Word Games

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“Criticism is easy, art is difficult.” Destouches (from The Painter’s Keys)

Why do artists need guidance and assistance to write about their art? It’s a fact for many artists. Creating a painting is one thing, describing the process of how that happened is another. An artist knows, usually, why a subject or theme moves him or her to paint it. There is a spark that must be expressed. It is a drive that comes from inside. But to put that drive into words can stump many artists. Some even panic at the thought of putting it down on paper for others to read. How can an artist write an emotion, a thought, an inspiration? Sometimes there simply are no words.

Once, in an art forum, I put forth the possibility that artists are sensitive people by the very nature of being an artist. Very quickly, I was verbally slapped down for making an assumption. However, I hold to the original suggestion that, perhaps, artists are sensitive and thus are open to seeing beauty, insight, emotion and other things that may have been missed by the average non-artist person. That sensitivity may be a part of the difficulty of writing about a very personal process that comes from a deep inner place.

Silvia Kolbowski writes in her blog that the majority of the art publications of the 1980’s and 90’s published mostly art criticism. Every artist knows putting their art out there for others to criticize can be painful. Adding words that could potentially make that criticism stronger can add to the pain. Sensitive or not, who wants to put themselves out there to be the subject of some witty critic using you as the focus for his or her latest quotable zingers. It’s a tough call. However, having the right words to describe the artistic process can go a long way in solving the problem and increasing confidence in writing the artist’s statement.

Author Vicki Krohn Ambrose has a new blog post on ways artists can come up with words describing their work or process. Following the suggestions Ambrose put forth hit the spot. Once the process is set in motion, the words begin to flow. It actually starts to be a game of sorts. After a bit of practice, the fun begins and words are spotted everywhere and incorporated into the artist’s new rewritten statement. This new statement can become a work of art in itself.

When words are hard to come by in describing the process, try the suggestions Ambrose outlines in her blog post and also her book. Make a game of it or see it as a new challenge to be conquered. And you can always follow what Georgia O’Keeffe said, “I never read what the critics write.” Armed with new, exciting words of description and ears closed to the sound of the critics, writing an artist’s statement becomes a fun word game. And who doesn’t love to play games??

Vicki Krohn Ambrose’s book, Art-Write: The Writing Guide for Visual Artists can be found at Amazon (here).

Weekend Inspiration–Watering the Drought

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“The best cure for a dry spell is simply to keep at it.  Good things are happening, soon to be revealed.”  Eleanor Blair (from The Painter’s Keys)

Those first thoughts of panic when you find yourself in a dry spell can take over and consume you.  What if you are never inspired again?  What if this is it?  Your artistic life is toast!  You’re done.  All the art in your soul has dried up and you will have to find something else to do.  The love of your life has walked out the door.  The cold hand of panic is about to get a firm grip on your throat.  Everything you do is dry, dry, dry!  You can go to the nearest bar and get stone cold drunk or you can sit down and take a deep breath.  While taking that deep breath, check out what others suggest.  Or wait until the hangover is over, then check out these suggestions.

Graham Mathews has several suggestions in an article for Artpromotivate.  Number six on his list is to experiment with a different style or medium.  Following this recommendation frequently leads to new discoveries that can change the course of your entire artistic direction.  How many artists have you read about whose experiments in times of drought have resulted in the biggest breakthroughs of their career?  If something is not working, that is usually a signal from the artist within that you are not listening.  Trying something unfamiliar forces the outer artist to stop and pay attention to the inner one.  A new direction can’t be put on automatic.  It requires an effort on the part of the artist.

Another technique for breaking a dry spell is to return to original inspiration.  PsychCentral.com has a blog post on creative block.  Author Margarita Tartakovsky suggests stashing away anything that inspires you.  Tartakovsky says tucking away interesting thoughts, quotations, films, ideas that strike your fancy can be a source for watering the drought.  My favorite thing to do is collect images from magazines.  I’ll tear out anything that even remotely looks interesting and put it in an inspirational images folder.  Over the years, I have ended up with a number of folders.  Sometimes I get a laugh from wondering why I chose certain images.  But it causes me to rethink why I found those images inspirational in the first place.

