The Laws of Nature

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Series Continues ...

I'm taking a quick break from reviewing Kimmelman's book, mostly because I'm getting bogged-down in the next to last chapter and need to spend some time distilling it. I'll post from it tomorrow. In the meantime, I'll show you my latest painting and give you an update on the series as a whole.

As you already know, I always work in series based upon a central concept. My most recent series, entitled The Laws of Nature, is a comment on the constraints on technology by the natural laws that govern our universe. This is why humans can't build the "perfect" machine that runs on perpetual motion. All of our efforts are and will be limited and imperfect. So, each painting in this series is my interpretation of a particular natural law as it applies to a fatally flawed mechanical system.

All paintings in this series are watercolor on paper and 26" x 20" in size. I don't use models or photographs for reference. Rather, I rely on my imagination and intuition to draft and paint.

Yesterday, I completed the seventh painting in this series, entitled The First Law of Thermodynamics (below).

The Universal Law of Gravity (slideshow above) is now hanging in the 30th Annual International Exhibition of the San Diego Watercolor Society where it also won an award.

The Law of Reciprocal Action (slideshow above) is now hanging in the Aqueous USA exhibition sponsored by the Kentucky Watercolor Society where it, too, won an award.

Entropy (slideshow above) has just been juried into the 34th Annual International Exhibition of the North East Watercolor Society and will be hung next month.

Finally, The Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics (slideshow above) appears in the ebook and DVD entitled A Walk Into Abstracts: How Did They Do That? by Sue St. John. Northlight books will produce this book in hard copy next year.

So, that's the update. Presently, I'm formulating thoughts about the next (eighth) painting in this series. I hope to complete at least two dozen or more.

Tomorrow: Chapter 9 of Kimmelman's book.

Happy painting!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Art of Staring Productively at Naked Bodies

The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
By Michael Kimmelman (2005)

Chapter 8: The Art of Staring Productively at Naked Bodies

My husband saw the title of this chapter and wants to practice! However, I suspect that’s not what Kimmelman has in mind … or, does he? Let’s see.

For as long as there have been artists there have been different strategies for depicting the nude. Some nudes have been realistic while others are fantastical or morphed into allegorical forms. Still others may be abstracted to an unrecognizable state. Renaissance artists and many contemporary artists deemed it necessary to study human anatomy in order to better render the human form. And then, there are the shock artists and pornographers.

Kimmelman dedicates most of this chapter to time he spent with the contemporary visual artist Philip Pearlstein. A painter of nudes, Pearlstein’s work is most unusual because he incorporates elaborate still lifes in his work (photo). He also works with different models on different days so he works on several paintings simultaneously in a repetitiously methodical way. The author spent months observing Pearlstein’s process and revealed a number of daily habits practiced by Pearlstein that enhance his productivity. The artist explained it this way: “The act of re-creating the visual experience of the models in front of me is absolutely absorbing, leaving no room for extraneous thoughts, sexual or otherwise. My routine is my way of controlling hysteria… There’s no way to get rid of emotion in art. It’s just a question of making something constructive out of it. … I wake up every morning and get to work. It’s my little contribution to civilization.”
Pearlstein established a routine that enhances his ability to intensely focus on his work. I try to do the same thing: post my blog, go to the studio and paint, lunch, paint, dinner, relax and read. This routine changes during the summers because I love kayaking and hiking. But, the moment those activities end I'm back at my routine.

Focus, routine, dedication… sounds like a formula for success to me.

What are your thoughts and routines?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Art of Finding Yourself When You're Lost

The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
By Michael Kimmelman (2005)

Chapter 7: The Art of Finding Yourself When You’re Lost

True stress and danger bring out the best in some people and inspire art in a few. Kimmelman provides numerous examples of this fact, including Picasso’s masterful work which he produced when Paris was occupied. A long time ago I posted another another remarkable example, the Indian artist Sonabai, who was forced into a decade of solitary confinement in her own home where she created a whole new art form.
Additionally, there are the quilters of a poor and isolated community in Gee’s Bend, Alabama (this one's for you PAMO!). Geographical isolation and poverty preserved generations of elaborate and unique quilting designs made from worn and left-over clothing fabrics and cornmeal sacks (photo). The author praises their quilts as some of the most miraculous works of modern art America has ever produced. Folks, if you’ve never seen these quilts, do yourself a favor and look them up on the web.

