On Art: “Amulet” Oil Painting

This is an oil painting on MDF (medium-density fibreboard) rather than canvas. With several coats of gesso (a gluey-white paint mixture), it provides a very fine, smooth surface over which paint glides quite easily, which in this case made it easier for me to achieve the ribbon-like and underwater effects. It measures 102 x 35 cm.

Though I didn’t set out to do it, now that this is finished, it reminds me of the Nazar or “evil eye” amulet one often finds in Turkey or Greece. These amulets are believed to reflect the ill-intentions of others, protecting the person or household from which the eye looks out, seeing all. Though they can be found in different colors, I’ve always loved that deep cobalt shade of blue one traditionally expects.

One can scarcely tell for certain whether this charm is being pushed up from the bottom of the ocean floor by some force or wave, or whether it is floating to the bottom where it will lay buried in sand for all eternity. Either way, I hope that it may serve the same purpose as the Nazar, warding off evil and acting as a lucky charm wherever it hangs.

On Art: “K’uychi” Oil Painting

My latest abstract is titled K’uychi which is Quechuan for rainbow. Quechuan was the language of the Incan civilization (and before that, of the Chincha peoples of the area of Lima) and it is still spoken today in areas of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. I was fortunate to spend time in Peru several years ago, a land of so much color, so rich in Spirit, that it still inspires me.

The double rainbow is an auspicious symbol in many cultures. Here, I’ve created the effect of a double rainbow using a palette knife technique over a gentle wash of background colors.

There are Hopi and Navajo prophecies concerning the rainbow, as well as legends in Buddhist and Hindu mythologies. There is a promise held in these stories, links to the divine. Some of them tell of a family of beings who will live in peace with one another and in balance with all things. I hope this painting helps to channel the energy of that vision until it becomes reality.

On Art: “Elements of Dreams” Oil Painting

I was surprised recently to discover my favorite symbolist was on exhibit at the Bordeaux Galerie des Beaux Arts. They had some of Redon Odilon’s landscapes, which were lovely and unique enough, but some of his more “spiritual” works as well that I could have stared at for hours.

He seemed to always have a unique eye for color and light. I do wonder what it was that happened to him at some point in his painting career though; it’s clear he had some kind of awakening, to have been able to diverge so completely from the mundane.

He is quoted as having said, “My drawings inspire, and are not to be defined. They place us, as does music, in the ambiguous realm of the undetermined.”

Odilon and Klimt both inspired by latest work titled Elements of Dreams shown below.To view more of the beautiful works of Redon Odilon, please visit: http://www.odilon-redon.org/biography.html

And if you’re in the Bordeaux area, he’ll be on exhibit through March.


On Art: “Canoe” Oil Painting

Late last year, in meditation, an unfamiliar word came to me. It sounded something like wakatewa. I had no idea what the word meant, at the time.

Intrigued, a quick Google search later revealed that the word is Maori and means ” war canoe“, spelled waka taua but spoken exactly as I’d heard it. It is an important word for the Maori who consider the waka taua to be sacred.

Once I knew what it meant, I fell in love with the symbol and started looking for signs of it in my daily life. It still came as a surprise, though, when one appeared in my latest painting which came about after coming across a quote from the late Carrie Fisher:

Take your broken heart and turn it into art.”

I took it as a challenge and decided to reach into the depth of my own history and feelings around a broken heart and turn it into something beautiful.

This expressionist piece is what resulted. I did not set out to paint a canoe or a solitary figure even. I choose my palette based on feeling and added paint to the canvas with nothing but emotion guiding me. I was so excited when I saw what was developing.

So, here it is. A broken heart made into art. I call it…surprise…Canoe.

I investigated the dream symbol meaning of “canoe” recently and discovered the following quote:

“Canoes require a lot of strength to maneuver, so in dreams they often show us something about our ability to handle our emotions. Because canoes are man-made, dreams that involve a canoe also show our ability to handle emotions which are inflicted by other people.”

