Pack Animal or Solitary Traveler

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The only competition worthy of a wise man is with himself.” Washington Allston (from The Painter’s Keys)

Whether or not competition between artists is a good thing is the subject of opinion.  Some believe competition inspires creativity.  Others do not.  Rivalries among artists are not new. Perhaps, it is human nature for some to be competitive.  For artists, it can be a blessing or a curse depending on the individual.

Stories abound of famous rivalries.   The competition between Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci is said to have been fierce, especially on the part of Michelangelo.  According to an article for The Guardian by Jonathan Jones, the competition Michelangleo felt towards Leonardo was so bitter, Leonardo left Italy for France to escape it.  Leonardo strongly felt the need to be removed from the fierce rivalry.

On the other hand, Michelangelo, was reported to have been inspired by the competition he felt for Leonardo, Titian and other great artists.  Martin Gayford revisits the Michelangelo/Leonardo rivalry for The Telegraph.  Gayford states of Michelangelo, “his career was fired, and darkened, by bitter, personal rivalry with other artists.”  Michelangelo was driven by a deep competitive nature.

Much of the art world is geared toward competition.  Juried shows are everywhere and have a long history.  Many artists repeatedly enter multiple juried shows creating for the themes of the shows.  A theme can inspire artistic direction.  Installations and exhibitions are based on the judgment of the installation directors and are also frequently based on specific themes or goals.  Artists find fuel in these directions, as well.

But what of the artist who is not inspired by the Michelangelo competition? What of the artist who prefers the Leonardo escape? This artist may follow a different drummer or no drummer at all.  While the outward push may be to travel with the competitive pack, the lone artist must be true to the personal inner direction.   There is a place for both.  One artist may lead the pack in Italy while the other follows the road to France.  Great art is made in both places.   It is up to the artist to choose.  Michelangelo or Leonardo?  You decide.

Magnetic Obsession

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“Most inner-oriented artists share a common characteristic, a certain quality of obsession.”  Kenneth Coutts-Smith  (from The Painter’s Keys)

Much has been written and will continue to be written about the strange story of Cornelius Gurlitt and the hoard of some 1400 works of priceless art in his Munich apartment.  How much of the art legally belongs to Gurlitt will be sorted out by the German authorities, eventually.  Until that time, the man has finally come out of hiding to speak of his obsession.  Gurlitt has given an extensive interview to Der Spiegel

 Screen shot 2013-11-17 at 6.17.18 PMFor those hoping to make sense of the story of the man, the interview won’t make that happen.  If anything, the interview of Mr. Gurlitt only makes the story stranger.  Gurlitt lived for and with his art and only his art.  He has no friends and very little contact with any relatives.  According to the article, he loves his art as if the works are his children.  He is devastated by the confiscation of his art.  He kept a collection of 25 drawings in a suitcase, taking them out each night at bedtime to gaze at them.  For eighty years, Gurlitt has lived for his art.

What is it about art that can so totally consume a person as it appears to have done with Gurlitt?  Some will say it is a mental health issue.  That apparently occurred to the German authorities.  They sent a social worker to Gurlitt’s apartment to speak to him.  But Gurlitt’s behavior is really no more strange that the behavior of some of the artists whose work is in his collection.

The magnetism of art is a documentable phenomenon.  For some it is visual art.  For others it may be dance or theater, books, poetry or music.  Is Gurlitt any different than the “Mystery Man” who put three roses on the grave of Edgar Allen Poe on the anniversary of his birth every year for over twenty years?  Or of someone who pays 142 million dollars for a single work of art?  The artists themselves, some of them, can be equally obsessive in the creation of the art.  That doesn’t answer the question.  What is it that creates the magnetism?

Magnetism is not something learned in school or in a book.  It can’t be described in scientific terms.  It either happens or it doesn’t.  Some artists have it.  Others don’t.  It does not appear to be related to the skill or lack thereof, of the artist.  If magnetism can’t be learned, is it out of reach to those who are striving for it?  No.  Magnetism comes from the still, small inner voice.  Some may be better at listening than others.  The skill of listening should perhaps be cultivated vigorously.  Will following that inner voice lead to creating the kind of art that results in an obsession like Gurlitt’s?  Who knows!  But it is doubtful it will happen without it.

The Telegraph, CNN and the Daily Mail have more on the Gurlitt case at the links.

