When artists go fishing, it’s a little different sort of thing than when most people fish. I’ve begun a series of koi paintings that occupy most my time. Of course, the fish in the drawing are obviously not koi. They are just fish. They’re friends. My generic fish that swim in the notebook in search of a fine blue stream. They are rambling fish of imagination and dreams. They come to cheer me on in my larger project that I’m just now beginning.Come visit my store on CafePress!
[Top of the post: Swift Swimming Fish of Dreams, by Aletha Kuschan, drawing in a notebook]
If anyone recognizes what this is: congratulations! You might have a fine career ahead of you in psychology!
I made this drawing to obsessively reinterate an idea I’ve been working on — relative to a large mural sized painting whose subject I’m frankly at a loss to explain. However, I’ve been around the art block enough times now to trust my instincts and to believe that a picture, whose meaning is baffling even to me, its author, may well hold ideas that can matter to the larger audience of my fellow human beings, 3 billion or so of my closest friends. (You gotta think big.)
It’s a tree. I don’t know why I feel compelled to portray it this way, rather than to make it more conventionally tree-like. But there it is. And let me tell you, your subconscious mind is a fabulous, truly wonderful and remarkable thing! I have stalled on this idea for well over a year, working on other things, and forgeting about this picture.
However, last night as I was driving, I turned a corner and saw a large tractor trailer stopped at a light perpendicular to me at a street onto which I was making a right turn. In the general darkness, as I turned, I noted the enormous shadow of a tree cast onto the side of the trailer. Imagine that huge flat surface being like a canvas, here was the image I’ve wanted to portray in ridiculously large scale, here it was on the side of this truck as on a great, crazy moving canvas! Sometimes you feel as though the great loving God and nature and your own mind are all meeting at the same intersection. It’s a great shot in the arm, let me tell you!
Comments, explanations, psycho-analysis are all welcome.
[Top of the post: the author’s small compositional drawing for a very large enigmatic painting. By Aletha Kuschan]
Certain kinds of beauty come when the artist is a raw beginner. I’ve pulled out old drawings and appreciate anew the memories they evoke. I wish I had drawn more. Would that I had drawn tirelessly. Lack of confidence trips up too many young artists. But the drawings I made when I knew comparatively nothing have a raw, innocent candour. And now I find I reseek the beginner’s mind.
I began drawing some years ago using my left hand (I’m right handed). I wanted to get the awkwardness back, wanted it to slow me down and trip me up, and make me think harder about where my hand’s lines would go. I have loved the wavy line that is the consequence. The two kinds of drawings, right and left, seem to have slightly different personalities. It’s like finding your alter ego. There you are, long lost twin!
Do not have preconceived ideas about what drawing should be or how it should look. Sometimes be an explorer of the uncharted world.
You are living your life for the first time. It’s all new. Even when one is old, one has never been old before.
[Top of the post: the author’s high school drypoint of her Momma, scratched on plexiglass plate, based on a photograph from the 1940s. Aletha Kuschan]
In the imagery of Classical antiquity, the Muses dance together. All the arts share a common foundation, and thus an artist in any discipline can learn a lot from the other arts. Painters can learn much from musicians. In this quote by Yehudi Menuhin, the distinction between effort that is exclusively technical and a highly structured artistic freedom is well delineated:
“If I felt I couldn’t accept Ysaye’s advice, nor his offer to teach me, the fault lay in my stars perhaps, or at any rate in the temperament I was born with. He might have added method to my working day (among much else besides, no doubt) and thereby shortened the long search for understanding I ultimately had to make, but learning an imposed method seemed not in my nature. In dealing with people I was, as I am, very trusting; in dealing with ideas, opinions, traditions, techniques, I never took anything ready-made, but reserved judgment until I had personally tested the matter. Music was something very alive to me, an essential means of expression, and I suspect that unending hours of work on dull material might well have blunted rather than polished my interpretation of it. Nor am I alone in this, I think. I have since seen how very rigid teaching of music, such as has been systematized in Russia can steam roller individual expressiveness into anonymous brillance, so that only the most irrepressible survive the course with personality and musicality intact. Of course I don’t wish to imply Ysaye would have ridden roughshod over my finer feelings; only that what he might have given, I was not able to take. If it was unorthodox, my development as a violinist was nevertheless valid. Mine was an inspired way, shown me by inspired teachers, not mastery of scales and arpeggios; it was recognition of greatness and response to it.”
