Art Making

You are currently browsing the archive for the Art Making category.

trichy
Tiruchchirappalli, India

This year we celebrated Easter with friends from Athens. While a whole lamb turned slowly on a spit, the table was loaded up with fresh bread, olives from the family vineyards back home, and copious bowls of salads and vegetables. It was sumptuous and unforgettable, rendered with the mastery that comes with having been repeated over and over for years.

I have consciously shed most of the rituals that were part of my upbringing, but I am moved and drawn to the rituals of others. During a month long visit to Southern India a few years ago, we spent much of our time at ancient Hindu sites. Most temples welcome non-Hindus, so we were able to watch and sometimes participate in the ablutions, the music and the blessings that have been carried out in just that way for hundreds of years. The meaning for me as an outsider will always be different than it is for a believer, but it is still meaning, it is still a connection with something powerful and moving.

Some consider interest in other religious traditions to be a kind of spiritual consumerism, a superficial supermarket approach to seeking and meaning. But that isn’t the way I see it. When we walk through a museum, objects call to us. Regardless of their origin or history, they draw us to them. They are still speaking, with or without the context that produced them. No one tradition owns them.

The poet Carolyn Forché spent a good deal of time in her life exploring many religious traditions. In her essay, “Infinite Obligation to the Other”, (in A God in the House: Poets Talk about Faith, edited by Ilya Kaminsky and Katherine Towler) she describes herself as a syncretist, someone who “does not attempt to resolve contradictions between spheres of faith and belief.”

There is a difference, I hope, between syncretism and dilettantism. I would just play around; I would splash and play in the fields of spiritual thought—read the Zen sutras, and then jump off a cliff into the arms of something about the Dharma, and then go back to reading the Bible, and then have a certain dalliance with Judaic thought. I was always enchanted. I was always in awe of these texts. If I did this as a practice of lectio divina, I could experience these different fruits of human experience of God, without feeling there was a contradiction between them. We all get to be many people, because everything is very protean. Spiritual life is protean, too. That’s why you can’t ever really feel accomplished spiritually, because in a second, you know–you’re not. Everything is changing so rapidly.

In our culture, says Forché, spirituality is as misunderstood as poetry. “It goes unrecognized.” But the connection between the two is real for her. Forché speaks to how that connection happens in poetry (and for many of us who are in artistic endeavors as well):

The thing about writing poetry is that the more you’re there working, the more you’re there writing, the more you realize you are not writing it. The little threads and weavings that come into the poem—one is not consciously aware of these things, because something larger is working in you. This is an experience close to revelation, to the realm of prophetic language.

At the end of her essay, Forché quotes Emanuel Levinas: “Artistic activity makes the artist aware that he is not the author of his works.” Which is, in my view, an exquisite truth.

Tags: , , , ,

shadow1
Shadows on my studio wall

When artist Robert Knafo wrote to request a studio interview with Robert Morris, this was the response he received back. Knafo describes this as the best No he ever received. “I love how he calmly shoots the art documentary cliches, holsters his gun, and walks away,” Knafo wrote. “Thank you Robert for making me think again about what I’m doing.”

