The Laws of Nature

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Peace, Good Health, and Prosperity to ALL this holiday season.

THANK YOU for wonderful "conversations" in 2010, and for your friendship.

I'll be back in January!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Art - Order - Society

Art as Experience
By John Dewey (1934)

Image: The Holy Virgin Mary by Chris Ofili

We live in a world in which there is an immense amount of organization, but it is an external organization, not one of the ordering of a growing experience, one that involves, moreover, the whole of the live creature, toward a fulfilling conclusion. Works of art that are not remote from common life, that are widely enjoyed in a community, are signs of a unified collective life. But they are also marvelous aids in the creation of such a life. The remaking of the material of experience in the act of expression is not an isolated event confined to the artist and to a person here and there who happens to enjoy the work. In the degree in which art exercises its office, it is also a remaking of the experience of the community in the direction of greater order and unity.

Here, Dewey offers us a view of the dynamic and symbiotic relationship between society and art. Order is imposed upon art by society and art provides greater order to society. I have never considered this relationship in these terms, but it makes sense to me. After all, artists are part of society and also influence it. Works of art are deemed worthy or unworthy by society, but they also have the ability to influence and mold future generations of societies.

Does this mean that the individual artist is charged with the moral and ethical responsibility to create work that imposes greater order and unity upon the community? My personal opinion is “no.” I think it’s our responsibility to create according to our own conscience – to be our authentic selves. Society will judge whether or not our work contributes or detracts from the general order; whether or not our work serves to unify or divide us.

But, that’s just my opinion. What’s yours?

Sunday, December 5, 2010

ARTIST TO ARTIST: An Interview with Matthew Daub

Dear Readers,
The next distinguished artist in my series “Artist to Artist” is Professor Matthew Daub, a renowned artist, author, and teacher. You may remember that we discussed his wonderful article “The Gift of Persistence” previously on this blog. I am delighted to learn that this article has been nominated for a Folio Award, a national competition in the magazine industry. Matthew is a finalist and the awards will be announced in January!

What follows is some background information about Professor Daub, the interview, and upcoming events for this notable artist. Enjoy!

Matthew Daub’s watercolor paintings and conte crayon drawings have been widely exhibited throughout the United States for over three decades. He has had more than twenty one-person exhibitions at galleries and museums in New York, Chicago and elsewhere. Daub works have been included in numerous invitational exhibitions at prestigious institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The American Academy of Arts and Letters, The Bronx Museum of the Arts, and the National Academy of Design in New York City. In 1991 The Metropolitan Museum featured a Daub watercolor in their annual engagement calendar, “American Watercolors.” In 2004 He completed a large commission of site specific work for The Four Seasons Hotel and Resort in Jackson, Wyoming. He has been a Professor of Fine Art at Kutztown University of Pennsylvania since 1987. He is also the director of Arts Sojourn, an Italian travel group, and a contributing editor for Art Calendar Magazine. He is represented by ACA Galleries in New York City and will be having his next one person show there in April of 2011.

Matthew’s website:
Recent works by Daub:
(click on paintings to enlarge)

Left - Burn Barrel, 2010, Transparent watercolor on paper, 30" x 40"
Center - Four Way, 2010, Conte crayon on paper, 26" x 40"
Right - The Evening of the 23rd, 2010, Transparent watercolor on paper, 30" x 40"


KC - As an artist, what label do you apply to the type of work you do?
MD - I am primarily a landscape painter, and I suppose I would classify it as sharp focus realism, although I don’t think that gives too complete a picture.

KC - Have landscapes always informed your work or is this a recent inspiration?
MD - I believe I have always been moved by the landscape.

KC - What materials do you prefer to use and why?
MD - Just simple stuff really: For watercolor an assortment of Winsor and Newton Artist Series paints and Series 7 brushes. I’ve recently started using Creative Mark Rhapsody Kolinsky brushes as well. They are great brushes for the price.

KC - What do you see as the significance of your work?
MD -That’s a tough question, but I would say that the significance of my work is that it honestly reflects one human being’s inner life. It is how I see and feel about the world around me. I think that it is a small thing, but there is some value in that.

KC - I’ve noticed that your landscapes often don’t include human figures but do include the effects of human influence upon the landscape. Is this a specific comment?
MD - I used to include figures in the landscape regularly, but when the human figure is included it sets a much different tone. Some artists seem to use them as “props;” compositional devices. I don’t go for that. A figure needs to have something to say. Perhaps that’s why I usually eliminate them. I don’t want the viewer trying to feel things through the experience of the figure. For now, I see them as intruders.

KC - When did you first self-identify as an “artist” and what inspired you to do so?
MD - I always had some sense that art had a place in my life. My mother was a commercial illustrator and she allowed me to paint with her when I was a very young child. It is one of my most vivid childhood memories. My father was a grocer, but he was well-read and taught himself to play the piano. Art and creativity were never discouraged in our house.

KC - I, too, had the benefit of parental encouragement and support in the arts. However, neither of my parents were artists. Do you think that your mother’s profession as a commercial illustrator influenced your art?
MD - My mom had stopped working before I was born, as so many women of the 1950’s did. It was probably more some genetic material and the pleasure that both my parents took in seeing me draw that pushed me in that direction.

KC - What was your first "big break" as an artist and how did it come about?
MD - My first big break came from a New York Gallery that I showed with in the early eighties. It was a good place for a realist painter to be at that time and the gallery received a lot of attention from critics, curators, and collectors. The dealer also worked very hard to promote the gallery artists' careers. The gallery started going down hill in the nineties and the dealer turned out to have some serious problems (I'm being kind and diplomatic), but my career really advanced in those early days.

KC - Your work has appeared in world-class galleries and museums over the years. For most artists, these venues seem unobtainable. How did these opportunities come your way?
MD - My first museum show was at The Evansville Museum of Arts and Science in Indiana in 1983. It came through an introduction to the museum director that I received from another artist whom the director knew and respected. It was not something I asked for; this artist just liked my work and called the director. My show at The Reading Public Museum in Pennsylvania in 2001 was something that I sought out on my own. It was my "home" museum at the time and I had never shown in my own backyard, so to speak. I called on the director, but first received the brush-off. I pushed a little further and got him to have a look. When he saw what I was up to and how it related to the museum's constituents he became an enthusiastic supporter. Same thing with my current gallery. I had known of them for many years, they represent well-known artists, and have a reputation for being straight shooters, so I sent an introductory package to them. You have to be proactive in this business.

KC - You’re a Professor of Fine Arts at Kutztown University. What made you decide to pursue an academic career in the arts?
MD - Well, I had my MFA, but I had pretty much decided that I would not teach. I was doing well in the early eighties and my career seemed to be on the rise. I happened upon the Kutztown job posting and it appealed to me - being close to New York City where my primary gallery was located and Kutztown was looking for a watercolorist - a rarity in academia.

KC - In your opinion, what’s the role of academia in the fine arts today?
MD - I believe that it is very important. It provides an opportunity for intensive, prolonged and methodical study that includes a background in art history and at least some introduction to theory and art movements. Knowledge is always good. You can choose what works for you and what doesn’t.

KC - What are your general goals as a teacher?
MD - I really see my role as more of a mentor to my students - an example. I want them to see that a lifetime in art is not a waste of time. It may be a difficult life on some levels, but there are also great rewards. I try to treat my students as friends; young artists who are simply some years behind me on the continuum. I strongly believe in teaching fundamental skills, but not easy answers. Each artist must stumble his or her way to discovery. That’s the only way that an artist can develop their own personality, both technically and conceptually. It thrills me when I see my students doing things that I never taught them.

