Meaning and society

Jean Genet 1954 or 1955 by Alberto Giacometti 1901-1966
Jean Genet, Alberto Giacometti, oil on canvas, 1954 

Alberto Giacometti’s painting of the writer Jean Genet, shows a figure isolated and deep within the framed space. If a portrait is about knowing the nature of the subject, then Giacometti appears to have consciously held back from bringing about any resolution. Or perhaps he knew not to try.

Painted with approximate dabs and lines that have been drained of colour, the figure of Genet in the painting is visually restrained and inaccessible. It is as if there is half-hearted struggle to represent Genet which stalemates into locating him instead. We as the viewers are here and he is there, but there is an impenetrable distance between.

This impenetrable distance typifies the ravaged twentieth century and a resultant struggle around identity and meaning. Whilst that century began with massive optimism about the technological achievements such as the electric light, the aeroplane and the motor car; within two decades those same technological achievements enabled slaughter on an industrial scale. Looking at this painting, I associate it with the experience of the debasement of humanity which began en masse a few decades before and has never really left us. In previous centuries, art displayed a certain confidence in being able to represent reality; whether it succeeded is beside the point. But most of the twentieth century was spent without an assurance about what reality was and how to find it. The location of ourselves in relation to others, the world and common values became, at best, approximate and speculative. It is from this speculation that I think Giacometti worked on his portrait. Genet’s outsider status, that of being homosexual and having formerly been a thief is also a consideration in reading this sense of distance; but distance, per se, is common to much of Giacometti’s work.

Giacometti’s figures are often alone, as they are in his work ‘Piazza’, where they appear to cross a town square, but no-one appears to connect or meet. Those isolated figures, emaciated but erect seem to indicate even more about the nature of the human experience. They are elongated, like some of El Greco’s figures which lift upwards, like the spire of a Gothic cathedral pointing to heaven. Giacametti’s figures seem to not belong entirely to the earth and if they do, they are not entirely earth-bound; in both senses of that last word. Whereas the cathedral houses and contains human figures, the twentieth century skyscraper by comparison isolates figures from each other in a drama which is beyond the human scale. Giacometti’s figures stand alone like the skyscraper, but also aspire to something grander and more meaningful, like the Cathedral. It’s an absurd contradiction that is present in the writing of Giacametti’s contemporary, Albert Camus who initiated the idea of the absurd. For Camus life is void of meaning, or an inability to know any meaning, if it were to exist. So the emaciated sculptural figures seem to indicate a hunger for, but an inability to have satisfaction in meaning.

Alberto Giacometti, Piazza
Alberto Giacometti, Piazza, bronze, 1947-48

For the remaining twentieth century there was much discussion about the operatives of power that led to war, colonisation, and genocide, especially power as it relates to language and culture. Those discussions have tended to deconstruct common narratives and meaning, and have enabled a new pluralism, which host multiple identities, narratives and meaning. So, meaning is now more individualised and tends to orientate around what the individual decides as one’s identity. So, in some ways our response to the absurdity described by Camus, has been to find meaning, and a cause, within our own tribe. However, the danger is that we do not connect, like the figures in the piazza. Finding meaning in one’s identity without considering how we must relate to others and difference, risks throwing us into a post-truth world. This is a world where there is no longer a reliable means to communicate across difference in a society; where how we govern is subject to the loudest voice or most popular cause of the moment rather than tested processes, and common values of discourse.

Written by Marco Corsini

 

The Universal of De Stijl

The De Stijl Pattern by Piet Mondrian (Credit: User “Husky”, CC BY 2.5, Wikimedia Commons)

Many of us have seen the design—blocks of primary colours red, blue and yellow randomly placed within a strict geometry of black verticals and horizontals before a white background. This pattern, which has been repeated the world over and impressed upon a variety of media (from canvasses to clothes to furniture to fashion), comes from the movement “De Stijl” (literally: The Style).

De Stijl Clocks on zazzle.co.uk

Initiated in Amsterdam in 1917 by Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) and Theo van Doesburg (1883-1931)—two pioneers of abstract art—“De Stijl” was originally a publication. It was also, in large part, a reaction to the devastation of World War I.

Artists associated with the movement aimed to develop a universal language of art that could transcend different geographic and temporal boundaries and make sense to a broad, cross-cultural international audience. A sense of peace and harmony was reached only through minimal essentials of line and shade. In Western thought, geometry has often been associated with spirituality but such an elevated appropriation of colour had not been seen before.

