Friday, July 29, 2011

About a Brain

Last week I said: “I am an idiot when it comes to numbers”. I need to enlarge on that to get to what I want to say today about how a brain works and sometimes doesn’t.

Back in grade school a teacher asked me to explain the perfect score I got on a test as she could not see any evidence of the path I took. I know now, because I still do it, that I visualize numbers and move them about in a way that does not follow the steps I was taught. I have used this kind of thinking all my life but when I was the age I was then (somewhere between six and eight years old) I wasn’t aware of how I operated. I got a shameful zero on that test and was accused of cheating. I don’t know if that experience was the deciding factor and caused my lifelong antipathy toward numbers. It certainly didn’t ease the way.

This morning I came across this: “I often hear artists say that they are too right-brained to do left-brained business tasks.” It goes on to explain how that is a mistake. I had been painting but returned to doing business in response to some requests for information about my work. I was struck again by the change in how I felt about my life, myself and the world around me when dealing with pricing, computer glitches and time spent on the phone. I enjoy meeting the people who appreciate my work and sales make me very happy. But self-promotion, pricing, databases and mailings are not my cuppatea.

In my studio, I am untroubled and competent. I don’t mean that the work is easy. It is a constant series of choices, decisions and problem solving. I screw up on a regular basis and have to back-track and make right what went wrong because I chose the wrong color or texture or paint viscosity. But mostly, at the end of the day, I feel a serene satisfaction and a well-earned right to rest. After a day spent doing business, even when everything is going smoothly, no glitches anywhere, I come away feeling as if I have been unproductive and what little I have accomplished is meaningless. I am baffled by stuff about right brain, left brain. My brain has been with me for a long time. It has served me well but there are some areas of extreme non-expertise that will never get any better. Who am I trying to fool?

Sculptor Louise Nevelson: “In my studio I'm as happy as a cow in her stall. That's the only place where everything is all right.” 

The image above is Change, ©2000, acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, 13” x 44”.

The 50% sale at Artful Home has ended but will continue in my studio. My moving sale of pre-2006 work continues until we find that elusive perfect space. Email for information and appointment.   

Friday, July 22, 2011

About the March of Time

At the beginning of this year and for several months thereafter, I worked in my studio at assembling thirty-two collage paintings in a series I named “The Structures”. I described some of that process here and included some images. That took a few months and then for a few weeks I devoted myself to contacting those people who sell my work and attempted to add to that list. I had to put the new work out in order to exchange it for the money I require to continue with this operation. I interrupted to get ready in a hurry to open my studio for two weekends and do my own selling. I hadn’t left enough time to do it all: the framing, printing, making the space visitor-friendly, taking down half-finished work to make room for the studio-expo, sending out announcements and such. Fortunately my unpaid help, daughter Laura, was on hand to do much of the labor at my side. And the event was, as usual, thoroughly enjoyable.

There was some more marketing after that and then one day I started fantasizing about painting. I kept myself lashed to the computer and imagined the different ways I could apply paint to a surface. I was contemplating a kind of intense color different from what I had done before. I made a deal with myself. I would do an hour or two at the computer every morning before going out to the studio, to update business stuff, still only about half done. I had photographed the new work, spiffed up the images, put all the new pieces into my database, and uploaded them onto my web site. I had titled and priced and written descriptions of everything. I need to say here that while this sounds like it might be a smooth-flowing operation, it is not. I am slow to make decisions; I type with two or three fingers and I am an idiot when it comes to numbers. So okay, it takes me a while but I do a fairly good job of it finally. Except there has been no finally. After failing to keep the bargain of those pre-studio morning hours, I made a different deal. Alrighty, then — paint for as many days as it takes for you to be ready to stop for a while, a week, two weeks, whatever it takes. But, by God, if you don’t get to the marketing, the sky is going to fall in. 

So I have been painting. This is real painting, with a brush and paint, not assembling collage elements or preparing paper or canvas, or using other media to embellish the final surface or varnishing completed work. No, this is painting and it is satisfying and addictive. I’ve been at it for several weeks and it only gets better. At the beginning I was cold. I forget how paint works and how to get the effects I’m after when I’ve been away from it for a while. And now I wanted to bring another kind of vibrancy to it.

