film industry and television writing before turning to teaching other artists how to overcome creative hard times.
The book is structured into a twelve week program that seeks to help artists face and overcome stumbling blocks in their creative journeys. Every artist will recognise themselves at some point in this book. Either the issue was overcome or remains in the way. The first goal for any artist is to recognise that they are not alone. The next step is to free themselves from self-defeat by becoming aware of the problem. For this alone I believe the book has value. Whether or not artists work through the book and grow from it remains a personal matter. However no artist should be without this book. Treat it as a reference manual. Select a chapter once a week or read it through from start to finish. There will be a benefit from this process. Can we ask for more?
The 10 Sacred Circle Rules mentioned in the book:
1. Creativity flourishes in a place of safety and acceptance.
2. Creativity grows among friends, withers among enemies.
3. All creative ideas are children who deserve our protection.
4. All creative success requires creative failure.
5. Fulfilling our creativity is a sacred trust.
6. Violating someone's creativity violates a sacred trust.
7. Creative feedback must support the creative child, never shame it.
8. Creative feedback must build on strengths, never focus on weaknesses.
9. Success occurs in clusters and is born in generosity.
10. The good of another can never block our own.
Use Photographs for Reference:
Photographs have become an essential tool for the artist. In this guide on My Studio page I have given ways that photos can be used more effectively. (This is an extract from Breakthrough Art Workshops coming soon)
All Systems Go!
Artists are supposed to be unpredictable and spontaneous types. They dress peculiar and do not toe the line. Look back in history. No sooner had the world loosened up a little after the French Revolution when the artists were rushing to the forefront of rebellion. I include all creative folk in this general statement. Conventions were thrown out like a stale baguette. Enlightened thinking was all the rage and the more outrageous the better. It was not long before artists were all high on absinthe and every manner of misunderstood medication.
Is this really the case? Sure it is romantic to view artists as strange. There are many artists who covet this label. They do crazy stuff. Put a urinal in a gallery and call it a fountain and lo you are a sensation for your cheeky notions. I like this myth about artists. There is far too much conventional thought going on right now. Thanks to the shenanigans of some greedy financial custodians the world is now run by accountants. So lets celebrate the crazy artists and let off some steam.
There is just one thing though. The crazy artists have financial portfolios too (those that have cracked the big time) and the rest of us have internet accounts to pay each month. We need to have a system in place to make this all work. Look at the music scene. Do you think the rolling stones kept on rolling because they were on drugs all the time? Forget it - those guys work a system that has kept them going into old age. Famous artists like Picasso, Monet and too many to mention lived on into advanced years. Renoir could barely hold a brush, but kept going until his last moment.
We can learn something about these great artists. They had a system and stuck to it. This system meant they got to work every day. They painted following certain rituals in preparation. Their minds were free to focus on what mattered. The concept, the light, the brushwork and so on. A chaotic mind leads to a chaotic life and all that is produced is nonsense.
Embrace creativity. Vent your emotions on the canvas or the stage. Write a book that shakes the world. Take a risk with your art today. Just keep yourself grounded with a system that works for you. Even lightning needs certain conditions in place before it strikes.
The Music of Art
What music do you listen to when painting? Or writing, sculpting or any art for that matter. Is there any more pleasure than getting lost in the moment painting while listening to great music? There is no point thinking too long about this because it is one of life's profound pleasures. "Nuff said!" as the late Bernie Mac said in Oceans 13.
I have just finished a painting while listening to Precious & Rare by Nina Simone. I am not sure why I chose this album, but it was a moving experience. Other music I often listen to in the studio? It can be anything from Mozart and Handel to Miles Davis and Bruce Springsteen. All can influence a painting and that is a fact to give one pause for thought. Paint something while listening to Pink Floyd and try the same painting while listening to Wynton Marsalis will result in something altogether different.