KC - Returning to an earlier question, it’s clear that both of us had the advantage of parental support that allowed us to adopt the identity of an artist at a very early age. You’ve taught thousands of students over many decades. Do you detect a difference in the students who had early parental support in the arts and those who did not?
MD - I can’t really say, but I have seen many students conflicted because their parents discourage them from pursuing a fine art career. There are students who enroll in the art education or commercial art programs to please their parents or because they think it is the only way they can survive even though they are not excited about those fields.

KC - What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
MD - Probably by my mother when I had come to a crossroads prior to becoming a professor. I was about thirty years old and ready to look for another day job to support my family. I was not yet at the income level from my artwork for it to be our sole means of support. I told my mom that I was going to apply to be a waiter, but my mom suggested that I try and go full time with my art. “You have clients and you have paintings,” she said, “Why don’t you give it a try and if it doesn’t work out then you can be a waiter.” That’s what I did. It was a pivotal moment.

KC - Great advice! It looks like she was right and your career in the arts has flourished. For those of us who will never enter the academic arena as artists, do you envisage another lucrative career path in the arts that you could have taken?
MD - I had originally intended to become an automobile designer when I entered Pratt in 1969. That might have been an interesting career, but I have no regrets.

KC - Looking back on your distinguished career, is there anything you would have done differently?
MD - I sometimes wonder what might have been if I did not accept a teaching position back in 1987 and continued on solely in my studio career. I’d probably just be a lot poorer right now.

KC - So, what advice do you give to your students about how to support themselves as future professional artists? What are the odds of making enough income without taking on a job that provides a regular paycheck?
MD - This answer to this question is really too long and complex for an interview. The one thing that I can guarantee my students is that if they do not try they will not succeed - that's a definite! I tell them that someone WILL succeed - why can't it be you? Whether someone pursues a subsistence job to support an art career, or a career that will be more demanding, you can pretty much count on having to do something to supplement your art income; perhaps for your entire life. That's not necessarily a bad trade off to get to do something that you love. If I thought about "odds" or "success" I would probably have done something completely different with my life. My advice is, "Just do the work and do it with all your strength and with all integrity." There will be a place for it somewhere.

KC - Looking to the future, what’s next for you?
MD - I really don’t know. Right now I am still totally focused on an upcoming solo show in New York and there is no room in my head for anything else. Once a show is completed it is always a time for reassessment, so I’m sure that I will be doing a lot of soul-searching.

KC - Thank you for an engaging and enlightening interview!

Readers, you may be interested in Matthew’s upcoming events:

April 7 – May 7, 2011: solo show ACA Galleries in New York City’s Chelsea art district (529 W. 20th St. ; 5th floor). For more information you can check my website or ACA’s

June, 2011: leading two trips to Italy this June through his Arts Sojourn travel group. Ten days in Lucca in Tuscany followed by a seven day trip to Sestri Levante on the Italian Riviera just above the Cinque Terre. Most people are opting to stay for both. For more information please visit

November 2011: Workshop instructor for Springmaid Watercolor Conference. The class will be devoted half to art business issues and half to studio work.

Ongoing: Writing more articles for Art Calendar magazine, with special interest in artistic development.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Past, Present and Future

Art as Experience
by John Dewey (1934)

To the being fully alive, the future is not ominous but a promise; it surrounds the present as a halo. It consists of possibilities that are felt as a possession of what is now and here. In life, that is truly life, everything overlaps and merges. But all too often we exist in apprehension of what the future may bring, and are divided within ourselves. Even when not overanxious, we do not enjoy the present because we subordinate it to that which is absent. Because of the frequency of this abandonment of the present to the past and future, the happy periods of an experience that is now complete because it absorbs into itself memories of the past and anticipations of the future, come to constitute an esthetic ideal. Only when the past ceases to trouble and anticipations of the future are not perturbing is a being wholly united with his environment and therefore fully alive. Art celebrates with peculiar intensity the moments in which the past reinforces the present and in which the future is a quickening of what now is.

This post is dedicated to all who face difficult transitions in their lives and art.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Capitalism, Museums, and Common Life

Art as Experience
By John Dewey (1934)

The growth of capitalism has been a powerful influence in the development of the museum as the proper home for works of art, and in the promotion of the idea that they are apart from the common life.”
This fact (if it is one) interests me because it’s a paradox. On the one hand, museums enable the general public access to great works of art that used to be exclusively housed in private palaces and mansions away from public view. On the other hand, museums also put a wall between the art and the general public by keeping it out of our common surroundings. This art lives apart from us and we're allowed to visit it under strictly enforced conditions: Look, but don’t touch. Look, but react in a constrained way. Look, but not for too long.

This leads me to speculate about how I would behave if the great art which I most cherish existed in my private home. Of course, for this daydream to work my home would have to be a palace because there are so many grand works, like the “David” and Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings, that would be included in my collection.

Let’s imagine that I own this art and the palace, and that no one but me and a select few have access. How would I act after everyone had gone home or off to bed? Hmm… just art and me. First, I’d probably touch all the work. Most likely, I’d do this because touching something intensifies the sensory experience. Viewing without touching isn’t satisfying enough. If the art is a sculpture, I’d probably sit or lay down on it so that my entire body could feel the contours of the work. And, I’d probably stay there a long time in order to “become one” with the piece and the sculptor who made it.

If the work is a painting, then I’d probably touch the surface of it and feel the ridges created by large daubs of paint, and the rhythms of the brushwork. This is beginning to sound like a sexual experience, and in a way it is. I’m connecting emotionally and physically with a work of art.
And, since no one else is in the room, I could act out my emotions: sing, dance, howl, cry. Yes, I would be a complete fool for art.

By contrast, when I go to a museum I’m very reserved. My emotions are present but hidden. It’s a rather unsatisfying experience, actually. Adoring something or someone from afar is frustrating. But it's better to have viewed with constraint then never to have viewed at all.

Taking this a step further, I think it would be a worthy goal as an artist to produce work that someone else would want to act the fool over; work that would inspire someone else to dance, sing, leap, or cry in the privacy of their own home.

How about you? And, what works would be in your private collection?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Fineness, Greatness, and the Medium

Art as Experience
By John Dewey (1934)

Have you ever looked at a painting and marveled at the masterful technique used to create it – and, that was all you took away from it? I have. I’ve seen mind-boggling technically precise work that looked more like a machine produced it than a human. Every tiny detail is perfect and the entire work is nothing but tiny details. It’s apparent that the artist worshipped technique above all else. Yes, we do appreciate “fine” works of art like this, but they’re not “great.”

Yesterday’s post featured Dewey’s comment that art is fine, it is said, when form is perfected; but it is great because of the intrinsic scope and weight of the subject matter dealt with, even though the manner of dealing with it is less than fine.

We can extend this discussion to include the relative importance of the medium employed by an artist. What is it’s role? According to Dewey:
The medium is a mediator. It is a go-between of artist and perceiver. The artist has the power to seize upon a special kind of material and convert it into an authentic medium of expression.

Sensitivity to a medium as a medium is the very heart of all artistic creation and esthetic perception. Such sensitiveness does not lug in extraneous material. When, for example, paintings are looked at as illustrations of historical scenes, of literature, of familiar scenes, they are not perceived in terms of their media. Or, when they are looked at simply with reference to the technique employed in making them what they are, they are not esthetically perceived. For here, too, means are separated from ends. Analysis of the former becomes a substitute for enjoyment of the latter.

