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What we really need more of

December 7, 2016

I’m writing this one off the top of my head, no research, not a lot of links, etc., though I’ve written about the topic extensively in my book in progress.

A very young child appears on Idols or on YouTube and a talent is discovered. Take Jonathan, a three year old at the time the video of him was put online, ‘conducting’ a Beethoven symphony in the living room.  It was hysterical, but also so fresh, so open and completely uninhibited. Picking his nose (gratefully most of that was cut out), and at the end, losing his balance and giggling uncontrollably on his back on the carpet as only a 3 year old can.

Couple of years later- Jonathan at 5 in a tux  conducting a real orchestra, very serious.

First of all, a disclaimer here- in J’s case, I think there is a genuine desire to conduct, and the hunt for fame and money doesn’t seem to be the motivator. There is truly music singing in this kids veins. So please, if any of his relatives see this, don’t be offended. I’m sure he’s maintained a lot of his original purity.

I’m actually thinking less of him and more of the kids that appear on Idols, with their pushy parents, greedy for the recognition and money the kids talent can be used to gain.

What I’m trying to point out here is that important things get lost when what starts out as a gift gets turned into a commodity.

Having the ability to sing, conduct, dance, etc is a gift. It is connected to intimate internal values like life path and purpose. It needs time to develop and mature and become one’s own. Gifts are connected as well to the larger whole, our gifts are gifts to our community as well as for ourselves. In many non Western societies, the gift is how money and goods move around, and there are clear guidelines for how a gift is handled. Is it kept or passed on? Is it used up, is it used as a diplomatic gesture? There are myriad ways a gift travels and as many ways it influences what it comes in contact with. Gifts are powerful, they can awaken forces which contain the potential to incite or heal, to create or break connections, and more. They engage the imagination and call to unseen powers to participate in the giving and receiving.

In many folklore tales, hoarding a gift for one’s own enrichment is often the first step on a road to calamity. And we feel this-  we know why when something for the the good of the community is appropriated for personal use, it is wrong.

Lewis Hyde says that every artist labours with a gift. He names 3 ways an artist and gift interact: first is the gift of talent the artist has; the second gift aspect is developing the talent and engaging in the creative process, the artist moves to a new place; and third, the result or product of this process is also a gift. Hyde acknowledges that each artist needs at some point to find out how to keep the qualities of the gift amidst the inevitable pressure of interacting  with a purely commercial system.

When young Idols winners, or young, undeveloped art talents are pushed into the spotlight before the talent has matured, before the person himself is mature enough to understand the nature and application of their gift, then we all lose something precious. The artist and their work become links in the commodity chain, and the values change from giving, gifting, freedom of expression, taking risks, doing something for the love of it- to ‘What do I get for it?’ We all know what that looks like and there is really nothing new to learn from it. Same old same old buy and sell.

But next time you see a conductor lost in the spirit of the music, leading his orchestra to new heights, or an artist working on a project making urban wildlife habitats purely out of love for the animals, or anyone at all using their hands and skills for love and/or betterment of something, try to see what that does to you.

My experience every time is that it opens a place of generosity and inspiration in myself.

Isn’t that what we really need more of?

Before trees

March 19, 2016

Working on the sampler for Jude Hill’s online course I’m following (well, dipping into) is giving me insights into how I work generally.  The idea here is to weave some fabric strips together as a base, and then work on the grid formed by the strips of cloth.

spiritclothsampler2

spiritcloth sampler, in progress

I chose the circle as a uniting theme, but the tree wanted to be there in the middle, and when it appeared, the work stopped being an exercise and connected with my heart.

Someone once commented that I should stop working in all those little rectangles in my art. But this way of working speaks to me, is actually a part of my personal visual vocabulary. I realise I feel most comfortable within defined spaces where I can play with edges, defining them, letting them fade, overlapping. And each square a little story of its own. If you look at Jude’s work, you see her breaking out of the grid repeatedly, but it is there as a strong basis to the design, holding all the separate parts together.