The publication De Stijl, when it started, stated that its goal was the organic combination of architecture, sculpture and painting in a lucid, elemental, unsentimental construction. A manifesto of 9 points was formulated in 1918:

  1. There is an old and a new consciousness of time. The old is connected with the individual. The new is connected with the universal. The struggle of the individual against the universal is revealing itself in the world-war as well as in the art of the present day.
  2. The war is destroying the old world with its contents: individual domination in every state.
  3. The new art has brought forward what the new consciousness of time contains: a balance between the universal and the individual.
  4. The new consciousness is prepared to realise the internal life as well as the external life.
  5. Traditions, dogmas and the domination of the individual are opposed to this realisation.
  6. The founders of the new plastic art therefore, call upon all, who believe in the reformation of art and culture, to annihilate these obstacles of development, as they have annihilated in the new plastic art (by abolishing natural form) that, which prevents the clear expression of art, the utmost consequence of all art notion.
  7. The artists of today have been driven the whole world over by the same consciousness, and therefore have taken part from an intellectual point of view in this war against the domination of individual despotism. They therefore sympathise with all, who work for the formation of an international unity in Life, Art, Culture, either intellectually or materially.
  8. The monthly editions of “The Style”, founded for that purpose, try to attain the new wisdom of life in an exact manner.
  9. Co-operation is possible by: I. Sending, with entire approval, name, address and profession to the editor of “The Style”. II. Sending critical, philosophical, architectural, scientific, literary, musical articles or reproductions. III. Translating articles in different languages or distributing thoughts published in “The Style”.

In a video for Tate, Professor Michael White of the University of York demonstrates a Liverpool-based reconstruction of Mondrian’s French studio, which he occupied from 1921 to 1936 and which became one of the most celebrated places in inter-war Paris. White says that Mondrian was posing an interesting question: “Can you use colour as itself and not to stand for anything else? If you made yellow into a circle immediately people would start making associations with the sun or something like that. So he decides the only way forward is to paint in areas of perpendicular relationships.”

Many of us tend to look at art and immediately want to find deeper, hidden meanings. But by stripping away all symbolism and myth, the artists of De Stijl were able to, paradoxically, make their work not less but more meaningful. Naked and innocent, the lines and shades became accessible enough to be adopted by anyone and applied to anything.

Written by Tulika Bahadur.

Setting creative goals in 2019

Sabotaging your new year’s resolution is almost expected.

Let’s look at setting goals in a different way.

Have you made a conscious decision to focus on your creativity this year? You might want to learn how to draw, join an art class, or produce a body of work for an exhibition. Whatever your intention, it is important to set goals and be accountable. This may not sound very “creative”, however many successful artists have goals and rigid daily routines to ensure their practise is central in their lives.

Write it down

Writing goals is something that we should be taught in school. They are so underrated and are key to achieving your dreams.

A great way to begin writing your goals is to start with the big one. What is it? To earn a living painting? Become a portraiture artist? To enter the local art exhibition? Or learn how to paint with watercolour?

Once you have established your overarching goal, you can break it down into smaller medium-term and short-term goals to see what you need to do to achieve it. This will not only make it more manageable, it will show you just how much work is involved (which might surprise you)! Use the points below to help you create your short-term goals.

Structure

Artist Joan Miró adhered to a strict daily routine. He began the day at 6:00am with rigorous exercise, then would work in the studio until midday. He then took a five-minute nap, which he called “Mediterranean yoga”, then dedicated some time to his business affairs. Miró would then return to the studio until dinnertime at 8:00pm.

Women and Bird in the Moonlight 1949 Joan Mir? 1893-1983 Purchased 1951 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N06007

Structure in your day is very important if you are serious about achieving your goals. Now, most of us don’t have the luxury of spending our entire day in the studio like Miró. We have jobs, we need to pay bills, and our lives may be busy. To ensure that you dedicate some time each day to your creative goal, write out your current routine and see where you can fit in time for your craft. It may be as little as 45 minutes. This shows just how important routine is, because after we finish our compulsory daily tasks, that time in front of the TV seems appealing. It’s easy to lose days, weeks and years without really dedicating time to something you ultimately want to do!

The right information

It’s easy to suffer analysis paralysis with the multitude of books, online tutorials, art schools, techniques and advice out there. Don’t spend time absorbing mediocre information. If you are reading a book about technique and don’t like it, don’t read it.  Do your research; read the great books, attend art schools that align with your journey with quality teachers and artists. Don’t stop learning, but be selective.

