Friday, December 12, 2008

Whatcha reading?

Melinda accuses me of reading over her shoulder all the time. I say, I'm just easily distracted. Have you read anything lately that gets you so excited, you want to discuss it with anyone that sits by you for more than 30 seconds?

I've had a bunch of books recommended to me by the (extremely well-read) visitors to the Fice and other friends, and so I've been able to single-handedly keep UPS in business, while limiting the recent layoffs at ebay to the mere ten thousand that they felt impelled to do, to impress the stock analysts.

Currently on the nightstand:

Has Modernism Failed? by Suzi Gablik
Silvina gets the credit for recommending this one... it is dense, but intense! Check out this hammer blow on the contradictions of marketing art for a social good:
...since the individual who has a career in mind will obviously be eager to promote his or her own cause, ideals must be bent to suit the demands of our times. "As artists we have sold off inspiration to buy influence," the Minimalist sculptor Carl Andre has said. "We have always had the historical choice of either lying through or living through our contradictions. Now through the genius of the bourgeoisie we have the chance to market them."

Gablik's book is a series of essays on the role of art -- in essence, the conflict between art as individual expression or as a social force -- and whether or not modernism succeeded in moving art forward, or getting it lost. Along the way, she demolishes Clement Greenberg's art for art's sake, the Art Industry, and 'anxious objects.' I'm still devouring this book, sometimes cheering for Gablik, sometimes rolling my eyes -- but there's no question that every page challenges me to reevaluate what I think art is about.

The Vein of Gold by Julie Cameron
A gift from a fellow Creative, this is a companion (or maybe sequel) to Cameron's essential work in unblocking creativity, The Artist's Way. Where Way was about breaking through blocks, excuses and self-criticism to become creative, Vein provides a series of approaches (and those inevitable exercises) to finding one's way to an internal landscape of experience and feeling, suitable fodder for art expression. For the activist artist, Cameron's approach may seem too individual-expressionistic, but her touch is light and she has no agenda on your art, and simply provides methods of tapping into the currents that drive us.

The Artist's Mentor ed. Ian Jackman
Misleadingly subtitled "Inspiration from the World's Most Creative Minds" the Artist's Mentor is a fairly obvious attempt to trade on the success of Jackman's previous title, The Writer's Mentor.
Unfortunately, it isn't inspirational to read quotes about the transformation of the artworld in the 80's into a grinding industry of rock-star poseurs and flashes in the pan — or any other chapters. Jackman takes an even-handed approach to diminishing every worthy preconception you harbor about art and working in art: that your work matters, that art is a landscape of progression, that plein air painting adds something (or that it doesn't).
A patchwork of contradictory quotations from artists and critics, you can find a quote to support anything you like, here. And one to support the opposite, too. Snarkiness and pessimism abound. Inspiration? I don't think so. Avoid this one, if you still harbor a love of fairy tales. But you can find some occasionally self-deprecating humor, if you like to include quotes in your blog:

"Have you ever met an artist that didn't want to be famous? Artists are the greatest delayed-gratification people in the world." — Mary Beth Edelson

Creative Authenticity by Ian Roberts
Still in the beginning stages of reading this one, which I grabbed on impulse from the shelves at Borders.
Subtitled "Sixteen Principles to Clarify and Deepen Your Artistic Vision," Roberts makes an initial case for Beauty, and as I'm a stickler for words, I have the sense that he's mis-applying "beauty" in his argument. I think if he and I could agree on the proper term, we'd probably not be far apart in viewpoint. His writing is accessible and his anecdotes are interesting. Semantics aside, the book is motivating — and inspirational — for artists that are seeking to fan the flame of their artistic calling: like Julie Cameron's lectures, but without the exercises.

So ... what's on your holiday reading list?

Friday, December 5, 2008

Arizona - land of potholes

Near Madera Canyon, December 5, 2008, watercolor 8.25"x5.125" (21x13cm)
I picked up a 'how to' watercolor book a while back. It illustrated all these techniques that my instructors pretty much forbade me from using, like glazing, because (in the hands of an inexperienced student) they muddied colors.

And in the book, they'd do this thing, like putting down a coat of paynes gray before putting in some other color, to dull the color and make it look like atmospheric perspective, or shading. My teachers would have been appalled -- for one thing, Payne's Gray was strictly prohibited. (For another, we were supposed to pre-mix and put down the color and value as it is intended, not use layers, which was considered to be somehow polluting the purity of the original stroke).

But, I tell myself, I'm a big boy now. I can make my own rules. No longer a penniless student, I now own a tube of Payne's Gray -- I can use it if I want. There's more: I also now own one of my mentor's paintings... and he glazed. Man, did he glaze.

In this book, there was one particular exercise of distant hills with a castle on it, which I attempted. [My results were ... not unlike a painting by Bob Ross's least apt pupil.] I did the work to understand the concept. But, I didn't care for the result. In particular, I disliked the look of those "distant hills" with their two blurry layers, one of paynes gray and one of blue.

Yet, when you're out in the field, and there's this thing you want to do, and all you've ever seen for it is the one thing you don't like. So, you try to do something different, but no matter how you try, it comes out just like the thing you don't like. It's like when you're going down the road, and you see this pothole you want to miss, but if you keep looking at the pothole instead of the clear spot next to it, it's a fair bet you will steer your tires straight into that hole. And wince.