The Laws of Nature

Sunday, June 20, 2010


I was reading the New York Times this morning and noticed an article about a Burchfield retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. This, of course, caught my eye because I’m a fanatic for the works of Charles Ephraim Burchfield. In my opinion, no artist expresses what the senses perceive better than this artist. For those of you who are unfamiliar, Burchfield was an American watercolorist (1893-1967) who commented in his work not only about nature, but also about the effects of industrialism. Edward Hopper once said "The work of Charles Burchfield is most decidedly founded, not on art, but on life, and the life that he knows and loves best." Yes, this is personal expression at its best.

I wish I could see this fifty-year retrospective, and maybe I will since it’s up until October 17th. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the possibility of helping an artist friend of mine with her own fifty-year retrospective. Her work hangs in museums around the world, and now that she’s very advanced in years, it’s important to do this soon so she can appreciate it. One noted gallery is hanging a retrospective of her work next summer and has already printed out the first copy of a hardback book of her work that will be sold at the exhibit. I was delighted to find in it a quotation of my analysis of one of her sculptures!

Anyway, discussing this retrospective with the artist I found that she had mixed feelings about it. She’s delighted and intimidated at the same time. Who wouldn’t be? More than that, she’s now seeing through “fresh eyes” her works that she hadn’t seen in decades. They were either stored away or in some museum no easily accessible to her any more. Viewing her reactions to seeing these works again for the first time has been enlightening. She’s thrilled; they’re like old friends that have returned to embrace her.

I would like to reach that place one day. Now, when I look back at my work I want to change it. They don’t return as old friends, but as developmental stages that are half-baked and need improvement. This is a sign of my own growth, but will I ever look back at my work with satisfaction? That remains to be seen.

What are your thoughts?

Thursday, June 17, 2010


No time to read right now, but I'll get back to it soon. I spent most of yesterday hanging my solo show at the Port Clyde Art Gallery in Maine and sold three paintings while I was still hanging it! I hope that's a good sign.

Next week I'll be in New Hampshire teaching a week-long painting workshop. The focus is developing ideas, or content, before beginning a painting. My primary goal is to help artists find their own voice and learn how to use it in order to create unique and authentic work.

More good news: My work is included in three books this year. The most recent is an and DVD by Sue St. John (image on left) that features the works of 58 artists. In it, we artists describe how we created works in abstraction. If you're interested, you can learn more about it here.

The other two books that feature my work will be released next month (July):
Best of America Watermedia Artists Volume II &
The Artistic Touch, 4

When I think about all this activity, I reflect upon how many years it has taken me to become this busy. It's a building process and we have to be patient with that process. It's too tempting to expect immediate results and rapid advancement. Just yesterday I heard an artist remark that there are "too many artists in this area (the St. George peninsula of Maine)." I immediately replied that "there are never enough artists." The truth is, it doesn't matter how many artists there are, the cream will always rise to the top, and we must never give up trying no matter how long it takes.

What are your thoughts?

Looking at Life with the Eyes of a Child

Matisse on Art
Jack Flam, Ed.

Now that I’m living in the world of “dial-up” it’s a little harder for me to access and navigate the internet. Therefore, I must apologize to all of you whose blog sites I regularly visit for not stopping by more often. I’ll get to you as soon as I can!

Tucked away on one of my bookshelves here in Maine, I found Matisse on Art . which contains some interesting ideas. Essentially, this book is a compilation of Matisse’s essays on art including one he wrote in 1953 entitled “Looking at Life with the Eyes of a Child.”

For the artist creation begins with vision. To see is itself a creative operation which requires effort. Everything that we see in our daily life is more or less distorted acquired habits, and this is perhaps more evident in an age like ours when cinema posters and magazines present us every day with a flood of ready-made images which are to the eye what prejudices are to the mind.

The effort needed to see things without distortion demands a kind of courage; and this courage is essential to the artist, who has to look at everything as though he were seeing it for the first time: he has to look at life as he did when he was a child and, if he loses that faculty, he cannot express himself in an original, that is, a personal way.