Mindset

This is a tough one; we can be our own worst enemy.

Only compare your work with your older work, not someone else’s. There will always be an artist who is better than you. The journey is long, and you won’t always produce work you like, but that’s part of the journey.

And what you must remember is that you have something to offer the world, too. Your journey is unique and just as important, and there are people in the world who will enjoy and want to buy your work.

You will also experience plateaus and blockages during your journey. This is normal and part of the practice – it allows for periods of creative abundance. Don’t be hard on yourself, read books like The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, listen to music you don’t normally listen to, or shake-up your daily habits (like walking around the block the opposite way).

Turn up

Artist Gerhard Richter spends weeks in his studio planning his paintings, or rearranging items in his studio, until he feels an internal crisis and need to paint. Then it pours out.

This is probably the most important lesson to take away. Turning up. Once you have written down your goals and established how much time you can dedicate to your art, you must turn up.

Picasso would spend hours standing in front of his paintings every day. Just like Richter, the act of turning up and spending time planning, reviewing and being with their work was key to their processes. Most of us don’t have the time to do this, so we must be more conscious of how we use it. Go to where you create during the time you’ve set aside and stay there the entire time. Don’t make excuses. Just go there and surround yourself with your creative tools and your work. You will eventually want to put pencil to paper. But don’t beat yourself up if this doesn’t happen for a while!

We are here to help

So, to recap:

  1. Write down your goals
  2. Establish structure
  3. Source quality educational tools and teachers
  4. Keep your mindset in check
  5. Turn up.

Melbourne Art Class offers a supportive, creative community for artists who thrive when working with other creatives. Learn new techniques and share ideas with other artists in our group classes or focus on your journey with our one-on-one tutoring. If you’re not interested or ready to join a class, we have a wealth of free resources on our blog, monthly newsletter and Facebook page.

Now it’s up to you – start writing down your goals, and make 2019 count!

Written by Lauren Ottaway.

Calculated risks and the creative life

“The greater the risk, the greater the reward”, many of us have heard this or something similar to this line multiple times. It is often assumed that those who break new ground – entrepreneurs, innovators, revolutionaries – in any field do so after exposing themselves to huge amounts of danger and uncertainty. Surprisingly, after closely examining highly creative personalities in business, sports, arts and other areas, Wharton professor and organisational psychologist Adam Grant came to a different conclusion. In his bestselling 2016 book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World, Grant notes:

Originals do vary in their attitudes toward risk. Some are skydiving gamblers; others are penny-pinching germophobes. To become original, you have to try something new, which means accepting some measure of risk. But the most successful originals are not the daredevils who leap before they look. They are the ones who reluctantly tiptoe to the edge of a cliff, calculate the rate of descent, triple-check their parachutes, and set up a safety net at the bottom just in case. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in the New Yorker, “Many entrepreneurs take plenty of risks—but those are generally the failed entrepreneurs, not the success stories.”

In other words, original thinkers and actors always carry a balanced risk portfolio. That is, if they are taking extreme risks in one arena, they will offset them with extreme caution in another. Take Bill Gates, we all know him as the “Harvard dropout”. But consider this—when Gates sold a new software programme as a sophomore, he waited an entire year before leaving school. And even then he didn’t drop out, he actually applied for a leave of absence that was formally approved by the university, and then he asked his parents to bankroll him. He was ready to go back to college if things didn’t work out.

In the realm of the arts, T S Eliot is a great example of measured risk. Hailed as one of twentieth century’s most significant poets, Eliot continued to work for a bank and later, a publishing house even after gaining wide recognition for his creativity. Far from distracting us, having some kind of stability, fixed attitude and sense of security in one area of life allows one to be freer in another. Grant continues: “By covering our bases financially, we escape the pressure to publish half-baked books, sell shoddy art, or launch untested businesses.”

So that’s about risk in the general sense, at the level of one’s profession/occupation. How much risk should one take within their creative work, particularly artists? Just how familiar or how novel can they afford to be? How can they best communicate their literary or visual narratives? In my view, Man Booker prize-winning New Zealand author Eleanor Catton has a very interesting point to make in this regard. In a Guardian article from 2014, she writes:

Creative influence can have a positive or a negative charge, either imitative (“I want to try that!”) or defiant (“I want to see that done differently”). Both kinds of influence are vital for the health of an idea. Too defiant, and the idea will be shrill; too imitative, and the idea will be safe. For me, the moment when these two charges first come together – when I connect, imaginatively, something that I love as a reader with something that I long for as a reader – is the moment the idea for a story is born.