So, I would conclude that the weight of the subject matter trumps technique and medium.

What do you think?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Fineness and Greatness

Art as Experience
By John Dewey (1934)
Image: The Potato Eaters, Vincent Van Gogh

I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! It's time to return to Dewey's book (and also to my diet and the gym). I've been pondering this passage and think it's a good one for discussion:

An attempt has been made to support the distinction between substance and form in works of art by contrasting “fineness” with “greatness.” Art is fine, it is said, when form is perfected; but it is great because of the intrinsic scope and weight of the subject matter dealt with, even though the manner of dealing with it is less than fine.

Are we to conclude from this that “greatness” (substance) in a work of art is more important than its “fineness” (form)? Does this mean that the artist’s primary concern should be weighty subject matter even if it’s at the expense of form?

I ask these questions because I’m confused by artists who value technique over content. While mastery of technique is a worthy goal and works of art that are technically perfect make our jaws drop, is it enough? Have these artists failed to meet a higher goal – that of self-expression? By this, I mean that perhaps, as famed art critic Arthur Danto believes, "For something to be deemed a work of art it must have meaning." By extension, we could infer that in order for a work of art to be deemed "great" it must have meaning.

What’s your opinion?

Monday, November 22, 2010

Foundation, Four Walls and a Roof

Image: The Law of Conservation of Mass
by Katharine A. Cartwright, 2010
watercolor on paper

Our discussions of John Dewey’s text inspired me to evaluate the structure of how I teach painting to my students. In my last post I stressed the importance of coupling intuition with knowledge in order to control and advance our artmaking. This viewpoint is the foundation to what I teach. Here are the four walls built upon that foundation:

Wall 1: Concept development. I use a process that I've developed to help students find their own voice. This voice expresses their individuality and unique relationship with the world around them. Until the student artist knows what to express there’s little need to continue. Therefore, this is the first wall up.

Wall 2: Material selection. Once my student has an idea of what to paint and its significance to him/her, we begin the process of selecting the materials most suitable for expressing that concept.

Wall 3: Construction. Next, my students carefully consider the symbols, style, composition, and palette that best support the central concept of the work. This step unifies all the elements of the painting so that self-expression is focused and unambiguous. The voice of the artist is transformed from a mumble to an articulate audible voice.

Wall 4: The student paints. I show them how to master painting techniques in their chosen medium and also offer critiques that allow them to analyze their own work and make corrections.

Intuition is essential during the construction of all four walls. Without it, student artists won’t be able to express their own unique style in their own unique "language."

The Roof: Gaining perspective. Finally, I help my students gain perspective of where their work fits into the contemporary and historical art scenes. It is from this perspective that they begin to understand their place and how to advance.

This building process requires me to nurture creativity, impart analytical skills, and encourage artistic maturity. I suppose I learned this teaching style by realizing how I best learn.

How about you?

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Art, Knowledge, and Intuition

Image: sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy

It’s my hope that I can do a better job at unwrapping Dewey’s dense text (Art as Experience, 1934) because it’s well worth it. I say this only from the perspective of one who believes that knowledge is beneficial, and the more knowledge we have the more control we have over our work.

For the sake of justifying my position, I’ll place artists into three general categories:
1. Intuition-based
2. Knowledge-based
3. Knowledge-based who also rely on intuition

Artists who solely rely on intuition to create without a formal education in art probably have the better chance of achieving true originality in their work, but also have the smaller chance of being able to control the quality, consistency, and path of their work.

By contrast, artists who enter the arena via a formal education in art have a better chance of controlling the quality, consistency and path of their work but have the smaller chance of being innovative.

To me, the perfect blend is mixing together knowledge with intuition because it’s these artists who can evolve on a personal level, which leads to the advancement of the arts in the broader sense.

The bottom line is that knowledge is control; intuition leads to innovation; and, the blending of the two is the perfect state.

That’s my opinion … what’s yours?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Failed Theories and Context

Art as Experience
by John Dewey (1934)

Image: sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy

Our good friend Casey was correct when he stated that Dewey is THE man when it comes to authority on this subject. So, let’s explore this book a little more. As you know, I’m not covering it chapter by chapter because it’s encyclopedic in scope. Rather, I’m cherry-picking quotations that I think will give rise to interesting discussions here. So far, Dewey has ignited a firestorm!

So, here’s more to consider: The theories that attribute direct moral effect and intent to art fail because they do not take account of the collective civilization that is the context in which works of art are produced and enjoyed. I would not say that they tend to treat works of art as a kind of sublimated AEsop’s fables. But they all tend to extract particular works, regarded as especially edifying, from their milieu and to think of the moral function of art in terms of a strictly personal relation between the selected works and a particular individual. Their whole conception of morals is so individualistic that they miss a sense of the way in which art exercises its humane function.

Go for it!

P.S. If you’re new to this blog and haven’t read the posts and comments from the past two days, please do. My readers made awesome comments! Please feel free to join in and WELCOME!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Moral Function of Art, continued

We had a great discussion yesterday and I think it deserves further consideration. It all began with a statement by John Dewey: the moral function of art itself is to remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils due to wont and custom, and perfect the power to perceive.

This opened to door to some wonderful insights and observations posted in comments by my readers. Please take a look if you haven’t already. Dewey’s philosophy made us question our role as artists, and the historical role of our predecessors. Fascinating.

I’d like to use today’s post to continue that discussion because it’s too early to abandon it. So, please keep it going.

Now that you’ve had time to reflect, what’s your opinion?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Art as Experience: The Moral Function of Art

Art as Experience
by John Dewey (1934)

We’ve had a lively discussion here over the past week and in the last post I polled my readers to see how many of you would prefer to continue the open discussion forum versus book review discussions. Most of my long-term readers encouraged me to continue the books reviews, so I will. However, I hope that you'll continue to feel free to discuss whatever concerns you about art. We learn from each other.

Over the past week I’ve been reading John Dewey’s seminal book on art theory entitled Art as Experience (1934). This book is based on Dewey’s lectures on aesthetics at Harvard, and is considered the most distinguished work ever written on the topic. You might think that it’s too dated since the book was written so long ago, but that’s not the case. He deals with timeless issues in the broadest sense.

I can’t begin to review this book in its entirety because it would take years. However, I would like to spend a week or two considering Dewey’s ideas on the things the most interest us.

I’ll begin by citing Dewey’s belief that the moral function of art itself is to remove prejudice, do away with the scales that keep the eye from seeing, tear away the veils due to wont and custom, and perfect the power to perceive.

We’ve spent a lot of time on this blog discussing the definition of art, but we haven’t explored the moral function of art. Perhaps it’s in that function that we may find a definition – one that encompasses the entire spectrum of what it is we deem as “art.”

In considering the moral function of art, we can also flip over this coin and explore what would be an immoral dysfunction of art (did I express that correctly??). By contrast, art would become dysfunctional if it’s confined by bias, intellectual blindness, tradition, and lack of imagination.

But, are we ever completely free of our biases and traditions in artmaking? Should we be free of them? Do these hamper or facilitate the progress of art (e.g. innovations)?

Is there a better description for the moral function of art?

Here’s something we haven’t yet considered on this blog. What do you think?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Community Discussion ... Day 5

(right) sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy

We began Day 4 by considering Mark’s question: “If nobody likes a painting is it bad?”

Margaret started the discussion with the opinion that art, because it is a creative form of communication that reflects the thoughts of the artist, can’t be bad for that reason. However, one could find fault with the technical aspects of the work if it isn’t well executed.

