A Plea for Boldness

March 6, 2014

I left these words an art marketer’s blog. Did I go too far? Or not far enough?


I can identify my motivation very easily: it’s what you’ve called artistic excellence. It forms all the reason I ever wanted to do art. Trips to the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC during my childhood brought the old masters into my life, and when I decided that I wanted to paint just as surely I ached to learn how to paint at a level of skill like the great artists of the past. So the first challenge was learning to draw. Drawing is still a challenge, always will be a challenge. I had a natural affinity for color, yet I had to learn how to use colors through countless sessions of experiments mixing them. Later on, I realized that it is possible to be “all dressed up” without knowing “where to go,” and then I sought to figure out invention in art. How can art be simultaneously modern and traditional, answer the challenges of skill posed by great artists of the past and still address thoroughly modern ideas?

I have neglected the business aspects of art, and chasing after awards never appealed to me at all. My choices have created problems that didn’t need to be there — I mean that a better focus on business wouldn’t have harmed my efforts any — though it’s also clear that digital photography and the advent of the internet makes everything a gazillion times easier than in the past. Simply taking a decent photograph of a painting was a complicated endeavor when I was a youth and required a significant investment in time and money.

In short I can understand a more balanced approach — one that matches personal vision with PR and business savvy. But too many artists today are content to create a kind of art that fails to meet the minimal skill sets of even the second or third tier artists of the past whose works now live in museums. That is, I think, sort of tragic. It’s a failure of vision, of ambition — a failure of taste — it lacks guts. And if there’s anything that I could persuade a younger generation of artists to embrace it is skill and daring. Go shoulder to shoulder with Monet, or Hokusai, or Ingres, or Giulio Romano, or Domenico Tiepolo. There is no artist living today who has the pure chutzpah of Domenico Tiepolo. At least give it your best try.

I’m not lauding any particular style, but am making a plea for ability and boldness. Make a sort of art that could sometimes compare with a Hollywood movie. Wouldn’t it be wonderful?

[Above: Punchinello's Farewell to Venice, Domenico Tiepolo, National Gallery of Art in Washington]

Use this link to see a version of the image that you can enlarge: http://www.nga.gov/content/ngaweb/Collection/art-object-page.57482.html

Nature’s pace

March 1, 2014


Part of becoming an artist is learning to live in rhythm with nature.  Though human society continually urges us to “hurry, hurry,” you learn — or periodically must relearn — the walking pace of twenty-four hours, the luxurious dawdling of childhood, the slowness and thoroughness of the body when it heals, the all deliberate speed of the body as it grows. Charitably let’s assume that flustered hurry serves its own purpose but often you find that it serves not your purpose

You can allow your attention to fall where it will, notice and enjoy the first attention grabbing item of your gaze.  You can follow the edges of objects with the lines of your pencil, steering those lines as carefully as you steer a bike along its route.

The path of attention pulls you toward this, necessarily pulling you also away from that, but you can accept these distinctions without needing to justify them.  Your interests are your own business and your mind’s attention as worthwhile as the clamor of society’s claims. Once you note that your mind, your eyes, your emotion has seized upon some prize, feel free to grasp it full and carry it off for greater perusal at your leisurely pleasure.  Like a squirrel with a nut, claim it for your own. Learn as much about the elements of the world as it pleases you to do, allowing your own natural curiosity to be a good measure of what store you need, of what to hoard and what to relish.

snow again feb26 2014

Don’t blame me if I’m not working en plein air.  That’s the view from my window this morning.

And I’ve got only this many light colored oil pastels:

light colored pastels

So I’m drawing this:

drawing in progress

using this:

computer pic

We just got rid of a bunch of snow.  And now it’s BACK!

Grrrrrr!!!  Brrrrrr!!!

matisse copy detail

When in doubt, choose flowers.

Indeed, when in doubt, copy something by an old (or new) master.  Include flowers.  Use oil pastels (they are the best EVER for simplicity and flexibility).  And when most in doubt, you can hardly go wrong by consulting Monsieur Henri Matisse.

Here, my small quick copy of “Femme au chapeau fleuri,” 1919.

matisse copy whole

against avoiding mystery

January 29, 2014


Reposting an oldie, but goodie ….

Originally posted on Aletha Kuschan's Weblog:

They should not have wanted to eliminate the confusions in art.  Instead those confusions should be sought.  One ought to want to go inside the difficulties.  If you seek mystery, isn’t this the place to find it, in confusion?  If you don’t know what you are seeing — or you know the name of the thing, but even as you are looking at it, you cannot decide what it looks like … isn’t that an authentic question?  Shouldn’t an artist desire the direct impress of seeing that includes all sorts of unanswered questions that come into your mind, one question after another, as you attempt to take the vision apart?

It goes toward some foundation of perception to ask yourself almost daily, “What does the world really look like?”  Pose it as a question.  If you think you know, you have already layered it over with thoughts.  Keep asking the…

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Practice notes

January 13, 2014

Originally posted on Trace Elements:

matisse interior-with-a-violin_jpg!Blog

Some people who read my blog seem to enjoy the art advice.  Today, though, I’m writing about the violin.  I began learning violin late.  I was over the age of 40.  I’m mostly self-taught and I play by ear.

And I play violin just like I paint so sometimes it gets chaotic.

This might be the most boring post I’ll ever write.  But it might also be the most useful — even if you don’t play violin — because I’ve found that so many things in life work analogically.  Tweek the advice a little and I’m sure it fits drawing (or painting) also.  It might fit some other skills too.  Feel free to adapt it to your golf game.

