Watercolor painting of tulips

Watercolor painting of tulips

Reasons to keep painting and making art:

“Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged by its presence and mysterious means?  Some hunger for more is in us — more range, more depth, more feeling; more associative freedom, more beauty.  More perplexity and more friction of interest.  More prismatic grief and unstunted delight, more longing, more darkness.  More saturation and permeability in knowing our own existence as also the existence of others.  More capacity to be astonished.  Art adds to the sum of the lives we would have, were it possible to live without it.  And by changing selves, one by one, art changes also the outer world that selves create and share”
     — Jane Hirshfield, Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World

Blue Dog art by George Rodrigue

Blue Dog art by George Rodrigue

We saw some interesting and unusual art in New Orleans, notwithstanding the ubiquitous Blue Dog, an iconic image created by George Rodrigue, which the city seems to have adopted.  There was a sculpture of the Blue Dog in The Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden in City Park.

This was not my favorite sculpture in the outdoor garden.  This sculpture park is free to the public, and it holds some wonderful pieces, like these, for example:

Henry Moore sculpture

Henry Moore sculpture

Rodin

Rodin

Robert Indiana

Robert Indiana “Love, Red Blue”

Do-ho Suh "Karma"

Do-ho Suh “Karma”

We also visited the New Orleans Museum of Art adjacent to the sculpture park.  There I saw two things that were especially unusual and clever and unique.

Bidou Yamaguchi made mask portraits in the Noh tradition of famous faces in art, such as Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring.

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"Kiss 2007" inspired by Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss"

“Kiss 2007” inspired by Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss”

The museum also displayed pages from Tim Youd’s “100 Novels Project.”  This artist retyped 100 literary works, each on a single sheet of paper (with another sheet for backing) using the same model of typewriter that the book’s author used.  There was an aspect of performance with this art, as he sometimes typed in a setting appropriate to the books. The museum displayed only the finished one-page manuscripts and backing page.

This was "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman"

This was “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman”

And perhaps my most favorite art piece of all was one we stumbled across as we meandered through New Orleans’ City Park — “The Singing Oak” by Jim Hart.  What first caught our attention was the sound of wind chimes.  Hart installed seven wind chimes of various sizes (some were taller than my husband) in a lovely old live oak.  But what was most remarkable was that the chimes were tuned to the pentatonic scale, so the sound was very harmonious.  It was enchanting to stand and sit beneath the tree and listen to a symphony wrought by the gentle wind through the tree.

"The Singing Oak" in city Park

“The Singing Oak” in city Park

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Seduction

April 7, 2014

National Poetry Month.7

Forsythia

Forsythia

What to write about? What to draw or paint?

“What we regard must seduce us, and we it, if we are to continue looking.”
— Jane Hirshfield, “The World is Large and Full of Noises:  Thoughts on Translation,”  Nine Gates Entering the Mind of Poetry

“Suffer yourself to be attracted.  It is vain to work on chosen themes.  We must wait till they have kindled a flame in our minds.  There must be the generating force of love behind every effort destined to be successful.”
— Henry David Thoreau, from Winter: The Writings of Henry David Thoreau, vol 8, January 30, 1852

I think that what draws us in, what captivates our interest and attention, is something of a mystery.  The challenge for me, after photographing each season’s offerings for over five years now, is to keep looking with “new” eyes, to look closely enough for a fresh angle.

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Forsythia blossoms strung like beads on a necklace

Forsythia blossoms strung like beads on a necklace

National Poetry Month.5

Nearing sunset, Golden Gardens

“When ideas do come, they are, at least in my case, rather tiny.  They are not thunderbolts, but glimmers.”
— David Travis, At the Edge of the Light:  Thoughts on Photography & Photographers, on Talent & Genius

I like the notion of creative ideas starting small for that means ideas are accessible to even me.  But it also means being tuned to their frequencies so that when they appear on the wing, I can recognize, capture and make something of them.  How to listen for that still, small voice.  For me, that takes solitude and attentiveness and discernment.

“You do not need to leave your room.  Remain sitting at your table and listen.  Do not even listen, simply wait.  Do not even wait, be quite still and solitary.  The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”
— Franz Kafka

Creative ideas need to be protected and sheltered at this embryonic stage.  They can be fragile and so easily set aside to languish or die.  I like what poet Donald Hall says about keeping young ideas and drafts held close to the vest:  “When a poem, any work, is private to me, its spirit and possibilities are limitless.  Once I show it to anyone . . . somebody else’s spirit, psyche, tone of voice, has entered that poem. . . . This holding back is essential to me.”
— Donald Hall, “An Interview with Marian Blue,” AWP Chronicle, May/Summer 1995

 

Pursuing the Impossible

September 18, 2013

“The main problem with turning the world into language is that it’s, well, impossible.  The word is always less than the thing it is meant to represent.”
— Stephen Dobyns, Next Word, Better Word:  The Craft of Writing Poetry

Watercolor and pencil sketch of yarrow

Watercolor and pencil sketch of yarrow

I’m convinced that art is a worthy pursuit and that if I persist, if I practice painting on each of my days off from my paying job, then I will eventually become a good artist.  This may take years, thousands and thousands of little paintings, and I am okay with that.