Scene from Battleship Potemkin / Head VI, 1949, Arts Council collection, Hayward Gallery, London (Fair Use)

The space between “imitation” and “defiance” is again carefully calculated risk. The simple pursuit of what has already been tried and tested before can make one seem stale. On the other hand, being wildly unique can cause one to appear incomprehensible. It is useful, therefore, to pick up some pattern from the past that the intended audience can easily recognise and then present the narrative in a way that has never been attempted before. A small example that comes to mind here is the painter Francis Bacon, who developed a whole series of screaming mouths (in his own style) modelled after a famous image from a scene in Sergei Eisenstein’s 1925 silent film Battleship Potemkin. Memorable signs, symbols and structures, however tiny, within a seemingly innovative work of art make it more accessible to the viewer/reader and reduce the likelihood of loss for the artist.

Written by Tulika Bahadur

Gift

As a teacher, at this time of year I lead a privileged life of receiving Christmas season gifts from kind students. So far this season, I have been taken to lunch by some of my class, received cards, been given homemade fruit bread and kombucha, also chocolates and panettone.

Naturally, I am honoured and grateful for the thought, but I also sometimes stop for a moment and think about the decision surrounding what it is, to give a gift. With no obligation to do so, the giver has chosen to give. I may have received a gift as someone’s teacher and perhaps there is a recognition of my striving to give in that role through the year, but regardless, when I get a gift, I believe that the giver intended that I receive it as a recognition of my value to them or as a valuing of the relationship that has been formed. And I do feel valued as a person and I do feel the relationship recognised and strengthened.

If chocolates make me feel valued and recognised  then what of everything else I have received? If I begin counting the gifts I have received since birth I have to recognise that I was born into gift. My limbs alone would count as an invaluable gift.

How much is a limb worth? I think most would agree that it is worth far more than all their possessions. Almost all of us are born with limbs and many other equally valuable physical assets. So, whilst some of us are born into wealth and some aren’t, our physical bodies alone are immensely more valuable than our material wealth, and that is not to mention every other attribute we have such as our mind and our consciousness.

We are born into gift.

When we were in the womb, we did not knit together any of our limbs.

We did not even choose the circumstances of our birth.

We did not earn what we have received because it does not originate from us.

We did not earn what we have received because it does not originate from us. Even the greatest of us with incredible achievements do not make themselves or their circumstances. They orientate themselves towards a possibility and are therefore able to receive. A runner did not make their legs, rather, they use their legs. In a way, they fully receive their legs. The more they use them, the more they fully receive their legs. If we extend this metaphor, it can get very uncomfortable for us, because the moment we see everything as gift we have to begin to question our response. And locked in with response, is responsibility.

This is all without mentioning the natural world and the contribution to that world of those who went before us. Somewhere along the line, somebody risked something to improve their own lives and the lives of their children and we are those children. All gift.

We might complain about the circumstances of our birth, about our height or the colour of our hair but if you think about it, it was all gift, a few perceived shortcomings here or there but all gift. Of the bad bits, some have even said that in hindsight it was those experiences that helped form who they were to become, and that they are grateful for that. So arguably, even the perceived shortcomings are gift.

Yes, we groan and there probably are many who at least part of the time, ‘lead lives of quiet desperation,’ but even desperation does mean we do not live in gift. A prisoner still groans for and desires freedom as the fullness of their existence. A prisoner still values what they have and seeks its fullness.

The danger of gift is that we do not recognise that it is gift. Rather we begin to see it as an entitlement. Imagine that if I as a teacher received many gifts and walked away saying to myself something like, “I earned the gift through my hard work. The gift is a reward for my hard work.”

Something has broken down in this hypothetical scenario. The intended honouring of a person and relationship has been subtly manipulated into a transaction. What was given in kindness has been received with pride. The act of giving was for the other, but this form of receiving has been for the self. The only way the receiving can be equally for the other is that it recognises the gift as a gift, not as a transaction based on entitlement.

A gift is unconditional and therefore founded in love. As with love, what is intended as an affirming of the receiver and an affirming of the relationship can be lost and even worse manipulated by an inability to recognise gift. A gift elevates and affirms while bringing together persons, but when a gift is not properly received, the gift is destroyed or used by the receiver to empower themselves, destroying the original relationship.