There are also many stories of remarkable art that emerged during the term of a prisoner’s incarceration. Ray Materson, for instance, taught himself to embroider unique and highly skilled baseball-related pictures. Much of his work is smaller than a baseball card and contains 1,200 stitches per square inch!

Kimmelman devotes most of this chapter on the work of Australian photographer Frank Hurley who served on the Endurance during Shackleton’s ill-fated exploration of Antarctica. Hurley’s photographs were much more than illustrations of his surroundings, they were fine art – art created in a physically hostile environment during a struggle for survival. The best of these images have an extraordinarily modern quality, stark and stirring; their reduction to irregular geometric forms brings to mind Alexander Calder or Ellsworth Kelly.

After his rescue, Hurley continued to photograph and film various situations and events, but his work suffered. It lost its impact and artistry. Kimmelman makes an excellent point about this: If we are affluent enough today, we live amid a mounting glut of distracting choices, killing our time mulling over what food to eat, which clothes to wear or gadgets to buy, where to go on vacation. We can easily lose our way. When Hurley gained choices, he lost his focus. Wearing the same clothes, eating the same seal pemmican, staying in the same place, day in and day out, he was better able to concentrate on making the most with what he had at hand. That’s perhaps his most enduring lesson. The same may be said of Sonabai, the quilters of Gee’s Bend, and Ray Materson. Perhaps the real lesson is that no matter what our circumstances, it is only when we completely focus on creating and ignore the distractions around us that we produce our best work.

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Art of Maximizing Your Time

The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
By Michael Kimmelman (2005)
painting by Alice Neel

Chapter 6: The Art of Maximizing Your Time

Well, here’s a topic that piques my interest, and the opening sentences in this chapter strongly resonate with me: Sometimes art can be a refuge from life, and in extreme cases it is a second chance at life. Another way to put the familiar phrase about the relative lengths of art and life is to say that what makes great art great is that it remains eternally young, while we don’t. How true! Just visit the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and you’ll see people of all ages looking with awe at paintings that were completed a century or more ago. The relevance and appeal of this art persists through generations of social change.

Kimmelman writes about artists who take risks to create great art; who challenge their creative limits. Coincidentally, earlier today I watched a documentary about one such artist, Alice Neel. She lived and raised her children in poverty while dedicating her life to painting portraits. Not just any portraits, but truly “great” ones that delved into the soul of humanity without blinking. Her paintings are bold relentless examinations of the human condition. However, it was only after painting for 50 years without making sales that she finally got her big break – a solo show at the Whitney Museum in New York City.

As I mentioned earlier, the author gives examples of artists (Jay DeFeo, Eva Hesse, and other women) who gave their all – maximized their time - to create great art. For them, this required a willingness to fail, which is generally a sign of optimism as well as a prerequisite for making good art. Hesse wrote in her diary “All my stakes are in my work. I have given up in all else. Like my whole reality is there – I am all there.” We may or may not have the support of those around us in our pursuit of artmaking, but that shouldn’t matter. If we’re truly oblivious to discouragement, we’ll devote ourselves to our work and maximize our time.

Kimmelman also writes of the moving story about a young Jewish German artist named Charlotte Salomon who endured the Holocaust and was murdered at Auschwitz at the young age of twenty-six. The story is so moving and well-written that I’ll leave it to my readers to pick up this book and read it. What Charlotte left behind was a 1,300 page quasi-fictional diary of text and pictures entitled Life? Theater? A Play with Music. This diary included gouache paintings, hand-written text, and musical notation. According to Kimmelman: her work preached deliverance through everylasting love. This great work was produced under the worst possible conditions in a relatively short period of time.