I unearthed some large old unfinished works on very heavy paper. I often put work aside because I see a potential that I don’t know how to make visible. When I looked these pieces over and I saw exactly what they needed and felt completely clear about how to make it happen, I laid out paint and went to work. And after a few days I was right on track, the work moving along almost effortlessly. I am so happy with it. I know what I am doing. There is so much to do that I want to do. There is so little time. The marketing will get done. I wonder who will do it.

Writer Isaac Asimov said “If the doctor told me I had six minutes to live, I’d type a little faster”.

The painting above is Partition, ©2011, acrylic & mixed media on etching paper, 26” x 16”. My 50% moving sale (still haven’t found a place) continues at Artful Home until the 28th. The image above was in their newsletter with this note from the CEO:

And then there's Joan Gold. I first saw and purchased Gold's paintings in Seattle a few decades ago, and have admired her work ever since. Imagine my thrill when she became one of the newest artists represented by Artful Home! Take a close look at her paintings; Gold's obvious love of paint, her strong lines reminiscent of both Diebenkorn and Navajo blankets, and her juicy color sense cause my heart to skip a beat."Partition Four" by Joan Gold
Feel free to fall in love over and over again.

Friday, July 15, 2011

About the Elusive Muse

I’m going to meet with some artist friends next week to talk about a concern common to the trade: What to do when the muse departs? I’ve been rolling it around in my brain to come up with my own take on this oft experienced plight.    My first thought is that there is no muse. Art is work and workers get tired and depleted. “Burned out” we say now. We don’t get any more scorched than the office worker or the executive, but we all get tired. Body and brain tired.

If one thinks of oneself as an artist, there’s that sudden “uh oh, it’s gone”. Who am I now? What am I without that identity? My answer (funny how I have an answer for everything.) is that person is exactly who she has always been. Maybe a bit older. I do not mean to take this lightly. I have known and still do all the anxieties that come with the calling. But do we not take ourselves a bit too seriously? Do we not exalt our practice above and beyond the simple labor that producing art is? There, I’ve gotten on my soapbox; this issue is dear to me. What we do is honest work. We used to belong to guilds, the forerunners of labor unions. We took on apprentices. No aptitude tests required. It’s easier if we give up trying to be MichaelAngelo. If we have that light within ourselves, it will shine.

My friends are talented women, dedicated to their craft. No slouches they. Two are preparing for shows and feeling uninspired. Where is that muse that I said doesn’t exist? Well, if you ask me (I’ll ask myself, thank you), that muse resides within. She does not descend all misty and lovely and generous, bearing visions and zeal from above. She is who we are, artist or human of any line of work. And that part of ourselves that creates can no more go on undernourished and overworked than can we run a marathon with no training. (God help me if I were to run one under any circumstances.) No, the muse needs care. Give her a rest, feed her with whatever it takes to revive her (a new medium, a visit to a museum, a vacation, anything). Maybe one just needs to tire of not working.

There is another possible explanation for the lost muse syndrome. That is a kind of performance anxiety that can afflict artists of all genres, often even after having the experience many times over. It can cause a severe case of painters’ paralysis. I have dealt with that and needed help and got it. While the process has to be repeated in its entirety each time it appears, the artist usually survives intact and the show goes on.

Also mentioned as a topic for the scheduled meeting was “being invisible”. I’m not sure what that’s about. My guess is it’s about being an older female in this culture. It could also be about not getting the attention one wants for the art one produces. Or maybe it’s more like not getting it in any of life’s situations. These women are not shrinking violets. I doubt that they have any trouble making their presence known anywhere. But getting the response that would satisfy, whether as aging females or artists of any gender requires that we make some noise. As an artist, talent alone does not do it. It takes a lot of work to make even a small splash. There are a great many artists producing fine work; those that profit by it are few. I long ago decided that whatever benefits I reaped apart from the joy inherent in the task, was gravy. If I could support getting up and going to my studio every day, what more could I ask for? Well, as it happens, quite a lot. But I am also fine without it. I can pay the rent and buy the food and the paint. And as for dealing with being invisible as an aging female, as long as I can call attention to my presence, I’ll do just that.

