Thanks from ArtCalling

January 1, 2012


I like practical, connected, and meaningful art. I am excited and inspired by the arts in healing and community art.  For the last years I’ve been committed to finding alternative paths for myself and other artists so that we have choices outside the traditional ways of exhibiting and exploiting art. I have done a lot of thinking about right livelihood in relation to art, so will be airing some of those ideas here.
Over the years my thinking has been inspired by other artists, writers and friends, and I look forward to sharing some of those sources.

Dear friends, with the above words in march 2007, I started this blog.
Looking through the past 5 years’ posts I’ve stuck pretty much to the original intent.  The main themes have stayed roughly the same.

Through airing ideas here and the dialogue that has followed, ideas have developed and gained clarity. Especially those concerning new ways to think about art and; the challenges of art and market.

I’ve shared my oil pastels, older oil paintings, and new craft work. Have shared my dreams and goals, my ups and downs, and generally let a little slice of my life show here.

I want to thank all of you who have been popping in here from time to time and especially those who’ve taken the time to comment. My life has been enriched by your thoughtful remarks and the contact with like minded-souls as well as those with other views.

Alpha, Michael monocle, Thea, Rachel and Phil have been the most active commentors.  Thanks so much folks.

13,037 people visited in 2011. Most of you are from the states, with the UK and Holland close behind.

The top referring sites in 2011 were:

Thank you.


continued from previous post

Joie de faire

A significant part of the joy of craft and online creativity is that it does not rely on hierarchies of experts and elites to be validated and doesn’t depend on editors or gatekeepers for its circulation.

Craft is more about creativity and the process of making at a grass-roots level and not caring so much about star status, commercial returns or validation by the established art world. There is an inherent joy at creating something and then sharing it within a community or group with similar interests. Gauntlett speaks about the need to keep the web a free platform and defend it against being turned into one more instrument for consumerism. It needs to be a bit messy, chaotic, and personal to keep the creative element alive.

And of course the web isn’t everything…people create their own networks and experiences around the process of making things because they like to see and share the whole fruits of their own creativity and to feel connected to other inventive people, and to feel part of meaningful productive social processes which have continuity. This urge appears to be timeless and enduring…

He concludes with:

Making things shows that we are powerful creative agents- people who can really do things, things that other people can see, learn from and enjoy. Making things transforms materials but also one’s sense of self. Creativity is a gift in the sense that it a way of sharing meaningful things, ideas or wisdom, which form bridges between people and communities.

Having read and studied this book, I am armed with yet more arguments for why creativity is so vital to a healthy society as well as happy, purpose-filled individuals. And though the massive subsidy cuts and other hostile actions against the arts (tripling art sales taxes) here in Holland will do some damage, I am less worried by them than I was. With the widespread emergence of a sense of craft as important to our well being, and a renewed appreciation for things made well by hand, I feel that in the coming years there will be a lot of healing and amazing positive developments in creative areas.

Artists have a key role to play in this new scene, to not only do ethically sound, relevant, and socially engaged work, but to open other people to their creative potential.

I trust that then, the questions of livelihood will start to resolve. But it will take a while before the society and the systems change sufficiently to allow that to happen. At least we have a better idea of what we could be moving toward.

Nicholas Roerich

This is the 3rd post based on Lewis Hyde’s book, ‘The Gift’.

Another insight brought by reading Hyde’s ‘The Gift’ is that we artists, by identifying solely with the market limit the circulation of the gift. I mean, that by painting with the idea of selling that painting solely in order to make an income we are limiting the nourishment and gifts that painting could bring us.

In Hyde’s discussion of gift exchange in tribal societies, there is always a greater force involved in the cycle of giving and receiving of gifts, it might be the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of the forest or rivers,  or the greater community.

He then makes the connection to an artist ‘labouring ‘with a gift. When we are deeply into our work, something happens- time evaporates, problems recede, all that exists is this sense of being at one with the work and with the world. This state is known in modern times as ‘flow’. At those times art reaches beyond the personal ego and touches something universal which is then embodied in the artwork.

For anyone who has experienced this, there seems to be a magic to it, as if ‘it wasn’t me who did the work’. The feeling is as if we have opened and received a gift.

What Hyde has made me think about is this: if, through my art making I have been blessed to touch on such a gift, then there is something bigger than me at work here. That means that if I work consciously with this gift element and am grateful and humble in its presence, I let this all expand beyond my own personal ego boundaries. It isn’t mine alone, and it doesn’t need to nourish me any more beyond the experience of the making.

If I don’t demand from my creative gift work that it also earn my living, I am not limiting it to being a mere product.I release it into the larger domain, and from that domain I will in turn be nourished.

I have experienced this countless times, when working on non remunerative art, suddenly a windfall will appear from an entirely unrelated area.  As if by putting clear and true energy out there in one form it almost always comes back in another.

Russian artists Nicholas Roerich said something to the effect of , ‘Create, create, create, and don’t worry about the bread for the morrow, in creating you will nourish and be nourished’.