I do not want to travel to distant places to give talks about art I made half a century ago. Minimalism does not need to hear from me. I do not want to travel to distant places to give talks about art I made yesterday. Contemporary art is making enough noise without me. I do not want to be filmed in my studio pretending to be working. I do not want to participate in staged conversations about art—either mine or others past or present–which are labored and disguised performances. I do not want to be interviewed by curators, critics, art directors, theorists, aestheticians, professors, collectors, gallerists, culture mavens, journalists or art historians about my influences, favorite artists, despised artists, past artists, current artists, future artists. A long time ago I got in the habit, never since broken, of writing down things instead of speaking. It is possible that I was led into art making because talking and being in the presence of another person were not requirements. I do not want to be asked my reasons for not having worked in just one style, or reasons for any of the art that got made (the reason being that there are no reasons in art). I do not want to answer questions about why I used plywood, felt, steam, dirt, grease, lead, wax, money, trees, photographs, electroencephalograms, hot and cold, lawyers, explosions, nudity, sound, language, or drew with my eyes closed. I do not want to tell anecdotes about my past, or stories about the people I have been close to. I refuse to speak of my dead. The people to whom I owe so much either knew it or never will because it is too late now. I do not want to document my turning points, high points, low points, good points, bad points, lucky breaks, bad breaks, breaking points, dead ends, breakthroughs or breakdowns. I do not want to talk about my methods, processes, near misses, flukes, mistakes, disappointments, setbacks, disasters, obsessions, lucky accidents, unlucky accidents, scars, insecurities, disabilities, phobias, fixations, or insomnias over posters I should never have made. I do not want my portrait taken. Everybody uses everybody else for their own purposes, and I am happy to be just material for somebody else so long as I can exercise my right to remain silent, immobile, possibly armed, and at a distance of several miles.

Some find this to be an unduly aggressive response. Others have pointed out that it speaks to the luxury of being an artist who is so famous he can do whatever he wants. All true. But the appeal for me is something deeper.

My fundamental experience has been that much of what makes art so compelling and important cannot be languaged or articulated. And shouldn’t. That isn’t a notion that is necessarily in fashion right now. As John Seed pointed out in his piece, I Don’t Deconstruct, this unwillingness may be the result of my coming of age when spontaneity and engaging with the ineffable were in vogue. Those art school values have been replaced with a deconstructionist/postmodern/intellectual approach to art making, all of it very language dependent.

From Seed’s article:

Being able to “deconstruct” requires speaking and understanding a certain type of language, and subscribing to certain intellectual theories. People who are comfortable deconstructing converse in a language I call “artspeak.” Artspeak is—for contemporary artists, curators and critics—what Latin was for Medieval priests: an esoteric language that separates and elevates.

Some art lends itself to talk, talk, talk. And that verbally enhanced visuality can be stimulating. But Morris’ list of things he will not do marks off a territory where engagements with visuality are free to be unexpected, compelling and mysterious. Much of the “retinal flutter” (Marcel Duchamp‘s term, originally coined as a pejorative but my favorite phrase to describe those transcendent moments) will continue to exist outside a languaged explanation. That flutter is ambient in its natural state, always a bit furtive and endlessly undefined.

(Thank you Mira Schor for sharing this memorable Morris-to-Knafo response.)

Tags: , , , , ,

planetary
An angled view of a new piece, “Mangalat”

Kathleen Kirk’s post, “Persistence and Patience”, is a thoughtful description of how she ended up, after several career explorations, being a poet. In her graceful telling, she describes her many forays into other creative fields—music, art, theater, teaching—but none of them evoked the necessary persistence and patience in her that is needed to keep the passion fed and fueled when the work is hard and the way is difficult. Once you find your métier, something shifts. When you are wired for sound, you just have to let go.

I found Kirk’s point of view resonant with my own experience:

I get rejected, accepted, and published all because I am patient and persistent. I have lived through various “trends” in writing, waiting patiently until the thing I do can be appreciated and accepted once again. Beauty has gone out of fashion, and come back. “Nature poems” have been despised, but now everyone is “going green.” Some people equate simplicity of language with simplistic thought, and thus ignore me, while I have always found that the most complex thinking usually requires the greatest clarity of statement. I am not a flashy poet, nor a trendy or political poet. I write about what goes on around me, and inside me.

Paul Auster has said, “Becoming a writer is not a ‘career decision’ like becoming a doctor or a policeman. You don’t choose it so much as get chosen, and once you accept the fact that you’re not fit for anything else, you have to be prepared to walk a long, hard road for the rest of your days.” I am committed to walking this long, hard road and have been on it, in my meandering way, for quite a lovely while.

