Weekend Inspiration–Looking to Each Other

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“You can look anywhere and find inspiration.”  Frank Gehry  (from The Painter’s Keys)

Dry spells, days without inspiration, lack of incentive can happen at anytime to any artist.  You show up at the studio, sit in front of an empty canvas or paper and nothing happens.  Nothing is working.  You looked to all your usual sources of inspiration and still nothing.  So what now?  You can give up and walk away or you can look to your fellow artists.

Stories are everywhere of artists who worked in groups.  The Impressionists were noted for it.  Monet and Renoir occasionally painted the same subjects.  Picasso and Braque explored cubism together.  The tales of artists gathering together in Paris cafes and bars are well known.  The Abstract Expressionists frequently met in New York at various locations.  Artists are gathering today.  Are you one of them?

Gathering with fellow artists today does not necessarily mean physically meeting in a restaurant or studio.  Artopia Magazine suggests, “Following artists on social media is a great source for finding inspiration on many levels.”  Taking the time to “like” other artists on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, read artist’s blogs and check out artists websites are all ways to gather with other artists in today’s internet world.  Artists are doing amazing things all over the world.  All it takes is a couple of clicks to enter a world of inspiration from fellow artists.

Indiemade.com suggests joining a local art group and if you don’t have one, start one.  Find a group of other artists and make plans to meet together.  You can choose to take a meal together regularly just to discuss art in general.  You could meet together for some Plein Air painting.  Another possibility is potluck once a month rotating at each other’s studios. Find your fellow local artists and make a plan.

When you are blanking out on inspiration, look around at other artists and see what they are up to.  If you find your fellow artist also in a blank place maybe you can inspire each other.  And if not, you can always commiserate with one another until new sources of inspiration can be found.  Nobody stays dry forever.  Companionship during the dry times may help move the dryness on down the road.

The Language That We Speak

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“Art is a basic human language that is universal among cultures and across time.”

–Peter William Brown (from The Painter’s Keys)

The well from which visual art arises in the soul is a place difficult to put into words.  Artists express what is in this place through what they put on paper or canvas. It is a fountain that is forcing its way out, pushing to the surface to be expressed. The fountain pours out, spills over.  What needs to be said appears on the surface.  What and how the expression is said is more or less directed by the individual artist.  The important point for artists is whether their art must be literally understood or is it open to the translation of the observer?

Screen shot 2013-11-18 at 8.43.51 PMThis past April, Chinese-French artist, Zao Wou-Ki passed away leaving behind a legacy of art that bridged two cultures. Julia Grimes has written extensively on Zao and his art.  Grimes quotes Zao in her article for CNN, “French and Chinese thought are not the same.  It’s hard to translate between them.  Sometimes you must wear yourself out trying to understand.  Painting must express these feelings.”  Zao’s art expressed what words could not.  Zao tells The New York Times, “Everyone is bound by culture.  I am bound by two.”  He had no words to adequately communicate the two cultures he inhabited.  Painting did that for him.

Does an observer understand Zao’s struggle between two cultures?  Or does the observer simply see art that is pleasing to the eye?  Does it matter?  Zao was immensely successful.  The language of his art spoke to others on many levels.  Whether others saw or understood his struggle did not affect his success.  The question for artists in their own work is if it is important for the language of their work to be understood literally?  If understanding is the important factor then a decision must be made as to how best to get the point across.  If the point is open for the interpretation of the viewer, more freedom of expression is possible.  It’s the artist’s language.  Each artist can decide how to speak it.

Weekend Inspiration–Block Medicine

Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just show up.” Chuck Close  (About.com/painting)

Artist’s block is a subject worth repeating because we all go through it.   Each time it rears its ugly head is a cue to seek some kind, any kind of solution that will break the back of the evil block.  There could be many reasons for a block, such as energy depletion, brain overload, ignoring the soul, not following the heart and on and on.  It’s probably not necessary or even worthwhile to search for the cause.  The medicine does not depend on the cause.  The medicine depends on the action.

Tara Leaver discusses artists block on her blog.  She gives three possible reasons for block but for each she prescribes the same cure, a week of studio immersion. Spend a week in the studio immersing in making art without stopping to think about it.  Don’t think. Just do.  Go for it and see what happens.

Over at Mental Hygiene, Tony Santos has a list of things to do to break through the block.  He suggests

  1. Information
  2. Going to the source
  3. Inspiration
  4. Playtime
  5. Execute.

Following the steps outlined by Santos, he believes will lead to breakthrough.  Check out his detailed description of each of these steps at the link.

If these suggestions don’t work for you, check out the You tube video at the top.  He has an innovative, yet simple remedy.   Start drawing something meaningless and abstract.  Start putting marks on paper letting them flow.  Pretend you are back in the classroom of the most boring teacher you ever had and remember the doodles you drew to get through the monotony.  Then say a silent “Thanks!” to Mrs. What’s-her-name for boring you to tears and forcing you to become a creative doodler.  She may have been the push you needed to become an artist.  Put yourself back in her class and start doodling again.  And if you didn’t have a Mrs. What’s-her-name, try the ideas from the other two artists.  One of these artist’s suggestions may be the right medicine to cure your block.

Let Them Make Art!

“ I gave them paint.  All it takes.  These politicians make things too complicated.”

Elena Thomas (from Artists Talking in A-N)Screen shot 2013-10-12 at 10.46.49 AM

Put a group of people into a room full of art supplies and watch what happens.  People find ways to create things.  They experiment with materials, forms, and limitations.  They solve problems.  They begin to talk to each other in different ways. They even bond.  And, generally, they have fun.