Rhonda agrees with Margaret, and feels that judgment of another’s work is a sensitive issue because it’s so personal. However, she notes that the works of many artists were considered “bad” during their lifetimes but were deemed a masterpiece posthumously. Great point!

Dan brought up for consideration the works of contemporary pop artist Romero Britto, who has reached celebrity status and markets a host of products with his work on it. Dan ponders whether Britto is attacked because of jealousy over his popularity and financial success as well as his non-painterly style. That’s worth a second glance, because – as he points out – this is the converse of Mark’s question; Britto’s work is deemed bad because it’s popular.He concludes that popularity or salability are probably irrelevant anyway, and that very good art can remain undiscovered and, therefore, never communicate with others as the artist had intended. A sad conclusion, indeed.

Susan’s comment returns to an earlier question raised by Margaret about “serious” versus “fluff” work. She remarked that quick studies are more like fluff whereas a mature painting is well-considered and takes longer to produce (a.k.a. serious work). However, she values the look of spontaniety and struggles to keep that quality in her more serious work. I chimed in to say that we’re all saying the same thing: “good” art is authentic work. It all boils down to the artist’s intent.

Carolyn noted the way in which Kincaid’s work is produced and marketed. Mass production by laborers who copy his work with just one dab of paint by Mr. K. and a final signature is the result of what probably began as a sincere effort by him to produce meaningful art. As Carolyn notes, authenticity has been lost.

L.W. gave us an entirely new perspective on this issue because of her previous involvement in European/Asian oil painting imports. These works were the types used on the sets of theaters, films, and TV and sold for little money. Her conversations with the artists who produced these paintings revealed that at least one of the artists who relied on this form of income used a pseudonym on this work and his real name on his “real” work. This allowed him to support both his family and his talent (makes sense to me!). Like you, L.W., I believe that artists are entitled to make a living doing what they do best.

Celeste closed the day’s conversation with her mental weariness of repetition. So many works offer the same concept or mimic one particular artist. Trends occur and more sales occur because of them. So, she posits, if you produce a painting with no other thought than to sell it then it’s a “bad thing.” (lol)

This concludes our four day community discussion …. or, does it? Would you like to continue this? Typically, I review art theory books for discussion here. But, our conversation is just as good as many of these books so I’m willing to continue my role as a facilitator for your ideas if you wish. When the conversation wanes I’ll start reviewing books again.

If you wish to continue, either pick up one of the threads of a topic or propose a new one. So far, it’s been great!! Thank you.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Community Discussion ... Day 4

We’ve reached day 4 of our experimental community discussion and I like where we're going! How about you?
We began yesterday's discussion by picking up on Dan’s topic about what spurs us toward expansion and growth of our art.
Here’s a summary of the responses:

I commented that since my process is concept-oriented, any advancement must come from intense introspection.

Elizabeth’s path began with learning a variety of media and techniques through instruction, but getting lost in technique at the expense of her “voice.” Finding it in the expression of the ridiculous and whimsical, she challenges herself to solve new and more challenging problems in artmaking.

Robin offers that every time we paint, we grow and learn something. Amen!! Her perspective is that we don’t always have to be pushing the envelope because art has a therapeutic and meditative quality that’s also important.

Celeste advances her work by taking two workshops per year, reading books, participating in blogs like this one, and also meeting with an art discussion group in her area on a weekly basis. She also goes to museums and watches artful programs on TV or DVD. Additionally she paints or draws every day. Sounds like a winning formula to me!

Susan returned to an earlier topic posed by Margaret about worthy vs. fluff work. She made a great (in my opinion) observation about the detrimental effects of doing quick work under time constraints which leads to work that lacks serious consideration. (Boy, I wish more folks would consider this point – it’s a good one!)

L.W. followed up on Susan’s comment by noting that quick sketching is a limbering exercise and not a serious drawing, which takes much longer. She applies this to the painting process as well, and is dicscouraged to find so many artists online that produce quickie small works for sale. The work is repetitious and boring.

Robin respectfully disagreed with L.W. since she repeats themes in order to further explore them, as did Monet with his lilies and haystacks.

L.W. responded that her intent isn’t to offend those who paint one particular subject, since she does it herself. It’s a matter of repetitious copying of previous work rather than exploring new ways to express the same subject.

This led Robin to ask a new question: Is it bad to want to paint htings that you know will be more salable?

I responded that my feelings are mixed. I wouldn’t deliberately produce work for the market, but at the same time I have sympathy for artists whose sole income is from the sale of their paintings. They have little choice but to find ways to support themselves, and that may include painting what’s popular. Hopefully, once they achieve financial independence they can produce authentic work instead.

Joyfulartist (do you have a name I may use?) posted a great quote from Bayles & Orland’s book “Art & Fear” – “The function of the overwhelming majority of your artwork is to simply teach you how to make the small fraction that soars.” (p. 5)

L.W. responded to the latter comment by Robin and indicated that she wants to sell her work, however she doesn’t have a large enough inventory to begin. (That’s a good topic for later!)

Mark offers that it isn’t bad to want to paint something saleable. After all, portrait paintings (e.g. George F. Watts) do this. He also asks if popular art is saleable art? And, is popular art good because it’s popular? By extension, if nobody likes a painting, is it bad? These are great questions to consider.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Community Discussion continues ... Day 3

Our discussion is gaining momentum. Fantastic! Yesterday, Margaret got things started by expressing her concerns about producing worthy or “serious” work rather than fluff. In a simultaneous post (isn’t it funny how this happens?) Robin queried about what defines a “professional artist.” These two competing topics opened up two interesting pathways for conversation.

Here’s a recap of the responses:

Comments on Margaret’s question about “serious” work:

Meera offered that our passions should guide our work.
Robin agreed with Meera and added that it’s the only way to be true to our art.
L.W. reminded us of what a circus the professional art world can be, and to just “paint.
Hallie finds serious topics in Margaret’s work (as do I!) so it can’t be “fluff.”
Rhonda gave us insight into the fact that an artist’s work is serious if it’s heartfelt and an expression of one’s solo voice.
Carolyn has discovered the importance of content that springs from the roots of her soul in producing serious work.
Mark agrees with Carolyn and adds that it’s the artist’s intent that makes the work serious despite outside opinion.

Comments on Robin’s question about “professional” versus “amateur” artist:

L.W. offered the perspective that paid athletes can’t partake in the Olympics because they are considered professional. She expanded that to the IRS regulations in this country that require sales and deductions as a definition for a pro.
Hallie recounted many of the business responsibilities of a professional artist and decided it wasn’t her thing.

All this led to a new question posed by Dan:
What techniques do you all use to help spur expansion and growth?

Carolyn is spurred on by reading books on art techniques and experimenting.
Hallie agrees and lists a few great books to read.

Maybe we can continue discussing Dan’s topic today and then spin off into another area of interest.

Go for it! This is great.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Community Discussion continues ....Day 2

So far, we’ve had a great community discussion here – thanks to all of you!! It began with Rhonda’s question about fear and art:
fear of ruining a creation,
fear of judgement by others,
fear of taking on challenges.