If you consider that a true connection to the creative moment is shared by all artists no matter what their art may be. Both singer and painter are connected for a moment in that state of creative bliss. Of course it is a moving experience - inspirational and liberating. One's mind releases itself from the mundane and taps into the rhythms of creativity. It a legal trip so try it next time you get out the paint brushes. Lose yourself in the creative moment and release yourself from the pressures of everyday life.
It is so simple when you think about it. No extravagance is required. The universe has given us all we need to here and now. Music - painting and the joy is all ours!
Masterworks: The Gleaners
Taking a break from painting? Sometimes we need some time away from the easel to collect our energies and focus. It is useful during these moments to open up the art history book and browse through masterworks of the past. Not only is this humbling, but there is much to inspire and teach us about our work as artists. Also much to be grateful for.
The Gleaners by Millet has always been one of my favorite paintings. Considering that it was painted in 1857 it was risky to depict such common labourers when high art was meant to show the aristocracy or biblical scenes. Perhaps mythology and other parables. Millet was on the cutting edge with other artists of the time who wanted to depict everyday scenes truthfully and with feeling.
The Gleaners shows three women collecting leftover wheat from the harvest. A menial task if there ever was! My back aches just looking at at. The women are not delicate like some wispy classical painting would demand, but solid hard working types. Their hands are large and certainly hard and calloused. The day is warm and long and the vast field suggests that much work needs to be done. The labourers are also shown boldly in the foreground - almost monumental and given the respect that Millet felt they deserved. What made these women special enough to deserve such top-billing? The fact that they are anonymous gives the painting impact - they represent the hardworking commoner. This is part of Millet's concept behind the painting.
The composition is bold too. The figure on the right taking the eye into the painting then moving us into the background with perspective lines of the field until we return to the figure on the right again. We can also note the hard edge along the first figure's back catching our eye then the edges soften into the soft focus of the background greys. A harmony of warmth is carried through the colours suggesting the afternoon light at the end of a hot day.
A calm everyday event shown with feeling and masterful skill.
Permission Art Anyone?
Calling yourself an artist can be risky. You need to have your wits about you because somebody is going to challenge you and it might come from an unexpected source. One would think that in this time of democracy we can create with carefree abandon. The tools are there easily within reach. Want to paint? You can buy your paints with a few clicks. Why you can even do so from this website! Want to write? Start a blog for free!
So what is the problem? Sadly with the release of creativity comes the opposite reaction to block creativity. Does the world need artists? In these times is art not a waste of time and resources? The economy and world peace and so on? If you can evade these sirens of doubt and create your artwork you then face the gauntlet of opinions designed to drag you down. Is it art? Galleries decide on your future not you! Are you selling? What are your formal qualifications? Is this really going to put food on the table? What will your __________ think if you go professional?
If you heed the voices of doubt and give up your art you are telling yourself in no uncertain terms that you cannot go any further without permission. Permission from a host of third parties who are threatened by your decision. Yes your courage, although quivering inside, compels you to stand up and declare your art to the world. This will provoke a reaction. Some supportive while others indifferent or downright scornful. Every time. Do you listen and if so to whom?
In truth you can only listen to one voice and that is your own. Provided that the voice is the one coming from your soul. The purpose - your path. Not the voice that says you can make money from this or the one that says you will get praise and adulation. These are simply ego trips and will leave you needier than before. Feeding the ego is a gradual process of disempowerment until the rug is forcibly removed from under your feet and you wonder what the hell happened.
So what? So nothing. Look at yourself and make the choice you need to make. Not what others think or say or do. You and I know deep down that creating is our source of energy. Let us not hand this gift over to others for permission to continue. The next time you hear someone labeling other's work in a negative manner know that poison can only kill if you drink it.
A final word is that to accept your gift of energy and power is to acknowledge your duty to work. This is an intensely personal process. Learn and do the work. Live your art every moment and grow day by day.
Malcolm Dewey: Artist. Country: South Africa