This is an interesting concept. Children are usually uninhibited. They question everything and try to make sense of it within the context of who they are. In essence, they create a fantasy reality because they haven't yet experienced the hard realities of adulthood. But, how do we revert to that stage? How do we forget about assigned meanings and context? How do we develop "fresh eyes"? Frankly, I don't know if I can or even if I should. I paint from the heart of who I am now. I'm no longer a child and my thoughts are more sophisticated. I have a larger view of the world. I'll ponder this some more.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Conversations Between Artists

I spent all day yesterday driving to my home in Maine and unpacking art supplies for my studio. In the evening, one of my dear friends who is a noted American sculptor stopped by to "talk art." I love these informal conversations over a bottle of wine. We discuss what we're doing and why. We exchange ideas about doing the business of art. We share our dreams about the possibilities that the future may bring. I'm 58 years old, she's 83. Between us we have one hundred years of experience in fine art, but have retained the innocence and optimism of fledgling artists who see a long road ahead with endless possibilities.

Conversations between artists are important. In them we find kindred spirits and understanding. We find the kernels of truth that lead to authenticity in our work. We learn from each other, and we challenge each other. Most of all, we support each other. Aside from artmaking, that's the most important thing we can do.

When's the last time you had a meaningful conversation with another artist? How did it impact or influence you?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

How To Become An Artist

Just for fun, I "googled" the phrase how to become an artist. The first website listed was wikiHow, which offers up 7 steps for becoming an artist. Wow, only 7 steps!! I wish I had known that fifty years ago. With some editing, I've listed them below:

Step 1: Buy a sketchbook and sketching pencil. Buy an easel and paints. Go to the stores. Draw things you see. Go to the park, and sit on a bench and just look around you. Art is everywhere. If you look at all this and find you are interested in learning more, then you have an artistic nature. You can easily become an artist.

KC - OK, you've gotta' start somewhere, but I'm not so certain about the last sentence. Becoming an artist isn't so "easy."

Step 2: Actually 'look' at things intently, and mark it all down in your sketchbook.

KC - this seems reasonable enough, although it teaches you to faithfully render what you see without any infusion of the artist's personality or ideas.

Step 3: Develop more of an artistic nature. Learn about colors, shades, and how to use them. Buy a color wheel and try to change colors. Decide what type of art you are interested in.

KC - these are necessary steps, but very difficult to accomplish on your own. Early on, it's very difficult to identify the type of art you're interested in. Style comes after much time has been spent experimenting.

Step 4: Train your eyes to focus on structure, color, and value. Do not paint or draw as to how the object "should" look, rather than how it does look.

KC - well, this step sure does kill the creative spirit! If an accurate rendering is the goal, then just pull out a camera and take a picture.

Step 5: Buy books on art education, Recommended is "Drawing From The Right Side of The Brain".

KC - a good book, but limiting.

Step 6: Find Internet sites about artists, art methods, drawing, and painting. Becoming an artist is not difficult once you realize what type of art you are interested in.

KC - again, it takes time to identify your own voice and personal style. If you make a decision early on based upon finding someone else's work that you want to emulate, then you'll only be an imitator and not unique.

Step 7: Understand that no one has to be born with a talent. Just remember being an artist is not how well you can draw, but the emotion that comes out of it.

KC - The second sentence is true, but the previous 6 steps don't lead you to it, they only encourage you to imitate.

If I were a beginning artist who elected to follow these 7 steps, I'd be lost and frustrated. There's no single approach to becoming an artist, and cookbook formulas like this one are misleading.

Becoming an artist can be as simple as taking only one step or as complex as taking one million steps.

Becoming an artist is more than gaining technical expertise or imitating the work of others.
Becoming an artist is more than a conscious decision, it's an emotional one as well.

Becoming an artist is making a life-long commitment to a love affair with creativity and artmaking that endures for better for worse, in sickness and in health, and for richer or poorer.

Becoming an artist is ......

What are your thoughts?

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Reality TV & Art

Do fine art and reality TV belong together? A new series on the Bravo channel, entitled "Work of Art" aired for the first time last week. The premise for this series is similar to other reality series where competitors are given elimination challenges and someone goes home every week. The ultimate reward for the lucky artist who wins this competition is a show at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, $100,000, and the title of "The Next Great Artist." A panel of art experts (well-known critics, etc.) act as the judges for each elimination challenge.