[The text in this post is from the Slow Muse archives, originally published in 2012.]

Tags: , , ,

Brian-Eno-009970-741x1024
Brian Eno (Photo by Matthew Anker)

A category of music referred to as “ambient”—made popular by musicians including Brian Eno, Terry Riley, Steve Reich, The Orb, Aphex Twin, Tangerine Dream, Popul Vuh—is often coupled with the music of the “holy minimalists”—Arvo Pärt, John Tavener, Henryk Górecki, Alan Hovhaness and Sofia Gubaidulina. Whether electronic or contemporary classical, the ambient/holy minimalist spectrum of sound often aligns with visual art that has a meditative or contemplative component IMHO. Emphasis on the IMHO, since this is my own subjectivity speaking. Others may not find a commonality there and even resist coupling music and art in that way. But these are the composers whose work I listen to a lot in my studio and whose music has inspired me and my work for many years.

What I did not realize until recently is that ambient music was first created by Brian Eno and Robert Fripp in the early 1970s while they experimented with tape loops and repetitions. What I also never realized until recently was that Brian Eno was a serious art student before he moved into sound, and his strong visual education has informed his later works in a number of ways.

The astounding breadth of his expressive talent, both in music and in the visual, can be seen in a new book, Brian Eno: Visual Music by Christopher Scoates with contributions from Brian Eno, Roy Ascott, William R. Wright and Steve Dietz. It’s a stunning object, this book, and the evolution of Eno’s work makes for rich viewing and reading. The monograph covers more than four decades of Eno’s music and his museum and gallery installations. These achievements are accompanied by exhibition notes, pages from Eno’s exhaustive sketchbooks, and a host of never-before-seen materials.

A1-IBU1IRTL._SL1500_-772x1024

Clearly affected by seismic shifts in the art world of the early 60s, Eno moved into new forms of expression early on, and these explorations led to his primary career as a musician. But his creative approach to all forms has a singularity to it.

On The Polymath Perspective Eno discusses how he views the variety of expressive forms:

I think that sex, drugs, art and religion very much overlap with one another and sometimes one becomes another. So I thought, “What do all those things have in common?” The umbrella that they all exist under is this word, “surrender” because they are all forms of transcendence through surrender. They are ways of transcending your individuality and sense of yourself as a totally separate creature in the world. All of those things involve some kind of loosening of this boundary that is around this thing you call “yourself”…

This idea of surrender has become more and more what I’ve been thinking about for the last few years, and I’ve been wanting to make both visual art, which I do a lot of, and music, which says to an audient, “This is where you can surrender!” I consider surrender an active verb, in the sense that you have this spectrum ranging from control to surrender, and the model of post-enlightenment man is that we’ve become better and better at control. If you think of our distant genetic past, most of our time was spent around the surrender end of the spectrum because there wasn’t much we could control. We were at the mercy of weather, creatures, geology, geography and everything else. We had to learn to surrender in a situation because when you are powerless, your option is to go with the flow and learn how to navigate it. That’s what I call active surrender.

By taking surrender out of a primarily religious context, Eno defines the term as a domain of mastery that artists of any stripe can use powerfully. In an interview with Eno that I heard recently he continued on this theme and advised paying attention to those who are good at surrender, not at control.

To that end, Eno collaborated with a German composer Peter Schmidt in the 70s to develop a very John Cage-inspired conceptual art piece, Oblique Strategies. Comprised of 115 cards that are randomly accessed like the I Ching, Oblique Strategies offers suggestions and instructions that can be used to break through a creative block, to approach a problem in a new way, to generate new ideas. These suggestions are apropos to any artistic endeavor, offering a timelessly playful approach.