From http://www.auntyflo.com/dream-dictionary/canoes

So perhaps in turning my broken heart into a canoe, I was declaring my inner strength to be with that emotion and to sail into calmer waters. It’s a comforting thought.

The Artist Statement & Bio: Q&A

MonaLisaWhat’s the difference between a resume, a bio, and an artist statement?

Basically, your resume is a skeletal look at your training, background, education, accomplishments, etc. Reading a resume is like reading a phone book–boring! It serves a purpose, though–a very specific purpose…to get you that position or job. You want to include everything pertinent.

The bio, on the other hand, is a concise and well-constructed summary of things like education, influences, background, techniques, and overall message or artistic viewpoint, but it should be captivating and infused with your personality. This can also include where you are from, credentials, significant recognition… It’s the most basic facts about you as an artist. Include what you most want people to know.

It should be written in a flowing paragraph and be infused with your personality. A bio isn’t meant to explain your entire background and all the details. It’s impossible to do that in so few words and most bios run about 200 words or so. Instead, it should paint a picture. You get to choose how you say everything and/or whether to leave something out entirely.

The statement is a one page overview of your message as an artist, why you create what you do, your methods, your techniques, your influences, your inspiration. That sort of thing. It’s your story and your message. You have to read what you wrote and feel “Yes! That’s who I want to be!” with your statement. The clearer you can be with that message, the more likely people will want to engage because they sense and resonate with its integrity. The statement is your chance to really share your message with the world and explain who you are as an artist and what it is you want your art to say.

I don’t even know where to begin. Where do I start?

A great place to start is with some questions to help prime the pump of your creativity. What is your message? What makes you different? What are your achievements? I also highly recommend visiting other artist sites and having a read through their bios and statements. It will help you know what is possible, what you want to emulate, and more importantly, what you don’t! It might also be helpful to start a conversation with a friend and simply talk about who you are as an artist. Record the conversation or have him/her take notes you can refer to later when writing.

I tend to ramble when I write. How am I supposed to write something that’s only 250 words?!

If a person has a tendency to go on and on, the best place to start might be doing just that. Purge everything onto paper. Then go back in and find the highlights…circle the most important points and start narrowing and zeroing in. Learn the art of combining your sentences so you can say as much as possible with as few words as possible.

I’m concerned about coming across as big-headed or fake. It’s just so hard to toot my own horn!

Everyone I know who has ever had to write a bio had to overcome the feelings you’re talking about. It’s a rite of passage! We have to get over the idea that we are shameless promoters when we share our gifts. That construct has got to go! Unless you can afford to hire a crackerjack publicist who’ll talk you up, you’ve got to learn to do it yourself. Don’t be afraid to own your amazing and unique talents and proudly share them. No one ever got anywhere from hiding their light. Writing your bio in 3rd person would be a good way for you to break through this block. In fact, as a writing exercise, you might even try going purposefully overboard with the self-aggrandizement just to get that fear out of your system (or the opposite…write a pitiful paragraph about how much you suck compared to others and then consider if even you would want to buy your own art!). The fact is, we have to self-promote. We have to believe in ourselves.

What’s 3rd person?

Writing in 3rd person is writing your bio as if someone else was writing it. You don’t refer to yourself as “I”. You use your name…Joe Smith was born with a paintbrush in his mouth…  I recommend artists have a 3rd person bio and a 1st person bio (in which you do refer to yourself…I was born with a paintbrush in my mouth…) because you’ll find different uses for each. I have a 1st person, a 3rd person, a 50, 100 and 200 length bio at the ready at all times, and even these I have to adjust to fit every occasion.

What are some bio don’ts?

Don’t get complicated and wordy. Too much information is just going to overwhelm your reader. Here’s a great article by Phil Johnson on some don’ts.

My background is all over the place, and I’ve only been painting for a little while. How do I write a bio?

Don’t sweat your former jobs as a waitress or gas station attendant. And don’t worry if you haven’t had a dozen exhibitions or awards. These things are not essential ingredients. Don’t see a diverse background as a liability; they can actually inform your art and inspire your artistic eye. You can really use your unique life experience to pull your audience in.

What makes a good bio or good artist statement?

