We all have gifts. Gifts of the spirit, compassion, healing, wisdom, strength, beauty and art. For some of us the gifts come easily and we don’t even need to think very hard about what we are able or capable of doing. We just do it. When I was little, I loved to draw. I still do. Drawing was the first thing I did. I drew things the way I saw them as a child. Through my childlike eyes. I thought drawing was great and every piece of paper got a drawing on it. Including bills that my parents had to pay. My father thought it was cute, my mother was not amused, so a drawing pad was bought so I would stop drawing on paper that was part of running a household. I also drew on the walls. I drew a bear that according to my mother resembled the bear on my high chair. My mother was definitely not happy about that. Especially since it was only about two feet from the floor. I do not remember that since I was probably very young. But, it was a story my mother told often, especially when people would comment about how well I could draw.
When I started school I believed everyone knew how to draw. I was really surprise to learn that not everyone could draw. I thought it was something everybody just started doing when they picked up a pencil. But, I also learned quickly that not everyone understood an artistically creative child. I believe artists by nature are very observant. We notice shapes, forms, color; we even innately know about perspective long before you have a word for it. We also observe cultural behaviors and that is what can get us into trouble. In the second grade we were learning about Alaska and Hawaii – there was talk that these were going to become States within the year. We would have two new States.
I was enthralled about what made each territory unique and special. Alaska was home to Eskimos who lived in ice houses and hunted whales. I learned that they did not live in ice houses all the time – only when they were Whale hunting. So, I drew a picture of an Eskimo hunting a whale – the teacher loved that drawing and it was put up on the bulletin board. For Hawaii, we learned about the Native Hawaiians, how they fished and loved to tell stories through dance. The difference was that Eskimos wore leggings and parkas to stay warm because Alaska was cold. Hawaii was not cold; it is never cold in Hawaii. Thus the Native Hawaiians wore very little clothing. And, that’s where I got into trouble.
The Art teacher arrived to teach us to use clay that could be baked in an oven. While all my classmates made ashtrays – I decided to make a Hawaiian girl, wearing a grass skirt and leis around her neck. I based her on the film we had seen the day before. All the Hawaiian dancers were adults. So, I gave my Hawaiian girl a bust. My mother had a bust, the teacher had a bust, so my Hawaiian dancing girl had a bust. The teacher and the Art teacher were not amused. The Art teacher picked up my little figure and ripped the bust off my dancer and said that what I did was wrong and nasty. I started crying and was very upset. I was sent to the Vice-Principals office and a note was sent home to my parents. I did not understand what I had done wrong. It was not like I gave her a huge bust and I had put the lei on top like the girls in the film the teacher had shown. In the note the teacher wrote that I made a naked girl and that was unacceptable. Both of my parents came to school with me the next day. My father defended me and told the teacher if she thought nudity was wrong and dirty – then why did she show the film about Hawaii with the adult dancers in native dress? That my figure was not nude but had on a grass shirt and a lei. The discussion between parent and teacher went on for some time. But, I was angry and hurt. Therefore, I smashed down my dancing girl and made her into a cat. That seemed to make everyone happy, except me.
It was my first lesson in prudery and narrow-mindedness. But, it did make me want to understand the human form better. How humans move, sit, stand; the difference between walking and running, reclining vs sitting and the different ways we stand. I got lots of books from the library about artists – especially renaissance and reformation artists. They were my first art teachers. They were also my way of dealing with the first challenges to my artistic expression.
Are you an artist – writer, dancer, singer and visual artists? Share with me your story about your gift – how you discovered it and your first challenges.
Since the turn of the last century this question has been asked over and over again. Yes, but is it art? 60 minutes with Morley Safer has asked this question many times during the Art Beat section of the show. The questions are always, what is art? What is good art? And who decides has been plaguing many of us for centuries and more so in the modern era of art.
In our modern era it seems anything can be claimed as art. Thus as art critic Arthur Dano states many of us are wary of where artists, art critics and art mavens are leading us. Thomas McEvilley, Professor of Art History at Rice University relates about visiting a place called the Media Center in Houston where he saw posts set up as in a backyard with laundry hung all over. He said he knew it was art by where it was exhibited, but if seen in someone’s backyard he would not have known it was art, though it might have been art. His understanding was if it is called art, then it is art.
This was much like my experience during an Art History class where the Professor put up slides of contemporary art and lectured on its merits as art. One slide was quite muddled as to what it really was. It was only after staring at it for some time that I discerned that it was a room that had been filled with soil, dirt. My question was what was the purpose? The Professor said that it was to spark discussion. “Of what?” Said I. “Doesn’t make you question the purpose of dirt?” My reply was no. I know the purpose of dirt – its best used for growing grass, plants, food along with good irrigation. Not for filling rooms with two feet high of dirt. Besides no housekeeper would allow two feet of dirt accumulate in any room of their home. If the artist really wanted to spark discussion he or she should have planted a plant of some sort in the middle of the room showing footsteps going in but not coming out.