You can see in the next images, how I like to work. I used an old painting(shown upside down) below.

background painting before trees

old painting used as background for Before trees

On the painting below, you can still see part of the neck of the greenish bottle (far right) showing if you look carefully. And other areas have been painted over letting parts of the background show through. Using an old painting as the background determines the palette a bit, and some of the movement.

before trees

Before trees

But I got stuck fairly quickly on this one. It was too familiar and I wasn’t learning much  by continuing with it. Using prompts from Flora Bowley’s book, mentioned in several previous posts, I decided to risk ruining/losing what I had in order to find something new. So I turned it upside down and treated it like a background.

Ah, trees again, they just wanted to be there. To orient between the old and new versions, look for the yellow sun on the painting above, and now you’ll see it peeking through behind the big tree on the left.

before trees2

Before trees, worked on further

Here is a later stage.
So, for me, the textile work at teh top of the page,  and painting are intimately related. They are both about layering, not planning overmuch, following where the work seems to want to go, and being patient with all the twists and turns on the way.

before trees1

Before trees, more definition

Back again

February 15, 2016

Well, I’m back. Words desert me when I try to say anything about the last 8 weeks. I came through a long and tough operation, and am recovering well, though more slowly than I would like.

My work mates in the municipal traffic project sent me a wonderful bouquet, but also a sweet card of a still life painting- by Matisse. I wasn’t familiar with this side of his work.

Matisse still life copy, acrylic on canvas board

Matisse still life copy, acrylic on canvas board

It is such a little gem that it somehow reached through the pain and leftover narcotic stupor to remind me that I was more than my physical situation. And I got the energy to get my paints out so I could copy the still life. I love that, like the original, it is kind of crudely painted (used palet knife on the background), but still holds together.

My painting was already undergoing some fundamental changes. I wrote about those in the last post. One current influence is Flora Bowley’s, ‘Brave intuitive painting’. After some free experimenting according to her suggestions, I find that my  visual vocabulary demands a bit more structure than her layered free form approach. Still, I am learning a lot from trying some of her suggestions to free up the painting experience. Laying down a first layer, for instance, in cool colours, and painting on top with warm ones, letting areas of the underlayer show through. Also she encourages you to not get precious about what is already on the canvas, and to try new mark making on top of what you already have to push the painting in a new direction. Ruining the ‘good’ correct image to reveal more depth and expression.

That is what I’m in the process of doing with the painting here. It was inspired by a bunch of tulips wrapped in dark blue paper. But I felt the painting was a bit too pretty and confined by the realism.

Tulips in blue paper acrylic on canvas board

Tulips in blue paper acrylic on canvas board

So I’ve been breaking it down by using the palette knife in places and obscuring some of the bright colours and hard definition of form. It is still in progress.

Tulips next stage acrylic on canvas board

Tulips next stage acrylic on canvas board

One more thing I wanted to say about influences, I love the work of Jude Hill and am following a sewing, quilting, and appliqué course of hers online.  It is all about layering there as well.

Her approach speaks to me- she doesn’t plan a piece out to the last detail, she has a spontaneous, ‘wait and see what happens’ attitude. It is really refreshing and something I could use more of. Also, she posts her work in progress and you watch it transform and grow. I could do that more.

And I wouldn’t be surprised to see the patchwork and painting starting to influence each other before to long.

More on other new paintings next time.

Painting adventure

December 16, 2015

There is a lot of movement happening in my life, and it is reflected in my painting. I’m leaving old ways of seeing, and familiar approaches, and embarking on ‘The adventure of a lifetime’ (A plug for Coldplay’s new single YAY!!). The freedom I have in inventing when working in oil pastels has finally transferred to paint. I’m working in acrylics because I like layering and they dry fast.

I won’t take you on the complete journey, but this particular stream started months ago. I have mentioned that I do collages for relaxation and processing of any issues up for me. I always really like them, they surprise me and are fresh. So this one, with the painting by Alexey Kvaratskeheliya at center stage inspired me to try an oil pastel painting using the same kind of little shards of concentrated colour as Alexey K.

Happy collage

Which resulted in this piece:

Of dreams oil pastel

Working with colour in this way feels very natural to me. (This piece is in our currently running show at Scherer design store. In a few days they will have our exhibit announced on the site.)

I wondered if I could work this way in paints, but it is different when you can reach for one of 121 concentrated oil pastel colours, or you have to mix them yourself and keep using clean brushes to apply them.