Bob Bates is the founder of Inner City Arts, an organization to provide art -making projects to urban youth.  Bates, in an interview with It Magazine believes the process of creating art leads to better self- confidence.  Bates states, “Making art requires thinking and decisions: what color will I use, how can I make this stand up, how can I make this stronger, quieter, brighter, more bendable.”  The self -confidence comes as they see the evidence of how they solved the problems in making their individual art.

A research study by Julia Kellman of the University of Illinois, Urbana, found that people facing life -threatening illness were able to begin opening up and talking about their illness as they participated in art making projects together.  The group bonded in the process of making art, leading to a greater feeling of safety to expose personal feelings and talk about what they were experiencing.

Lisa Phillips, writes in The Artistic Edge, “Artists are constantly pushed to explore unchartered territory.  The truly great ones are those that produce new and exciting work that has never before been created.”  Artists are always, by their very nature, pushing for improvement, to do something better than the last creation.  Each piece is a learning experience that leads to the next one.  Creativity begets more creativity.

As artists know, art making brings about creativity, problem-solving and bonding.  It could be a very child-like, simplistic answer for much bigger problems.  Picasso is frequently quoted as having said, “Every child is an artist.  The problem is how to remain one when we grow up.”  Wouldn’t it be a hoot if all politicians were required to go into a room full of art supplies with orders to make art?  What a lot of problems would then be solved!  However, as the old saying goes, “If wishes were horses .….”

Reference:

Kellman, J (2005). HIV, art and a journey toward healing, one man’s story. Journal of Aesthetic Education. 39(3), Fall 2005

Panic Aversion

“The object isn’t to make art, but to be in that wonderful state that makes art inevitable.”-Robert Henri (from Skinnyartist)Screen shot 2013-10-08 at 10.50.59 AM

The search for inspiration can be a never- ending battle.   Nothing is working.  The feeling can range from confusion to panic.  What if you never get your inspiration back?  Where do you turn?  Listening to what other artists say from their own experiences is frequently helpful.

Artist Issac Julien is quoted in The Guardian as saying “It is important for inspiration to go elsewhere.”  He further goes on to suggest getting out of the city, going to places of tranquility.   Being out in nature and away from the bombardment of the over stimulation of the city gives the brain a chance to think without the constant backdrop of the cacophony of traffic, people, hustle and bustle.  In the peace and quiet of being out in nature, it is easier to hear what your brain is telling you.

For people who already live and work outside cities, the opposite action may be of benefit.  Go into a city.  Listen to the sights and sounds.  Watch the people.  Absorb the energy of the constantly moving atmosphere of city life.  Artist, Susan Phillipsz from the same Guardian article, states “always have something to write with.”  Taking notes or sketching what you see may bring on renewed energy.

And if these ideas don’t work, Artpromotivate has an article “20 Creative Ideas for Art Inspiration.”   I have written quite a bit about this subject lately because it happens to me and I have a tendency to go off in too many directions at once to try to get that inspiration back.  I go into an inspiration panic instead of following the wisdom of other artists who have also been there.  At times I have followed both directions suggested by these two artists, going into the city and going into nature.  Nature seems to work better for me but I have occasionally found the city helpful as well.  The point is to stop the panic and seek a change in scenery.

Envisioning Leadership

“Leaders establish the vision for the future and set the strategy for getting there,” John P. Kotter (The Painter’s Keys)

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Where is the next great art movement?  Are artists today struggling through a crisis of ideas or is it art in general?  Are artists mimicking other artists or variations of other movements?  Is painting dead, replaced by the computer generation?  Or perhaps the answer is something entirely different



There are artists who are doing new and exciting things yet are not getting traction in a wider market.  The answer may be less a question for artists as one for the general public.  The lack of interest in original art is widespread and likely more indicative of societal issues than artistic ones.
The blog, Art Moscow, asks, “Where are all the geniuses?”  I am not convinced it is geniuses we need.  They are out there.  The issue, to me, seems to be a lack of leadership.   There are no driving forces in art today, no cohesion.  What is lacking is an Alfred Stieglitz to organize and promote the latest art, someone who can bring together the geniuses and show them to the world.  Rather than artistic geniuses, it is promotional and leadership geniuses that are needed.

Cloudy Thinking

The arts have an extraordinary ability to enhance our lives, to help us heal, and to bring comfort in times of great stress.”–Dana Gioia,  NEA Chairman, 2003, (from Creativity in Healthcare.com)art_heart23

How would you like to sit before a painting of what looks like bleeding clouds while waiting to have medical tests? My friend, Sue, related this story to me from her personal experience.  Do artists consider the potential audience when creating?  Does it matter?  Do designers consider the audience over whether or not an art piece works on a wall?

It was an issue that came up in The Art to Heart Project, (more here).  Artists were given selection criteria for art based on the research of Dr. Roger S. Ulrich and others about the effects on patients when viewing certain types of art.  As we measured the effects of the art on patient ambulation in our project, we didn’t want negative responses to the art to influence the outcome.  Once artists understood that reasoning, they created on these guidelines with very little difference in their process.  All the artists described the experience of creating for a patient population to be gratifying.

If the bleeding cloud artist did not know where the painting was going once sold, then the designer made the choice.  In either case, did anybody stop to think of the potential mindset of the viewers?  Bleeding Clouds might be interesting in some places but probably not in a doctor’s office.   Which would help you relax while waiting for your medical test results: bleeding clouds or a forest of green trees?