Some of us offered up other types of fears:
fear of creating work that won’t sell (Lorna)
fear that our art won’t outlive us (Carolyn)
fear of expressing our true feelings in our paintings (L.W.)
fear of trusting in ourselves when subject to the authority of instructors (Sharmon)

And, some of us offered up solutions to our fears:
what’s the worst that can possibly happen? (Robin)
age gives us wisdom and perspective (Robin)
embracing “crazy” (Hallie)
create an art trust or will to preserve our work (Carolyn)
don’t let others dictate what our art should be (Sharmon)
creating a large volume of work diminishes and removes fear (Jean)
paint or draw every single day overcomes fears (Celeste)
realizing that making mistakes can be a positive thing (Celeste)
fear can make the process exciting and make us try new things for the thrill of it (Don)

These are great contributions to our discussion!

A special thank you today to all of our veterans who served so we wouldn't have to fear! Your bravery and sacrifice is extraordinary.

Who’d like to begin today's discussion?? You may either continue this discussion or begin a new topic. Go for it!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Community Discussion: An Experiment

Image: Stick path by Andy Goldsworthy

Following up on yesterday's post about the artist's community, your comments reflected how important this type of interaction is. Many of us work in isolation, or semi-isolation, and seek opportunities to have substantive discussions with other artists. That's how we found each other in the blogosphere.

So, I'd like to conduct a community experiment - a discussion among us that flows along a path that might occur naturally if we were all in the same room.

Let's exchange thoughts and ideas - related to art, of course - that interest us most. I'll delay reviewing the next book I'm reading until next Monday so that we have plenty of time to travel down a conversational path. My job is to facilitate the discussion through daily summaries that allow us all to continue the conversation.

So, for the next four days here's what we'll do: the first person to post a comment today gets to select the topic that most interests him/her. Subsequent comments should acknowledge the initial topic, expand upon it and even slightly turn the path. This is usually how live conversations progress over time.

Of course, we'll respect the virtues of polite conversation and respect all who choose to engage. So - let's begin! Someone start us off. Feel free to comment as much as you like.
Who's first??

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A Community of Artists

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

image: "Rainshadow" by Andy Goldsworthy, 1984

Chapter 10: A Community of Artists, finale

It’s time to conclude Orland’s book and, in so doing, consider the communities available to artists. The author writes: Successful artists’ groups can (and do) differ wildly from one another in size, format, purpose and duration – but in most every case they reflect the only structure that could work for that particular group of artists. The tricky part is striking the right balance between common goals and differing sensibilities.

Over the years, I’ve joined formal art societies governed by rules, informal art groups governed by chaos, and art communities where a significant part of the local residents are artists or support the arts. For me, the most important aspect of any community of artists is the acceptance and encouragement of the free exchange of ideas, philosophies, and perspectives. If the community is too like-minded then innovation dies. If the community is too conflicted then the seeds of ideas can’t sprout. There’s a delicate balance. I like the mellow, laid-back, hey-that’s-interesting-let’s-explore-it approach.

Orland points out that small groups support give-and-take discussions more easily than large groups. True. I’d much rather be part of a small group, or a sub-group of a larger group. Once, I was president of an art league with a membership of over 300 artists. One year of that was about all I could tolerate so I resigned. Whenever a group gets that large there are too many rules and too much narrow-minded thinking. Socializing becomes more important than artmaking, and cliques grapple for control. That makes me run for the hills!

But, art communities in which artists thrive do exist. As Tom Kelly put it, we may make art in private, wrapped in our own techniques and ideas, but a piece of art lives when it is shown. Often, gatherings of artists result in “show and tell” and critique, or larger communities that support the arts make available numerous venues for exhibitions and regularly attend them. It's the resulting dialogue about the art that's shown that brings it to life. This is why the larger community is important to the solitary artist.

There are towns and villages that purposely seek to attract artists such as Monhegan Island in Maine, or Provincetown on Cape Cod, and Oil City in Pennsylvania that openly advertises itself as an artist relocation project. Six years ago I decided to build a home in one of those communities where I spend half the year. It's wonderful!

The point is, we artists can make our own communities (large or small) or move to communities that support the arts. Or, we can remain in isolation and join communities online through emailing and blogs and other sites. Because of the internet, we always have access to the global community of other artists. You can't get much more diverse than that!

As Orland reminds us, ultimately, making art that matters is intimately connected with making life itself matter. Doing so within an understanding and supportive community makes it all the better.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Community of Artists, Part 1

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Image: work by Andy Goldsworthy

Chapter 10: A Community of Artists, Part 1

Before I begin this final chapter of Orland’s book, I’d like to announce that on the left-hand column of this site I’ve created an index of art book reviews and discussions posted here. We’ve had some rip-roaring discussions that you’ll want to read, and often the authors of the books joined in! Just select the name of the author and it will take you to the first day of our discussion. Have fun and feel free to add your comments.

Back to Orland’s book. He begins this final chapter with a quotation from Alan Kay that I can relate to: The best way to predict the future is to invent it yourself. Well, we may not be able to invent a fully predictable future without the interference of unanticipated events - but, I do believe in inventing my own future. Nearly twenty years ago I developed a philosophy that I coined "My Rocking Chair Story.” Back then, I had reached a critical point in my life that required changing nearly everything. As I considered where I would go and what I would do with the rest of my life, I had an epiphany. I envisioned myself as an old woman sitting in a rocking chair on the porch of a retirement home with a stranger sitting in the next chair. He turned to me and said “Tell me about your life.” Immediately, I realized that I wanted a great story to tell – full of accomplishments and adventures that were all true! So, I began to make life decisions that would make my life's narrative exciting and interesting. It’s been quite a ride!

By extension, we artist are inventive and (hopefully) have the freedom to chose what we’ll create and when. We can decide to make our voyage interesting or dull, exciting or depressing, jubillant or sad. It’s up to us individually and as a community of artists who can offer support. Taking risks and venturing forth into uncharted territories can lead to unimaginably rewarding experiences in art. And, if we help each other it's more rewarding.

OK, so I didn’t even get into Orland’s text today. Next time.

Carpe diem!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

An Ecology of Art

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 9: An Ecology of Art
Image: sculpture by Andy Goldsworthy

The title to this chapter confused me at first because my understanding of the word “ecology” is a scientific study of the relationship of living organism to each other and their surroundings. But, as Orland unwrapped his concept throughout the chapter it began to make perfect sense. He writes:

Now it must count for something that as a species we’ve been able to grasp the significance of such interconnections within the natural world. But where is our understanding or empathy for such connections in the cultural world – or by extension, the art world? As artists today we find ourselves in the same straits as other endangered species, surviving – when we do – at the margins of our ecosystem. Today neither art nor artist is offered a meaningful role in our culture, and while there’s no shortage of political and economic rationalizations for this, it makes no sense whatsoever in an evolutionary sense. Viewed in broad terms, art is an expression of human nature, and human nature is at least partly a product of natural selection. .. The traits we associate with artmaking arise from evolutionary sources – and suppressing those traits carries evolutionary consequences.”

Although I agree with part of this logic, I cannot agree that artists are an endangered species because there’s a universal support for the arts. For instance, musicians and filmmakers have an enormous following and have grown into multi-billion dollar industries. I don’t know a single person who doesn’t listen to music in one form or another or who hasn’t seen at least one movie. Artists have a voice in the political arena and are awarded presidential medals in this country and knighthood in England. Local, state, and federal governments provide financial support in the form of grants to artists every year. Worldwide, the fine arts (painting and sculpture) are housed in expensive and well-attended museums and galleries. Last year I gladly stood in line for over an hour just to pay the $18 admission fee into the Guggenheim Museum. That queue was much longer by the time I left the museum. So, I disagree with Orland that artists are an endangered species. Instead, I propose that the species called “artist” has become overpopulated in its niche. Breeding new artists is easy, but finding support for all them is not. After all, our resources are finite.