Skeptical, I watched the first episode and found that I became very interested in the creative solutions used by the competitors as well as the opinions of the critics who have their fingers on the pulse of contemporary art. While I don't necessarily agree with some of the opinions expressed, they informed me nevertheless. However, I don't like the idea that a reality TV show is going to decide who's the "next great artist."

If you haven't seen the first episode and are interested, you can view it here:

I think that this blog would be a good place to discuss our opinions about this series. Is it a good idea? Does it present a fair and balanced view of contemporary artists and art? In what ways will this influence the general public's idea of artists and art? I'd like to know your opinions.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Human Voice

Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by Bayles & Orland

Image: 1921 photograph by Yasuo Kuniyoshi of seven artists: Peggy Bacon, Alexander Brook, Isabella Howland, Katherine Schmidt Shubert, Betty Spencer, Niles Spencer and Dorothy Varian. Published in: Archives of American Art Journal v. 20, no. 3, p. 8.

We've reached the final chapter, "The Human Voice," which is a summary of this useful book. The authors begin the chapter by explaining the interesting questions that motivated them to write the book in the first place:

Do artists have anything in common with each other?
How do artists become artists?
How do artists learn to work on their work?
How can I make work that will satisfy me?
Why do so many who start, quit?

Although the authors acknowledge that there are no clear-cut concise answers to these questions, I think that each chapter they wrote can be distilled to a single elegant idea. So, here's how I'd answer those questions:

What do we artists have in common? We all engage in artmaking.

How do we become artists? We're born with the ability and we become artists by engaging in artmaking on a consistent basis over time.

How do we learn to work on our work? By sticking with it; through trial and error; through learning lessons; through finding our own voice and using it.

How can we make art that satisfies us? By speaking only in our own voice through our art and turning a deaf ear to those who would distract us from it.

Why do so many quit? Either they weren't really artists to begin with and were forcing themselves down that path for some unknown reason or they are too insecure to believe in their own abilities, insights, and viewpoints.

Those are my answers. What are yours?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by Bayles & Orland

I've skipped ahead in chapter VIII because much of this chapter is redundant to previous conversations on this blog. What we haven't discussed is the rate and frequency that our artmaking changes. The authors refer to these changes as "conceptual jumps" whereby our viewpoint shifts and we begin to see the world in a different way.

For the artist, such lightning shifts are a central mechanism of change. They generate the purest form of metaphor: connections are made between unlike things, meanings from one enrich the meanings of the other, and the unlike things become inseparable.

For me, these shifts occur in a number of ways. Sometimes radical changes in my life alter my viewpoint and this is expressed in my art. Other times I use analytical skills to consciously find connections between things that I never thought about before. And, sometimes a thought suddenly occurs. Each time I begin a new series of paintings one of these shifts has occurred and new metaphors are born. However, that's just the tip of the iceberg. There's so much more that remains subconscious.

What's your experience?

Ideas & Technique

The roses in Central Park by my house are in full bloom now, so I thought I'd share them with you. They're a good reminder that no matter how busy we are, we should take the time to "stop and smell the roses." I've been doing that every day!

Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by Bayles & Orland

We've reached the next to last chapter in this book, and it looks like we'll be finishing up by the week's end and then move on to something new. Chapter VIII "Conceptual Worlds" is packed with important ideas that require careful consideration, so I'll begin with the first section on "Ideas & Techniques."

This section opens with a zinger: Writer Henry James once proposed three questions your could productively put to an artist's work:

What was the artist trying to achieve?
Did he/she succeed?
Was it worth doing?

As viewers, we can only guess at the answer to the first two questions because only the artist knows what he/she was trying to achieve and if the outcome was successful. However, it's a good learning tool to try and figure it out. Providing an answer to the third question is impossible, in my opinion, because we can't determine "worth." If I apply this question to my own body of work I'd say that every painting I've ever done was worth doing because it helped me grow and laid the foundation for future work.