Therefore, my thoughts were – is it truly art if it can’t transition out of the art gallery or museum? If it can’t be exhibited in a home, office or public setting without confusion, is it really art? Also, can it stand the test of time?
How many would buy a toilet or urinal to display as art in their homes and not in the bathroom? While such a piece could be considered art within an art exhibit, could it transition from gallery exhibit to a residential display? Or could the name of the artist be enough? What about the unknown or emerging artist? Would you take the risk that this work of “Art” would stand the test of time?
In 1917 Marcel DuChamp entered the “Fountain” for exhibit under the name R. Mutt, (This was obvious to most artists that DuChamp was making a joke), which is now lost. There are many suppositions as to what happened to the Fountain, but no conclusive data. The work is regarded by art historians and theorists of the avant-garde, such as Peter Bürger, as a major landmark in 20th-century art. 17 replicas commissioned by Duchamp in the 1960s now exist.[i] However, “Fountain” is quintessential example of what DuChamp called readymade art. [iii] http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/duchamp-fountain-t07573/text-summary
He tested this idea by entering it in for exhibit at Society of Independent Artists[ii] after a discussion with collector Walter Arensberg and artist Joseph Stella. The society’s board of directors, who were bound by the Society’s constitution to accept all members’ submissions, took exception to Fountain, believing that a piece of sanitary ware – and one associated with bodily waste – could not be considered a work of art and furthermore was indecent.[iii]
In many ways DuChamp was correct that we are surrounded by art. Before, items are mass produced someone had to design and create the object we use every day. From the chairs we sit on to the automobiles we drive. The dishes we eat off of to the clothes we wear. All at one time were imagined and created first as works of art. These items are considered functional art. Art that we use. We do not look at this art for inspiration, or as thought provoking or just for the beauty of the art. Or do we?
I leave you with these thoughts and look forward to hearing from you about what your thoughts are on art.
[i] “An Overview of the Seventeen Known Versions of Fountain”. 2007. Retrieved 2014-06-09. Overview of the Seventeen Known Versions of Fountain”. 2007. Retrieved 2014-06-09.
[ii] Marcel Duchamp was one of the Founders of the Society along with Walter Arensburg.
Artists need to talk too!
Writers write and Artists create works of art. Both are ways of telling a story, telling the reader and viewer what life is like. Yes, not just non-fiction but fiction too – all types of fiction need to connect and seem plausible. If not, we the reader soon lose interest and put the book aside. The same is for art, whether realistic or abstract it needs to connect to us the viewer. It needs to tell a story of us.
I recently came across a discussion on LinkedIn about art and communication, and why it was important for Artists to communicate. Too often we just want people to know what we have done is good and say the work of art speaks for itself. But, we forget, art speaks to different people in diverse ways. Thus, it is important for Artists to converse and listen. We need to hear how our artwork is speaking to other people and is it telling the story we want to tell? The other question we need to ask – is it creating meaning? Meaning is evoking feelings, a memory, and a sense of place connecting to the viewer that is personal for them. Maybe in a way that we did not expect.
Dr. Ivan Tirado-Cordero said it so well in his article “Artists are Communicators” – There is misunderstood belief that artists have to be isolated from society instead of being connected to it. Some artists believe that art should speak on its own and if people don’t connect with their art there should be no need to provide explanations. As artists we speak through art. People should connect and find meaning in the content of an art piece on their own. However, we can provide insights in our source of inspiration, our creative process, our artistic influences, methods, and techniques. That gives us power to be communicators. Not everyone is educated in the arts. We have the power to be influential and an inspiration to others. http://ivantirado.com/artists-communicators/
That being said we artists need to be careful not just paint or create what is popular just to give to people what is trendy. Trends and styles come and go out of favor. At one point color field paintings were all the rage and were very much part of the abstract expressionists movement. Many people thought because they had a good sense of color that was all that was needed to be an artist. But, if it only about what is popular, what is the current trend, what colors are all the rage, it will soon lose its appeal and be soon stored in the attic. In other words, if all you know how to put together complementary colors on canvas, you soon are out of style and have lost any artistic edge.
Artists know that color is one component of the composition, whether it is realism or abstract. It is not just about making colors look good together or putting pretty shapes together, or putting marks on paper, canvas because that is the trend and because it matches current décor trends. It is about something more than what is the trend of the day. This does not mean that we cannot paint or draw what people want or like. It just means that we need to be careful of not fallen into the trap of only doing what is popular; what is trendy.
I have been able to bridge what people like and do what I love. In addition to landscapes, I love painting and drawing animals and children – thus I am able to market pet and children’s portraits. People love their pets and their children, and grandchildren. I do not have to compromise my artistic integrity to give people what they want and love.