I’m not saying it is easy or instant. It is never easy. But by using this philosophy as a point of departure for making art, I come into a state of trust rather than one of worry, stress, scarcity and competition.

Exploring the gift further

September 23, 2011

Painting by Elizabeth Blackadder

The destruction of the spirit of the gift is nothing new or  particular to capitalism. All cultures and all artists have felt the tension between gift exchange and the market, between the self-forgetfulness of art and the self-aggrandisement of the merchant, and how that tension is to be resolved has been a subject of debate since before Aristotle.   Lewis Hyde, ‘The Gift’

I realise that this is the central question up for me and informing this blog and most of what I do. So it is great to be able to muse on it and explore it further here. (See previous post for more about the book ‘The Gift’).

Hyde cites 3 aspects of the gift in relation to the creation of an artwork.

The first is the inspiration from a perception, or experience, intuition, a dream a vision, or another art work. It is rare for this initial vision to be the finished work of art, we have to labour with it.

The ability to apply our skills to do the labour is the second gift. The artist works from that part of our being which is a gift and not an acquisition. It can’t be acquired by will –  talents are gifts.

‘The artist’s gift refines the materials of perception or intuition that have been bestowed on him.. if the artist is gifted, the gift increases in its passage through the self’. The artist makes something higher than what he has been given, and this, the finished work is the third gift. It is offered to the world or directed back to the perceived source –  which could be the muse, tribe, the spirits, nature, homeland or the muse.

By this Hyde means that when the artist is aware of his work as a gift, there is always humility and gratitude present. And this prompts the artist to give back somehow.

I will be exploring how to preserve this gift element even in the midst of market exchange in future posts. Because it is not either gift or market, but how to exist authentically in the tension between the two.

The gift

September 19, 2011

I’m still little more than half way through Lewis Hyde’s ,’ The Gift’  but I want to write about my impressions so far.

Though I hadn’t read it before now, his book has been known to me for over 20 years. In the early ’80s I read an article excerpted from it called ‘The Gift must move’, and I have saved those brittle photocopied pages all this time.
His quote concerning art being a gift rather than a commodity opened Suzi Gablik’s, ‘Has Modernism Failed’, and has been a central question for me as ana rtist and for many thinkers on the dilemma of art vs market.

I bought the book hoping to find answers to the last part of this question, (paraphrased) ‘If art is a gift and not a commodity, then how are artists to survive in a primarily market oriented society?’  I admit that some passages are pretty tough going, dealing with subjects such as usury and philosophical meanings of interest on money exchange, nor are the answers to my questions presented on a silver platter. Read the rest of this entry »

Painting by Elizabeth Blackadder

I’ve had a soul-filling 10 days in England and Scotland, soaking up culture, studying period instruments and seeing friends and family.

In the National Gallery of Edinburgh, I attended the retrospective of Elizabeth Blackadder’s work. I had not heard of her, but was attracted by the poster of huge watercoloured tulips. (The whole trip was overlit by the spirit of flowers, as another harpsichord songboard painting is coming up).

I don’t respond to much contemporary art, but this was one of those magical times when walking through a gallery, each painting is like an encounter.  These paintings connected me with an inner stillness and joy and an incredible sense of recognition. I still can’t place what exactly it is that moves me so deeply.

Perhaps it is the humble soul of this soon-to-be eighty artist that speaks through her work. As she said in a film I saw, she doesn’t plan her compositions, she begins with objects that are close to her heart and follows the painting where it leads. Maybe it is the sense of trust and openness conveyed by the large spaces and the forms that are realistically but loosely rendered that had such a liberating effect on me.

Still life with flower heads

I made time to also attend a showing of her recent work in a private gallery.  There, I had a real surprise. Leafing through a catalogue of previous shows, I came across an image that was as familiar to me as my own work. There, on a page, was a painting that I’ve had in my ‘Special inspiration’ postcard collection for close to 30 years  (see left)!  It is one of Blackadder’s early works which reminds me more of Klee than her other work, and clearly influenced many of my watercolours of that time.

Feeling lack and tension around money? these thoughts really help.

Continuing on with excerpts from Lynne Twist’s, ‘The Soul of Money’: (once in a while slightly paraphrased)

Our attention enlarges and enriches our experience of whatever is before us. We have the opportunity to direct our attention in the way we relate to money…

When we allow jealousy, envy and resentment  to become the focus of our attention we become jealous, envious and resentful people with our money.

When we direct out attention to creativity, courage, and integrity, we become expressions of those qualities in whatever we do in our interactions with money.

When your attention is on what is lacking and scarce- in your life, in your work, in your family, in your town- then that becomes what you’re about.

That’s the song you sing, the vision you generate. You engage in lack and longing and what’s missing, and you call others to that same experience..If your attention is on problems and breakdowns with money…that is where your consciousness resides…. No matter how much money you have, it won’t be enough. No amount of money will buy you genuine peace of mind.

Yikes, I sure have fallen into that trap lately.

If you are interested in how to climb out of this very common and debilitating state of mind, read on in part 3.