Not giving in to panic is the best first step to getting through dry spells.  Once you make that decision, trying some new things could be fun.  It may keep you out of the bar.  At the very least it will occupy your hands so they don’t continue moving up toward your neck region.  While the hands are occupied, your inspirational wells are free to start working again.  Once the wells are working, the water will start flowing.  But if all else fails, you can try a rain dance.  You never know.  It may open up a new career for you as a dancer.

Brush Speak

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Red Calla Lilly-Georgia O’Keeffe

“I found that I could say things with color and shape that I couldn’t say any other way—things I had no words for” Georgia O’Keeffe (from Brainyquote)

Art is an inner language that must be expressed outwardly.  For the visual artist, there is an urge to put sights or thoughts into some form of visual medium.  If visual artists could put them into words, they would be writers or poets.  If they could put them into movement, they would be dancers.  It is a language that the visual artist speaks and is as unique as a writer’s word or a dancer’s movements..   The difficulty may be in projecting the language so that it is as understandable as the written word or the dance performance.

Researchers are finding visual art is a means of expression for those who are non-verbal.  Visual art takes on a structure and meaning as clear to the non-verbal as the spoken language is to others.  Paula K. Eubanks (Eubanks, 1997) writes, ““Accepting art as a language means that art can be useful in developing language skills.”  For those with difficulties learning verbal language, art can become a primary means of communication.  To the non-verbal, visual art is speech.

For the visual artist, also, art speech is a need to communicate from an inner place that has no words. “I was facing a quagmire regarding the insight that if we could ‘say’ art we would have no need to make art,” states Frikkie Potgeiter in a research paper for the University of South Africa entitled, Critical Language and Visual Art: a post structural analysis. The visual artist does not express through poetry or writing but by placing paint on paper or canvas.  The language is one of color and form as O’Keeffe said.

The visual artist’s brush is the main instrument of communication, as is the writer’s pen.  For the visual artist, the goal is to adequately direct the brush to speak what is inside demanding to be spoken.  Brush speech must be mastered as any other tool of communication.   The artist has to maintain control so the brush doesn’t get carried away and say something offensive.  It is usually best to allow the brush to say only those things that are safe to be said in polite company.  However, some brushes will run on.

References

1. Eubanks, P.K., (1997). Art is a Visual Language. Visual Arts Research. Vol. 23, No. 1(45) (Spring 1997), pp. 31-35

2.  Potgeiter, F. Critical Language and Visual art: a post- structural analysis. De Arte. The University of South Africa

Voices

It takes courage to paint, to express yourself that way and put it out there for others to see and comment on.”Carla NeggersThe Rapids, pg 361-62Image

Occasionally, a statement in an unlikely place can jump out and grab your attention.  The above quote, in a suspense fiction novel, provoked such a response.  It does take courage for an artist to put art out there for others to comment on.  Comments can warm the heart. Comments can hurt.  Sometimes, comments just baffle.  Yet artists continue to put art out there exposing themselves to the various opinions of others.

At a large gallery opening several years ago, a friend and I wandered around picking up on the conversations of others about the exhibited art.  Many times it was difficult to understand what the heck people were talking about!  Some of what we heard was down right funny.  Other comments were very interesting, good and bad.  We heard a full range.

When artists hear these comments, what are they feeling?  It may depend on the artist.  A film on Georgia O’Keeffe late in her life asked her how she felt when critics wrote about her work.  Her response, “I never read what critics say.”  It takes courage for artists to continue to express themselves in their work regardless of what others say, even though it might stick in your thoughts.  Perhaps, it’s better to ignore the voices in your head, in this case.  The rest of the time you’re on your own!

The Courage to Paint

“To create one’s world in any of the arts takes courage.”  Georgia O’Keeffe

Was O’Keeffe right?  Does art take courage?  Painting takes time, effort and energy.  But is courage behind the time, effort and energy?  Courage is perhaps the necessary force for getting art out of the studio and into the public domain.  Is it also the main force in the studio? Does it take courage to look at a blank white canvas and begin to create?  I think so.

A blank white canvas can be very frightening.  There may be an image floating around pushing to get onto that canvas but taking those first steps to get it there are sometimes slow in coming.  For many artists, the first step is actually placing the paint on the palette, deciding what colors will go into the painting and how they will be mixed.  For others, it is deciding which brushes to use.  Will you start with a round brush?  For me, it is deciding what ground color to lay on first.  The process of preparation may also be the process of gathering courage.

Gather courage. Proceed to paint!