This is why it is important as Artists to communicate what and how we create artwork. What are we trying to say; what story are we telling; what was the inspiration; how did we put it all together. It is important that we talk about our art. It is important that we communicate why and how line, shape, form and color are interconnected. It is important that we tell how we use all these elements to tell a story or evoke feelings and memories.
The best way to do this and learn how to communicate is teach. Now teaching in a classroom is not for everyone, but when in public instead of shutting down, letting ego take over and saying to yourself “my art speaks for itself” consider it a teaching moment. Consider what the person is saying and use that time to explain why you paint or draw, how you get your subject matter, what inspires you and why you enjoy doing it? Ask them questions about what they like, why and what speaks to them.
However, during this dialogue – do not get upset when a non-artist says something that to you is totally off the wall. For example many years ago I was in an open market art fair and a lady said she really liked my work, especially one painting, but she wondered if I would paint the grass red to match her walls. To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. But, I took a deep breath and explained that painting the grass red would take away the feeling of looking at a vista and lose the depth of field. I also explained that green was the complementary color to red and her red wall would complement the painting and vice versa. That she could change to color of her walls and there would always be complementary colors in the painting – each balancing out the other. In the end, she did not buy the painting – but she did buy a color-field painting of a person next to me as it would work decoratively for what she wanted. But, I did not get upset and stood my ground as an artist that artwork must stand on its own within any decorative design. Just as you may not sell them a painting, but you have given them something to think about. You have shared something about art that they did not know. In time they will know that you gave them the best information.
What is important is that you shared that good artwork is timeless. That a good realistic piece of art complements a good abstract work of art and vice versa. That a good work of art looks good in any décor style. I encourage people to buy what they love, not buy because it will match their curtains, wall color or sofa. Décor styles become dated, but good artwork never looks dated. Good artwork is protean – ever changing, fluid, versatile, adaptable, flexible, multifaceted, and many-sided. That is the nature of art and that is how art communicates and artists need connect to people.
On August 20 I went into the hospital for knee replacement surgery. My left knee had progressively gotten more and more painful. In this past year the knee would lock up every few weeks, which made it impossible for me to put any weight on the leg or walk. So, after much therapy and consultations with my General Practitioner and Orthopedic Surgeon I decided it was time to have a knee replacement. The surgery went well, and the nursing staff had me up and walking with a walker the next day. Even physical therapy was in order the day after surgery. The goal was to be able to bend my knee to at least 90° or as close as possible. I was released to go home three days after surgery.
Nothing is as confining as a hospital room. The care at Upper Chesapeake was excellent, but it is not the same as being home. Cliff had made everything walker friendly. No scatter rugs, open walk spaces and a comfortable chair that I could get in and out of easily. However, the best of coming home was how Mac our five year old Airedale seemed to know that jumping up and giving Mommy ear kisses was out of the question. He patiently waited till I sat down to come over and give me love. The chair had been his to lay and sleep in, yet he was quite happy to give it up for me to use. Mac seem to understand that this was the best seat for me to use. These past weeks Mac has proven to be the best therapy – gently sitting near me for me to pet him. When I was in pain he stayed close by. It was and still is amazing how gentle he is around me. This has gotten me to thinking that Mac will make a wonderful Therapy dog.
The next thing I am looking forward to is getting well enough to take Mac on walks. He loves taking walks and this might be a good time to enroll him in training as a therapy dog. Mac seems to already have the temperament. It well be a chance for Cliff and me to learn what we need to do with Mac to make him the best therapy dog ever. There are plenty of places we can volunteer right here in Harford County. There is the local VA hospital, and rehabilitation centers for Mac to do his healing love.
Share your stories of how your pet has been an important part of your family.
It is interesting to watch how pets stake out their territory. For five years we have watched this staking of territory play out. We got Harper first, a small black cat with a white spot on her belly. Since she was the only pet for nine months she had the run of the house. When we sat down is was quick to jump into our laps for some loving. When we brought Mac home she was not so quick to give him a welcome reception. At 12 weeks old Mac was an Airedale puppy of boundless energy and held the belief that everything and everyone loved him. Harper was not so convinced that having this new animal was what she wanted. She had been the center of attention that she now had to share. However, she did not show any fear of Mac. She staked out the rocker as her place to lie and has her way of telling Mac that he is not moving her from her seat. Of course Mac thought Harper is in the perfect place to get some puppy kisses.
Mac’s favorite seat is a big old overstuffed easy chair and Harper’s is the rocker, but she can usually be found lounging at the foot of our bed. This is day or night. For you see Mac seldom comes upstairs. When he was a puppy we put a child gate at the steps so Harper would have a place to retreat away from Mac’s enthusiasm. Over time an understanding as grown between Harper and Mac. Mac still gives kisses when Harper allows it and Harper still has no fear of Mac who is now five times her size. Many times Mac is in his chair and Harper is perched on one of the arms.
Share your stories about your pets’ behaviors. Funny tales are especially welcome. Ellie