Samples from Oblique Strategies:

brianenovisualmusic5

brianenovisualmusic6

brianenovisualmusic7

brianenovisualmusic8

brianenovisualmusic9

Tags: , , ,

Ekka
“Ekka,” a newly completed painting (33 x 47″). An art collector had this to say when she stopped by my studio recently: “Lately I have wanted to just quietly commune with a work of art. I am not interested in deciphering references or spending time getting the inside jokes. I just want to find a work that I can sit with alone in silence and feel a connection.” What a heartening thing to hear and very close to the way I choose the art that I want to look at every day.

Theater director extraordinaire Anne Bogart recently wrote a post, Direct Encounter, about attending a theater conference where a young presenter announced that she would not be using PowerPoint in her talk. Bogart was thrilled to hear this young woman declare that she and her generation were moving away from PowerPoint lectures because they understood how much more effective it is to speak directly to an audience.

The bullet points, charts and graphs that fill those dreadful and horribly overused PP decks (and which led to the infamous phrase, “Death by PowerPoint”) actually activate a very small part of the brain, in particular the areas that process language. When you watch a PowerPoint presentation, your brain shuts down its other functionalities.

How different things are when you use metaphor, storytelling, and emotional exchange, says Bogart. “Stories are journeys of the mind that provide the opportunity to enter fully into other people’s thoughts and feelings. If I can engage a person’s imagination, I will have managed to link our brains one to the other. Our brains are synchronized. We are literally sharing brain activity.”

While Bogart makes her case for the full-bodied richness of the theatrical experience, her pitch is an articulate advocacy for direct encounters in every field of artistic expression. Because so much creative expression now is excessively curated and over-mediated, getting to an authentic, unmediated place requires conscious effort.

Case in point, Bogart shares this anecdote:

In Paris, in 1971, writer Deirdre Bair met with Samuel Beckett to request permission to conduct extensive interviews with him for what would become a definitive biography about the playwright. Beckett granted Bair consent but on the condition that she not tape-record their conversations or even take notes while together. Bair agreed nervously. During their nearly three hundred interviews, she listened closely to Beckett who described countless details about his life and work. Then she rushed back to her hotel room to quickly tape-record her memories of Beckett’s words that day. From this she constructed a readable and consequential biography published in 1978.

Perhaps Beckett understood that an unmediated connection between Bair and him would reap more riches than standard interview techniques that depend upon recording and recounting. Perhaps he trusted the event of their human connection from moment to moment more than any act of reported facts. Perhaps what happened between them, together with Bair’s reconstructed memories of their direct encounters, is what makes her biography of Beckett successful and interesting.

While the visual arts occur in a domain that exists outside the spoken/written language zone—for the most part— other factors obscure connection in that world as well. Exclusivity, self-referentiality, meta meanings and other obscurant scrims can make it difficult to achieve that direct encounter Bogart speaks about. Many an eager and open viewer has left an exhibit feeling exempted and alienated from work that appears to be the exclusive province of a limited and rarefied cognescenti.

The solution is not to dumb down a body of work with languaged explanations. Simplification of that nature flattens the potent and richly layered experience that the visual can offer, stripping it of its unique potential for mystery and evocation. The best solution is a two fold one, where both the maker and the viewer take a step towards each other in that numinous space that exists between them.

Some will find this to be nothing more than an idealistic notion. But I don’t see it that way. I have been an artist for a long lifetime, but I still have to work at being an open and trusting viewer. It is easy to fall into suspicion and cynicism, wary of being manipulated or played. As an artist and as a viewer of art, it is a daily discipline to speak it true, to get as close to that direct encounter as I possibly can. It’s a skill set, not a given.

Tags: ,

sub
Detail from one of my recent painting series, “Angaris”

I recently found two statements about painting by Australian artist Helen Johnson that were very resonant for me. While Johnson’s work has identifiable content, her approach and attitudes are aligned with my work as a non representationalist.

