1,800 Pieces

A few days ago, when I stopped by our local health clinic, I was stunned to see a flyer about an upcoming talk: "Collecting, Accumulating, Chronic Disorganization, and Hoarding." After the many dozens of responses to an earlier post on this topic (3 Feb), of course, I had to read further. I'd never heard of such a presentation in a medical venue. I'd never heard of such a presentation, period.

According to the notice, the guest speaker will address the fact that an estimated 4-6% of the general population experiences some level of disordered behavior called hoarding. Is this psych speak? Does that number apply to people who accumulate objects with which to create art? And does it include individuals like Rene di Rosa (1919-2010), who collected 1,800 pieces of eclectic artwork by 700 to 800 artists and displayed them in three galleries (including his former residence), across a sculpture meadow, and around a serene 35-acre lake, all set in a vineyard of 217 acres ?

35-acre lake at di Rosa

35-acre lake at di Rosa

Recently, I toured di Rosa with two old friends whom I've known since the end of the 1970s, when we all lived in Napa Valley. Located in the Carneros region of the valley, it is truly a lovely place to while away hours looking at a wild variety of art in a country environment, especially in spring weather. We enjoyed the opportunity to be outdoors, where sculptures punctuate the landscape in every direction. The first one appears at the end of the walkway that leads visitors from the parking lot to Gatehouse Gallery.

from parking lot to Gatehouse Gallery entrance at di Rosa

from parking lot to Gatehouse Gallery entrance at di Rosa

Seated Woman with Vase  (1998), by Viola Frey. Ceramic. Outside Gatehouse Gallery.

Seated Woman with Vase (1998), by Viola Frey. Ceramic. Outside Gatehouse Gallery.

Although there are also sculptures inside Gatehouse Gallery and the former home of Rene and Veronica di Rosa, most of the larger works are on the grounds; for example, on the road up to the house, alongside the lake, in the residence courtyard, and throughout the meadow beyond it. A jitney transports visitors from Gatehouse Gallery to the upper area.

Mississippi River II  (1966), by David Lynn. Cast aluminum on concrete piers.

Mississippi River II (1966), by David Lynn. Cast aluminum on concrete piers.

Converted from a winery, the former residence of Rene and Veronica di Rosa is a Napa County Landmark, 130 years old, .

Converted from a winery, the former residence of Rene and Veronica di Rosa is a Napa County Landmark, 130 years old, .

Reclining Nude #2 (1987), by Viola Frey. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

Reclining Nude #2 (1987), by Viola Frey. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

Viola de Lodi  (1988), by Robert Arneson. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

Viola de Lodi (1988), by Robert Arneson. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

From  Grandmother Series (California Dress),  1978, by Viola Frey. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

From Grandmother Series (California Dress), 1978, by Viola Frey. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

Matter Contemplates Spirit  (2001), by Stephen Kaltenbach. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

Matter Contemplates Spirit (2001), by Stephen Kaltenbach. Ceramic. Residence Gallery courtyard.

Lynched Volkswagon  (1966). Rene di Rosa created this red car installation hanging from the boughs of a eucalyptus tree in back of the residence.

Lynched Volkswagon (1966). Rene di Rosa created this red car installation hanging from the boughs of a eucalyptus tree in back of the residence.

sculpture meadow and hills beyond the residence

sculpture meadow and hills beyond the residence

Looking through arch of one sculpture toward  For Veronica  (1987), by Mark di Suvero. Steel, paint. Created for Veronica di Rosa.

Looking through arch of one sculpture toward For Veronica (1987), by Mark di Suvero. Steel, paint. Created for Veronica di Rosa.

The above images just touch on how much is outside. Inside the house, I was overwhelmed by the amount of art that could be crammed--literally, from floor to ceiling--into one building.

kitchen wall of Residence Gallery

kitchen wall of Residence Gallery

All for Me  (1966), by Charlene Milgrim. Found objects. Residence Gallery.

All for Me (1966), by Charlene Milgrim. Found objects. Residence Gallery.

Rene di Rosa's story is an interesting one. He was born and raised in Boston, graduated Yale University, worked for the San Francisco Chronicle, and tried his hand at the great American novel while living in Paris, then gave up urban environments for a rural life. Before California became world renowned for its wine, he bought 465 acres in 1960, planted grapes on 250 of them, and studied viticulture at the University of California, Davis. He went from befriending the avant-garde artists, writers, and musicians in San Francisco to also getting to know a group of counterculture artists at the newly founded art department of UC Davis. Many of them became lifelong friends. In the 1980s, he sold his winery to afford him the means with which to invest in creating an “art preserve” for the public. He invited artists to create new works on the property. In order to accommodate his ever-growing collection, di Rosa constructed buildings to house it. He opened the "art park" in 1997. Among the well-known artists are Robert Arneson, Joan Brown, Paul Kos, Manuel Neri, Viola Frey, Robert Hudson, Peter Voulkos, and William T. Wiley.

living room and mezzanine in Residence Gallery

living room and mezzanine in Residence Gallery

mezzanine in Residence Gallery

mezzanine in Residence Gallery

I have to admit that I was daunted by the sheer volume of art in the former residence of di Rosa and his wife Veronica, herself an artist. My head was aswirl as I looked around, up and down, in and out. I found it impossible to give so many pieces--their shapes, colors, styles, materials, textures, concepts--adequate attention. But, given enough time, anyone can learn a lot about what interested Northern California artists during the second half of the 20th century and the boundaries they trespassed, and be inspired by what they did on their own terms.