I think it is appropriate that we have a season where we celebrate with the giving of gifts and the birth of an obscure child in an obscure stable, a child born to be king. The obscure child reminds us of the nature of love and the nature of gift, given in the humility of a stable. The stable does not coerce us with glitz or glamour, rather it leaves us free to choose to receive.

The gifts I have recently received challenge me to recognise the many more gifts I have received through the year, many of them being people I have met. Have I recognised these gifts?

Have a wonderful Christmas break.

Marco

The wondrous Medieval Bestiary

In conversational English, the word “medieval” carries plenty of negative connotations. Many of us see that era in Europe as a time of superstition, stagnation and fear that was, thankfully, superseded by a much-needed “Enlightenment” in the 1700s. Although such an impression of the Middle Ages continues to prevail among the masses, serious historians now maintain that the term “Dark Ages” should be applied to just the period immediately following the fall of the Roman Empire (around the years 400-500). The span between the late 700s and 1500, it is understood, brought a considerable amount of social stability, political organisation and educational activity, including the flowering of the first universities.

Cranes take turns at night, watching for enemies, Harley Bestiary (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

For all its flaws and challenges, medieval Europe was a fascinating place and epoch. And medieval men and women, full of faith, adhered to a conception of the cosmos that was theatrical and imbued with sacramental meaning. They constantly looked for proportions and patterns in Creation and believed in the interconnected of all things. In their worldview, matter transcended itself to communicate truths of supernatural importance.

According to the Italian scholar Umberto Eco (1932-2016), the philosophers and theologians of the period believed in a universe that was filled with light and optimism. In both poetry and painting, medieval people portrayed themselves as living in extremely bright surroundings. We can see this in the illuminated manuscripts. Eco writes in History of Beauty (2004) that even though they were probably executed in environments “where the gloom was barely relieved by the light from a single window, they nevertheless brim with light, with a particular effulgence engendered by the combination of pure colours: red, azure, gold, silver, white and green, devoid of nuances or chiaroscuro.”

There is a category of the medieval illuminated manuscript that stands out: the bestiary, known in Latin as bestiarum vocabulum. The bestiary, as the name suggests, was a compendium of beasts, real and legendary, that contained descriptions and illustrations accompanied by moral lessons. Although the document goes back to the 2nd century (the first one was in Greek, titled Physiologus), it became popular only in the Middle Ages. Nature was perceived to be God’s second book of revelation after the Bible, and animal life, in all its variety and adventure, was interpreted through an allegorical lens and investigated for hidden spiritual/religious significance.

Adam naming the animals from the 12th century Aberdeen Bestiary (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Professor David Brown of the University of St. Andrews, Scotland explains in his book God and the Enchantment of Place (2004): “Even today some of these stories survive in the corporate memory, as, for instance, the parallels between Christ feeding us in the Eucharist and the pelican reviving its chicks with its own blood. So too do some of the associations, such as the snake or the ape with evil, the hare and rabbit with lust and fertility or the dog with faithfulness. On the other hand, even those well versed in Scripture might have difficulty conceiving how particular biblical verses were expanded to make the eagle a symbol of renewal, the stag of perseverance, or the lion of resurrection, far less of the lessons without biblical underpinning as in the association of the beaver with chastity, the hydrus with salvation, or the peacock with resurrection. Although in the latter cases ultimately derived from paganism, it would be a mistake to dismiss such borrowings as no more than that, for in the process of adoption they have usually also been thoroughly Christianised… Likewise the strange hybrid creatures that are depicted were far from being cultivated as mere ‘freaks’ but more as object lessons or even as themselves worthy of salvation.”

A manticore from 13th century Rochester Bestiary (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Read an excerpt from a bestiary kept at Bodleian Library in Oxford, translated by historian Richard Barber: “Deer by nature like to change their homeland, and for this reason seek new pastures, helping each other on the journey. If they have to cross a great river or lake on the way, they place their heads on the hindquarters of the deer in front, and, in following each other, do not feel hindered by their weight. And if they come to a place where they might get dirty, they jump rapidly across it. Another peculiarity of their nature is that after they have eaten a snake, they hasten to a spring and, drinking from it, their grey hairs and all signs of old age vanish. The nature of deer is like that of the members of the Holy Church who leave this homeland (that is, the world) because they prefer the new pastures of heaven, and support each other on the way; those who are more perfect help their lesser brethren through their example and good works, and support them. If they find a place of sin, they spring over it at once, and if the devil enters their body after they have committed a sin, they hasten to Christ, the spring of truth, and confess, drinking in His commandments, and are renewed, laying aside their old guilt.”