But, the authors have a bigger point to make: Provocative art challenges not only the viewer, but also its maker. Art that falls short often does so not because the artist failed to meet the challenge, but because there was never a challenge there in the first place. I completely agree with this statement. Before I begin a series of paintings I set up three challenges for myself: 1) develop an original concept for the series, 2) develop an original way to express that concept, and 3) master a new medium or technique while painting the series. As you can see, the challenges I devise are based both on ideas and technique.

Artists who need ongoing reassurance that they're on the right track routinely seek out challenges that offer the clear goals and measurable feedback - which is to say, technical challenges. The underlying problem with this is not that the pursuit of technical excellence is wrong, exactly, but simply that making it the primary goal puts the cart before the horse. We do not long remember those artists who followed the rules more diligently than anyone else. We remember those who made the art from which the "rules" inevitably follow. (p. 95)

How many times have you seen work that's technically perfect - demonstrates virtuosity - but lacks content? It has nothing to say other than the fact that the painter has gained mastery over technique. The work fascinates us for a little while and then becomes boring. Is that all? Did the artist have nothing to say?? Personally, I think that artists who worry more about technique than content are doing themselves a disservice. Why agonize over creating perfect work and suppress your own voice at the same time? It makes no sense to me. The most fascinating aspect of artwork is looking at the world through the artist's mind and eyes: seeing what he/she feels. We want to connect at an emotional level with the artist.

Simply put, art that deals with ideas is more interesting than art that deals with technique.

This is the first principle that I teach in my painting workshops. We can't begin to paint until we have an idea of what to paint. And, the what must be important to the artist.

Your thoughts?

Monday, June 7, 2010

The Academic World

Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by Bayles & Orland

I am the product of academic training: three universities for fine art and two for earth sciences. Naturally, I became an academic and served as a college faculty member for many years. Therefore, Chapter 7 "The Academic World" interests me. But, before I delve into it, I'd like to acknowledge the fact that no academy or professor succeeds unless the students are willing and eager to learn.

A great example of this is my most recent student, Carolyn Abrams. She began private painting lessons with me last October and stepped over an important threshold as an artist when she completed her first full-scale triptych last week. Please take a look and read her wonderful statement about this piece, the first in a series, here. Carolyn achieved a great deal because of her desire to learn, her refusal to give up when it became difficult, and her innate ability to unleash her creative spirit with passion and intelligence.

So, what do Bayles & Orland have to say about The Academic World? First, they acknowledge that academic training doesn't always result in a positive outcome, or even the desired outcome. But, they do find usefulness in it. Beginning with faculty issues, the authors note that artists who teach at academies often succumb to spending less time creating art and more time in teaching and academic service. This is true, although I've known many professors who protect their creative time and are productive in art. On the positive side, these academics do teach and inspire budding artists and serve as a role model. This is a powerful influence.

And then, there's the student perspective. Universities don't prepare art students for careers, except for teaching art. As the authors point out, the M.F.A. was created to provide the credential necessary for teaching fine art in the academy. I was once invited to guest lecture a college class about the business of doing art because no course existed in the curriculum to teach it. Throughout their tenure in college, students gain technical skills in artmaking and a strong background in art history and theory in addition to a wide spectrum of courses in other disciplines. This is a valuable education, indeed. But, students aren't prepared for the challenging art world outside the university setting where they're nurtured and protected.

Next, Bayles & Orland turn their attention to art books, one of my passions. They write that when we read about the works and lives of other artists, what we really gain from artmaking of others is courage-by-association. Depth of contact grows as fears are shared - and thereby disarmed - and this comes from embracing art as process, and artists as kindred spirits. Isn't that true? Further, they write: nothing really useful can be learned from viewing finished art. At least nothing other artists can usefully apply in making their own art. The really critical decisions facing every artist - like, say, knowing when to stop - cannot be learned from viewing end results. For that matter, a finished piece gives precious few clues as to any questions the artist weighted while making the object.

Personally, I love reading art books because they do answer a lot of questions. I do learn about technique, I can learn from the finished work, and I am inspired by the life-long struggles and challenges faced by other artists - especially if they succeeded in overcoming them.