I can deeply appreciate what all that amassing of art meant for the particular coterie of artists from the 1950s on that di Rosa favored. His support of their experimentation, defiance of convention, and nose-thumbing at the so-called authorities of the art world nurtured their freedom in maintaining anti-commercial, even subversive, values. Today, re-purposing and assemblage are common. However, creating with found objects and non-traditional materials has not always been an acceptable art expression at galleries and museums. An iconoclast himself, di Rosa didn't care, for he wasn't an art snob. He wanted people to have their own experience, without any need for expertise in the field.

Gigolo  (1989),   by George Herms. Found objects. Gatehouse Gallery.

Gigolo (1989), by George Herms. Found objects. Gatehouse Gallery.

Untitled R  (1990), by George Herms. Assorted shoes, plywood, wire. Gatehouse Gallery.

Untitled R (1990), by George Herms. Assorted shoes, plywood, wire. Gatehouse Gallery.

E Flat  (1986), by Robert Hudson. Mixed media. Mezzanine of Residence Gallery.

E Flat (1986), by Robert Hudson. Mixed media. Mezzanine of Residence Gallery.

Nimbus  (2000), by David Ireland. Steel, concrete, gold leaf, wood panel. Gatehouse Gallery

Nimbus (2000), by David Ireland. Steel, concrete, gold leaf, wood panel. Gatehouse Gallery

Warren Walter, William  (1981), by Richard Shaw. Porcelain with decal overglaze. Gatehouse Gallery

Warren Walter, William (1981), by Richard Shaw. Porcelain with decal overglaze. Gatehouse Gallery

Eschewing the jitney, my friends and I walked along the lake to return to our cars. We marveled at what one person can accomplish because of a keen interest, commitment, and the resources and resourcefulness to realize a dream. His aesthetic preferences may not resonate with everyone, but di Rosa performed a great service. In spanning the art movements of the Bay Area, his 1800 pieces provide a tangible presence of Northern California's art history and an example of what hoarding art can achieve. He left a legacy to be admired and enjoyed in a natural setting.

Diretto di Passaggio   (Aqueduct)  (1990), by Veronica di Rosa. Steel, patina, rust. By the lake.

Diretto di Passaggio (Aqueduct) (1990), by Veronica di Rosa. Steel, patina, rust. By the lake.

Twist  (1990), by Archie Held. Steel.

Twist (1990), by Archie Held. Steel.

Questions & Comments:
Individually established art preserves and museums have been growing in number. In addition to di Rosa's, I've visited Oliver Ranch (Geyserville, CA) and The Clark (Williamstown, MA) in the U.S. and several in Japan and Korea. What places have you found? What were they like? What kind of art do they exhibit?

Seeing the kinds of materials and found objects used in the di Rosa collection, what inspires you in creating your own art? How can you put to good use your own kind of collection?

 

Artists as Hoarders

As an artist, you're bound to collect stuff. After all, how can you create art without lots of paint, paper, canvas, clay, stone, metal, fabric, thread, and yarn? But how much stuff? Has your textile stash migrated into every part of the house because one closet won't hold it all? Is your garage so packed with recycled materials for assemblage that you can't park your car in there? Do you have any space left for yet another bin of plastic pieces in the barn?

If you're already wondering whether you're a hoarder, rest assured that I won't be visiting to check. Instead, here's another definition of hoarding to consider--collecting for repurposing. Now, doesn't that sound better?

An obsessive collector, Clare Graham doesn't give any of this a second thought. His stuff--a staggering amount of dominoes, buttons, ropes, wires, pop tops, scrabble tiles, yardsticks, swizzle sticks, bottle caps, soda cans, tin cans, and other disposable items--is piled in a 7,000-square-foot warehouse, MorYork, in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. He started his "habit" in Canada, when only eight years old, using the dozens of drawers in a roll top desk to catalog and organize such found items as crystals, rocks, and animal bones. As an adult, Graham often waits years to accumulate just the right size, texture, and quantity of objects before piercing, stringing, collaging, and bundling them into his unique sculptures. I saw a room loaded with them at the Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles in October 2014. Incredible recycling!

Detail of Telephone Wire Wall Hanging (2006), by Clare Graham.

Detail of Telephone Wire Wall Hanging (2006), by Clare Graham.

Telephone Wire Wall Hanging (2006), by Clare Graham.

Telephone Wire Wall Hanging (2006), by Clare Graham.

Pop-Top and Asparagus, Cafe Chairs, Furniture, Strands, and Ball Sculptures (2011), by Clare Graham.

Pop-Top and Asparagus, Cafe Chairs, Furniture, Strands, and Ball Sculptures (2011), by Clare Graham.

Detail of Bottle Cap Tower and Empire State Building (1992), by Clare Graham.

Detail of Bottle Cap Tower and Empire State Building (1992), by Clare Graham.

Detail of Pop-Top and Asparagus, Cafe Chairs, Furniture, Strands, and Ball Sculptures (2011), by Clare Graham.