The first thing to note, by the way, is that I’m sharing a page from my violin notebook.  So really the first advice — the prologue — is to get a notebook to track…

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January 7, 2014

The only heatwave those of us in the US and Canada are likely to enjoy today is musical or romantic. But we can dream, right?
Dance around and try to stay warm.

New-to-me Monet

January 5, 2014

Met Monet I've never seen before

I was browsing the Met’s collection of Monets on line, looking for something else, when I found this Monet that I’ve never seen before — by which I mean that I have never seen it reproduced despite my having perused a gazillion books on Monet over the past 30 odd years.

I wonder why they keep it so secret.

I have wanted to paint something like this, have tried my hand at my own version of a similar idea, as for instance in this large drawing here.  And I knew about this sort of image via works by other artists, like Wolf Kahn — or even by the backdrop in the National Gallery’s large Degas, where the theatre set features a rather “Monet-like,” broadly conceived landscape.  JMW Turner, of course, did things like this — probably where Monet got his idea.

Or perhaps he got his idea by looking at the backgrounds of Claude Lorraine.

Who knows where Monet got his idea.  But there’s certainly no use in the Met keeping this picture under wraps because the idea already escaped long ago.

study detail

Yesterday Eva asked me if I’d be posting pictures of the paintings I was making from my thrift store haul.  I have various things in the works and none quite finished, but I thought I’d put a few things up just to demonstrate that my haul gets some good, hard scrutiny.  Though the stone birds are pieces that I already owned,  they’re part of a set up of haul objects, indeed they’re the stars of the show, so I made a separate study of them.


The whole set up looks like this:

set up

I can’t include the painting here — it’s still too not finished.  However the study is painted on a 9 x 12 inch sheet of Arches oil paper and it looks like this:

two birds study

The famous amber bottle of my previous post and the other objects are off to the sides of the birds and though they have nice supporting roles in the painting, are not visible in this rehearsal.

Meanwhile in another corner of the room I have another set up featuring a part of the haul that I neglected to mention (it was quite a haul).  I got a little greenish blue bowl with a raised, beaded floral pattern seen here filled with fake fruits.

new bowl

I have been doing several pictures of this set up with which I decided I would emulate one of my heroes, Pierre Bonnard.  I have succeeded certainly in one respect in that I managed to produce paintings that are nearly impossible to photograph faithfully.  So I despair of your ever knowing what the actual colors in these pictures are — they look pretty awful on my monitor — don’t know about yours.  Maybe they look grand to someone somewhere!  But the actual paintings, while confusing in some respects (again I’ll say I’m definitely “getting” some of the qualities of ol’ Bonnard), do not have the weird colors represented here.  Instead they possess other, quite different weird color relationships.

Sigh.  So here’s a detail of the one:

bowl still life detail

and here’s a detail of the other.

bowl still life detail other one

In even these rather inaccurate representations of the paintings, it might be apparent that I’m having some fun trying to depict the bowl’s pattern through little dabs of paint.

The still life objects all have such marvelous potential.  I’m just getting acquainted, and yet that will not deter me from visiting the thrift store again (maybe soon) to get even more stuff!  One person’s junk really is another’s treasure.  Sometimes it really is.

Thift Store Haul

January 2, 2014


My thoughts had already turned toward still life, and I had already set up a still life and begun a painting, when one morning I woke with the notion that I should get me to the thrift store.  So I did.  And I came home with not only some wonderful objects, but with a very inexpensive but expressive and new-to-me still life table worthy of Cezanne.

Exceptional among the haul items was this beautiful amber colored bottle with a raised pattern of arcs and flowers.  I don’t know what sort of bottle it is, whether or not it had any non-decorative use.  It cost next to nothing at the thrift store and offers amazing possibility as a still life object.


As you can see, the bottle has a beautiful pattern in relief at its base.  The glass distorts the shapes of whatever is seen through it, transforming all the surrounding colors into soft blurs while shading them with a veil of the bottle’s own warm color.

For the present I installed the bottle into a still life of predominantly blue colors, where it joins some stone birds that I got at a garden center thirty years ago, with also a large blue and white jar found during the same recent haul.


I also purchased a lovely white, green and rose vase.  As I had already noticed and as the diligent thrift store clerk also brought to my attention, it has a chip.  The wonderful thing, however, about the still life object is that a chip doesn’t matter.  It’s theater.   You just turn it to face away or you “repair” the defect by painting the chip away.   Alternately, you can go for a pictoresque effect and leave the chip as it is, letting it make a statement about the process of time.

You can see how amazingly lovely the pattern is, particularly when viewed up close.


With a pattern of this sort, you could venture into intricate detail in your still life  — notice the lovely raised green leaf design in the corners — or don’t forget that patterns like these can take on a life of their own should your imagination run in that direction.  For the pattern is an idea and could be applied anywhere.  You could, theoretically, use it as Matisse has used pattern very freely here:

Matisse eggplants

No rule says that the pattern needs to stay confined to the object.

After you set a still life you begin to notice all kinds of potential relationships between objects available to exploit.   For instance the flutes at the base of lovely chipped vase relate to the ridges that represent the feathers of the bird’s wings.


Like most painters of still life, I have racks of things to use.  Sometimes the stored objects, placed willy nilly on the shelf, form set ups as interesting as the ones I assemble.


But the theater of staging the things you want to paint, of moving them about and seeking the view that’s “just right,” is a joy unto itself.  And I’d urge artists of other media to consider the possibilities that still life can play in their lives for you could arrange a poem of things, or a scene in a play, or a pleasing tableau to contemplate in your music room by the just arrangement of lovely things on a shelf.



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