Wednesday, June 26, 2013

I saw Julie Heffernan's new work in Mark Moore's booth in Miami 6 months ago. I was immediately enraptured, and stood in front of it for a long time, thinking, "I know this painter, but....", and then realized it was hers. This interview reveals that she uses image streaming as part of her creative process. I have always loved her work, but this new direction is so rich and layered, chock full of art historical references, but socially conscious without being heavy handed & relevant to our time.
"Self Portrait As The Thief Who Was Saved", oil on canvas, Julie Heffernan
(Ernst Haas photo)

"There are no rules. That's how art is born, how breakthroughs happen. Go against the rules or ignore the rules. That is what invention is about."  - Helen Frankenthaler

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Feedback from My First Visual Voice Workshop

It was challenging, threatening, inspiring, stimulating - all good things!  Inspired me to break my established creative routine. Gulp!   - Mary T.

Many times along the way - during the day - there were "lightbulb" moments for myself. The exercise was very helpful, and will be useful going forward. Your knowledge / willingness to share is much appreciated. I feel well-fed (artistically), and motivated to continue on the path! Thank you!   - Marlene B.

Workbook questions were illuminating, saw patterns I did not know were there. Discussions about how artists think made me understand some of my own behaviors.  - Cynthia S.

I came to this workshop because, despite earning a BFA in painting, I feel like I've never really been taught how to explore, research & develop an idea. I feel like there was an assumption in my program that ideas just happened, and if you had weak ideas, you were a lost cause. I feel like I have been given a lot of rich ideas to sit with, develop, & mine, as well as information to use to refine ideas & work.  - Lauren S.

Very well structured, very informative... many things resonated with my views & experience.
- Desha J

It was great to dig... So much to think about & directions to go that it will keep me going for some time.   - Fannie W

I've been circling around an artistic problem, but have not been able/willing to jump into it. Looking forward to reading your book, and approaching my problem from these perspectives. Also ... hoping to explore this throughout the summer, so I can examine ways to use this in my classroom. Thanks... It was great! Publish your book! Artists/teachers need it!  - Wendy M.

I love it! Thank you for giving us so much information.  - Rhonda P.

I loved  having the creative process & suggestions for it broken down. I liked the exercises & that feedback was offered... that it was objective & not competitive. I liked the expanded look at work by contemporary artists.  - Roxanne

Overall this was an enjoyable & very informative/educative workshop. I especially enjoyed the sketching exercise: it was very attuned with the "dig deep" subject of the workshop. The slides were very informative.   - Poorvi

Saturday, June 22, 2013

"The Lab or The Factory..... You work at one, or the other.
At the lab, the pressure is to keep searching for a breakthrough, a new way to do things. And it's accepted that the cost of this insight is failure, finding out what doesn't work on your way to figuring out what does. The lab doesn't worry so much about exploiting all the value of what it produces--they're too busy working on the next thing.
To work in the lab is to embrace the idea that what you're working on might not work. Not to merely tolerate this feeling, but to seek it out.
The factory, on the other hand, prizes reliability and productivity. The factory wants no surprises, it wants what it did yesterday, but faster and cheaper."  -Seth Godin
"What is to give light must endure burning."
-Viktor Frankl, author, neurologist and psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor (1905-1997)

Saturday, June 15, 2013

“Say to yourself, I am going to work in order to see myself, and free myself. While
working, and in the work, I must be on the alert to see myself. When I see myself in the work, I will know that that is the work I am supposed to do. I will not have much time for other people’s problems. I will have to be by myself almost all of the time, and it will be a quiet life.  - Agnes Martin

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A great blog post by Judith Schaechter on "de-skilling" in the Art World, and the importance of heart, head, and hands working together.