Many people question the necessity or even relevance of academic training in fine art. I don't think it's necessary since many of our finest artists never set foot in an educational institution. And, the credential is somewhat meaningless if you're not planning on teaching art. Furthermore, I'm offended by people who wave about their credentials in an elitist manner as if to suggest that it sets them above other artists. Although I gained a great deal from my own academic experience, I also gained just as much outside of it. Creativity isn't bestowed by universities upon their students. We're born with it, and there's no set formula for how to develop it. That's the good news!
What are your thoughts?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

200 and Navigating the System

This is my 200th post! A BIG thank you to my regular readers and commenters who have made this a pleasurable and informative journey.
I'd like to share some good news before returning to my book review: My painting "The Universal Law of Gravity" has been juried into the 30th Annual International Exhibition of the San Diego Watercolor Society!

Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by Bayles & Orland

Chapter VI ends with a section on "Navigating the System." Here, the authors speed through time and the various networks that artists have navigated in order to succeed, beginning with the patronage system. This section doesn't provide the reader with practical help for contemporary artists. So, let's figure it out for ourselves.

I lived aboard my sailboat (picture above) for a couple of years and quickly learned the importance of navigation and following the "system" (a.k.a. laws of the sea). Conformity and protocols were necessary for survival. Artists are in a similar "boat" and it's sometimes uncomfortable because we are usually creative nonconformists. But, the business of art is a system that requires skillful navigation if it's to become a serious profession. What are the rules of the road? I'll start the list and hope that you'll add to it:

1. Speak in your own voice and never plagiarize
2. Don't misrepresent yourself or your work
3. Deal honestly and in good faith with customers, gallery directors, museum curators, and everyone else
4. Don't burn any bridges

5. ???? you provide the rest

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Getting it Done

Weekends are for posting thoughts other than book reviews. So, I'll tell you what's been on my mind lately. Mostly, I'm overwhelmed by a hectic schedule. However, I won't complain because it's all good stuff:

June 14th
Load the car with lots of paintings and painting supplies and drive to my home/studio in Maine.

June 17th
Hang a solo show at the Port Clyde Art Gallery and distribute invitations (posters are already up and news releases done).

June 21st
Drive to New Hampshire and teach a painting workshop at the Gibson House.

June 25th
Return to Maine attend the opening night of my exhibition at the Port Clyde Art Gallery.

July through October
Teach weekly painting workshops and art business seminars for the Coastal Maine Art Workshops.

August 3rd
Hang a second solo show in New York and attend opening night at the Viewpoint Gallery

August 6 - 8th
Teach painting workshop in Old Forge, New York

Back to Maine

September 12th
Fly to Wisconsin to teach a week-long painting workshop at Dillman's

Back to Maine

September 24th
Drive to Pennsylvania to teach another workshop at Buck's County Art Workshops

Back to Maine

All Summer & Fall
Produce more paintings
Enter and (hopefully) ship my work to competitions
My work is featured in three books that will be published this summer, so I need to help the publishers distribute and advertise them.

End of October
Return to New York for the winter. Whew!

In the midst of this hectic schedule I'll try to keep blogging with all of you, my favorite people!! I hope your summer will be more relaxing than mine.
P.S. The photo is of my husband and me last weekend on a remote island in Penobscot Bay, Maine. The only inhabitants are seagulls and seals.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by Bayles and Orland

According to Bayles and Orland, competition can be a good thing when it's directed inward. That is, when we artists push hard to meet exhibition and publication deadlines, our work often improves because of our dedicated efforts and need to offer our best work to the public. In a healthy artistic environment, artists are not in competition with each other. Unfortunately, healthy artistic environments are about as common as unicorns, the authors write.

We artists must compete for recognition, grants, sales, and space in the marketplace. We're reminded in this chapter that artists build their cv's upon their accomplishments which occur in a competitive arena. And when that happens, competition centers not on making work, but on accumulating the symbols of acceptance and approval of that work. If we fail to successfully compete, then we may succumb to bitterness and depression. And, even if we do have a winning streak, eventually it will end.