This is a somewhat depressing thought, but it also makes me all the more determined to make a place for myself. I’m not the sort of person who responds well to the suggestion that I cannot do something. I like the challenge and if I fail I can at least say that I tried.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, November 5, 2010

From Monet to Money, Part 3

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 7: From Monet to Money, Part 3

The conclusion of this chapter brings to light what most artists face on a daily basis: the fact that most of us are neither famous nor rich from our artmaking. But, isn’t that true for professionals in almost any discipline? The superstars are few among us. Today, we have an increasing number of “celebritants” (celebrity/debutants) whose only claim to fame comes from publicists and stylists who market them for their looks, questionable personalities, and outrageous acts. An artist could achieve notoriety in the same way but does that make their work more meaningful and valuable? Think of Thomas Kinkade before answering that question.

But, should we artists even be concerned with pursuing fame? For many of us, financial necessity forces us to find ways to sell our work. I have yet to meet an artist who prefers marketing their work to making it. Nor have I met an artist who’d give up painting just to pursue the life of fame (I probably don’t know enough artists because I suspect there are some who would do just that!)

As Orland puts it, the very lack of attention from the outside world also brings a healthy realization that fame and fortune are fickle rewards, and that nourishment for our work must come from other parts of our life – from friends and family, and from the satisfaction that comes from the making the art itself. And so yes, of course artists today are universally under-recognized and underpaid. But then again, how much money would someone have to pay you in trade for your promise to never make art again?

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Third Law of Thermodynamics

The Third Law of Thermodynamics
by Katharine A. Cartwright, 2010
watercolor on paper
26" x 20"

Yesterday, I completed the ninth painting in my series "The Laws of Nature," which is a comment on the natural physical constraints upon man's attempt to harness and utilize the energy and materials of the universe.

"The Third Law of Thermodynamics" states: for changes involving only perfect crystalline solids at absolute zero, the change of the total entropy is zero.

Each painting in this series is based upon intuition with no physical references. Therefore, these represent what I see in my mind's eye. Today, I'll begin drafting the tenth painting in this ongoing series.

Happy painting, everyone!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Artists' Round Table (A.R.T.)

I'll take a short break from reviewing Orland's book today to discuss my morning. Some wonderful local artists joined me in a round table discussion about the various aspects of being a professional artist. There was no agenda so the conversation could freely expand and contract around our personal interests and experiences. As a friend of mine used to say, we discussed everything "from strawberries to the moon!" - as long as it was related to art.

One topic was the importance of dedicating time to make art; that is, having regular hours and sticking to it. However, a more important point was made by our good friend Carolyn , who wisely noted that making time in our heads is essential. This means clearing from our thoughts the numerous distractions and trivial concerns that prevent us from focusing on artmaking. That can be especially difficult for those of us who've spent a lifetime as caretakers of children, spouses, and parents. Our thoughts tend to stray even when we're in our studios and we tend to abandon our artmaking on a moment's notice when needed elsewhere.

So, a change in thinking must precede a change in our physical habits. This was an important and meaningful take-away from our meeting. I wonder what we'll discuss next month?

Monday, November 1, 2010

From Monet to Money, Part 2

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 7: From Monet to Money, Part 2 - my viewpoint

Yesterday, I promised to share with you how I market my art. I don’t have any secrets to disclose and there’s no magic wand. It’s all about hard work and placing value on what I make. I can honestly say that almost every single day I paint (or work out a technical problem in my head) AND engage in at least one activity to promote my work. I’ve rarely missed a day.

So far, in 2010, I’ve sold 57 paintings. These painting are based upon concepts that interest me without regard to what is popular or more attractive to consumers – so, my work is authentic and aesthetically pleasing to me. Because I can't create 57 paintings in one year, most of these sales were paintings completed over the past five years. Twenty-one paintings sold at two solo shows in galleries last summer and the rest sold either at juried exhibitions, from my home, or from my website.

How did this happen? Hard work over a long period of time while exploring every reasonable and legitimate avenue I could think of, such as:

Websites: When I first posted my website through Artspan, I naively thought there’d be an immediate reaction to my work. Nope – nada - zilch. So, I printed business cards and brochures and distributed them with the hope that people would begin to visit my website. They did, but still no sales. It wasn’t until Artspan improved its ranking on search engines that buyers found me. Even so, I’ve made fewer than a dozen sales directly from my website since I began it and only one this year.

Galleries: I’ve never been interested in an exclusive relationship with a gallery and haven’t sought it. However, I do contract for short-term (1-2 month) solo shows in galleries with great results. I highly recommend this approach, and recommend that any agreement with a gallery should be in written contract form (check the fine print!).

Outdoor Shows: Every couple of years I participate in our local annual outdoor art show. This allows me to interact with members of my own community and I always make lots of sales. In fact, many of the folks who regularly collect my work live in my community. Repeat customers are very important! Although I didn’t participate last summer, I did make a couple of sales to folks who sought me from previous years. This means that handing out attractive business cards and brochures that people will hang onto is important.

Juried Exhibitions: Every year I sell paintings that are part of a juried exhibition somewhere in this country. I never get to meet the patrons, but it’s good to know that they connect with my work.

Corporations: Many corporations have art collections and frequently add to them. Sometimes a corporation will approach me about a purchase and other times I’ll make the first move.

To put this in perspective: my first concern is in producing authentic work that satisfies me. My second concern is marketing. As I mentioned earlier, I do something every day to promote my work but it doesn’t usually consume more than an hour or two unless I’m writing an exhibition proposal or framing work for a show.

Frankly, I’m not a marketing genius. Mostly, I’m concerned with the quality of my life. So, I paint because it makes me happy and engages me intellectually and I have fun with marketing because I can’t live in a house that’s stacked to the rafters with paintings. Also, it’s a great feeling to know that other people “get it” and connect with my work enough to want it for their own home/office/corporation.

But, one thing is certain: the more I paint and work at marketing , the more paintings I sell; and the more paintings I sell the more I establish relationships with collectors; and more collectors equals more sales. But, it’s not just about the money – it’s about connecting with other people, communities, and society through my art.

The best advice I can give is to believe in your artistry and "reach for the stars!"

What’s your approach?

From Monet to Money

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 7: From Monet to Money

I’m back from “The Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear” in Washington D.C. where I was surrounded by 250,000 polite and sane people for the day. We managed to stand close enough to the stage to see the performers, and it was an amazing experience. Woodstock, move over!

Now, back to “normal.” Orland’s seventh chapter is about how to support ourselves as artists. He begins by advising us to be single-minded and pursue no other goal than making art. Of course, this means that there will be times of feast and famine, so it’s not for the tentative or uncommitted. He does acknowledge that most of us will need a steady source of income while we’re making art, and suggests two avenues: either find an uninteresting job that won’t distract us from our art but may, potentially, dull our minds OR find an interesting job in commercial art that stimulates us to be more creative in our fine art. These days, finding ANY job at all is a challenge!
The real problem for us artists is finding reputable venues and patrons for our art. Gallery directors have a difficult job these days since so many of us display and sell our work on the world-wide web. I read somewhere that two-thirds of all galleries that open will close their doors within three years. So, which galleries succeed and why? I don’t know, but Orland offers this perspective:

The director of one well-established West Coast gallery confided to me that fully three-quarters of her gallery’s sales were accounted for by exactly two categories of art: 1)Masterworks by famous –well, OK, “dead” - artists; and 2) one particular artist’s limited edition color lithograph of really cute little white boats. So there you have it, a ready-made recipe for success. Be dead, or paint little white boats.