"Does it really matter who’s hands did what? Isn’t that just an issue of branding? Well, something gets left out with an artist who farms out the labor.  You don’t miss that something if you never saw it in the first place but if it is there?  Wow.  It’s irreplaceable. A piece cannot be informed by its own creation if the artists is awaiting the goods in some separate room making design decisions as a matter of management.  Lino isn’t just having ideas and then making them.  He’s having the ideas while he’s making them.  He’s allowing the process to be a major factor in his inspiration, and he is inventing and innovating as he goes.... Lino is excited about trying things that are really hard for the very reason that they are a challenge and they lead him brand new places conceptually. His work is inspired directly by process and the outcome is directly informed by it. Every phase he goes through responds to his prior level and outdoes it. Lino can top himself by creating a dialectic between process and concept that has forward momentum.  That cannot happen with Dale’s work and for this reason its possible to make “Chihulys” but not “Linos”.  You can only re-create an existing Lino or Lino’s last season look." 

“There is a giant cloisonné lion at the Penn Museum in Philly. If you know anything about cloisonné, the first thing that will strike you is that cloisonné is a technique used mainly for small; precious objects and this lion is honking ginormous. It must have taken forever to make it and it was a forever full of aching fingers and doubt! Ages and ages of thinking “I simply cannot go on, there has to be an easier way! Why…why, for god’s sakes why would anyone bother to DO THIS?  Especially since nine out of ten times the viewer is too ignorant to appreciate the effort it took?  Why is adequate never good enough in the arts

Why spend eons on something like that lion?  Because this lion isn’t there to solely to please the public.  It isn’t there only to flatter some rich guy. No, regardless of whatever the artist claimed they intended, the lion exists as a gift—a gift to honor “god” and humanity.  Its not a gift like a waffle iron; the point of this type of gift is to prove we can “get it together” even in times when we are otherwise occupied with life.  It is to demonstrate that, even when the chips are down, we can go beyond our personal interests and risk hardship just to be generous. The point is to make a sacrifice in the name of love.

Ah sacrifice!  What a word… implies devotion, piety, worship and loss.  Sacrifice is at the very crux of what makes art beautiful, meaningful, poignant and worthy. Without sacrifice, art is superficial, glib and kitschy. And, yet, sacrifice, because it is hard, demanding, costly, against the dominant paradigm, impractical in all strata of life, entirely not what is expected or required of citizens and generally not fun, is exactly what is in grave peril in art these days. And while one can simplify the task by merely making images of sacrifice, or talking about sacrifice, it is far better to enact it and to embody it.  And what better way than by devoting your blood, sweat and tears to a cloisonné lion?  What better way indeed.  It’s positively radical. 

We don’t see it, because we are not looking, but it happens all the time. Sacrifice for its own sake is under-rated as the generator underlying conception. To make something deliberately difficult and with passion and reverence towards process reveals the true nature of creativity. We create for one reason only: because we love it so much we can't bear to live without it. And when one feels like that you do the very best job of it you can.  To do it the easy way would be to miss the point entirely."

Monday, June 10, 2013

First Visual Voice Workshop: Pittsburgh!

My first Visual Voice Workshop will be held in Pittsburgh, PA, at The Society For Contemporary Craft. The workshop will run from 9 am - 4:30 pm, with a one hour break for lunch. I will be giving a "Meet The Maker" artist's talk at 5 pm, following the workshop. The talk is free, and you can sign up for the workshop here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Artists Return to The Subconscious at the Biennale

The New York Times review of the Venice Biennale confirms what I have been saying for years.... that the tide is shifting:

“It’s saying that something in this old art needs to be incorporated into contemporary practices,” said Leah Dickerman, a curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Tobias Meyer, director of contemporary art at Sotheby’s worldwide, called the show a “game changer.”

“It finally addresses the theory of contemporary art that is based on Jung, on the unearthing of the subconscious,” he explained. “The art world right now is all about Pop and global culture and dispersing images via the Internet whereas this is about exploring the deepest sense of oneself and the genesis of art. It is the antidote to Warhol and Koons.”

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Mission: Why I Teach Visual Voice Workshops

 I believe that making a certain kind of art can transform your life, and the lives of others as well. I believe that most artists originally found this vocation because they were born with extra-sensitive antennae. These antennaed beings pick up on things that are happening around us long before the "waking sleepwalkers" do. I espouse Kandinsky's pyramid theory, which states that the very best artists are visionaries, paving the way for the rest of society. In fact, his theory was never more true than it is today, as noise from the information age drowns out the quiet that we as a culture so desperately need to follow intuition. Multinational corporations pay trendspotters great sums of money to determine what The Next Big Thing will be, and those trendspotters consistently look to artists for those answers. It is part of our job as artists to have our ear to the ground, at the very least, to our own ground, and tell the truth about what we hear.