Detail of Pop-Top and Asparagus, Cafe Chairs, Furniture, Strands, and Ball Sculptures (2011), by Clare Graham.

Bottle Cap Tower and Empire State Building (1992), by Clare Graham.

Bottle Cap Tower and Empire State Building (1992), by Clare Graham.

Button Yin Yang Tapestry (2006), by Clare Graham

Button Yin Yang Tapestry (2006), by Clare Graham

Detail of Button Yin Yang Tapestry (2006), by Clare Graham

Detail of Button Yin Yang Tapestry (2006), by Clare Graham

By Clare Graham.

By Clare Graham.

Detail. By Clare Graham.

Detail. By Clare Graham.

Louise Bourgeois, born in France in 1911, saved nearly every item of clothing she wore. She also accumulated everything else--from wood and plaster, to latex, marble, bronze, and glass--to create her artwork. In the 1990s, she decided to use her own clothes as sculptural elements, on various hanging devices and in enclosed installations or "cells." It seemed a logical choice. Because she barely left home once in her 80s, she stopped needing her many outfits for different occasions and was no longer concerned with fashion in the way she had once been. Then, in 2002, at the beginning of her 90s, Bourgeois constructed the linen binding and pages of Ode a l'oubli ("Ode to Forgetting/the Forgotten") out of 60-year-old, monogrammed hand towels from her trousseau for a 1938 wedding. Working from one page to the next for six months, Bourgeois cut, arranged, and stitched her own used clothing as well as sheets, tablecloths, napkins, and leftover scraps to form 32 fabric collages that comprised the "book."

Part of Ode a l'oubli (2004), by Louise Bourgeois.  Source: https://www.pinterest.com/maracantabrana/ode-%C3%A0-loublie/

Part of Ode a l'oubli (2004), by Louise Bourgeois. 
Source: https://www.pinterest.com/maracantabrana/ode-%C3%A0-loublie/

Page 9 of "Ode a l'oubli" (2004), by Louise Bourgeois. Source: https://www.moma.org/

Page 9 of "Ode a l'oubli" (2004), by Louise Bourgeois. Source: https://www.moma.org/

Artists Judith Selby-Lang and Richard Lang collect plastic, lots and lots of it. While most people put their plastic remains into recycling bins to be picked up, since 1999 the Langs have been bringing home plastic debris they find washed up on Kehoe Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco. They clean, sort by color, and categorize thousands of pieces. Then they "curate" these bits of plastic and fashion them into artwork--sculptures, prints, jewelry, and installations--that has been exhibited internationally. Their on-going "archeological" project about our throwaway culture and plastic pollution of our seas has been featured on NPR and in film festivals. And it all started on a first date. Click here to see the vimeo.

Judith Selby-Lang and Richard Lang at Kehoe Beach, Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Source: http://beachplastic.com/

Judith Selby-Lang and Richard Lang at Kehoe Beach, Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Source: http://beachplastic.com/

Chromagreen, by Richard and Judith Selby-Lang. Source: http://plasticforever.blogspot.com/

Chromagreen, by Richard and Judith Selby-Lang. Source: http://plasticforever.blogspot.com/

Chromagreen, by Richard and Judith Selby-Lang. Source: http://plasticforever.blogspot.com/

Chromagreen, by Richard and Judith Selby-Lang. Source: http://plasticforever.blogspot.com/

There are many more artists who turn accumulations into particular artwork. Pascale Marthine Tayou, born in Cameroon in 1967, creates large installations to address political, social and environmental concerns. In some, he adorns crystal glass figures with beads, plastic flowers, and feathers, or he pierces Styrofoam with thousands of pins and razor blades and stacks hundreds of birdhouses against a wall. He also embellishes "dolls" with cable ties, key rings, plastic bags, brightly colored beads, brushes and plastic knives, or piles up colored plastic bags and wraps and binds with cloth, sewing and knitting himself. For videos of 2015 "World Share" installations at The Fowler Museum at UCLA, click here.

After three colorful images of Tayou's art, the final two photos are of "Man's Cloth," by the Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui. Renowned for his large-scale, complex, intricate, yet flexible metallic cloth-like wall assemblages, he lets curators alter their shapes with each installation. For a video of "Gravity and Grace," click here. For "Man's Cloth," El Anatsui sourced the thousands of folded and crumpled pieces of metal from local alcohol recycling stations in Nigeria and bound them together with copper wire. It is a kind of homage to kente cloth, woven by the Asante and Ewe peoples and probably the best known of all African textiles. El Anatsui's artwork references colonial and postcolonial economic and cultural exchange in Africa, consumption, and environment. But he also points to the power of human creativity and ingenuity to transform what has been discarded and even to make it beautiful. As the saying goes, "One man's [woman's] trash is another man's treasure."