–Yehudi Menuhin Unfinished Journey p. 66- 67 Alfred Knopf publisher, 1976
[Top of the post: Andrea Mantegna, detail, Mars and Venus or Parnassus, 1497, Paris, Musee du Louvre]
A thoughtful reader has challenged me to offer a more particular definition of what I consider “junk.” And in time I will try to do so, because having raised the issue myself, I ought to be willing to face it squarely. But until such time, I would refer readers to the previous post where I criticize the work of Ellsworth Kelly, who I put forth as representative of the artist-as-charlatan. I do so boldly from the sense that Mr. Kelly himself is unlikely to stumble upon my remarks and is therefore in little danger of having his feelings hurt. Or, even if he were to read them — “famous” as he has become, he cannot expect everyone to gush about what he does. Obviously he has critics, as assuredly he’s aware. If one cannot take the heat (as we all know), one has the admonition to stay out of the kitchen. Right?
Now then, to more pressing concerns: self-confidence. What about the artist who fears that his own works are junk? What about the over-fastitious individual who cannot accept the merits of what he does, who is overly critical, who is perhaps crippled by a sense of failure? Sometimes highly talented people — just the sort who we’d expect to be “great” artists, are of this type. So what about them?
Van Gogh had perhaps the best answer when he said, “if you hear a voice telling you you cannot paint, then paint My Boy, and that voice will be silenced.” Van Gogh heard that voice. He fought that voice, which sounded in his own head. The paintings he left — in their great beauty and brightness — are the answers he gives us.
The cure for a lack of confidence is work. Just do it.
If I were giving a prize for the most overrated artist in history, it would be Ellsworth Kelly, who in truth deserves not to be rated at all for his oeuvre is painted in the purest snake oil. (For an interesting opposing view click here.) Chief among his vices is pretentiousness, for if Mr. Kelly is an artist then so is the person who lays out the paint cards at Home Depot’s paint section. Indeed, I would argue that the latter work is more fulfilling since one) it’s interactive and two) you can take the little cards home and arrange them to your heart’s delight for free.
However, more than one friend has said to me, “I hate it when somebody sees a work of art and says, ‘I could do that.'” My feeling in sharp contrast is a great sigh of pleasure in the candour of the remark. Yes, anyone could do that. So true. Moreover, I feel that when anyone can do a thing — supposing the thing has value — one should probably just do it oneself. If Mr. Kelly does this on our behalf, mind you, I’m perfectly content to pay him a decent wage not to exceed whatever they’re paying the guy at Home Depot. But if I am supposed to pretend that his achievement is equal to, say, Rembrandt’s or the Rohan Master’s or Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s then, no. I will not play that game. My own painting is far superior to Mr. Kelly’s and I make no bones about it.
I can do what he does — easily. He cannot do what I do. Not at all. (Let him try!)
Kelly is a cheap Matisse knock off. (Whew, it feels good to get that off my chest.)
UPDATE: A second post on Ellsworth Kelly can be found here.
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Honesty can be very appealing, though obviously sometimes we have to be careful about what we say. I judged that it would be preferable to write “Delacroix’s Journal” than to pretend false modesty. After so many years doing something, well, one learns quite a lot and believes that it would be better to share knowledge than to hide it under a bushel.
I see lots of art that is junk, and I know categorically that it is junk quite apart from whatever claims others might make on its behalf. Certainly, I would never tell another artist that his painting or that his “new media” is junk. Nor would I ever tell a collector that his cherished objects are junk. It’s just not something you can do. It would serve no purpose. It would hurt someone’s feelings.