Such presentations might strike us moderns as too fanciful. But in our disenchanted world where noisy engines have expelled much mystery from the natural world, it is refreshing to encounter such grandeur, luminosity and sense of wonder.

Written by Tulika Bahadur

Painting and feelings – my journey with art

Art is in doing. Take the first step and be yourself. Brutally honest will do fine.

Luisa, one of our resident Friday morning Drawing and Painting students, has generously shared her reflection on her time at MAC, and how art has impacted her life.

I have been attending at Melbourne Art Class for a year. And in that year, I have not only discovered more about art, but also about myself. Art, and specifically painting, unlocks stuff. Opens doors you did not know existed. It can best be described by quoting Joan Mitchell, who in 1986 said:

Feeling, existing, living, I think it’s all the same except for quality. Existing is survival; it does not mean necessarily feeling. Feeling is something more: it’s feeling your existence. It’s not just survival. Painting is a means of feeling “living” … Painting is the only art form except still photography which is without time. Music takes time to listen to and ends; movies, ideas, and even sculpture take time. Painting does not. It never ends, it is the only thing that is both continuous and still.

Yves, 1991. Oil on canvas, 110 1/4 x 78 3/4 inches (280 x 200 cm). Private collection. © Estate of Joan Mitchell.

Mitchell was one of the few female abstract expressionist painters who gained critical and public acclaim in the 20th century. I read her quote often and only slightly disagree with her views on music. (Yes, music depends on time, but where does a note start and where does it end?) Abstraction in art, is by its very nature, abandons objectivity and moves into ethereal exploration.

One of the leading avant-garde jazz pianists, Craig Taborn, produced a recent album Daylight Ghosts. Taborn modified the sustain pedal of his piano in order to imagine a note when it is no longer audible. He then plays different notes and chords to talk to that note wherever it exists. He often visits art museums in New York to collect ideas for his music.

Once upon a time, I was a lawyer. And every day felt like groundhog day. Only voices, places and faces changed. The constant was a treadmill, self-doubt and a vulnerable ego. A mistake, a lost case and everything imploded. Happiness was as elusive as a good night’s sleep. The lawyer was moderately successful, but that only meant groundhog day was longer and more intense. People said the lawyer was eccentric, thought outside the square, had a creative streak. All I wanted was to feel the wind on my cheek and have the fragrances of plants and flowers linger forever. I wanted to step into every soft pastel orange sunset.

One day I did a Google search for art classes in Melbourne. The first one I stumbled upon was www.melbourneartclass.com. I enrolled in the only class available at the time, Portraiture with Marco Corsini. It was a fortuitous decision. In the beginning, I believed I was hopelessly out of my depth, wasting everybody’s time. At the time I did not realise the reach of Marco’s empathy and patience. Four weeks later I could produce a fairly accurate self-portrait and a week later I began painting with oils. It speaks volumes about the quality of the classes; the extent of their reach. I now paint things as I imagine and feel about them. I am no Joan Mitchell or Craig Taborn, but I think I know what they were aspiring to. There is more to life than survival or winning or being better; best; most.

I believe everybody is blessed with creativity. Granted some are more aware or talented than others. This “more talented” thing is an aberration, not an excuse. We meet more talented people every day in every aspect of life and we try to manage it without thinking or resentment. I also believe that we should not to confuse skill with creativity. Anybody who is reading this has a wealth of experience that feeds intuition which, in turn, is the basis of creativity. Do not compare or be judgemental. Artists, like Cezanne, Jackson Pollock and Rauschenberg were not great technical painters. They were magnificent artists and their influence will continue to resonate and open doors in our minds.

Art is in doing. Take the first step and be yourself. Brutally honest will do fine. Feel the wind on your cheek, smell the flowers and paint it. Integrity cannot be faked and it is often what makes art great. Everything else, like a prize or a sale, are simply bonuses. The reward is in expressing yourself on a canvas without rules, comparisons or judgement.

I am not a good technical painter. I am rather rough. Everything I do, is intuitive. Despite that, I have against all expectations, sold three paintings. It was not supposed to happen. The bigger reward is that I am content with my lot in life and happy that I no longer live groundhog day. The black shutter in my mind has lifted.

For me the key to painting is fluidity. The movement away from temporal to “a temporal”. Observing to feeling. For me it is spiritual; in a material world, everything has time limits. The idea I am exploring is to transcend this, to emphasise the nature of metaphysics as something that is forever. A place where time does not exist.