For 20 years, I have been helping students find their visual voice, testing various methods to open up a number of possible directions for each and every student. Decades ago, it was easy to look at a painting style & tell where artists had attended school: each disciple painted like their mentor. It is simple to teach students a series of steps and techniques to achieve a certain end: it takes a great deal more time and effort to tease out each individual's visual vocabulary, to help them find the medium and process that will serve that vision and make for the most powerful work of art.

Painter Philip Guston once spoke about the fact that certain figures had been trying to appear in his work for ten years, and he kept obliterating them because he wasn’t ready for them, he kept removing them from his paintings, until he finally let them “win”. This workshop is designed to keep you from wasting those ten years.... to DIG at your unconscious, rather than pushing the messages away. 

"A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. It is never a thought to begin with."  - Robert Frost

It is not uncommon for me to hear my beginning students talk about wanting to develop their own unique "style", referring to style as if it was a t-shirt, or pair of boots. They think about it as "a look", the same way one might go to the mall, try on a few different variations on a theme, and finally settle upon one as being their cool, identifying trademark. 

This is a shallow, superficial way to think about the important work that will mark your short presence on this earth

The art that we think of as having unique, identifying features, those formal aspects that allow us to immediately see the work as "a Van Gogh", or "a Cindy Sherman", happened naturally as part of a searching process to articulate a specific, singular vision. The vision comes from being "tapped in" to your own experiences, being able to distill, extract, and articulate the most powerful aspects of those experiences. 

I often meet artists who have led rich, deep lives, traveled all over the world, raised children, known heartbreak, fought in wars. It then blows my mind to see them painting conventional Landscapes, Flowers, or Academic Nudes.... why?! With a heart and brain full of the memories, feelings, and experiences of a unique lifetime, and few decades left on this earth to leave your mark, you want to paint a vase of flowers to look as realistic as possible?!

Now, it is true that every time we think that a certain subject matter is completely exhausted, someone comes along, and explodes that idea, like Ori Gersht, for example:

But most work I see in the aforementioned genres exists because these are default choices, because, a long time ago, someone put the idea into your head that this is what art is supposed to look like.

"If it looks like art, chances are it looks like somebody else's art."  - Chuck Close

As corporate globalization and near-monopolized media homogenize more of our experiences, this problem of discerning and asserting our individualism will only get worse. Billions of people, all over the world have had the exact same "Dancing With The Stars" finale burned into their brains, or the same Charlize Theron perfume ad. I spend a majority of my time as an art professor trying to expose my students to as much unusual work as possible, just to balance out the infinite number of advertising images they are exposed to each day. The compositions, and, sad to say, content from these advertisements have permeated their consciousness to the point that they don't even recognize them, or know how the images got there.  

Every person we meet is a sum of their unique life experiences: the specific moment in history that they occupy, the geographical place they come from, the family they were born into, the trials they have faced, their day jobs, the things that they consume to feed their spirit. THIS is where authentic art comes from. And, when you do the research, you find that looking inward, or even looking out at the world through the lens of your own psyche, is where the world's most powerful art has its genesis. 

“There is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost.”  — Martha Graham

This is not a workshop designed to create "confessional art": it is a process to facilitate cleaning your lens, sharpening your focus, and coming up with a map of locations where you can begin to point your telescope. Over the years, I have developed exercises to help artists eliminate clichés, explode forgone conclusions, expand parameters, and dig deep, to mine for that vision that will lead to the work they were born to make. My Visual Voice workshop involves both intuitive and analytic exercises to extract and develop this vocabulary, as well as tips to continuously reassess this information as you grow and travel along your extended artistic path.

Digging deep to practice radical sincerity and authenticity will transform your work, your audience, and finally, the world. I believe this with all of my heart. The universe doesn't need another impressionist landscape: we need your messy, honest, unique and beautiful truth.