Keep things to the point, combine your sentences to say more with fewer words, get constructive feedback, check for grammar and spelling, keep track of where you’ve posted or shared your statements in case you need to update them, and have several versions and lengths at your disposal for different purposes. Remember, the bio is factual but personable. The statement can be more flowery and poetic (but not too much).

What makes an effective artist statement is that it fits its purpose. The statement on your website might be different than the statement you use at an exhibition which might be different than one you use when entering a competition. They’ll all have common root elements, of course: your message, who you are as an artist.

Keep your statement to one page. Any more than that and you risk pontificating and losing some if not all of your audience in this day and age of soundbites and short attention spans. The thing is, make that one page SING. I abhor confusing language and things that try too hard to sound important or intellectual. It’s far better to write from the heart and clarify/distill your message as an artist.

Overall, with both the bio and statement, the message is what matters. Words are our power to influence and open minds. They are our means to say what is truly important. If you focus on that and let the rules and contradictory suggestions go, you’re going to have something special.

Any final tips?

Before you post, print or send your bio or statement anywhere, have someone (or several someones) read it, fellow artists if possible. Friends can be helpful but sometimes, they are overly positive and love everything. Find people who can lend a constructively critical eye.

Remember, you may have written something interesting, but if it is full of misspelled words or run-on sentences, it’s not going to make the impression you were hoping for. So always proof your work.

What Makes Art “Bad”?

cropped-lotus-nebula-sml1.jpgI recently read a great article, actually a compilation of quotes from various experts, on what makes art good. There were some very eloquent statements. One of my favorites was a quote from art critic #DeWittCheng:

Good visual art looks stunningly right and, in retrospect, obvious, or inevitable– yet it’s also continually surprising. It is a powerful paradox. How can someone have possibly made this? How in the world could it not have been made?

And it all got me thinking. What makes art bad? The old saying goes, “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. What one person finds dull or even ugly, another may find interesting or wonderful. So, what, exactly, are the parameters available to us for classifying art as “bad”? And is any art really “bad”?

For me, it depends upon two things: 1) why the art was created (in other words, the motivation and intention behind it) and 2) is it an authentic expression?

Let’s say someone who experienced a massive trauma, a refugee for example, started to express herself through painting. Maybe she was never trained and her technique is lacking. Yet, her reason for creating…to heal herself…that makes the work of art beautiful to me. That’s not to say I would want to buy it and hang it on my wall. But there is beauty in authentic expression. She had to paint it or a piece of herself would wither. Would a critic love her art? Maybe. Maybe not. But the ingredients are there for good art. Her reason for painting and the expression of that painting are genuine.

Do the rules change when we move into the professional art world? What if someone wakes up one day and decides, “I’m going to make money selling art.” He splashes some paint on a canvas until it appeals “interesting” to the masses and then slaps a price tag of $300 on it. Is the art beautiful? Or maybe there is a highly trained artist who follows all the formulas for a masterpiece. Is it a masterpiece? It may look like one. It may be priced like one. But is it? In the case of the former, the reason for painting lacks integrity and in the latter, the passion has given way to rules and techniques.

Or another example…a young artist tries very hard to copy the work of a master. It’s a learning exercise. It’s a little lop-sided or it might even be a brilliant copy, but is it art? How can it be? It’s a copy! The authenticity of expression is lacking. On the other hand, a child could draw a picture from his heart, and it could be the most beautiful thing in the world, simple in its innocence and devoid of technique, but a perfect expression.

So, maybe we can better determine whether art is good or bad by asking ourselves what the artist is trying to transmit. Are they just making a pretty picture? Or is there some meaning behind it? And do we resonate with that message?

From my perspective, bad art lacks heart. Good art is made from heart!

The thing is, everyone is artistic. It’s a god-given birthright to create whether it’s through painting, sculpture, writing, dancing, singing, knitting, cooking…whatever. So, who gets to be the professional, the acclaimed? Which of us are the talented master and stars of the game? Honestly, I don’t have an answer. I’ve known some amazing artists who never do a thing with it. And I’ve known some real “crap generators” who are making a living! It is an eternal mystery who is seen and unseen, who is chosen or looked over. A lot of it comes down to who has the balls to put himself out there!