First, her description of painting from a roundtable about painting in Frieze Magazine:

Painting is a space for the critical deployment of ambiguity, wit, failure and unknowing. Being a painter today doesn’t mean seeing painting as some kind of anachronistic refuge, or thinking that the modernist project of the medium can be rehabilitated, or even continue to be flogged. I am interested in the complexities, loadings and problems of painting as devices for producing meaning today, informed by a new range of conditions. I am not interested in using painting to defend itself, make statements or draw conclusions, but to open spaces for reflective thought, where a multiplicity of positions can be recognized, particularly as a means of resisting the imposition of a fixed narrative.

This passage is from Johnson’s artist statement which is so much better than most efforts in that category of writing about art that is often so tired and trite. I really like her directness and her awareness of contemporary contexts:

Painting serves as the primary ground of my practice, though the approaches I take seek an understanding of painting as a loaded medium operating on new terms in a post-medium condition…Painting is an interesting vehicle for me because it is loaded, neurotic, problematised, a market force, scattered, essentialised and recomplexified, loathed, able to operate simultaneously within and beyond itself, able to be beautiful and horrible at the same time. My approach to painting divagates from a grounding in figuration in search of a space of pluralism and openness, where the privilege of the subject becomes slippery. A gesture, alive in one painting, might be deadened through mechanised replication in the next…Construct and intuition ask questions of one another. The space of painting is for me a space where seemingly incontrovertible things are constantly being reconsidered, put into new relations with other things, where slippage is always present. In this regard it is a useful space for thought.

Tags: , ,

75.77_SL1
Boli (Photo: Brooklyn Museum)

Bolis are abstract figures that are from the Bamana culture. The basic form, a bit like a simplified cow, is made from mud, eggs, chewed kola nuts, sacrificial blood, urine, honey, beer, vegetable fiber, and cow dung.

The role of the boli is to regulate energy, whatever is moving from the universe into this world. In Dan Beachy-Quick‘s book of essays, Wonderful Investigations, he sees the significance of the boli beyond its singular cultural context:

It is an object that keeps in balance a force, a spiritual energy, which unbalanced, could damage the world. Its likeness to a cow belongs to this world, this earth; its unlikeness to the cow belongs to the other world, the universe. It shares in both, and the oddity of its form is a result of the accuracy with which it performs its work. The boli is a form that attends to its own formlessness. It shows the body at the point of pivot between two kinds of existence. It shows the cost of belonging to two worlds simultaneously while being able to fully exist in neither. It is the object as threshold, a door which is open only by being closed. It is a symbol. It’s life is a symbolic life and brings us who believe in its power to our own symbolic nature.

Beachy-Quick is a poet, and he draws a provocative comparison between the boli and a poem (which, for me, is a reasonable stand in for many different types of works of art):

The poem on the page is no principality. It does not make a distinct place in the world, not does it make a distinct place of the world. It is not a site to travel to, not a place of destination. Rather, the poem denies location because it acts—as the boli figure acts—as a nexus between worlds, taking part in both worlds but belonging to neither, a threshold in which one must learn to uncomfortably dwell.

Given this view of things, it is not the reading a poem for understanding that is difficult, says Beachy-Quick. The harder task is to learn to read so that you can enter the environment that the poem opens up. “To think of poetry as an environment, as a space of initiation, is to learn to read so as to lose a sense of meaning, to become bereft of what it is we thought we knew, to lose direction, to become bewildered.”

We enter into a work of art to threaten the security of the knowledge we possess beforehand. We enter to be asked “a question we will not ask ourselves otherwise, a question that begins at the point of our certainty.”

These are such apt descriptions of what happens when we engage with a finished work of art as well as what we hope can happen in the making itself. Stepping beyond our certainty is what’s necessary for admission into that mysterious non-place between worlds.

Tags: , ,

sign
Sign post encountered on a hike in New Zealand

Jim Collins is a business writer whose target audience is usually not visual artists. But wisdom has leaky margins and the best crosses the categories. In a recent essay Collins writes:

A great piece of art is composed not just of what is in the final piece, but equally important, what is not. It is the discipline to discard what does not fit— to cut out what might have already cost days or even years of effort—that distinguishes the truly exceptional artist and marks the ideal piece of work, be it a symphony, a novel, a painting, a company or, most important of all, a life.