I recently looked at some eucalypt leaves in various states of decay that a friend of mine painted. I told her that she painted delicate evanescence and that it was beautiful. I could see a forever. Evanescence suggests the leaves will fade away. It does not mean they are gone. To make my point graphically, I enlarged her paintings with the edges of the leaves cropped off. Separated content from form or borders, her work entered a new dimension. Something that I saw and felt. It is beautiful and stirs curiosity.

Another way to phrase it is to “stop and smell the roses”. They linger in memory or on a canvas.

I love walking in the bush after the rain. Thousands of fragrances hanging in the air and my nose weaves through them. I pause when I enjoy something more.

‘Struggling artist’ sounds good. Should have tried it decades ago.

Written by Luisa Blignaut

 

Kate Kondakova – Winner of Black Swan Youth Portraiture Prize!

Kate Kondakova with her portrait (right) of Morris Gleitzman

We are extremely proud to announce that Kate has won the Black Swan Youth Portraiture Prize (Year 9 and 10), with her painting of her favourite author, Morris Gleitzman.

Kate has been a MAC student and now works as a teaching assistant for our children’s classes. Congratulations Kate on winning this esteemed portraiture prize!

Kate’s animation work is also being shown in an exhibition at ACMI.

Kate Kondakova, Portrait of Morris Gleitzman, oil on canvas, 2018

The problem with high standards and the benefits of micro goals

“High Standards” (Credit: PxHere)

In a YouTube video from 2015, British author Howard Jacobson (born 1942), who won the 2010 Man Booker prize for The Finkler Question, is seen making an impassioned admission related to the creative life that will resonate with many serious writers, painters, sculptors, photographers, filmmakers, musicians, singers, actors and dancers. He says that he always wanted to be a novelist but could only finish his first novel after the age of 40 (and out of sheer desperation!) because something had slowed him down over the years—the experience of his Literature BA at the University of Cambridge.

This might sound confusing. Isn’t a good education, formal or informal, supposed to activate us? When you read the biographies of acclaimed artists, whatever their medium, you are bound to find descriptions of powerful, almost epiphanic, encounters with great works of art already produced. And it is precisely such encounters that turn them into conduits for more (great) art. Take the Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray—he launched his career soon after discovering Vittorio De Sica’s Italian neorealist masterpiece Bicycle Thieves (1948) along with 99 other movies of his time. Picasso developed his style after being exposed to figures like El Greco and Edvard Munch. J. K. Rowling has a solid canon of mythology and fantasy that includes everybody from Aeschylus to Kenneth Grahame behind her Harry Potter series. The truth is straightforward—a proper act of creativity demands a deep immersion in prior examples of creativity. The more aware you are of what has been tried and accomplished before, the greater the chance that you will produce something reasonable and respectable yourself.

But there is another side to the story, and Jacobson understands and articulates it accurately. Too much knowledge of the arts can also become a veritable impediment to the artistic task. What made the author postpone his childhood dream? The very high standards of writing that he had encountered at 20 in the classroom. Jacobson read, and therefore, wanted to write books like The Golden Bowl by Henry James and Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky but the problem was they had all been written. “I wanted to write at that level and it wasn’t happening. I wasn’t writing novels and submitting them and failing,” he adds. “I just wasn’t getting beyond the page, and then I became an academic, and the years go by and the book’s not appearing.”

This problem is all too common. Very often, well-informed and highly-talented people in the arts can find it hard to execute their ideas, while totally mediocre ones can go on finishing project after project with utmost confidence. Why does this happen? It turns out that many who have had a taste of the heights of human creativity (read the best books, watched the best films, seen the best paintings, listened to the best music) experience a paralysing horror before the blank page or canvas. So conscious are they of all that is possible by members of their own species that whatever they may attempt can seem lazy, incompetent or plain foolish. They want to pursue perfection and so they keep deferring real work and sink quickly into a pit of doubt and despair.

“Many who have had a taste of the heights of human creativity experience a paralysing horror before the blank page or canvas. So conscious are they of all that is possible by members of their own species that whatever they may attempt can seem lazy, incompetent or plain foolish”. Top L to R: Conversion on the Way to Damascus by Caravaggio (public domain), a portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart by Barbara Krafft (public domain), a still from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (fair use), a portrait of Fyodor Dostoevsky by Vasily Perov (public domain). Bottom L to R: A still from The 400 Blows by François Truffaut (fair use), Ophelia (from Shakespeare’s Hamlet) by John Everett Millais (public domain), the Beatles celebrating a Grammy win in 1965 (public domain), The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dalí (fair use).