For me, bad art is boring, ho hum, and lacks imagination. It’s what I’ve seen a million times before (and sometimes what I wished I’d never seen). Good art, then, is intriguing, inspiring, and something I’ve never seen before or, if I have, it’s done in such a way that it makes me pause and become curious. As I’ve said before elsewhere, good art makes me want to breathe more deeply. It stops time, if only for a moment, and says, “See how beautiful life is.” Ah, but now I’m back to talking about good art. We’ve come full circle.


Artist as Entrepreneur

I just read another “end of the art world” article about the ramifications of artist as entrepreneur on the world of art. It seems something or someone is always trying to kill off the art world. Lots to think about!

brushes smallThe article takes the position that the artist as master artisan is devolving as the wavy line that separates true artists from creatives gives way to the economic need, and that while once upon a time, artists were true craftsmen of rare and studied talent, today, everybody and his grannie can paint a picture or write a book and put it up for sale on Facebook. What was once genius, held sacred and protected, first devolved into a profession, as technique overtook inspiration. And now, that profession of art is morphing once again into the self-employed artist or creator, a jack of every trade necessary from accounting, to marketing, promotion, and sales, leaving precious little time for the great masterpiece. It’s a great article and a sad but realistic commentary on where we are headed. If Van Gogh has been alive today, he would have been just another interesting artist.

I am perhaps an example of the type of person to whom this article refers, as a writer, musician, and artist. But I didn’t “become” multitalented to fit into new markets. I do see more and more, though, that everyone is embracing their self-expression. Anyone can write a book, make a video, be an artist, write a song… Why not? I don’t know that everyone calling him or herself a writer, artist, musician, photographer, designer whatever is the end of art. On the contrary, I think humans were meant to express and create. We were meant to dream a more perfect world. No, that is not the problem.

The problem perhaps is that while we are embracing our creative natures, we aren’t changing the paradigms that rule society in terms of economy. We need an evolutionary leap. I’m not sure what that looks like. I’m not sure any of us do…yet. But I hope the possibilities make themselves apparent soon.

The Critic’s Critic: Ego in the Art World

ego-man-mdIs ego killing the art world? I found a rather provocative article the other day written in 2014 by art critic #JJCharlesworth that spoke about ego in the art world destroying art. I’m afraid it didn’t convince me. If art isn’t about the self and our personal experience of the world, how can it be anything other than just a bunch of pretense and intellectualism? But then, I’ve probably just offended the pretentious Mr. Charlesworth. But that’s okay. I don’t invite him to my parties anyway.

As a friend and fellow artist said upon also reading this article, “I ask you this question: What is the difference between the #MileyCyrus work featured in this piece and one of the plethora of self portraits painted by #FridaKahlo or___(pick one)____?”

And that is exactly the point. If this kind of egocentricity has been killing the art world, it’s been doing so since 1433 when Jan Van Eyke painted his own portrait.

No, it is clear that Charlesworth, in writing about the ego-as-artist, was actually experiencing the ego-as-critic! His problem with individual self-expression doesn’t seem to include himself. Oh, the irony! Methinks his main objection to the rise of obsessive self-expression is that there are now more voices competing with his. Or maybe, maybe that he lacks the level of consciousness necessary to comprehend works like that of visionary artist, #MarinaAbramović. Could it be he sees it as superficial and self-obsessed because he himself is superficial and self-obsessed? It’s not a question he will want to explore, despite the fact that he believes art should make one think.

My paintings come from me and are symbols of the way I dream…I cannot separate them from myself. Nor do I want to paint or write about things of which I have no personal experience. I just don’t understand this critic’s argument in so many ways! And at the same time, I get it. I mean, who gives a crap about anybody else anymore, right? “Self-centered” can be a very bad thing or a very good thing; it rather depends upon the one defining it. As for me, I’d rather be centered in self than centered in someone else. That would just be weird…and painful.