The efforts of all these women, and other “great” artists, outlived them. Will our art outlive us? What are we willing to do to make that happen? As I enter my “senior” years of life I often think about how to maximize the time I have left. But, I’m really not a Type-A (more like an A-minus) so I doubt that I’ll ever become obsessed with maximization. However, I’ll try to keep up the pace.

How about you?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Art of Collecting LIghtbulbs

The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
By Michael Kimmelman (2005)

Chapter 5: The Art of Collecting Lightbulbs

The author once met a Baltimore dentist named Hugh Frances Hicks shortly before his death at age 79 in 2002. Dr. Hicks had collected 75,000 items that were either lightbulbs or things related to lightbulbs. Many are historically significant, like some of Edison's earliest experiments. His is the largest such collection in the world and he turned his basement into a museum called the Mount Vernon Museum of Incandescent Lighting.
Kimmelman queries “Why do people collect?” And, specifically, why did Dr. Hicks collect lightbulbs? Evidently, it began when Hicks was a toddler and his mother gave him an old lightbulb to play with. One thing led to the next and, before you know it, he became a dedicated collector.

In general, Kimmelman speculates that “some people collect because collecting can be a great art if earnestly engaged in.” This, he explains, accounts for why most of us like viewing collections even if we aren’t collectors ourselves. Also, “collecting is a way to bring order to the world” or “it is also a way to define some idiosyncratic niche for the collector, as art does for an artist.” I can add another reason: obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). My deceased father-in-law had many collections: 1,500 works of art; 1,200 art books; 500 Santa Claus figures; over 200 pairs of glasses; hundreds of clocks, and many other collections. It was mind-boggling and a nightmare for my sister-in-law who took it upon herself to clean out his house before selling it.

But, I digress. The point is, serious collectors are ubiquitous and many of their collections are art forms. “Collected objects become symbolic when they lose their utilitarian purpose … Their uselessness becomes their asset: they turn into totems and fragments of the lost worlds they came from.” These lost worlds, like art, provide the viewers with a sense of wonderment. They heighten our curiosity and help us become more aware of our surroundings.

Back to Dr. Hicks. Evidently, psychiatrists once visited him as a part of their investigation into why collectors collect. “They were something,” he said. “They didn’t blink their eyes. They were interviewing collectors from all over the world. After spending $4 million, they concluded that collectors collect for the fascination of an object and for no other reason. Heck, I would have told them that for $1 million.”

So, now I’m wondering if we artists compulsively create art for the same reason that collectors collect. Is it fascination??

What are your thoughts?
P.S. Have a great weekend! I’ll be back on Monday.

The Art of Making Art Without Lifting a Finger

The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
By Michael Kimmelman (2005)

Chapter 4: The Art of Making Art Without Lifting a Finger

Art on one level already may be a state of mind. Of course it is first of all a physical object with which we interact in the moment. But after we have seen a work, what do we take away except a memory of it? And memory is thought, a mental seed planted by the artist, which is reproduced in as many different variations as the number of people in whom the memory exists. What makes art good is partly its power to proliferate as a variable memory, an intangible concept, filtered through individual consciousness.

To support this point of view, Kimmelman provides the interesting tale of Pop Art’s Ray Johnson. Johnson (1927 – 1995) was primarily a collage artist (photo), but also engaged in performance and conceptual art. One of his great contributions was the innovation known as “Mail Art.” His final artistic creation was his own suicide. Before jumping off the bridge into the frigid January waters of Long Island Sound at the age of 67 (6+7=13), he checked into Room 247 (2+4+7=13) of the Baron’s Cove Inn at Sag Harbor Cove (both of which to 13 letters). He also left behind an enormous puzzle of his collages on a wall in his house: a forensic challenge. It is interesting that his body was found floating upon the waters face up with his arms neatly folded across his chest – a work completed. This artwork now exists only in our minds, which as Kimmelman suggests is reproduced in as many different variations as the number of people in whom the memory exists.

