Backs to the World

Agnes Martin. Her wisdom and point of view has stepped in and shifted my thinking many times over the years. This week I happened upon an interview with her, and it was like a Heimlich maneuver dislodging a blockage. She is so unabashedly mystical. Some say that she didn’t read a newspaper for the last 50 years of her life. Given her world view, it seems to me that there really wasn’t much need.

She reminds me of my favorite monk who lives in near isolation in Gotsang, a meditation monastery in Ladakh. He has been there for 45 years. We sat with him for most of a day when I was there two years ago. Even with a language barrier it was clear to all of us that he knew so much more about the flinty core of consciousness than any of us ever would. Just sitting with him, something in me shifted.

A furtive photo of the back of the monk at the monastery in Gotsang, Ladakh

Two backs to the world…

A few highlights from the interview with Agnes Martin:

In this world, that’s the only thing you need to know: What you want.

I paint with my back to the world.

Best things in life happen to you when you are alone. All revelations.

What am I going to do next? That’s how I ask for inspiration.

I have a vacant mind in order to do exactly what the inspiration calls for.

That’s the trouble with art today. 50 ideas before you start, and the inspiration disappears.

Art is responded to with emotion. The best art is music, the highest form of art, completely abstract.

Art is not intellectual at all.

You can’t think about beating the rest of them while you are painting. You have to keep a clear picture in your mind.

Don’t let any other thoughts in. The worst thing you can think about while you are painting is yourself.

I wait 3 days before I decide about a painting being done.

I used to meditate til I learned to stop thinking.

Now, empty mind. When something comes in, you can see it.

4 Replies to “Backs to the World”

  1. Am going to link over to watch the full interview. What great quotes!

  2. Agnes Martin has the ability to make me feel simultaneously like a profligate voluptuary and a distractible ninny. But I still love her to death. She is so transcendently pure.

    Thanks for this post, Deborah. It is well-timed reminder for me to settle the F. down.

    “When I think of art I think of beauty. Beauty is the mystery of life. It is not in the eye, it is in the mind. In our minds there is awareness of perfection.”
    ~Agnes Martin

  3. Maureen, she’s of our ilk to be sure.

    Sal, there’s no distractible ninniness about you in the least. But what a great quote to add to the stack. Thanks.

  4. Deborah,
    How refreshing to read Agnes’ observations about making art. Today artists are pressured to over-intellectualize so much that there is little reason to even make the art–it’s all done in one’s head, so why bother? Hence a surplus of “visual” art that has no visual interest whatsover.

    The American painter Philip Guston said, “There’s some mysterious process at work here, which I don’t even want to understand.”

    thanks for posting,

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