But to suggest that junk exists — this is wise. It launches the idea into the world and sets people to thinking. Perchance they begin figuring out for themselves which objects belong in the “art” category and which into the “junk” category. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. And in a smaller circle the fear of junk imparts wisdom too.
That’s why I’ve drummed away at this theme more than once. It’s the kind of truth that bears repeating, for the recognition of things having true worth is the first step one takes toward gaining them. Sleeper awake!
Away from my home computer, I cannot load the pictures I’d like to use to illustrate these entries. And it feels very strange, for me, to be writing about art without pictures. Perhaps the strangeness can be useful. I need to write in an evocative way and let the reader’s own visual imagination be the illustration for these posts.
I wrote yesterday about my visit to the National Gallery of Art where I saw an exhibit of the 19th century artists who painted at Fontainebleau, a place that was once a beautiful and wild forest in a suburb of Paris. I was struck by the conventionality of much of the art I saw, in the works of certain lesser known artists. There’s a reason why some artists become famous and others, while good, sink back into a historical background.
Artists of the superior type — in this case it was Claude Monet — use visual skill with keen directness to record their ideas, and they are so visually adept that — well, let’s just say — they have a lot more visual ideas to record. An artist of Monet’s caliber takes such a penetrating look at the whole world around him. He thinks more deeply about it. And he translates these dense ideas back into a personal visual idiom. Living as we do at a time when there’s so much confusion and misinformation about what art is and what makes a person an important artist, I think coming into contact with something like Monet’s painting helps clear the air. It leads us toward rediscovering true originality in art.
True originality is not what many people today think: it does not consist in doing something “nobody has ever done before.” That standard applies more to adventurous activities of the famous Guinness Book of World Records. True originality is really just an authentic expression of the self. The self is, after all, Nature’s stamp. Whenever one manages to create a true mirror “copy” of the self, one makes something truly “real” and living. That order of creation possesses a categorical mark of Nature’s own types and designs and schemes and imprint. All this sounds a bit too much like dusty philosophy. All I really mean is that Claude Monet hit pay dirt. He contrived, as all really great artists do, to make images that tap into persistent, enduring ideas and experiences, things that resonate with this reality in which we move and breathe and live. He discovered, in short, life and life-likeness in his art.
Who needs all those rides when you’ve got your own Radio Flyer? As one might surmise from this view of my studio, I also have a busy imaginative life. I don’t relax at amusement parks. I relax washing the dishes. Give me something where the imagination rests!
I like to paint big pictures.
Someday I’m going to get some furniture.
(In the lower right-hand corner is a colored pencil drawing, just visible, of a little bridge to somewhere.)
Somewhere out there is a young artist who I hope will eventually find these words. All the writing I do is directed to this person, who quite possibly hasn’t even been born yet — or who perhaps celebrates a first birthday even as I write. This artist is not like most artists because he (or she) is “destined” to become a great artist. And I am keenly desirous of writing to this young person, not because I have anything essential to tell him since a great artist comes already fully equiped, straight from the factory (who is Mother Nature, after all) with all the innate essentials for greatness intact. What the young great-artist-to-be really needs most of all is encouragement.
Many are the people who would divert you from your path because — well, there are several reasons. One, they do not believe greatness is actually possible — or not anymore — and so you shouldn’t make the attempt, you should instead go with the flow and master all that is hip and happening now. Second, are the people who believe in greatness, they just don’t think you’ve got it. Why? Well, because they know you. The “great” artist cannot be anyone that we know personally since “great” people are always afar off, somewhere else. They are exotic. They live in Paris (19th century) or New York (20th century) or in some other “important” place. They could never live in Delft (Vermeer) or Provence (Cezanne) or in Maine (Winslow Homer). And if you think you’re great, then you’re just conceited. Shame on you. Hipness hubris — since hipness and greatness are joined by an equal sign these days.
[The drawing of asparagus was made by my young, great artist at age 9.]