Of course, this way of thinking erases the boundary between “art” and “not art.” Is every thought, every manufactured thing a work of art just because we think it is? Duschamp’s ready-mades support that notion. Robert Rauschenberg declared it to be “art” when he erased a drawing of de Kooning. Artist Yves Klein’s show, “Le Vide” (“The Void”), at a gallery in Paris attracted mobs of people into a gallery that contained no art at all. The list of artists who engaged in conceptual art is endless. The point was to “elevate the ordinary” and to achieve a “heightened state of awareness.” So, everday life became a work of art.

Is the “idea” more durable than the physical work of art itself? If so, then there is no line drawn between art and everyday life. They are, as Kimmelman suggests, one.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Art of Having a Lofty Perspective

The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
By Michael Kimmelman (2005)

Chapter 3: The Art of Having a Lofty Perspective

This chapter is about “beauty” and covers many of the same topics we’ve already discussed here, from the Greek philosophers to Hume, Kant, and Danto. However, Kimmelman provides another perspective which he illustrates through a story about mountain climbing. At one point in his life, he wanted to scale Mount Sainte-Victoire, the same peak that inspired Cezanne (photo). Expecting a mountain-top epiphany, the author was disappointed to find that no such enlightenment occurred and so he began to speculate about why.

One clue might be in how we understand “beauty.” According to philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto, beauty, if it is not to be solely decorative, should also have a deeper rationale for being in art; it should be intrinsic to the meaning of art. This removes the superficial aspect of beauty and provides a deeper meaning that must be deciphered through an effort to understand its meaning.

Danto's notion nicely coincides with David Hume’s. Hume, who separated natural beauty from beauty in art, saying that natural beauty just hits you in the face – it is plainly there, and if you fail to recognize it, too bad, no rational explanation of nature’s beauty will redress your failure – whereas beauty in art depends on reasoning and critical analysis: people may come around to seeing beauty in art through reasoned argument.

The author uses two examples to support these philosophies: Duschamp’s “readymades” which have been critically accepted as art, such as “The Fountain” (a urinal); and, Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s wrapping of the Reichstage which was, during the planning stage, met with outrage by Berliners but later embraced as “the symbolism of turning the new seat of a reunified Germany into a chrysalis and then unwrapping it.”

Continuing his quest for enlightenmnet, Kimmelman hikes a second peak. This time, he has an epiphany of sorts. He realized that all deep understanding of beauty may in fact be acculturated. That is, “art becomes our entree to the sublime. It illustrates that beauty is not something static and predictable and always there at the top of a mountain, but an organic, shifting, elusive, and therefore more desirable goal of our devotion, which we must make an effort to grasp.
Personally, I agree. Isn't this why "beauty is in the eye of the beholder?" If beauty were a standardized, quantifiable entity arrived at by formulaic means or limited to only one set of standards wouldn't it become ordinary and lacking the "sublime"? Don't we bring our individual thoughts, ideas, and experiences into play when we deem something to be beautiful? Yes, emotions play a role, but not without cognitive processes.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Art of Being Artless

The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
By Michael Kimmelman (2005)

Chapter 2: The Art of Being Artless

Yesterday, we engaged in a good discussion about chapter 1. The central theme of this book is to encourage us to keep our eyes open, to be more alert to the serendipitous events that can inspire our work. These events occur within our everyday lives and may well be disguised as seemingly unimportant if we fail to look closely or to pursue them. The author also urges us to consider the fact that we can learn, among other things, that a life lived with art in mind might itself be a kind of art. What a beautiful thought!

In the case of Bonnard, his muse was Marthe. According to Kimmelman, Pierre dated the birth of his painterly identity to shortly after they met. To a lesser degree, I, too, can point to a specific time when my work significantly changed and I suspect there will be future times that will be marked as a turning point as well.

In Chapter 2, Kimmelman discusses unintentional art. Sometimes art appears unexpectedly. It doesn’t arrive through the front door. It sneaks in the back, the more startling for being the result of dumb luck. Several interesting examples are provided, but the one that caught my attention is a photograph by Anonymous that hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It’s a picture from the 1930’s of a woman with one leg propped on the running board of a car with the man in the car looking out at her. There’s a surprising beauty and symmetry to this photo. Clearly, the photographer was an amateur and probably had no idea that he/she had created a work of art. The author speculates that the photo may have made its way to someone’s attic, and eventually to a dumpster or flea market where it was scavenged by a dealer-collector. Eventually, Thomas Walther at the Met acquired it.