But one evening I took a little piece of cardboard, and intuitively began working in small colour areas. That freed me up to take another step- I took all the leftover colours on my palette and made a background on a previously painted canvas with the partly dried paint and palette knife:

Underpainting with palette knife

Then I painted over it intending to work into the result below, but I like it so much I’m leaving it as is.

Horse acrylic on panel

The next two happened around the same time:

They are both painted in acrylic over previous paintings, taking cues from the background and at the same time evolving their own unique forms.

This method of working really suits me. I work messily and spontaneously on an already painted canvas and things just happen.
Gee that Flora Bowley book mentioned in the last post must really work, I haven’t even read it yet and my work is undergoing a major reorientation! 🙂

All of the preceding are quite small format- around 30 x 30 cm. Then I retrieved one of the fairly free paintings from this summer where I was trying to lose form, and painted over it. The tree emerged, and I worked into it some, but not much. It captures the energy I need most to connect with now as I face major surgery tomorrow. Hopefully I can bring it into the hospital where I can see it.

Tree 1 acrylic on canvas board

Tree 1     acrylic on canvas board

Freeing up

December 5, 2015

Watercolor sticks and ink on canvas board

A new blogger friend mentioned Flora Bowley’s book, ‘Brave intuitive painting’, and I was immediately curious. I looked at her video and knew this way of working would take me forward. In the last months, I kept hitting that edge of letting go, but somehow my training and conditioning wouldn’t let me do that on a canvas!! There was a strict division between the art I did personally, privately- collages to process some issues, or create visions and goals, and various watercolor fantasies. But set that canvas up on the easel, lay out the paints and brushes, and The Professional Artist persona quickly came in to direct the show. ‘We’ll do it like this’, she said. Well, I soon took care of her!

trash prof artistSo then I could get on with it. The piece at the top of this page was inspired by an ornament my Tai Chi teacher and friend Lian gave me (you can just make out the little gold shape to the left of the painting up top). My previous attempts at working loosely were nice but quite chaotic and fragmented. This time, I wanted to work with a single simple shape, the plant reminds me of oleander, which has strong healing properties. I drew the plant on canvas board loosely with walnut ink (very water soluble after it dries) and worked into it with watercolour sticks and brush. I redrew the outlines with acrylic very quickly. Next step was to block in the colour, which I had an idea about before I started.

Applying acrylic wash

And finally I firmed up the colours. I wanted good rich earth colours at the bottom merging into lighter shades and finally some ethereal pastels lighting up the top where the flowers are. It is 30 x 50cm. Interesting proportion to work with. That’s pretty much how I’m going to leave it.

Developing colour areas

 

 

Slow art, soul art

July 18, 2015

Art holds time, oil pastel collage, S Zoutewelle-Morris

Art holds time, oil pastel collage, S Zoutewelle-Morris

Who doesn’t have the ‘bread and butter’ part of their art practice? I sure did back in the 70’s when I made little landscape prints and calligraphy pieces to sell at art markets.

My husband told me of an artist who, a long time ago in Holland, was having trouble making ends meet. He set up a stand on the sidewalk and started making quick drawings of clowns for passersby. He did so well, he was able to finance his less saleable work.

Problem is when the clown drawings take over. When work made to sell becomes the focus, and not making work according to inner values, which then eventually may or may not sell.

Commodity art is a branch of business, like a supermarket or a clothing store. It operates on exactly the same principles- supply and demand, customer’s wishes are central, profit margins before quality. And virtually no ethical underpinning.

How does an artist let herself become part of this consumer chain? One current scenario is, the person has average or above average drawing talent and makes something which is trendy and appeals to a large public.

They have no trouble seeing their art as a product. For them, selling is just as exciting and challenging as making art. They are 100% dedicated to self-promotion.They are artists of business, rather than artists first. Mostly when they find something that sells, they keep working in that vein rather than taking risks and developing their art.

While they may start out making things that are connected to their own creative journey, they soon realise that to keep selling they have to make the kind of art their customers want. They’ve found that wholesale and licensing earn the most, and the fastest. Every piece of original art regardless of merit is unfailingly available as prints, phone skins, silk scarves, T-shirts, mouse pads etc..

Then they realize that they have now become administrators of a business, have to spend hours working the social media to keep up people’s interest in them and their products, and spend more hours (or hire someone) to package and post their work. They accept this and consider it the price needed to stay ‘on top’.