One part of "Boomerang" (2015), by Pascale Marthine Tayou.  Source: http://www.serpentinegalleries.org/exhibitions-events/pascale-marthine-tayou-boomerang

One part of "Boomerang" (2015), by Pascale Marthine Tayou. 
Source: http://www.serpentinegalleries.org/exhibitions-events/pascale-marthine-tayou-boomerang

Installation by Pascale Marthine Tayou. Source: https://alchetron.com/Pascale-Marthine-Tayou-849771-W

Installation by Pascale Marthine Tayou.
Source: https://alchetron.com/Pascale-Marthine-Tayou-849771-W

Installation by Pascale Marthine Tayou. Source: https://alchetron.com/Pascale-Marthine-Tayou-849771-W

Installation by Pascale Marthine Tayou. Source: https://alchetron.com/Pascale-Marthine-Tayou-849771-W

"Man's Cloth" (1998-2001), by El Anatsui. British Museum, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Man's Cloth" (1998-2001), by El Anatsui. British Museum, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Detail of "Man's Cloth" (1998-2001), by El Anatsui. British Museum, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Detail of "Man's Cloth" (1998-2001), by El Anatsui. British Museum, Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

So feel free to keep collecting but don't forget to put all that stuff to good use: create more art with it or share it with others to help them create art too.

Questions and Comments:
If you're a collector/hoarder, what do you accumulate and what's your particular attraction to those items?
How do you use the materials/objects you amass to create art?
Who are your favorite artists who work with huge amounts of materials?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

A New Year for More Art

Source: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/

Source: http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/

I shouldn't be surprised that the end of another year has rolled around. Still, I can't help thinking, "2017 already? How did it get here so fast?" Maybe because I engaged in a lot of deeply satisfying travel and art activities, the months simply sped by. The old expression that time flies when you're having a good time is the perfect answer.

Thank you for accompanying me during these months of posting about my experiences with and thoughts about art, whether locally or in another country. I very much appreciate your communications. Even if you don't comment, that you're out there reading my blog is a companionable gesture in itself.

I'm going to complete 2016 and begin 2017 with some quotes to reflect on. These are from On Art and Mindfulness, by artist, author, and physicist Enrique Martínez Celaya.

Gleann Fhiodhaig, Scotland. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

Gleann Fhiodhaig, Scotland. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

Being an artist is not a posture or a profession, but a way of being in the world and in relation to yourself....Understanding who you are as an artist should be thought of as a life-long process inseparable from your work....Growth does not have to be systematic. The way of the artist is a meandering path.                  

"Migrant Mother" (1930s), by Dorothea Lange. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Migrant Mother" (1930s), by Dorothea Lange. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

The qualities that distinguish great art from the rest are, directly or indirectly, related to ethics. At the heart of great art you will find love and compassion....A great work of art cannot come fromhatred or cynicism.  

"Frau, Korb tragend (before 1918), by Käthe Kollwitz. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Frau, Korb tragend (before 1918), by Käthe Kollwitz. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Balancing Act, Quinn Dombrowski. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Balancing Act, Quinn Dombrowski. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

There is no comfortable foundation for an artist to stand on. Do not look for it, and if you find it, get off it....An artist’s practice should account for uncertainty and instability that is always part of an honest inquiry. Expect change. Embrace accidents and mistakes.
 

Western Bluebird at Ralph B. Clark Regional Park, Buena Park, CA. Photo by Davefoc. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Western Bluebird at Ralph B. Clark Regional Park, Buena Park, CA. Photo by Davefoc. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Art tends to be a solitary experience for the artist, but it becomes less so if you have some relationship with nature and if your work is connected to life.

Arches National Park, Utah. Photo by Don Graham. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Arches National Park, Utah. Photo by Don Graham. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

According to poet Mary Oliver, “The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” Next year, don't look back on 2017 with regret. Pick up your pen, needle, spindle, brush, or whatever you use and start creating today.

Dawn at the Coorong National Park, South Australia. Photo by Mundoo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Dawn at the Coorong National Park, South Australia. Photo by Mundoo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Happy New Year!
May 2017 dawn bright with creative promise for you.

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Unfinished?

Labor Day weekend, I was an invited artist in Art by the Sea/The Sea Ranch Tour, in which I opened my studio to the public. As in the previous two years, I met lots of delightful people and was happy they purchased my artwork for their homes. But one of the other artists on the tour expressed reluctance to sell her work because she didn't think the pieces were finished. She said she was still experimenting. Yet visitors to her studio wanted to buy them.

"Saint Barbara" (1437), by Jan Van Eyck. Metalpoint, brush drawing, and oil on wood. Photo by Lukas Image Bank, Belgium. Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium.

"Saint Barbara" (1437), by Jan Van Eyck. Metalpoint, brush drawing, and oil on wood. Photo by Lukas Image Bank, Belgium. Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, Belgium.

Naturally, the following questions arose: When is a work of art finished? Who's to say? Or is it ever finished? When do we stop experimenting and reworking? Whether we're involved in literature, theater, music, dance, painting, sculpture, or fiber art, are we ever totally done with a poem, play, symphony, tapestry, novel, or collage, even after it has been exposed to the public? During the decades that I freelanced as a writer, I remember editing everything over and over, until the last deadline forced me to stop. If I were to reread the articles, reviews, and books I published during those times, I bet I'd still want to make changes today. As visual artists, writers, composers, or choreographers, we're constantly evolving, so why wouldn't what we create also keep evolving, even if only subtly? One of the women in the monthly art salon in which I participate told us that, according to a biography of Shakespeare she'd read, he kept revising till the very end of his life.