This discussion is preceded by an interesting journey through the transformation of photography from a solely professional activity to a popular amateur one thanks to the invention of the Kodak camera by Eastman. As an aside – I was interested to learn that the name “Kodak” was made up by Eastman because “k” was his favorite letter and he thought the name would be easy to remember. The early popular cameras didn’t have viewfinders, so the results were often accidental. The popularity and affordability of these cameras produced a sea of shutter-bugs and a few accidental masterpieces.

Kimmelman also discusses Bob Ross, TV’s art guru. Ross did not get bogged down in the issue of whether his cheesy paintings were actually good. Nor did he really care whether anybody even painted along with him… Ross’s message was: You may feel hemmed in by work or by family, but before an easel you are your own master... His purpose was as much to massage souls as it was to teach painting... He sold hope. I remember watching several episodes in Ross’s series and, although I didn’t like the paintings he executed, I was entranced by his sincere joyfulness about the act of painting. "Happy clouds" "Happy trees"! It was soothing and encouraging. Perhaps this is why he had such a large following. The books mentions that only 3% of Ross’s viewers actually painting along with him. So, the other 97% may have been, like me, attracted to the soothing aspect of his delivery. Nevertheless, did a few accidental masterpieces result because of his influence? Maybe.

The point is, a masterpiece doesn’t necessarily occur at the hands of a master artist. It can be the product of an amateur. I’m wondering if Kimmelman is changing the meaning of the word “masterpiece.” Webster’s defines the word in terms of a piece being produced through extreme skill. This implies expertise and intention. But, Kimmelman feels that a masterpiece can be an accidental product of an amateur without skills. I’m not certain that I agree, but will think about it further.

What do you think?

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Art of Making a World

The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa
By Michael Kimmelman, 2005

Chapter 1: The Art of Making a World

In this chapter, Kimmelman takes us behind the scenes into the intimate and seclusive lives of Pierre Bonnard and his wife, Marthe. Their world was carefully constructed to satisfy Marthe’s need for extreme privacy. Whether or not Pierre wanted this lifestyle is unclear, but he nevertheless created and maintained it at least for Marthe’s sake. The natural consequence was that Bonnard chose to find inspiration, beauty, and meaning from his immediate surroundings and from introspection. As Kimmelman writes, that was precisely Bonnard’s gift to posterity. He explored his world every day, and as he did so, it became more and more fantastical. In his own words, Bonnard explained it this way: People always speak of submission to nature. There is also submission to the picture. Even the most ordinary surroundings can inspire a masterpiece, especially if the goal is to create a work of art rather than a faithful rendition of one's surroundings.
Viewing Bonnard’s work is a voyage into a fantastical place. He transforms his world from ordinary to extraordinary by enhancing reality through color and form manipulation, disguised or nearly obscured forms that add nuanced meaning to the work, and brushwork that enlivens his subjects. Bonnard's world as he senses it becomes apparent; it’s meaningful and it’s alive.

What was the catalyst for the transformation of Bonnard's paintings from skillful to masterful? Kimmelman wrote in the Introduction to this book that The consequence of his [Bonnard’s] meeting Marthe was, you might say, an accidental masterpiece. Or to put it another way, Bonnard made his novel deep, and beautiful art out of what seemed to many friends and observers a claustrophobic and sometimes unfortunate relationship. To live intensely is one of the basic human desires and an artistic necessity. Bonnard, in his elective reclusiveness with Marthe, lived all the more intensely through his work. His force of will in so doing was a creative and illustrative act.

Lately, I’ve been paying attention to the madness and methods of those who achieve – who excel beyond their own wildest dreams. What do they all have in common? Imagination, passion, focus, a sense of purpose, perseverance, ability to avoid distractions, and fearlessness. There are so many “artists” in the world today but how many of us elect to own these characteristics? How many of us take full advantage of creating a masterpiece derived from our intimate world? How easily do we turn aside from our passion and goals in the face of failure and distractions?

