There is a common trait in humans. It goes back to the early times of human development. That special quality that made humans evolve into what we are today. Your mobile device or laptop, your car and any other object you take for granted. All made possible by this critical trait. What is it you may ask?
Well if you have not guessed by now then bear with me a little longer. Because in this article I am going to share with you one of the most important insights we humans need to know.
These are moments that I love. Completing a project like this one. I have been working on this book compiling the content and designing the final edition over the past six months. Not continually of course, because there are competing things all the time. You know how life can get. Then a gap opened up and I knew that I wanted this book published by the end of October. Made it ... just.
What is it all about?
Despite e-book markets like Amazon and Kobo offering formats in mobi and epub, many readers still prefer PDF. To make sure you can get you preferred format I have now published my most popular books in PDF too. View them below and purchase securely. Plus listen to Chapter One of The Art of Content Marketing.
It must be true that most passionate artists love to study other artists they admire. Whether it is for their sublime work, curiosity or to learn new things. We love to immerse ourselves in the world of art and books are one way to do this. Sometimes it may be procrastination that keeps my nose in an art book when I should be painting, but who cares. Reading about art is a great way to spend some quiet time to reflect and be inspired. These days with the magic of e-books I can get access to publications that are not available in my local bookstore. Within seconds! What a great time for book lovers!
Over the years I have accumulated a collection of books whether in print or digital. Some gather dust while others are dog-eared and paint splattered from regular use. Books are an essential part of an artist's studio so find a nook where you can put up shelves or a bookcase, get a comfy chair and read about art now and then. Of course this must be followed by work at the easel while fired with inspiration!
I have put a list together of my all time favorite art books. Perhaps you have some of these and a few that you may like to try. I am always on the lookout for new books too so please share your favorite books by leaving a reply below.
Click the image for more info about the book.
There are of course many other books that cover every aspect of art. Read and be inspired to create your own art. It is a beautiful way to live. As these books also remind me - life must be enjoyed. Let us not take it all too seriously. Time is short.
What art books do you love?
PS: Check out this video where I show you three special books by my favorite contemporary painter.
Reflections On A Pond: A Visual Journal by Kevin Macpherson : 2005 (260 pgs)
Every day is special brushed with the art spirit
I am a lucky man! My wife purchased a copy of Kevin Macpherson's stunning book, Reflections on a Pond as surprise bithday gift for me. Since the book had to be ordered from the US there was much anxiety on her part waiting for it's safe arrival in South Africa. Fortunately all went well and I am now the proud owner of a copy of this unique book signed by the author and endorsed with the quote above.
I have been a big fan of Kevin Macpherson for many years. He is justifiably world renowned for his rich brushwork and meticulous color mixing that has made his paintings highly sought after. Macpherson is also a leading exponent of the plein air movement. It is this part of Macpherson's process and works that has so intrigued me when I first came across his online gallery. Shapes and color put down with brisk confidence in large dollops of paint all coming together to show the essence of a fleeting moment. Intuitive painting that produces delightful impressions.
In the project Reflections on a Pond the artist set out to depict the pond on his New Mexico property on each day over a year. Set with a backdrop of stunning mountains and forest the pond makes a perfect subject for this ambitious project. Of course the subject for any impressionist is the atmosphere and light. Having a reflective surface in the pond is a bonus that adds interest to the subject.
Macpherson used panels of 6x8" and a basic palette of alizarin, cadmiun red, cadmium yellow, ultramarine and white. Although each day of a year is depicted, for practical reasons the project took five years to complete. Over 500 panels were painted out of which 368 panels were selected for the book. Imagine what all these panels would look like spread over your floor! Then having to assess each one, record and photograph it for this coffee table sized book. I can imagine that some artists may start a project like this and abandon it along the way. Kevin Macpherson saw it through, which speaks voloumes for his dedication to his art.
The book is divided into four seasons starting in winter. Several paintitngs per season have been printed in actual size. The photographs are sumptuous. The brushstroke's texture is clearly visible and the colors are gem-like.
The remainder of paintings are printed in smaller versions and dated in sequence. At the end of the book Macpherson's personal diary entries have been reproduced. We are treated to an insight into his joys, frustrations and philosophy of painting. Interesting anecdotes, for example, the artist's displeasure with his neighbour for cutting down trees, the struggle to paint when energy is low together with the joys of a beautiful moment recorded in paint. All is faithfully recorded in this book.
A subtitle on page 15 reads: "Magnificent Obsessions: From Monet's Garden to Macpherson's Pond". This series of work echos Monet's obsession with light and atmosphere in his many paintings of the pond at Giverny. Is Kevin Macpherson our contemporary Monet? I would certainly argue that he is a successor to Monet in the true sense of the artist's spirit.