Head of a Woman (La Scapigliata), by Leonardo da Vinci, 1500-1505. Scala / Ministero per i Beni e le  Attività culturali /Art Resource, NY. Galleria Nazionale di Parma, Italy.

Head of a Woman (La Scapigliata), by Leonardo da Vinci, 1500-1505. Scala / Ministero per i Beni e le
Attività culturali /Art Resource, NY. Galleria Nazionale di Parma, Italy.

Only two days before we discussed this issue in our salon, a big exhibition had just ended its run at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.  Unfinished: Thoughts Left Visible dealt with something that's crucial to any artistic practice; that is, how and when we determine a work of art is finished. The show included works that were left incomplete by the artists, affording a glimpse into their creative process. It also embraced works that were intentionally unfinished (non finito), "an aesthetic of the unresolved and open-ended" that painters such as Rembrandt, Titian, Cézanne and Turner explored. Then there are the modern and contemporary artists who did not demarcate between making and un-making and even left the "finishing" to viewers. The Met cites Janine Antoni, Lygia Clark, Jackson Pollock, and Robert Rauschenberg in that group. In the case of American artist Kerry James Marshall's untitled work below, the viewer is definitely invited to complete the painting by filling in the numbered areas behind the female artist.

"Untitled" (2009), by Kerry James Marshall. Yale University Art Gallery. Photo © Kerry James Marshall, courtesy the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Source: http://metmuseum.org/exhibitions.

"Untitled" (2009), by Kerry James Marshall. Yale University Art Gallery. Photo © Kerry James Marshall, courtesy
the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York. Source: http://metmuseum.org/exhibitions.

By our standards, artwork from hundreds of years ago might not appear incomplete today because their treatment would make a different statement in the 20th or 21st century than that of detailed realism in the past. El Greco's "The Vision of Saint John" is a good example. In the 17th century, the painting looked unfinished, but not so now.

"The Vision of Saint John" (ca. 1609–14), by El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos). The Rogers Fund, The Met Breuer, New York.

"The Vision of Saint John" (ca. 1609–14), by El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos). The Rogers Fund,
The Met Breuer, New York.

The Met's website has photos of 209 exhibition objects. I selected some of them for this post. As you look at them, do you feel that they're incomplete? Would you rather have had the artists finish them or do you enjoy the opportunity to imagine what they would be like? Do you find yourself filling in details? Do you interpret the art differently? I consider the incomplete portraits far more interesting, for they seem to convey moods that might not otherwise come across so distinctly when there is so much else to view in the painting beyond the face.

"Portrait of a Young Man" (ca. 1770), by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Photo by Hickey Robertson, Houston. The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas.

"Portrait of a Young Man" (ca. 1770), by Sir Joshua Reynolds. Photo by Hickey Robertson,
Houston. The Menil Collection, Houston, Texas.

"George Romney" (1784), by George Romney. © National Portrait Gallery, London/ Art Resource, NY. National Portrait Gallery, London.

"George Romney" (1784), by George Romney. © National Portrait Gallery, London/
Art Resource, NY. National Portrait Gallery, London.

"Woman Reading" (ca. 1927), by Juan Gris. ?Photo by Dianne Yanovick Dornquast. The Met Breuer, New York.

"Woman Reading" (ca. 1927), by Juan Gris. ?Photo by Dianne Yanovick Dornquast. The Met Breuer, New York.

According to the Met's notes, Juan Gris once expressed a "desire to find a more sensitive side in his art, one he associated with the freedom and charm of the unfinished." The underdrawing in this work reveals how Gris constructed his composition geometrically. But he added his personal take on Cubism with such curvaceous elements as the oval shape of the upper body and the flowing black lines. It was not his intention to leave the reading woman incomplete; rather, he abandoned it because of failing health. Still, it has a certain intriguing charm just the way it is, as though peering through an X-ray.

Neither did Gustav Klimt complete his posthumous portrait of Maria ("Ria") Munk III. While he was working on this third attempt at portraying the woman who committed suicide because her fiancé broke off their engagement, Klimt himself died. As with Gris' painting, what remains demonstrates the artist's process. The history of this painting begs another question: How do you finish something that someone else has literally finished off?

Posthumous Portrait of Ria Munk III (1917-1918), by Gustav  Klimt. The Lewis Collection, The Met Breuer, New York.

Posthumous Portrait of Ria Munk III (1917-1918), by Gustav
Klimt. The Lewis Collection, The Met Breuer, New York.

Particularly with some expressions of modern art, how is anyone to decide when a painting or sculpture is done? Unless Swiss artist Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) wanted to change the feeling in this portrait of his wife Annette (immediately below), isn't it complete as a reflection of a dark, perhaps troubled state? Would more dabs of clay make a difference in English sculptor Rebecca Warren's "The Twin" (second below)? Etcetera for the others.

"Annette" (1961), by Alberto Giacometti. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, The Met Breuer, New York.

"Annette" (1961), by Alberto Giacometti. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.
Jacques and Natasha Gelman Collection, The Met Breuer, New York.

"The Twin" (2005), by Rebecca Warren. © Rebecca Warren courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery.

"The Twin" (2005), by Rebecca Warren. © Rebecca Warren courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery.

"Untitled I (Green Paintings)" (ca. 1986), by Cy Twombly. ©Cy Twombly Foundation.