Another business author, Matthew May, has his own anecdote of this wisdom:

I was working closely with the senior leadership of a very large and successful Japanese company. I had been hired to help it develop new ideas and strategies in the United States, but was struggling with a particularly difficult project that required me to reconcile two completely different perspectives. (Eastern and Western ways of thinking are often at odds with each other.) I found myself at a standstill.

I must not have done a very good job of hiding how useless I was feeling, because a 2,500-year-old snippet of Chinese philosophy found its way to me anonymously, via a handwritten note on a Post-it stuck to my work space.

“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, subtract things every day,” it said, capsulizing teachings of Lao Tzu. “Profit comes from what is there, usefulness from what is not there.”

My first thought was, “Someone wants me gone — I’d be more useful that way.” But as I read it again and thought about it, lightning struck.

It dawned on me that I’d been looking at my problem in the wrong way. As is natural and intuitive, I had been looking at what to do, rather than what not to do. But as soon as I shifted my perspective, I was able to complete the project successfully.

Even though the idea of subtracting things every day was thousands of years old, it was still radical to me.

To complete this trifecta of business wisdom that is also useful for creatives, here is Amber Johnson‘s report on how Mike McAvoy, president of the satirical news source, The Onion, views this issue:

It’s this business process of “whittling down” ideas that is most transferable to other companies, McAvoy told the audience. He offered a simple two-step process: “First, get a lot of good ideas. Then reduce, reduce, reduce so your final ideas are really great.”

Pablo Picasso famously said, “Art is the elimination of the unnecessary”. As so many pithy statements go, stating it simply does not make it easy.

Tags: , , ,

pan
A universe emerging in the surface of a pan: Still in search of mastery

Once we have acquired a certain level of expertise at a task, it is easy to just go into autopilot. Some call that place the “OK Plateau”—where good enough is good enough, and there really isn’t much intrinsic motivation to improve our skills. I am in OK Plateau when I drive, clean my house or do my taxes. There’s just no reason to try to get better at any of those tasks.

But what about those areas of expertise where getting better does matter, those skills where becoming exceptional is important to us? Certain tasks in the making of art are so familiar to me after all these years, and it is easy to slide into a “good enough” place with those skills if I’m not careful. Autopilot is a state of being unconscious, and opportunities to push at and explore new territories can go unnoticed.

When you are operating in that autonomous space you don’t have conscious control of what you are doing, and most of the time that’s a good thing, says science writer Joshua Foer. Your conscious mind has one less thing to worry about. But the downside is that the OK Plateau puts a barrier between you and your desire to develop a skill that is exceptional.

From Foer:

What separates experts from the rest of us is that they tend to engage in a very directed, highly focused routine, which [Anders] Ericsson has labeled “deliberate practice.” Having studied the best of the best in many different fields, he has found that top achievers tend to follow the same general pattern of development. They develop strategies for consciously keeping out of the autonomous stage while they practice by doing three things: focusing on their technique, staying goal-oriented, and getting constant immediate feedback on their performance. In other words, they force themselves to stay in the “cognitive stage.”

In exploring Foer’s ideas, Maria Popova has pointed out that the mere amount of practice has little to do with improvement. It is a deliberateness that drives progress, not the actual time spent developing a skill set. The best way to transcend the OK Plauteau says Popova is to “cultivate conscious control over the thing we’re practicing and, above all, to actually practice failing. Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard.” To get really good at something, regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, you have to see where you fail, and learn from the mistakes.

The bottom line: How you conduct your “practice” is much more important than the amount of time you put in. The oft-quoted Malcolm Gladwell claim that mastery requires 10,000 hours just isn’t the full story. Deliberate practice means staying conscious and tracking down the weaknesses. Tenaciously.