For more on Poe’s “Mystery Man” go here.

Weekend Inspiration–Seeking Kindred Spirits

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“As music is the poetry of sound, so is painting the poetry of sight.”  James McNeil Whistler (from skinnyartist.com)

Art inspires literature.  Literature inspires art.  Music inspires both art and literature, and vice versa. There is an emotional connection that is felt, one for the other on a deep level.  It has been going on for as long as humans have communicated with each other.

The evidence is there. Blog.ted.com has an article by Kate Torgovnik on Ten Books Inspired By Paintings.  Redbubble.com has a group devoted entirely to art inspired by literature.  A Current Under Sea has a post by Angie about literature inspired art.  Flavorwire.com has an article titled Great Works of Art Inspired by Great Works of Literature.  The list goes on.  Examples abound of the arts inspiring the arts.

Artists, writers, and musicians create from a place within that speaks to inherent creativity.  It is a special language heard and recognized one in the other.  Spirit recognizes kindred spirit and is inspired. It is a mystical place.  Those times when blocks happen, a moment to seek the place of the kindred spirit may be in order. Check in with your writer and/or musician friends.  Take time out to read a meaningful work of literature.  Read poetry.  Listen to a piece of personally inspiring music.  Perhaps in the shared language of creation fresh inspiration will be seen or heard.

Vermeer’s painting, Girl with a Pearl Earring, inspired the book of the same name.

Colorful Fridays–Berry, Berry Grass Green

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“Green is the prime color of the world, and that from which its loveliness arises.”

Pedro Calderon de la Barca  (from the paintedprism.blogspot.com)

The perfect green for the leaves of the trees and the grass of the fields has a name that misleads.  Sap green was not made from the sap of trees or leaves or grass.   Berry green would have been a more appropriate name.  More precisely, sap green was made from buckthorn berries and stored in animal bladders.  Why animal bladders?  Beats me!  For some reason, bladders seemed better than jars to these early makers of sap green, perhaps because at the time this green was known as verde de vescica.  (Since my knowledge of animal bladders and what they have to do with paint, is limited, we will move on.)  It is an old paint color and early painters of illuminated manuscripts considered it part of the four primary colors needed in their work.  Red, yellow, blue and green were the primary colors of these artists.  Sap green was the primary green.  Unfortunately, the early sap greens were not lightfast as they are now.

Screen shot 2013-11-14 at 8.32.44 PMIf you would like to make your own sap green, the blog, Medieval Whimsies, takes us through the process of identifying the different varieties of buckthorn plants growing in North America, Europe and Asia today.  The writer is planning to make a personal supply of sap green and is gathering berries from different buckthorn shrubs to make a determination as to which shrub’s berries make the best sap greens.  So far step one is all that is posted and we will have to stay tuned to find out what the outcome was.  In the meantime, you’re on your own with the berries but the blog has nice pictures (shown right) of the plant and the various berries to help you identify each.  There is no mention of where to find the animal bladders.  I guess you are on your own with that, too!

 Channeling-winslow-homer.com describes Winslow Homer’s use of Hooker’s green and sap green in his wonderful landscapes.  Homer’s The Blue Boat is featured on the website and is a great example of the lovely green grass that can be made with mixtures of sap green.  Susanart.com claims to have found the perfect “luscious” mix of sap green using Schmincke sap green and Schmincke translucent orange for richgrass and moss.  Gamblin states sap green warms nicely when mixed with Hansa Yellow and cools nicely with any of the blues.

Daniel Smith’s website describes techniques for using sap green’s staining ability in paintings.  Removing sap green from a painting, whether in oil or watercolor, leaves a green stain behind that creates many different wonderful effects.  This staining ability is the main reason sap green is favored in the layers needed for glazes in botanical painting.  Daniel Smith’s description goes on to point out which color mixes will make the best deep shadowy forest greens or the more olive tones of mossy greens.

Sap green is a must have in all paint boxes, especially for landscape painters.  Whether or not you make your own pigment, sap green is essential for wonderful lovely green mixes.  The adventurous may try gathering and boiling down the berries to see what happens.  Since buckthorn is wild and grows profusely, it should be easy to find.  Animal bladders may not be so easy.  Good luck finding them.

Artist Martine L’Etoile, at abstractchannel.com demonstrates a beautiful step-by-step use of sap green in a landscape painting here.