"Untitled I (Green Paintings)" (ca. 1986), by Cy Twombly. ©Cy Twombly Foundation.

"Untitled II (Green Paintings)" (ca. 1986), by Cy Twombly. ©Cy Twombly Foundation.

"Untitled II (Green Paintings)" (ca. 1986), by Cy Twombly. ©Cy Twombly Foundation.

"Reticulárea cuadrada 71/6" (1971-1976), by Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt).  Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. © Fundación Gego.The Met Breuer, New York.

"Reticulárea cuadrada 71/6" (1971-1976), by Gego (Gertrud Goldschmidt). 
Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros. © Fundación Gego.The Met Breuer, New York.

"Tumors Personified" (1971), by Alina Szapocznikow. Photo by Bartosz Górka. © 2016 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland.

"Tumors Personified" (1971), by Alina Szapocznikow. Photo by Bartosz Górka. © 2016 Artists Rights Society
(ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris. Zachęta – National Gallery of Art, Warsaw, Poland.

"George Moore (1852–1933) at the Café" (1878 or 1879), by Édouard Manet. The Met Breuer, New York.

"George Moore (1852–1933) at the Café" (1878 or 1879), by Édouard Manet. The Met Breuer, New York.

I noticed that the Met did not include any artwork from Asia, at least not online. It makes me wonder whether aesthetic ideas of incompleteness are perceived differently in other parts of the world. Although Manet gifted his drawing (above) to George Moore in its unfinished state, I am drawn to it as it is, perhaps because it reminds me of certain styles in East Asian art. For example, to the right, this work of Itō Jakuchū (1716-1800), a Japanese painter of the mid-Edo period, is not considered incomplete by any means. It depicts two semi-legendary Chinese monks from the T'ang dynasty: Kanzan ("Cold Mountain") and Jittoku ("the Foundling"). The artist felt no need to fill in the spaces created by his brushstrokes.

Similarly, Japanese artist Maruyama Ōkyo (1733–1795), did not populate the six-panel folding screen (below) with more than one goose. Although nearly empty, the painting does not feel incomplete to me. Looked at closely, the composition conveys a lot about the season and place with minimal brushstrokes. How does it strike you?

"Kanzan and Jittoku" (ca. 1763), by Itō Jakuchū. Museum of East Asian Art, Cologne, Germany. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Kanzan and Jittoku" (ca. 1763), by Itō Jakuchū.
Museum of East Asian Art, Cologne, Germany.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Goose and Reeds; Willows and Moon" (1774, 1793), by Maruyama Ōkyo. Ink, color and gold on paper. Mary Griggs Burke Collection. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Source: http://metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/671024

"Goose and Reeds; Willows and Moon" (1774, 1793), by Maruyama Ōkyo. Ink, color and gold on paper. Mary Griggs Burke Collection. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Source: http://metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/671024

Questions and Comments:
Which "incomplete" artworks leave you pondering or wanting to finish them?
How do you deal with the issue of completing your own artwork? When do you know you're done?
How are the criteria for certain forms of East Asian art different from those of Western art? What makes them complete?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Translating Tradition into Contemporary Art

Detail from "Meditation" (1990), by Yoong Bae. Ink and colors on printed paper. Asian Art Museum.

Detail from "Meditation" (1990), by Yoong Bae. Ink and colors on printed paper. Asian Art Museum.

I am fascinated by how artists translate traditions from a long-ago world to our world today. What is the process of transforming aspects of so-called folk art into contemporary art? Who does it, why, and how?

I see this movement from the old to the new almost anywhere I look. Turning bed quilting into quilt art is a good example of changing what many people considered simply utilitarian into something that hangs on a museum wall.

Unexpectedly, other instances popped up last weekend when I visited the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. My main reason for going was to attend the first of a series of lectures sponsored by the Society for Asian Art, "From Monet to Ai Weiwei: How We Got Here." I went with the intention of satisfying my curiosity about the historical transition to modern art in Asia. Each week, for 10 weeks, the focus is on a different region--Japan, India, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, etc. I was disappointed that the initial overview didn't answer my questions, but perhaps other presentations will.

However, the long drive to the city wasn't wasted. While at the museum, I was able to visit new exhibits and enjoy a delightful day with a friend who is a fellow textile artist. I was surprised when one of the new shows, "Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware from Korea," spoke to my interest in innovating contemporary art from a traditional craft. I'd have never guessed that mother-of-pearl lacquerware would be an inspiration for artists now.  First, some images of the traditional work.

Table with birds and trees motif, 1700-1800. (Joseon dynasty, 1392-1910). Lacquered wood with inlaid mother-of-pearl. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Table with birds and trees motif, 1700-1800. (Joseon dynasty, 1392-1910). Lacquered wood with inlaid mother-of-pearl. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Two-tiered chest with stand, 1800-1850 (Joseon dynasty, 1392-1910). Lacquered wood with inlaid mother-of-pearl and metal fittings. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Two-tiered chest with stand, 1800-1850 (Joseon dynasty, 1392-1910). Lacquered
wood with inlaid mother-of-pearl and metal fittings. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Garment box with peony motif, 1700-1800 (Joseon dynasty, 1392-1910). Lacquered wood with inlaid mother-of-pearl. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

Garment box with peony motif, 1700-1800 (Joseon dynasty, 1392-1910). Lacquered wood with inlaid mother-of-pearl. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

What follows are contemporary mother-of-pearl artworks: Quite a difference, yet using the same materials and techniques that Korean artisans have employed for 1,000 years.