If we’re really serious about our art (and I am!) then we don’t want to compromise the content of our work by painting for tourists. So, we paint for ourselves - but, how do we sell it?? Orland has a formula for this scenario as well: if the only goal were to attain quick visibility in the art world, the formula is absurdly simple: devote ten percent of your effort to artmaking, and ninety percent to marketing and self-promotion. And, if you stop for even a moment you’ll “drop into oblivion.”

Personally, I’m not interested in joining that type of rat-race. So, tomorrow I’ll share with you my approach and hope that you’ll share yours as well!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Audience, Part 2

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 6: Audience, Part 2

Orland ends this chapter by giving the reader a far-reaching perspective of the artist's audience: The fact that museums and art history books are peppered with re-discovered art offers grudging support to the contrarian view that art actually has a better chance of surviving if it’s initially undervalued. Call it the Theory of Benign Neglect: work that doesn’t “fit” gets ignored and forgotten and buried in some dusty attic – in other words, it gets unintentionally preserved simply because no one bothers to throw it away. Then, in different times, an audience with different sensibilities rediscovers the work and sees it in an entirely new light.

So, our art, if it’s preserved, may appeal to people who haven’t yet been born in societies that haven’t yet evolved. Or, it could appeal to our contemporaries but not future generations. Honestly, I can’t get bogged down in worrying about it because I’m not going to change the content of my work in order to appeal to an audience anyway. That’s just chasing rabbits, and it would force me to compromise my vision. For me, it’s a cardinal sin to paint to someone else’s tastes at the expense of my own concept and sensibilities.

But, the notion that my art future may appeal to a future generation is a good reason to use only archival materials. I was advised to do this many years ago and have always spent big bucks on acid-free papers, permanent high-quality hues, etc. Even my studies are treated with this regard, and I advise my students to do the same.

Who is my audience?
Who is your audience?
Who is any artist’s audience? We might never know.

And now - I’m off to Washington D.C. to attend “The Rally to Restore Sanity.” Have a great weekend, everyone!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Audience, Part 1

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 6: Audience, Part 1

We artists usually make art for ourselves because it’s satisfying on many levels. In fact, most of us are compelled to express our thoughts and ideas through our art even if there were no audience. However, as Orland writes, when audience is added into the equation, the whole process quickly becomes more complex and often more troublesome. We'll explore the "troublesome" aspect in part 2 of this chapter.

The author likens art without an audience to a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it. The tree fell, but without a witness who cares?? Over the long run, art without audience is incomplete. The meaning of your art may be embedded in the artwork itself, but its purpose arises from its relationship with audience.

In support of this notion, I’d like to apply it to all artforms. How is a ballet affected if no one ever sees it? Likewise, a novel, poem, movie, sonata, and so on? And, how would the private existance of the arts affect our culture? I know that seems absurd, but it helps me to put art in perspective. I would argue that part of the intent in making art from any discipline is to communicate with others. The trick is, however, to not let the audience influence our creative authenticity.

The essential questions Orland asks are:
Who is the real audience for your art?

Where would you hope to find your art ten years from now?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Surviving Graduation, Part 2

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 5: Surviving Graduation, Part 2

The rest of this chapter examines the transition of the artist from student to professional. Orland lays out the typical steps that lead to success when one become an independent artist. These steps may be distilled to one: make art every day. He states your mastery of craft is directly proportional to the sheer number of hours you throw into the effort, but your vision unfolds in concert with your total life experience – in other words, slowly, and only across extended periods of time. Our “vision” needs time to mature and we must be patient enough let it. We achieve this one painting at a time, day after day, year after year.

What is it we’re hoping to achieve in our artmaking? Many of us find that it’s emotionally satisfying because we have an inner compulsion to make art and we need a creative outlet. For me, that’s true but there’s also something more. I need to share my work with others – to exhibit it in public venues. It’s not vanity, it’s simply my way of communicating with society. As Orland puts it, over the long run it’s the relationship of your art to the entire culture that determines its value. In the deepest sense, the relationship of your art to the culture is its value.

I feel the need to expand Orland’s view of what it takes to become a professional artist because it’s limited to that of an Academic (Orland is a college art professor). There’s a whole other side to life as a professional artist and that’s the business side. While an artist, first and foremost, must be dedicated to producing authentic work that is technically skillful, he/she must also attend to all that goes into exhibiting and selling the work in order to participlate in the professional arena. Colleges don’t include that in their art curriculum. But, that’s a discussion for another day.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Surviving Graduation

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 5: Surviving Graduation, Part 1

This chapter addresses college students in the fine arts, but I think it also applies to art students in week-long workshops or those who work with a mentor. The classroom experience is one of total immersion in a supportive environment where one fits in with everyone else. It’s nothing like the “real world” where artists are undervalued and often misunderstood. So, graduation or separation from the classroom environment can be scary. As Orland points out, sooner or later every artist needs to claim their artistic independence, and that means placing a healthy aesthetic distance between their own work and that of their most important teachers. Artists who fail to make that break may well stay in the game anyway, but usually as niche players, building entire careers out of beautifully crafted variants of their mentor’s art.

This is really about confidence and trust in our own abilities. A teacher or mentor gives us direction and immediate feedback, which gives us the confidence to make necessary corrections to our work. Teacher/mentors often think for us by identifying the weaknesses in our work that we’re too immature to see for ourselves and assigning new challenges that will lead us in what we trust is the best direction. For the student, severing this dependent relationship can be difficult and knowing when to make the transition is tricky.

In college, I learned how to paint in oils and acrylics. Watercolor wasn’t considered a worthy medium (for shame!) and still isn’t in some institutions. So, about twelve years ago I decided to challenge that prejudice and learn to paint in watercolors. I sought a mentor and worked with her off-and-on for three years. Between lessons I asked her to critique my work and completely failed to trust in my own ability. If she wanted me to change something, I changed it.
This dependence ended when I painted a work that I knew (deep down inside) was a good one. She told me to abandon that path, but I refused and kept going. The series of paintings that resulted from my rebellion won numerous awards in juried national and international exhibitions, and earned me two solo shows in notable venues.

But, how do we know when it’s time to graduate? For me, it was when I had enough technical skill to paint well. At that point, the only thing I needed to do was express my own ideas – to say what I wanted to say about my world – to speak in my own voice.

What’s your story?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Education of the Artist, Part 4

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 4: The Education of the Artist, Part 4

This last and final section of Chapter 4 is directed toward art teachers. Orland writes: Teaching has its consequences. As a First Principle, teachers would do well to heed the counsel of Hippocrates: “First, Do No Harm.”
As students of art, we trust our teachers on many levels: to provide us with accurate and useful information, to serve as a role model, and to inspire us to innovate according to our own sensibilities with skill.

I’ve been teaching in one capacity or another for nearly forty years and understand the bond of trust between teacher and student. It’s one that should never be violated, and it’s an awesome responsibility. As a teacher, you never know how someone will react to what you say or do. We can inspire without even knowing it, and we can also destroy creativity and desire just as easily.
By my accounting, Orland writes, good teaching is more a process of raising the next question (or hundred questions) a student needs to confront in order to make headway in their work. Isn’t that the truth? It’s like the old adage about teaching someone to fish. He also writes, You soon realize that your real purpose as a teacher may simply be as a catalyst, offering a few provocative ideas here, clearing the way past a few technical hurdles there, and eventually just pointing the way to the far horizon.