Winsor-Newton demonstrates sap green washes in the following You Tube video.

Forging Reality

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“The handwriting on the wall may be a forgery.” Ralph Hodgson (from Brainyquote)

Two opposing articles have been published recently about the forgeries that brought down the venerable Knoedler and Company Gallery in New York City.  One viewpoint in the New York Times, argues that forgeries are a good thing for the art world.  The opposing viewpoint in The New Yorker debunks that viewpoint with many points of reason.  A third article, also from The New York Times, explains the process of how the forgery happened.  Whether for or against art forgery, or the details of how it went down, none of these viewpoints addresses the real issue.

Blake Gopnik, art critic for The New York Times makes his case in an article titled, “In Praise of Art Forgeries” with a number of points.  One of Gopnik’s issues he elaborates on is that forgeries bring down the price of art making it more affordable for museums.  Good idea!  We can fill all the museums up with cheap forgeries.  As far as that goes, why have any real art at all.  It’s expensive to maintain and insure.  Think how much money could be saved.  No where does Gopnik address the reality of what exactly a forgery is.

 In The New Yorker, Peter Schjeldahl, is concerned with the skill or lack thereof, of the forgers.  They are not real artists, you see.  The forgers are merely imitators.  And what’s more, they don’t even have to completely imitate the original artist’s work.  The forgers only have to mimic, “the look of” the master’s hand.  So not only are forgers not real artists, they don’t even have to be good fakers.  How insulting to the forgers!

Another article in The New York Times by Patricia Cohen gives more details about how the con went down.  Cohen also gives the details of the court case and lawsuits against gallery president, Ann Freedman.  Cohen cites documents in the case quoting Ms. Freedman as arguing she, “had no clue the artworks were forgeries.”  Just who you want to buy million-dollar art from, a clueless gallery president!  She doesn’t seem to have been clueless about pocketing the commissions on fake Willem de Koonings, Mark Rothkos and others.  But Cohen also misses the real point here.

In all this talk about whether forgeries are good, forgeries are bad, who forged what and why, who knew or didn’t know, nobody points out the obvious.  Forgery is a crime committed by criminals against artists. Forgery literally and figuratively devalues the hard work of all artists.  In all of these for and against arguments,, descriptions and excuses, nobody seems to recognize the real victims.  Nobody is reading the handwriting on the wall.  Artists are being hurt here!  Hello??  Can anybody read that?

The Getty Research Institute has more on the history of the Knoedler and Company Gallery here.

Painting shown is by Willem de Kooning

Totally Dada

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“With the sound of gusting wind in the branches of the language trees of Babel, the words gave way like leaves, and every reader glimpsed another reality hidden in the foliage.”   Andrei Codrescu (from Goodreads.com)

The vocabulary of the art world often sounds to others as a strange and different language.  It is.  Strange and different.   So strange and different is this language that many articles and occasionally, books are published to enlighten those living in the dark and unable to speak it.  Translations of the language vary, are ever changing and hard to keep up with.  But the Art World’s unique speech may have met its match now that it has found its way into the Urban Dictionary.

 ArtNews has an article on Artspeak, the book by Robert Atkins.  Atkins’ book translates this strange and different language.  According to the article, Atkins realizes how this unique language may actually alienate people unable to fully decode it.  As Atkins states in the article, “Somehow the language used for describing and discussing art has an unusual opacity, even sadism.” Sadism?  No wonder the urban language is moving in on the art language.

Dada is one of those art movements that makes no sense at all and was apparently the purpose of the Dada artists.  So why create art that makes no sense and purposely is meant to confuse people?  Sounds a bit sadistic. But now we have a new and improved meaning for Dada. According to the Urban Dictionary, “Dada is anti-art, yet art”. “That is so Dada. It breaks all the rules yet make sense.”  Really? And one wonders why people think artists are crazy.

So if you haven’t mastered the traditional art speech, have no fear.  You can always go with the new art speech found in the Urban Dictionary.  FlavorWire.com tells you how.  You will soon be able to tell if someone is “a total Picasso.”  Or maybe you will notice, happily, that someone is “totally Rembrandt.”  But whatever you do, you don’t want to go, “totally Bob Ross!”  And that is “so totally Dada.”

Photo is Man Ray’s The Gift, a classic example of Dada Art!