More from the Mark Doty book: he regularly compares painting—and so art, in general—to poetry, in its evocative, metaphorical syntax and usage and the ways it affects us when we experience it.
In still life, it’s the same: these things had a history, a set of personal meanings; they were someone’s. The paintings seem to refer to this life of ownership, and to suggest something of the feeling attached to things, while withholding any narrative. What could we ever know of this cup or platter, the pearl-handled knife? Their associations are long since dead, though something of the personal seems to glow here still, all its particulars distilled into an aura of intimacy.
Only now is the depth of her insight and discoveries widely known. She never exhibited her abstract work, pretending to the outside world she was working in a conventional way. This NY Times article covers the Guggenheim retrospective currently on display.
We should understand there’s likely lots of innovative and wondrous work out there, being done without acclaim or attention. Had af Klint not been encouraged to keep her brilliance secret, she might be known as the mother of abstract painting.
Banksy’s Bemusing, Possibly Cynical Shredding at Sotheby’s
There’s a lot of speculation about why Banks did this, and what it means. I’m not sure yet that there’s any one meaning to the work, but I’m intrigued by the larger possibilities behind the concept.
If Banksy wanted to “prank” the fine art world, it backfired, in a way, because the likelihood is that it’s worth more money shredded. This includes the possibility of the thing continuing through the frame shredder at some point. It transitioned from 2D art to conceptual art, and there’s plenty of that which doesn’t have a specific and discrete physical form. All this attention has undoubtedly increased its value for the buyer, and brought massive publicity to both Banksy and Sotheby’s. It’s not really tweaking the wealthy fine art community as much as fostering it.
On the other hand, Banksy may know what he’s doing, that all this would result in increased value, which is more cynical and that’s disheartening. It’s interesting as another in a series of “why is a thing worth this much?” works, but I’m not sure that goes very far. If the thing dissolved completely, that’d be a better way of bringing it full concept: what’s the resale value of a painting that no longer exists, sans documentation?
The main value, I think, is that I’ll have to think about this some more.
The Gorgeous Work of Early 20th Century Painter and Designer Margaret MacDonald
Time for some more talk about the preponderance of white dudes in the canon. I’ll be (mercifully?) brief. Maybe I should have a segment header for this:
Eh, maybe not. But, via the really great—non-toxic—Twitter account @womensart1, I found the work of Margaret MacDonald, a key influence on the Glasgow School and, I think it could be argued, the Arts & Crafts movement as well. Her Wikipedia page sets her as an influence on Klimt, and it seems plausible his work borrowed ideas she painted around the turn of the 20th century and exhibited in Vienna.
I think she’s another who deserves to be studied and lauded along with Klimt.
You Need Distractions Today, I Can Tell, and Here Are Three Short but Amazing Things
It’s a perennial problem, that. Either you want to get a thing underway you’ve been half-dreaming about, or you’re itching to dive in and make . . . something. So why is it so hard to get going?
You have to have a specific idea in order to start, right? Well, no you don’t. However it shakes out for creative fields I’m not familiar with (glassblowing?), it’s very similar in two broadly major ones: painting/drawing and writing. I’ll use painting as an example, because I know that one. Probably it’ll translate, at least somewhat, to other media, but we’ll worry about that later.
You usually begin with a blank, white canvas. It’s clean and pure, almost holy—unless you’re not steeped in the Western European tradition, in which case that symbology starts to fall apart. But it is daunting, and voidlike. The way past this barrier is through it. How do you start? By putting something, anything, other than white on it. You can start by putting a tone on it: red, green, gray, or some wild eye-searing thing, like the orange I used on the detail of the blue-dominant painting up above.
There, you’ve started. One line, a new color, and you should be better able to build on what you have.
The same goes for the blank page. You start putting down the proverbial “I don’t know what to write, this is dumb, I can’t even,” and you have something to bounce off of. As long as you keep going, it isn’t long before you can drop into the flow and dig for something true. It’s in there.
Not only did I have the wonderful surprise of waking up to a gloriously gray, wet, and green Portland morning, but the pictures hanging in the AirBnB we’re staying in make me want to sit down and make things with whoever did them. Are there kids here? Can we have a painting sesh?
You aren’t just creating for its own sake if you show your work. Somewhere. Everywhere would be nice, but I’ll be realistic for now. What I mean is your vision of the world, the universe, your soul, brings something new into being.
We are human in part because we make art, and all art is about being human in some way. I need your art as much as I need to make my own.
We do get into grooves. Some might say ruts, if they’re feeling grumpy, or cruel. But while the advantage of a groove is feeling the flow or at least extra productive, the downside is feeling removed or shallow.
What might help is a trick that’s helped me in the past: change the tools you use for your creation. Different implements and even methods of making can kick you out of the same well-worn track.
Switch it up. Play guitar left-handed for a day if you’re a righty. Use a pencil and notepad if you usually write on a laptop. If you paint, do what an insightful professor made me do when he saw I was being way too careful and timid applying paint and brushstrokes: paint an entire portrait using only a 2-inch brush.
New ways of physical making can spark new insights and ideas. Stay out of the ruts.
This new story about conservator Mary Schafer’s discovery of parts of a grasshopper stuck in one of Van Gogh’s olive tree paintings is one of those amusing trifles that, at once, is publicity for an event, and a glimpse into the past of a great artist’s process. It’s also a reminder that life is messy and the things we do are all jumbled together with everyone else’s things.
I mean, it could be used for the frothing kind of inspiration that abounds in motivational circles: IF SOMETHING GETS IN YOUR WAY, PAINT OVER IT! But it’s really just that Vincent wasn’t so precious about his work that he cared if a little dust or a bug got stuck in a painting now and then. In a way, it puts us all on notice that art is more than the materials we make it out of.