I am also very grateful to have this book in my collection. It is unique and needless to say, well worth adding to your library.
See the Official Website: Reflections On A Pond
See more of Kevin Macpherson's work here.
This has to be the message our children carry forward or we will see the same old cycles of destruction and prejudice.
Now I realise that the title of this post may suggest some philosophising is in the offing. That would be true. Perhaps it sounds pretentious (it does) however I could not think of something more catchy so indulge me. I have been reading Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes A brilliant novel based on the author's experiences in the Vietnam war. I know that this subject may not appeal to everyone, but it is an exceptional book. In any case the author, through his main character, considers the nature of humanity. This made me think about art.
War is of course terrible and foolish. In extreme conflict humans are capable of evil deeds, which is one reason why wars are so awful. Being human we are blessed with the ability to care - and cursed too. For us to perceive evil we must be able to care and love first of all. What if we were indifferent like other animals? Would there be wars? Apart from a scuffle over food or some other basic need life would go on just fine. Hunting too would be an indifferent activity. Maralantes argues that it is our ability to care that brings us joy and misery.
Caring for others makes us human, but more importantly there is love. The Greeks understood that love came in different forms. The most important being Philia - love for your fellow human. Love thy neighbour. The least important to the Greeks was eros - love of the romantic kind that we modern westerners seem so besotted over. What is the abscence of love? Not hate, but indifference. Life can get along just fine in an indifferent world as animals and plants prove. Humans are a recent development in the grand scheme of the world, but love has turned us into something altogether different.
How does this relate to art? Well if love is not essential for life on earth then what about art? Why bother with art at all? Many school systems drop art altogether especially in high school since it is viewed as unimportant. At best a luxury. But this does not make sense at all.
We create art because we are human. We also love because we are human. To reject art or to be indifferent to art is to reject our humanity. Creating art is an act of love too. Love for the process of creating and love for fellow humanity by sharing that art with others is essential. It could be a painting or a designer chair, whatever. By creating art we are respecting our highest emotional state - love.
When art is marginalised I suggest we are doing ourselves and especially the youth a great disservice. It is one of the reasons why media only equates love with sex. It is also a recipe for conflict.
Ultimately we are missing the point about what we should be fostering among ourselves. Instead of cheapening love let us look what humans are capable of. Creating art is something we can share with others and thereby demonstrate our love for our fellow humans. This has to be the message our children carry forward or we will see the same old cycles of destruction and prejudice.
Art and appreciation for art is critical. It is part of what makes us human.
I have been reading Hawthorne on Painting recently. It is a collection of lessons and observations from Charles Webster Hawthorne. He was born in 1872 and later went on to found the Cape Cod School of Art in America. Hawthorne was also a gifted art teacher besides being an accomplished artist.
Although some readers may find the content to be old fashioned in style those who persist and consider the comments made in the book will be enriched with timeless advice. The aspect that I truly enjoy in these old books is that the artists seem to impart the very essence of painting instruction. Modern teachers may tend to give too much general advice, but the old master fills in the real nuggets of information. This may be apparent to more experienced artists while beginners may take out only what they are ready to receive? Is this not always the case though?
Here are a few extracts that stand out for me:
I would recommend this book for anyone looking for the missing link in there painting knowledge. There are no pictures, but just good advice.
There are times when the idea of making art seems pointless. Every artist, I believe, has this thought creep up now and then. This self defeating idea can befall anyone in whatever field they may pursue. Moments of reflection are good just so long as we do not let them turn into defeat. If we allow ourselves to feel sorry for ourselves then we are lost indeed. That then would really be pointless!
I know that at times we all can benefit from the example set by others. Motivation from the creative pursuits of others can spark action. What can be more inspirational than the endeavours of those who have faced huge obstacles and overcome them. Surely these people also felt daunted yet they too had to tackle mental and physical obstacles to achieve their goals.
Recently I read a wonderful book by Lewis Pugh called 21 Yaks And A Speedo. You may recall that Lewis Pugh achieved international fame for his record breaking swims in extreme conditions. This book takes 21 states of mind and illustrates them with Pugh's experiences in facing these extreme challenges. Potentially self-defeating thoughts are faced and overcome in ways that we all can emulate. It is a reminder that we can achieve our dreams through determination. We can also overcome daily obstacles to get over the mundane things that can sap our energy.
Lewis Pugh's book is a relatively short read at 143 pages, but for the type of message the author puts forward it was the perfect length. A quick yet powerful read that will inspire you. Yes I do admit that Lewis Pugh's South African link is great too. The fact that Pugh is an attorney who has taken time to pursue his passion is also a reminder that we can have more than the daily grind. We do not have to settle for ordinary.