If I were double-jointed I would buy a pair of sharp-toed cowboy boots and kick myself in the butt every time I am distracted from my art making in order to pursue something that ends up being a total waste of time, that fails to inform my work. For instance, watching TV or doing something that someone else should be doing instead. Am I serious about making art or not? Ouch! My butt hurts.

Kimmelman's words are true: To live intensely is one of the basic human desires and an artistic necessity.
What are your thoughts?

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Accidental Masterpiece

It’s time to review and discuss another book, and I was lucky enough to find The Accidental Masterpiece: On the Art of Life and Vice Versa by Michael Kimmelman (2005). One quick read through the Introduction and I was hooked! This is a good one.

Kimmelman is chief art critic of The New York Times and has written other books related to art. This particular book became a New York Times Bestseller and received rave reviews. Personally, I like his informed and accessible writing style and can’t wait to read the rest of the book and share it with you as I read it.

Today, I’ll begin with Kimmelman’s Introduction – his purpose for writing this book. The idea behind ‘The Accidental Masterpiece,’ the one that popped into my head at some point, is pretty simple. It is not that I should write a book of art history or criticism, exactly, or solely dwell on the accomplishments of the greatest or of my favorite painters, sculptors, and photographers. Nor is it that all art is salutary. A day of looking at bad art can be long and dark. Instead, it is that … art provides us with clues about how to live our own lives more fully. Put differently, this book is, in part, about how creating, collecting, and even just appreciating art can make living a daily masterpiece. I have come to feel that everything, even the most ordinary daily affair, is enriched by the lessons that can be gleaned from art: that beauty is often where you don’t expect to find it; that it is something we may discover and also invent, then reinvent, for ourselves; that the most important things in the world are never as simple as they seem but that the world is also richer when it declines to abide by comforting formulas. And that it is always good to keep your eyes wide open, because you never know what you will discover.

Parts of this fascinating Introduction deal with chance occurrences that lead to the creation of an “accidental masterpiece." For instance, when Pierre Bonnard encountered for the first time the woman who would become the “defining figure of his life and work”, Maria Boursin.
Kimmelman segues between the Introduction and rest of the text by writing What follows are some of my own points of contact with things greater than myself. This promises to be a wonderful journey.

Hope you’ll join me!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Art Instruction Books

Photo: A wonderful group of students at a rehabilitation center beginning to learn watercolors.

Now that I’m back in New York, I decided to look through my bookshelves and was alarmed by the magnitude of my neglected collection of art instruction books. I suspect that I’m not the only person on the planet to own a large number of these books. I also suspect I’m not the only person guilty of reading through an art instruction book once or twice, trying a few tips, and then putting it on the bookshelf to collect dust for eternity. I don’t even want to think about how much money I spent on these books!

When I go to the bookstore I’m amazed at how many of these books exist! How do these authors convince a publishing house that they have something new and different worth publishing? Hmmm… this thought led me to reread the introductions of my books to see. Here’s a sampling:

Creative Discoveries in Watermedia by Pat Dews. Introduction statement: “Techniques are methods of rendering artistic works, procedures used to translate your ideas into finished paintings. Being familiar with a variety of techniques makes it easier to represent your ideas. This book includes many techniques for starting and finishing successful paintings, as well as how to generate excitement, create new surfaces, correct mistakes, crop creatively and much more.”

Master Disaster: Five Ways to Rescue Desperate Watercolors by Susan Webb Tregay. Introduction statement: “There are two reasons that this book is different from others on watercolor painting. First, I have learned that the detailed planning of a painting is not always desirable. Flexibility, rather than the perfect plan, is what makes finishing a painting possible. This book will allow you the freedom to be motivated by spontaneous washes of color and flashes of inspiration… Second, I am not writing this to teach you how to paint like me. My purpose is to teach you how to finish your own paintings in your own style. You will learn how to paint like yourself – only better.”