As a teacher, it’s important for me to show my students how to think critically, creatively, and independently. As Orland puts it, no one else has the answers you need anyway. He recounts a tentative student whose creativity needed to be released. So, he asked her four important questions that I’ll paraphrase for us painters:

What’s the easiest subject for you to paint?

What’s the emotionally riskiest subject you’d dare approach?

What do you have a passion to paint?

What’s the single greatest obstacle standing between you and the art you need to make?

These are great questions!
What are your thoughts?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Second Law of Thermodynamics

The Second Law of Thermodynamics
by Katharine A. Cartwright
Watercolor on Arches Paper
26" x 20"

The entropy of a closed system increases with time.

Hi folks, This is the most recent and eighth painting in my series "The Laws of Nature." Since it's the weekend, I thought I'd post it and then return to Orland's book on Monday. One of the challenges in this painting was to make a small departure from the palette I typically use (red/blue/yellow) and focus more on green - a hue I usually avoid. I guess we all have color preferences, and I decided it was time to challenge my own.

The first challenge in creating this series was rejecting all visual references (real objects and photographs) and relying entirely on my intuition so that what is expressed comes entirely from my imagination. That alone has liberated and improved my ability to create. As this series continues, I look for new challenges - such as changing my palette or pushing the limits of design. All the paintings in this series comment upon man's inability to create the perfect machine (perpetual motion) because of the constraints imposed by nature. Vis victum apparatus! Nature conquers machine.

P.S. I've entered three paintings from this series into three different exhibitions and have won awards in each one: The San Diego Watercolor Society's annual international exhibition, Aqueous USA, and the annual international exhition of the North East Watercolor Society.

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Education of the Artist, Part 3

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 4: The Education of the Artist, Part 3

In this section, Orland discusses the most important mentor in his life – the famous photographer Ansel Adams. Their fifteen year relationship was critically important to this author’s development as an artist. What made Adams an effective mentor was his single-minded approach to his art coupled with a broadminded philosophy. Adams had a clear vision about the content and purpose of his work. As Orland puts it:

Over the long run what I came to value most were the intangibles I absorbed simply by standing near someone who had found something important that he needed to say through his art, had molded his technique to match that vision, and – most of all – demonstrated the strength of will it takes to stay focused on reaching that goal. It isn’t the equipment or tonal range or recent auction price or even the subject matter that I relate to when I look at Ansel’s art – it’s the sincerity and passion and care and trust he embedded into the making of that art.

I must think about this description all weekend. Isn't Adams the role model we've all been searching for as both an artist and a mentor?

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Education of the Artist, part 2

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 4: The Education of the Artist, part 2

Before I begin my review of this next section of Orland’s book, I’ll share that my husband and I are joining John Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” and Stephen Colbert’s “Rally to Keep Fear Alive” on the Mall in Washington D.C. on October 30th. Guess which side we're on?? We have our tee shirts, buttons, and posters ready to go. Will you be there?

Back to Orland’s book: After encouraging us to seek a broad education and also specific areas of learning that enhance our work, he now turns his attention to the types of choices we make. Any choice can turn into a series of unpredicted events – avenues that repeatedly bifurcate to create an unanticipated path of learning.

Here’s an example: I’ve been a professional artist for a long time, but at one point decided to adopt a second discipline. So, I went back to college and earned a graduate degree earth science and taught at a college. Right after I retired from that I decided to take a four-week temp job scoring high school math standardized tests by computer. I decided to do this because it was obvious that college students lacked math skills, so I wanted to know how and what high schoolers were being taught. (BTW – it was appalling!) Anyway, one of the other scorers on my team was a poet who also owned a small publishing company. We got to talking over coffee breaks and he became interested in my art. When our temp jobs ended, he contacted me and asked if I’d be interested in illustrating some of his poems for publication. I agreed. Eventually, other poets saw my work and hired me as well. Before I knew it, I had plenty of work as an illustrator and a nice boost in income!

One decision led to an unexpected outcome that eventually became a sideline in my art career. As Orland writes: The difference is where we search for the possibilities, and in that regard some encounters will always prove more consequential than others. Each of us has a path, a turning point (or many of them), and a story.

Orland asks us:

Where did you learn the things that really matter to you?
Where was that critical fork in the road that directed you to this point?
Who have been your real teachers?

I’m asking you, too.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The Education of the Artist

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 4: The Education of the Artist, part 1

This is a very long chapter, so I’ll break it up into parts. The topic interests me a great deal because some of what I know about artmaking comes from a formal education and some from experimentation (a.k.a. trial and error). As far as I’m concerned, both approaches have value. So, let’s see what Orland has to say about it.

He begins by reminding us that it’s the countless small steps we take toward learning how to make art that are critically important. We should find satisfaction in that journey because that’s where almost all the progress gets made. I agree and am happier taking a series of small steps that are easy to correct than making a big leap that could end in a big disaster. Orland continues: truth is, caring about the work you do is the single best indicator that others will also care about it. The same goes for learning. I agree.

Our education often comes from a variety of seemingly unrelated sources. This, in my opinion, is the value of a liberal arts education. A broader understanding provides a valuable context or perspective for any discipline, including art. Ben Shahn’s book, The Shape of Content, urges us to learn as much as possible from as many disciplines as possible. The better informed we are as artists, the greater the chances are that we’ll produce meaningful work.

As Orland puts it: there’s no predicting which particular piece of knowledge or experience will later prove essential, we’re faced with the disconcerting possibility that everything matters. And if that knowledge or experience could come from anywhere, the clear implication is that teachers are everywhere. That’s how I see it, too.

Although the random experiences that life imposes on us provide us with a rich education, Orland advises us to purposely seek specific learning experiences that help us with artmaking as well. This is to help us make decisions about the path our work should take. And, no two paths will be identical.

Next time, part 2 of this chapter.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Have You Hugged an Artist Today?

The View from the Studio Door: How Artists Find Their Way in an Uncertain World
By Ted Orland (2006)

Chapter 3: Art & Society, Part 3

Orland finishes this chapter with the notion that we’re becoming a society that is almost entirely composed of audience. Too many viewers and too few participants have left artists lacking community support. He asks, “how many artists have the resilience to see their still-developing work placed in direct competition with the legends of their field? And, we can’t afford to leave artmaking to a chosen few – the few are not enough. Thinking globally, Orland speculates that another superstar wouldn’t do as much to make the world a better place as would thousands of people making art on a daily basis. Indeed, the world would be a better place if more people made art.

I agree with the last statement, but am uncertain about the rest of his reasoning. It seems to me that there are more people in the world making art today than ever before in the history of mankind. It also seems to me that there’s more public funding available for the arts than ever before, and more people buying art. There was a time, not more than a century ago, when only the wealthy elite purchased original art and the rest either did without or bought cheap prints. Times have changed – and almost anyone can own an original work of art and almost anyone can declare him/herself an "artist."

But, maybe Orland is writing about a different kind of community support: respect. The type of
respect that holds artists in esteem within the community and finds value in what we do. The type of respect that doesn't chop art programs first when educational funding shrinks. The kind of respect that helps artists function full-time in their careers. The kind of respect that views art as a solution to the problem rather than a silly pasttime.

We artists need both emotional and tangible support from our community. That lacking, we especially need it from each other. I’ve been in too many situations where artists compete against one another in a destructive way either indirectly or directly. Elevating one's art and professional standing doesn't necessate demeaning someone else's. For what it's worth - I hold you all in high esteem and am grateful for your support!

What are your thoughts?