Eventually everything they do is in service to their career. As one artist put it, they have become walking infomercials.

Excuse me. But if an artist decides that this really isn’t what his heart was telling him when he first felt he gift of his art come through him, he’s the one that is supposed to be crazy???  I, and more than a few artist friends, when openly questioning this insanity have gotten flack for not being ‘realistic’ and realizing you have to have money to survive. But the core issues here aren’t just about money.

 continued in next post

 

 

Slow art, soul art II

July 18, 2015

please read part one, previous post first

So what is going on here?
There is a book called, ‘The Gift ‘by Lewis Hyde which exhaustively explores why art belongs to the gift and not the commercial worlds, and what is lost when we enter the market with a gift (I’ve written a series of posts on the book.) Basically, in gift cultures, to give something away freely was to enrich the tribe/community. A gift actually increased in value when given, and perished when held on to. Gifts and art were linked to something bigger than the artist- to the ancestors, to the spirits of the land, to the gods.
And in engaging in gift exchange, these large forces were also invoked. So that when you gave or received a gift, it connected you to the larger powers in the universe. Money exchange is anonymous and impersonal. But gift exchange in a small community creates a connection, a web of relationships. If I give something away freely, I create an empty place in my own life that will automatically be filled by the community.

Compare this trust that my needs will be met, with the desperation that so often accompanies selling art for a living in the above model.

The thing is, if you reject the pressure to commoditise your art and yourself, you are rejecting the main paradigm, the actual foundations of reality nearly everyone in this society is being run by. You are stepping off the path. You are dangerous. that is why when you start to withdraw from the accepted ‘way it is done’ people will feel threatened and try to make you feel like a fool.

What is actually happening is that one by one, people are starting to question the usual way of doing and thinking about things. Charles Eisenstein calls this familiar way the ‘old story’ and says we are collectively moving toward a ‘new narrative’. This is true for the arts as well. He also says that it is almost impossible to hold the new story alone. If you try, you will be drawn back into the old way of seeing things, either by peer pressure or money issues. The only way to create and hold the new story is through community – one more reason to talk about these things together and support each other in making unconventional choices.

There are many, many artists looking for new ways of working with their gifts. These channels are not yet in place as  secure money generating structures, but they are coming. Actually, it is artists like us who are questioning the current paradigm who are creating the new forms.

What we need more of is slow art: art that holds time as a vase holds water: art that grows out of modes of perception and making whose skill and doggedness make you think and feel; art that isn’t merely sensational, that doesn’t get its message across in ten seconds, that isn’t falsely iconic, that hooks onto something deep-running in our natures. In a word, art that is the very opposite of mass media.
-Robert Hughes

I would call this ‘soul art’. It has a lot to do with Hyde’s idea of art being a gift:

There are three aspects of a gift involved in creating a work of art:

  1. The inspiration, vision or idea that makes one want to create.
  2. The talent and skills to  bring that idea into tangible form. The artist creates something higher than herself and is
    enriched by doing so.
  3. The work of art is offered to something larger than the artist’s ego- the tribe, community, the muse ,whatever,
    there is an acknowledgement and gratitude and releasing of the art so that it can enrich others.

This kind of art takes time and belongs to other natural processes which are of value and take time; healing, nurturing, tending, growing, creating. It is made as a response to an inner intention and is deeply engaged with the artist’s growth and development both in his skills and as a person.

Soul art, when shared freely with the community, creates nourishing relationships. Coming from the heart, it is naturally sustainable and in harmony with nature. It is made from the sense that what we have is already enough, so there is trust that we’ll find what we need rather than trying to manipulate, control and compete for it.

Hyde, in his book, admitted that we live in a reality where an artist needs to sell to live. He offers one suggestion- make sure your art is created in service to your gifts, to the higher aspirations of your soul and heart- where you take risks, don’t think about the market, where there is a pure, gift sphere to create from. Then, after, you can see if it has market value, sometimes is does, sometimes it doesn’t.

The art that matters to us, which moves the heart or revives the soul, or delights the senses, or offers courage for living…that work is received by us as a gift is received. Even if we have paid a fee at the door of the museum or concert hall, when we are touched by a work of art something comes to us which has nothing to do with the price.
Lewis Hyde, The Gift