Singer Tom Glazer: For hundreds of years people have talked about artists having inspiration, but often, some persons would say, write us a symphony or write us a song, on commission. The artists would come up with a masterpiece without waiting to have their muse inspire them.
My pre-2006 paintings, reduced by 50% for the moving sale, are available now online at Artful Home. The painting above, included in the sale, is Silence, ©1996, acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, 17” x 44”.

Friday, July 8, 2011

About Being Civilized

My manner of writing requires that I spiral into myself, somewhat like a corkscrew, to reach that place within where I really reside. Only when I get there can I write anything that feels true. 

I have to be careful about what I take from that place as I am naturally opinionated and critical. How then to be really truthful and not cause offense? Well, it means choosing my words thoughtfully and considering with care the possibility of irritating my audience, or worse, alienating them. If I want to keep my reading public, and I do, I need to be honest and at the same time, prudent. Sometimes the beast escapes for a moment. My guess is that most of us harbor a wretch who poses no danger to anyone but ourselves. There’s a difficult balance to keep; sometimes I succeed and sometimes I’m not brave enough. I’m getting there.

I find that the most honest of writers, those that bare themselves bravely and dare say it all, are poets. There is more pain, fear, anger and love in poetry than in prose as a general rule. Some times, as was the case when I read Anne Sexton I become afraid for the writer. How could she dare to become so visible?

Painting, like writing, is grateful for the time you devote to it. I went to school; I read about it; I learned from other painters, but mostly I have learned by watching what paint does when I use it and by staying with it through the highs and lows. The highs have been rewarding and during low times, the painting itself has been the reward.

I speak here often on subjects that I do not completely understand. The creative operation puzzles and surprises me, but always, always, I am grateful for it.

For those who have been waiting to buy a painting, now’s the time. I am planning to move, as soon as I find the right space. To ease the ordeal, I am selling pre-2006 inventory online at Artful Home, at a 50% discount. The sale begins next week on July 13th; I will send out an email announcement as a reminder. The painting above is Interlude, ©2001, Acrylic on paper mounted on canvas, 9”x 26.5”.

Friday, July 1, 2011

About Not Having It All

The words of Nobel laureate Rita Levi-Montalcini (from her auto-biography):

“Without a pre-established plan and guided at every turn rather by my inclinations and by chance, I have tried — as will be clear from a reading of this sort of balance-sheet or final account of my life — to reconcile two aspirations that the Irish poet William Butler Yeats deemed to be irreconcilable: perfection of life and perfection of the work. By doing so, and in accordance with his predictions, I have achieved what might be termed “imperfection of the life and the work”. The fact that the activities that I have carried out in such imperfect ways have been and still are a source of inexhaustible joy, leads me to believe that imperfection, rather then perfection, in the execution of our assigned or elected tasks is more in keeping with human nature.”

I saw recently a documentary called “Who Does She Think She Is?”, which begins with a narrator reeling off a list women who remained childless: Amelia Earhart, Georgia O’Keefe, Tallulah Bankhead, Edith Wharton, Emily Dickinson, Janis Joplin, Eudora Welty, and Lillian Hellman. The movie presumes to demonstrate that having a family and developing as an artist can be done simultaneously. It fails miserably. Five women artists who married and had children are portrayed. If you were watching carefully you would see broken marriages for three of the five, angry children for the fourth. The fifth might have pulled it off but that was not clear. Sculptor Louise Nevelson left her son with her parents and went off to Germany to continue her art studies. The boy was estranged from his mother most of his life. I am sure that there are women who have succeeded at both (concurrently), but I am also sure they counted on unusually supportive partners. Levi-Montalcini, from an Italian-Jewish patriarchal family got only discouragement as she chose her path, having to overcome the objections of her father who believed "a professional career would interfere with the duties of a wife and mother”. She chose to avoid marriage and children altogether and to pursue her career in science, because during her generation, it "wasn't done" for a woman to be a professional and also have a family life. 

I think now and then of the choices I made and the roads not taken. I would have liked to have an enduring marriage and also the rewards that might have accrued had I stayed in New York from a young age and given painting my all. Instead I got Levi-Montalcinis “imperfection of the life and the work”. And the “inexhaustible joy”. Not too bad.

The image above is Sunflower ©2008, framed size 52” x 42”, mixed media on paper mounted on board.