Right now, I have many dissatisfactions with my work.  And if I read Dobyns correctly, I can expect to always be searching and reaching for improvements.  He says, ” . . . I also thought poetry was something from which I could always learn more.  It was a country whose boundaries were never fixed, that always seemed to expand.”

The challenges of painting are intrinsically interesting to me.  I seem to be the kind of person who needs to learn by doing, by reading and looking at others’ works, and then by trying again.  I need to learn slowly.  So far, I am largely self-taught.  So there is a danger that I am repeating bad habits.  Maybe someday I’ll take a painting class, but for now, as long as my dissatisfactions do not turn into discouragement, I need to struggle on my own, charged by hope.

“Hope
to be imperfect
in all the ways
that keep you
growing.”
— Alice Walker, from “Hope to Sin Only in the Service of Waking Up”

So when my paintings fall far short from the things they are meant to represent, I hope to stay hopeful and take up the brushes again.  I expect perfection to always elude me, but there is beauty in imperfections, too.

 

 

Why Do We Make Things?

September 17, 2013

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves and acorns

Watercolor sketch of oak leaves and acorns

I seem to be all over the map (again), wondering why I am spending my days the way I do.  Why do I take photos, again and again, of flowers and leaves, etc.? Haven’t I done that already?   Why do I spend my time creating blog posts after all these (4+) years, and would it make more sense to live my life off stage?  Especially when there are (many) days when I seem to have nothing to say?  Why am I taking up a paintbrush?  What am I trying to say, if anything, with my little watercolor sketches, such as these oak leaves and acorns?  (Maybe the value is in taking the time to see rather than in having something to say?)  But am I just replicating in paint what I am stuck with in photography?

So I maunder through the days and trust that I am learning something from the struggle.  And if I use these blog posts to natter, it is a reflection of my unsettled mind, and I hope you will bear with me.

Last week I went to a lecture entitled “Why Do We Make Things,” part of a series presented by Seattle’s Town Hall Arts & Culture.  I left after a few minutes, too antsy to listen to this panel of four artists talk about how they played in their Dad’s workshop or cut out paper dolls.  I wanted to hear some deep thoughts about the existential why.  I unfairly, perhaps, decided I wouldn’t learn anything from these artists’ personal stories.  I know I learn better from books, which I can ponder at my own pace.

This week I checked some books out of the library about the craft of writing, shaping words.  My daughter will be teaching her fifth grade students about voice, word choice, etc. and I thought I might stumble across a book or two with some ideas for her.  And I found one gem, Next Word, Better Word: The Craft of Writing Poetry by Stephen Dobyns, that spoke directly to my heart.  What he said about poetry applies equally to blogging, painting and the arts in general:

“I think when I first started writing in my teens and became increasingly committed to it in my early twenties, I wrote to be a contributing member of some great community . . . And I did it to be noticed, to be loved and authenticated.  I did it to be important.  I did it to give myself a voice.  I did it to be published.  I did it to have a job.  I did it to earn a merit raise.  I did it to push back the night.  I did it to sing.  Oh, I wrote for all sorts of reasons.  Then those reasons began to drop away, and now I do it mostly for itself.  I do it because I love it; I do it because I have no choice.  But the act of letting the poem go, of sending it out to be published, is now something I must make myself do.  And I do it to maintain my tenuous connection to the world. . . .  This connection, however, might be to only one person, one reader with whom the poet feels an affinity.  Nowadays I write for quite a few people who are no longer living.”

And I especially like this next Dobyns insight into why we make things:  “Writing a poem is one of the ways to love the world.”

And loving the world is always a worthy thing.

 

 

Moon snail shells # 13, 14, 15 and 16; watercolor sketches

Moon snail shells # 13, 14, 15 and 16; watercolor sketches

I think it’s fair to say that there is something gimmicky about my project to draw or paint a moon snail 100 times.  But I prefer to see the experience as a valid art assignment, and I hope to become better at making my hand represent what my eyes see.  I’m open to learning other lessons, too, about my threshold of boredom, my persistence, my ability to stick with a project through completion, how to better use my materials, and random philosophies about life in general inspired by contemplating my moon snail shell.  I’m hoping  that the value of this project goes beyond the works themselves.