"1880-Summer-Forest-Gogh Series" (2007), by Kim Yousun. On loan from the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea.

"1880-Summer-Forest-Gogh Series" (2007), by Kim Yousun. On loan from the National Museum
of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea.

Born in Korea in 1967, Kim Yousun learned traditional mother-of-pearl craft techniques on her own. Then, beginning in the 1990s, she began to use mother-of-pearl as her principal medium with which to create her art. She doesn't see it as a material for craft but as a picture plane, a flat surface that allows her to shift between two-dimensional and three-dimensional perspectives because mother-of-pearl produces different lights and hues, depending on the angle from which one views it.

According to the title card, a trip to a forest inspired Kim Yousun to create "1880-Summer-Forest-Gogh Series." A huge admirer of Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890), she found herself standing among the trees, observing sunlight through them. She wanted to capture the specific moment of her subjective experience of energy and light and recreate it with innumerable mother-of-pearl pieces.

Detail of "1880-Summer-Forest-Gogh Series" (2007), by Kim Yousun. On loan from the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea.

Detail of "1880-Summer-Forest-Gogh Series" (2007), by Kim Yousun. On loan from the National Museum
of Modern and Contemporary Art, Korea.

Over the years, the luminosity and beauty of abalone shells have made them much more than simply a material to work with. For Kim Yousun, mother-of-pearl evolved into a symbol of hope, one which she shares in an art-therapy series "Rainbow Project" to help people living in orphanages, nursing homes, and prisons to heal emotional wounds through art-making. She says,

The shock I received when I first discovered wet, luminous mother-of-pearl in a narrow, shabby alley in Wangsimri [a district in Seoul] in 1992, and its beautiful lights and hues of a rainbow--that experience marked a turning point in my whole life.....A small abalone shell deep under the sea suffers from coarse stones that keep flowing in, but it creates a pearl out of them, with patience and sacrifice. This...has had a significant influence on me in creating art. Even a small, living creature manages to do something dramatic....So, mother-of-pearl has eventually become my life teacher.

"Pebbles" (2015), by Korean artist Hwang Samyong. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

"Pebbles" (2015), by Korean artist Hwang Samyong. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

In front of the mother-of-pearl wall, reflected in a mirrored base, sit three "pebbles." They, too, were created from abalone shells, using a traditional slicing technique employed in many of the Joseon-dynasty (1392-1910) pieces on display in the adjacent Tateuchi Gallery. I watched the painstaking process on a video. Born in 1960, Korean artist Hwang Samyong meticulously applied mother-of-pearl strips as thin as the width of a dime to the smooth, curving surfaces of the fiberglass base.

Detail of "Pebbles" by Korean artist Hwang Samyong. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Detail of "Pebbles" by Korean artist Hwang Samyong. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

The next image is from the video I saw on the thin-slicing technique. To view the video, which reveals the artist's spirit behind his work, just click this link: www.asianart.org/regular/pebbles-by-hwang-samyong/. Hwang Samyong says, "Although it may be an insignificant pebble that can be seen anywhere, through my work and passion, it becomes a work of art."

In the case of both Kim Yousun and Hwang Samyong, as well as a third Korean artist, Lee Leenam, whose work is a fascinating 7.5-minute two-channel video, the results are quite different from the traditional pieces I viewed in the lacquerware gallery. Yet, the past and present coexist not only side by side, but also within the integrity of the original works by contemporary artists.

Across from the contemporary mother-of-pearl artworks is a display of bojagi, a general term for wrapping cloths made in Korea for different functions and people. According to Youngmin Lee, a Korean bojagi artist and teacher in the Bay Area, "Jogak-bo, the art of Korean patchwork wrapping cloths (bojagi), embodies the philosophy of recycling, as the cloths are made from remnants of leftover fabric. It also carries wishes for the well-being and happiness of its recipients. During the rigidly Confucian society of the Joseon dynasty, it was one of the few creative outlets available to women."

Traditional bojagi, 1950-1960. Silk. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Traditional bojagi, 1950-1960. Silk. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Traditional bojagi from studio of Hang Sang-soo. Silk. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Traditional bojagi from studio of Hang Sang-soo. Silk. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Long considered a women's domestic craft, in the 21st century fiber artists have rediscovered bojagi for its aesthetic value. Internationally, they are creating their own interpretations, using traditional techniques and a wide variety of materials. Every other year, there is a Bojagi Forum in South Korea that highlights the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, displaying exquisite artwork. The next one is coming up soon, September 1-4, and I am sorry to miss it.

Youngmin Lee is skillful not only in traditional bojagi, but also in adapting it for a contemporary look. In the following first piece, she painted and layered silk organza while using traditional techniques to stitch together the layers and embellish the top. In the second piece, based on viewing mother-of-pearl black lacquerware, again she used a traditional technique to create an original image. Youngmin explains that she specifically chose the "jewel pattern" to help her reproduce the feeling and process of Korean lacquerware onto fabric. She made the piece as "an homage to the enormous labor and care that...artisans endured to prepare and inlay the natural materials on wooden surfaces." Although she used fabrics instead, she still sought to achieve the same effect of luminosity.