So how does this relate to art and making a difference? Well on the face of it Lewis Pugh's extreme swimming may seem pointless too. However Pugh has dedicated his life to more than adventuring for personal pleasure. In order to find meaning in his activities Pugh has brought the message of climate change, environmental preservation and activism to a world stage.
The key I think is to find meaning in what we do. By energising our work or taking up a challenge that inspires others we can all make a difference. We can all support a cause, create something, spark thought and positive action in others. By being supportive of whatever helps our society we are making a difference.
For artists there is risk in putting our work out there yet we can take heart that every creative act is a positive action. Destruction of the environment and indeed dreams of better things is so easy to do. Let us not succumb to what is easy. Creative action is our true calling as human beings and it is how we grow. So thank you to people like Lewis Pugh who have faced the impossible to make a difference.
Thank you to the artists who risk to create. Your work is valued.
For more on Lewis Pugh and his achievements check out his TED talk:
Recently while browsing through a book store I cam across Stoep Zen* by Antony Osler. The sub-title was also intriguing - A zen Life in South Africa. Books about leading a life of simplicity and zen are common enough, but not from a local South African perspective. The pictures of the karoo and country life made this book all the more appealing.
What a gem of a book! Filled with anecdotes, observations and zen philosophy with a deeply South African flavour. Antony Osler is a South African former Zen monk, writer, teacher and if that is not enough he provides arbitration services too. He lives with his family on a farm in the Colesberg region.
There are many interesting viewpoints on facing life's challenges in South Africa. The author offers an approach that may help many of us release our attachment to certain negative beliefs and conditioning. Live in the moment, appreciate what is and have faith in our humanity. Osler certainly encountered strong viewpoints when he was involved in a Law Clinic in the old South Africa. No doubt his strong belief in truth and the good within all of us gave him much fortitude during difficult times.
It is however the cradle of the karoo that speaks so strongly through the author's words. It is a place that you can either accept for what it is or it will leave you broken. There is beauty and simplicity in its many facets. Here is also a glimpse into the lives of the people living in the karoo, often under harsh conditions.
For all of these reasons and more I can recommend this book.
Stoep Zen can be ordered from the author. For more details please visit www.stoepzen.co.za
The pale sun sets.
* Stoep means a porch or verandah
An artist seeks to create, not to replicate.
There are many conflicting ideas about being an artist. There is very little middle ground on the topic. Either you are fully behind the idea of making a go of art for a living or you think it is simply a nice hobby. Those in the former group are not necessarily professional artists, but they would love to be if only ...
Seth Godin's new book, The Icarus Deception, is aimed at lifting the veil on an uncomfortable truth. Icarus as we all know flew too close to the sun, despite being warned not to by his father, resulting in an unfortunate end to his brief flying career when the sun melted the wax holding his wings together. Evidently no MacGyver Icarus's demise showed us that disobedience and getting beyond our abilities would lead to an unhappy end.
Godin points out that the Icarus was also warned not to fly too low to the sea otherwise his wings would not get enough lift, which would also lead to an unpleasant ending. This part of the fable seems to have been left out, certainly in the story I learnt at school. Do not fly too low! That is a message that has been lost over the past few centuries. Particularly with the advent of the industrial economy.
Godin argues that the industrial economy requires much labour. This extends from the ground level up to management level. All these people have one duty and that is to fit into nice compartments that keep the industrial economies of the world ticking along. Corporate ladder-climbers, cubicle dwellers, blue and white collar workers (all terms sadly arising from this state of affairs) contribute to this one idea. At least until recently.
Without any fanfare at all many of the gatekeepers for us regular folks have been removed mainly thanks to the internet. Barriers have fallen and new opportunities have quietly arisen. The problem is that we still harbor the fears and social conditioning of two centuries of brainwashing. Sounds dramatic, but is it not true? The cream of the school system is directed to one end only. Supporting the system within a corporate structure.
Not convinced? Who are the big names in the modern economy that really stand out. Jeff Bezos? Richard Branson? The late Steve Jobs? Certainly not Jeff Smith in accounting or Bob in the mergers department. The stars in this line-up are all unique, because of one thing. They all chose their own way as artists.
Artists in the sense of free thinkers standing outside the corral. Outside of the fence that industrial society has used for two hundred years to keep us thinking small. These structures have kept us fearful, in debt and fed with shiny trinkets to distract us. Our hopes tied to the lotto!
This new century, so far filled with turmoil largely due to these shackles being removed, is going to be the time for the artists in us all to stand up for ourselves and make a go of it. As Godin says, it is time to pick yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you. It is our turn. Exciting times!