Tags: , ,


Thomas Nozkowski, Untitled (7-107, LA III), 1998, oil on linen on panel, 22×28” (Photo: BOMB Magazine)

[Note: Here is another post I have pulled up out of the Slow Muse archive from 2012. I am still a bit ham-handed from my surgery and typing is hard so I have been revisiting posts that speak to me right now. This one is full of words and ideas that are worth revisiting. I hope you think so too.

Also, just a heads up that I will be out of town for a week. I am going to DC to spend time with my beautiful new (and my first!) grandchild, Siena Wilcox. I'll be back home and musing slowly on February 3.]

Thomas Nozkowski is an artist I have greatly admired for some time. The review of his show at Senior & Shopmaker Gallery by his long time friend John Yau, A Truly Subversive Artist Is Not Necessarily Someone Who Is Theatrical or Gimmicky is worth reading in its entirety. (The title alone is so great. Thank you John Yau.)

Another great article is an interview in BOMB Magazine between Nozkowski and the writer Francine Prose. These two intelligent, thoughtful artists share a conversation about art and art making that is refreshingly authentic, generous and “art world pretension”-free. Nozkowski is articulate about things that are often glossed over or flattened down to the usual clichés. His words have depth, amplitude, and the evidence of having thought through these issues for a long period of time.

As Prose states in her introduction, she was eager to interview Tom Nozkowski so that she might finally begin to understand what makes his paintings “so beautiful, mysterious, surprising and unique, so simultaneously and paradoxically whimsical and haunting.” The process of speaking with him only intensified and deepened the mystery of his work for her, the finest compliment IMHO. (I also admire Prose for saying this to Nozkowski about art reportage: “I read all those articles and essays that critics have written about you, and I have to tell you I didn’t understand a single word. It made me realize that the reason I started writing art criticism was because I couldn’t understand it.”)

One of the first topics they discuss is about Nozkowski’s long passion for the painting by Pisanello, Legend of St. Eustache. He remembered first seeing the painting in London many years ago and being deeply moved by it:

TN: I don’t know how to describe the feeling, but it was as if I knew why every stroke was made. Every color, every shape. I thought it profoundly moving…I was trying to find out why those elements work.

FP: So did you figure it out?

TN: No, not in specifics. I mean, if you could figure it out, it would lose a lot of its magic. You’d possess it too closely. What I did come to understand was the possibility of working out of a feeling rather than a formal direction. There are a few very modest structural reasons for any of the forms and colors in that particular painting being where they are. They seem inevitable for another reason…

There are paintings that speak directly and privately to you. And it has to do with who you are. As a painter, I’m interested in painterly solutions, things that painters do… I think painters go to museums with different agendas and goals. You go to find solutions for your own problems and your own aspirations.


Pisanello’s Legend of St. Eustache

In another exchange about the more general experience of making art:

FP: Do you have any sense of what would be the ideal response to one of your paintings?

TN: If someone was able to look at a painting of mine for a period of time, to go with it and spin out some kind of logical—for lack of a better word—story from it, I don’t expect much more than that. The central fact of our lives, of any artist’s life, are the thousands upon thousands of hours we spend alone staring at these damn things, thinking about them. We sit there, and these things just go on, and on, and on. Everything in the world ties into them, everything that’s crossed your mind while you’re working on it. And, if somebody could just get a sense of that fullness in a work of art, it’s working, you’re on the right track. Ultimately, the one thing that a work of art is about, is the fact that a human being did it. That’s what’s extraordinary, and what’s wonderful.

FP: But Tom, you can look at really crappy art and think: A human being did that, too.

TN: Art objects are gifts. Sometimes you get a lousy gift, and sometimes you get a great gift. The more complex and the more interesting the art is, the more it gives you.

Always grateful for those great ones that pass through…

« Older entries