A Proven Strategy for Creating Great Art by Dan McCaw. Introduction statement: “My goal in writing this book is to provide you with a map leading you toward the treasure that lies within you – your individuality, your own voice.”

Watercolor: A New Beginning by Ann K. Lindsay. Introduction statement: “This book is the result of my quest to find a way of teaching watercolor that would work for everyone, that would let anyone experience painting as an enjoyable, playful, and magical part of his or her life. It also came from my own growing understanding that making art is an intuitive process, yet as far as I had seen, it had always been taught from a rational point of view. Increasingly, this just didn’t make sense. I began to feel that teaching techniques, rules, principles, and theories first was simply not appropriate and, more often than not, shut down a person’s own creative process.”

How to Make a Watercolor Paint Itself: Experimental Techniques for Achieving Realist Effects by Nita Engle. Introduction statement: “Rather than teach you the basics of composition, color theory, and the like – information you can readily find elsewhere – I will tell you how I discovered my own identity in painting, how I found out why I do what I do, and help you find your own answers so you can turn the techniques I present to your own use.”

Color and Light for the Watercolor Painter: How to Get the Effects You Want Every Time by Christopher Schink. Introductory statement: “Most of the painters I encounter in my classes have developed enough skill in color mixing to produce a great variety of the colors they desire. Their problem is not technique; where they have difficulty is in deciding where, when, and how to use their mixtures, and most importantly, in understanding why certain choices work or do not work. In this book I have attempted to provide answers to these problems, but not necessarily the infallibly right answers, and certainly not the only answers.”

Creative Watercolor Workshops: Challenge Your Artistic Boundaries With 25 Fund Painting Exercises by Mark E. Mehaffey. Introduction statement: “Why write another book about painting? The answer is simple: I am a teacher. I have ideas that I believe will help artists. But this book is designed to get you to think about what you want to accomplish rather than to just follow along. This book will help you paint like you, not like me.”

And so on…

In rereading these lofty goals I can see why I was enticed to purchase these books and it’s true that I learned something from each one. BUT, it can be confusing to try to learn and adhere to this myriad of approaches to creating art. In the balance, were all these books helpful or confusing? Did they help me learn to paint like “me” but only better or did they lead me to imitate? Did they influence my aesthetic sensibility to the point of conformity?

I must ponder these questions and, as I do so, I think I’ll head to the bookstore and find another book!

What do you think?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Hello friends!! I apologize for my prolonged absence from the blogosphere. However, my summer home in Maine doesn't allow me easy access to the internet. So, I'll use today's post to let you know what I've been up to for the past three months and then try to find something more interesting to discuss that is related to "art" tomorrow, now that I'm back in New York.

For those of you who've been following this blog you already know that I hung two exhibitions this summer. The first exhibition was hung in June/July at the Port Clyde Gallery in Maine. It was well attended and I sold ten paintings. The second exhibition was held in August/September in New York and (coincidentally) I sold ten paintings there as well!

I managed to teach a few art workshops over the summer and thoroughly enjoyed my students. It's wonderful to witness that "aha!" moment when a student realizes a new direction and begins to achieve mastery. I look forward to working with new students as time progresses.

I completed very few of my own paintings this summer, but that's what Fall/Winter/Spring is for. Pretty soon (tomorrow) I'll isolate myself in my studio and continue working on my series "The Laws of Nature." So far, three paintings from this series have been juried into major exhibitions: The San Diego Watercolor Society's 30th International Exhibition where my painting won the Dick Blick award, The Aqueous USA 2010 exhibtion, and The 34th Annual Open International Exhibition 2010 of the North East Watercolor Society.

My work appears in three books and a DVD this summer, and I'll include more information about this in future posts.

Now for the best part: I bought a kayak!! It's a Scirocco sixteen-foot long sea-going kayak. I also took a course in paddling techniques and rescue. I have a deep love for all things aquatic and getting out on the ocean in a kayak is a blast.

I've just finished reading all your wonderful comments from the summer and am blown-away by the substance and insights! Can't wait to see how our future discussions develop!

It's good to be "back."