I'm going to disagree a little with these authors. IMHO, it's not the existence of competition that's problematic, it's human nature. If it weren't for competition, I wouldn't work as hard nor would I challenge myself as much to find new ideas. Competition allows new artists to challenge well-established ones for prominence. It also pushes the boundaries of fine art into new regions previously unexplored. At the heart of the matter is the fact that life itself is based upon competition for resources, mates, and survival itself. So, I can't see it in a negative light.

However, competition can bring out the worst in some of us who succumb to immoral and
unethical behavior in order to get ahead. I've seen this happen plenty of times in the fine art arena and it's very destructive. But, art is also a business and the marketplace is fundamentally competitive in our capitalist society. It's the engine that runs the machine.

Personally, I think there's room for everyone and I take care to encourage others to develop their work so that they may successfully compete with me and everyone else in the art world. I get great joy from learning that one of my students earned an award or made sales even if I didn't. At the end of the day, I must be able to look at myself in the mirror and like who I see. That means that I must deal with my competitors with honesty, fairness and good will. Certainly, many others have extended that to me and I'm better for it.

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Common Ground

Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by Bayles & Orland

Image from The Cosmic Nudge

When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss Art.
When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money.
- Oscar Wilde

This quotation introduces Part II of this book and gives us a clue that the authors have turned their attention to the business of doing art. This includes how we interact with the public. In this section titled "Common Ground," we're made aware of the artist's dilemma. If we are true to ourselves in artmaking, then our efforts are unguarded and exploratory. However, the rest of the world may try to squelch that freedom through rejection or even censorship. We walk the razor's edge between the outside known world and our inner world when we ask others to leave the common ground we all share and enter the world of our imagination. Perhaps that's why so many artists compromise their work in order to make it more main-stream and appealing.

And surely one of the more astonishing rewards of artmaking comes when people make time to visit the world you have created. Some, indeed, may even purchase a piece of your world to carry back and adopt as their own. Each new piece of your art enlarges our reality. The world is not yet done. (p. 69)

Here, Bayles and Orland touch on a nerve. Although I love the thrill of selling my work to others, I also feel very self-conscious about it. After all, each of my creations is so personal and intimate. My paintings are extensions of me. Will they be understood? Will they be appreciated? Will they end up in the dumpster? Most artists would advise me not to worry about any of that. Make the sale and forget about it. That's usually what I do, since I have no control over my work once it leaves my hands. However, the moment in which the sale takes place fills me with uncertainty. And then, it's gone .

There are "holes" where paintings used to be. I paint new ones, but they don't fill in the holes, they just take up more space. Of course, I'm speaking metaphorically, but it feels like "holes" in my mental space. The feeling and meaning that went into each individual painting is gone with the painting itself. New feelings and new meanings arise but never replace old ones. If I worked on an assembly line attaching gizmos to something, I wouldn't have these feelings. Art is very different from all other kinds of production. We create a world, we invite others into it, and we hope they'll take a part of our world home with them. An ever-expanding world. I like that.

What are your thoughts?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Ordinary Problems

Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of artmaking
by Bayles & Orland
photo: Birch Island, Maine where we celebrated Memorial Day with friends

Now that I've returned from a fabulous week in Maine, I'm returning to this great book. I truly missed my daily "conversations" with you all and look forward to resuming them. We've arrived at Part II, chapter 6 "A View into the Outside World." Here, the authors transition from our internal fears that were exposed in Part I, to how we artists deal with the problems that arise in the outside world once the art is made. Although the term "ordinary" is used to describe these problems, that doesn't mean trivial. I agree with the authors when they write that ordinary problems consume the larger part of almost ever artist's time. That's been my experience as well.

The easy part is creating the painting in the first place. After that, it's all downhill: marketing making contacts, sales, packing and shipping, and paperwork galore! As the author's put it: There's one hell of a lot more to art than just making it.

Finding a venue for our work requires navigating the intricate network of dealers, gallery directors, agents, critics, and patrons who decide whether or not to exhibit what we've created as well as to control its value. So much of what happens to our art once it is made is out of our direct control unless we decide not to show it at all. And, if our work happens to offend or challenge too many boundaries, it will be D.O.A.

Next time, we'll delve a little deeper into these "ordinary problems."

What are your thoughts?