“Yet as artists, we give ourselves assignments all the time; this is what it is to have a practice.  If we are reasonably thoughtful, however, we understand these assignments not as ‘that which will produce work of value,’ but ‘as that which will allow the work to happen, perhaps producing the conditions through which something of value might take place.'”
— Colleen Asper, from Draw It with Your Eyes Closed: The Art of the Art Assignment, edited by Paper Monument

 

 

Pumpkin paintings displayed on the side of an old barn — Gordon Skagit Farms

The highlight of my day trip to Gordon Skagit Farms was the art.  Eddie Gordon, one of the Gordon farmers, is also a talented artist, and he displays his large paintings en plein air.  (He is also offering three prints for sale this year.)  I thought the presentation of art on the farm was delightful.  I’ll show you some photos, but I highly recommend that you make a visit this month to see the paintings in person.

Close-up photo of pumpkin on the barn

Old truck with another of Eddie Gordon’s paintings, a rural landscape

A painting outdoors amidst the pumpkins and gourds

Painting of a rural road is hung over an old concrete watering trough

Another painting set back from the produce tables

Enjoy a painting while you grab a wheelbarrow for your pumpkin purchases.

Detail of another pumpkin painting by Eddie Gordon

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Watercolors and sketchbook on my work table

I’ve lately had a hard time finding time to paint.

No, that’s an excuse.  I haven’t committed to making painting my top priority, and maybe because it is important to me, it’s become in my mind a “big thing.”  And you know how “big” projects can sit like an elephant in the room, too large to tackle, and so you fritter away your time accomplishing smaller tasks that are actually do-able.

I am old enough to know that you can’t just wait until you are inspired to make art.  Thinking about being an artist won’t turn me into one.  I will only become a painter by sitting down and painting.

“Inspiration comes during work, not before it.”
— Madeleine L’Engle, Irrational Seasons

“. . . a writer who writes only when she is inspired will work three or four days a year.”
— Katherine Paterson, Gates of Excellence: On Reading and Writing Books for Children

I also know, from long experience, that the first step to being productive is to simply jump in and get started.  There is no need to wait until I have a full day free to get out my watercolors, brush and paper.  I just need to commit to five minutes.  And then I’ll be over the hump, the procrastination, and invariably those five minutes turn into an hour or two.

I recently read a passage in a book about Georgia O’Keeffe that talked about an interesting exercise for artists:  “During her first stint at the Art Students League, when she was a mere babe of twenty, she learned and absorbed a lesson from William Merritt Chase that would serve her well for the length of her long life:  Paint a picture a day.  The idea was a multifaceted lesson of genius.  Painting a picture a day trains you to:
a)  not take your work or yourself too seriously;
b) capture the energy that led you to paint this particular thing in the first place;
c) loosen up (you’ve only got a day, so no fussing around);
d) remember there are more where this came from (there’s always tomorrow); and
e) love the process; the enjoyment you had painting that kitten in a basket is more valuable than the painting itself.”
— Karen Karbo, How Georgia Became O’Keeffe:  Lessons on the Art of Living

I’m intrigued by that idea, but given my work schedule at the library, I don’t think I can commit to painting a picture a day.  I would be setting myself up for yet another failed New Year’s resolution.  Maybe in the future.  For now, I am hoping that talking about my struggles to sit down and paint in this blog will help me to keep my nose to the grindstone.

Japanese dragonfly scroll by Kinoshita Itsuun and Ichikawa Beian

Last week after work I took advantage of the Seattle Art Museum’s “First Thursdays” free admission and treated myself to its current exhibit, Luminous: The Art of Asia.  I found the exhibit to be a serene, but inspiring, oasis during this busiest of holiday shopping seasons.

Quiet gallery on Thursday evening at the Seattle Art Museum

I will be featuring a few of my favorite pieces in the next couple of days.  Today I wanted to showcase this lovely Dragonfly scroll, one of a pair from the Japanese Edo period (the other one featured butterflies).  I can understand why so many Western artists have been inspired by Japanese drawings and paintings.  These dragonflies are exquisite!

The Dragonfly
by Louise Bogan

You are made of almost nothing
But of enough
To be great eyes
And diaphanous double vans;
To be ceaseless movement,
Unending hunger
Grappling love.

Link between water and air,
Earth repels you.
Light touches you only to shift into iridescence
Upon your body and wings.

Twice-born, predator,
You split into the heat.
Swift beyond calculation or capture
You dart into the shadow
Which consumes you.

You rocket into the day.
But at last, when the wind flattens the grasses,
For you, the design and purpose stop.

And you fall
With the other husks of summer.

(You can listen to Bogan reciting this poem at this link.)