 

Is there a practical way to get past the resistance? One effective tool is provided by the American entrepreneur Tim Ferriss (born 1977), angel investor in tech brands and the author of bestselling books on personal development and entrepreneurship like Tools of Titans and Tribe of Mentors. His proposal is that creative people who procrastinate in the face of big ambitions break their plans into extremely tiny tasks. His own mantra has been to somehow end up with “two crappy pages a day”, not ten spectacular ones or even five average ones. Stephen King prefers to pump out 2000 words per day but that can be too unrealistic a target for most people. “Two crappy pages”, on the other hand, will compel you to show up before your notebook or screen without pressure or fear, do something—anything—and move forward to the next dawn. Your seemingly insignificant achievements will, over time, add up to a big and important outcome.

Ferriss’ suggestion could be applied to media other than writing. If you are an emerging painter with the lofty visuals of Caravaggio and Dalí in your head and a blank canvas on your easel, try micro goals like the following:

  • Spend just 10 minutes daydreaming daily. Let your mind wander wherever it wants to. Record three things that you see. Perhaps you will find a pattern a month later and that will lead to inspiration.

    ”Spend just ten minutes daydreaming daily.” (Credit: Pixabay)
  • Choose a subject–psychology, technology, botany, politics–Google it and read a few sentences on it. Make a note of any one new piece of information that you discover. Create an image out of it in your mind.
  • Select two colours and meditate on what they mean to you for fifteen minutes. Experiment with them on paper over the next half an hour and notice the relationships that emerge.
  • Take out a minute to think of a shape and go where it leads you. Say, if you settle upon a triangle, it might change into a pyramid, which might make you think about hierarchies, which might cause you to consider the difference between the rich and the poor, which might then open a whole host of ideas.
  • Open a dictionary and pick up a single word. Keep sleeping on it for six months. At the end of the period, draw something related to it.

You will not be able to make easy excuses before starting points that are so simple and standards that are so low.

Written by Tulika Bahadur

Banana Flower – Georgia O’Keefe

After visiting the MoMA exhibition recently, I was struck by the power and dynamism of the art movements from the 1880s onwards. What also left an impression on me was that I was in the company of incredible male artists and figureheads who drove the direction of modern art. Female artists were definitely in the minority.

Within the exhibition, to the left of Dali’s Persistence of Time (which was so shockingly smaller than anticipated) were two modest drawings, both charcoal on paper (though with their incredible execution, you could have mistaken them for ink or oils). They were drawn by Georgia O’Keefe, America’s “Mother of Modernism”. The drawing in particular that spoke to me was Banana Flowers, pictured below. It hung silently, yet confidently on the wall, and the masterful skill and the sensitivity of the drawing compelled me to examine it up close. It was unlike any other work in the exhibition.

Georgia O’Keeffe, Banana Flower, charcoal on paper, 1934

These drawings could have been easily missed amongst the intriguing worlds of Giorgio de Chirico and others in the same space. Hopefully this was not the case, however I wanted to highlight this one incredible drawing in this month’s newsletter.

Georgia O’Keefe (1887 – 1986) studied art formally, however she found that being taught how to draw and paint like other artists was not inspiring. After a hiatus, the work of artist/teacher Arthur Wesley Dow piqued her interest and she begun drawing and painting as she liked. She spent many months of the year in New Mexico, where she fell deeply in love with the landscape. She had an intense response to nature and a need to recreate the equivalent in art.

Her relationship with photographer and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz proved challenging to O’Keefe when he applied Freudian interpretations to her abstract art, which, in turn, influenced art critics’ opinions. She had also posed nude for Stieglitz’ photography, and the link between exploring her sexuality through art was even stronger for it. However, this was not at all the case. She turned to creating works of recognisable objects, still lifes, and her famous close-up, large-scale flowers to try and dislodge this falsely created persona. Flowers, however, did not escape the same interpretation.

To this day there is still discussion around whether O’Keefe’s flower works depict female genitalia; in 2016, Tate Modern curated a Retrospective with 100 or her works offering alternative views on this theory. The exhibition aimed to dispel these myths by presenting works spanning six decades. The large-scale, cropped flowers for which most of the clichés about her work persist, were influenced by modern photography of the 1920s. A love for nature and landscape inarguable flows through her work and the exhibition portrayed this as her most persistent source of inspiration.

Written by Lauren Ottaway