Contemporary bojagi (2016) by Youngmin Lee. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Contemporary bojagi (2016) by Youngmin Lee. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Detail of bojagi by Youngmin Lee. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.     

Detail of bojagi by Youngmin Lee. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

 

Contemporary bojagi by Youngmin Lee. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Contemporary bojagi by Youngmin Lee. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Detail of contemporary bojagi by Youngmin Lee. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Detail of contemporary bojagi by Youngmin Lee. Asian Art Museum, San Francisco.

Artists continue to reinterpret the designs, textures, and techniques of traditional crafts or folk art into new forms. Each artist applies his or her individual perspective in a departure from tradition, while still honoring it. That this is happening around the world, not just in Korea, reflects a desire for reinvention and originality without discarding cultural heritage. As artists mine the past for contemporary artwork, it's hard not to think that what we might have considered passé actually has timeless appeal as well as ongoing vitality and relevance.

Questions and Comments:
What traditional crafts or folk art come to mind as inspiration for new artwork?
Which artists do you consider particularly successful in translating tradition into contemporary art?
How are you mining the past in your own artwork?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Defiance in Art

Frida Kahlo (1932). Photo by Guillermo Kahlo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

Frida Kahlo (1932). Photo by Guillermo Kahlo.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

For the last month or two, I've found myself thinking about what it means to be defiant in one's art. The word defiance can be defined as "a daring or bold resistance to authority or to any opposing force"; "proud and determined opposition"; "disobedience" and "rebelliousness." In a sense, it's about not trusting the powers-that-be to tell us what kind of art to create or to love. (For fans of etymology: Latin, fi from fidareand de-, a prefix that negates). I also understand that it's about going ahead and doing something in spite of existing conditions and circumstances.

Naturally, pondering defiance led me to identify artists who exemplify it. There are too many to name here, but instantly I thought of Frida Kahlo and Judy Chicago, among lots of other women artists who defied what the establishment prescribed for and expected of women in general as well as people of color.

Selma Hortense Burke (1900-1995) in her studio. Photo by Peter A. Juley & Son. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Selma Hortense Burke (1900-1995) in her studio. Photo by Peter A. Juley & Son.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Source: amazon.com/

Source: amazon.com/

What prompted this exploration is a character in a novel I read after I returned from Poland and other recent destinations. I was sorting through some old clippings and notes at my desk, when I came across one about a book I'd intended to get from the library for quite a number of years: The Polish Woman: A Novel, by Eva Mekler. The "coincidence" of this title was not lost on me, nor that the main character, Karolina, is an artist.

While the narrative focuses on fictionalized events that occurred during and after the Holocaust, a couple of pages on Karolina's experience in an art world that didn't support her interests caught my attention. As she explains to Rosalind, another character, "it turned out bad" because her sculptures are representational, plus she works in stone, which she admits is unusual. Clearly, she loves creating sculpture, just as so many of us love creating with paints, textiles, cameras, clay, metal, paper, and other materials.

It is hard work, a kind of labor, to break down stone, to tame it. You are tired and dirty and there is dust on face and in hair, even in shoes like you have come out of a mine. But from all this smashing and pounding, you have a beautiful thing, and if you are good, you have touched something true. It is ironic to make something delicate by breaking stone, no? And after, touching what you have made...[it] is like body hunger that has become...satisfied.

"The Kiss" (1888-1898), by Auguste Rodin. Rodin Museum, Paris, France. Photo by Yair Haklai. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"The Kiss" (1888-1898), by Auguste Rodin. Rodin Museum, Paris,
France. Photo by Yair Haklai. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

What happened to Karolina in the post-war art world of Communist Poland was disheartening. It was something too many of us know well, even in democratic societies and good economic times. She had worked passionately for two years on three small pieces, "Variations on a theme by Rodin," which she conceived of "as a kind of anti-Kiss commentary on the Rodin sculpture she'd adored as an adolescent and had come to resent with the fury of a disillusioned romantic." The pieces depict a male and female nude desperately attempting to embrace, but successively moving farther away from each other until, in the last sculpture, their fingers hardly touch. Unfortunately, her efforts were not received well. She explains to Rosalind, "In the end I was told I have skill, but not imagination. My work, they said, was conventional and romantic." A friend had even taken her aside and suggested she try a different medium, such as clay or papier-mâché. She was hurt and furious:

Art has to be political to please...Soon anything is art only if it is...defiant....Empty canvas is art; a marble ball tied in middle with black string is art. Glue nails and rope together and people praise it as sculpture about repression...Perhaps I should tie myself naked to a hammer and sickle....

"Distribution 1, Bronze" (2013), by Joep van Liefland. Galerie Gebr. Lehmann, Dresden, Germany. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Distribution 1, Bronze" (2013), by Joep van Liefland. Galerie Gebr. Lehmann, Dresden, Germany. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Yes, there is important defiance in certain kinds of political art, such as the murals of Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera, Picasso's "Guernica," and much feminist art. I think of Ai Weiwei, who has been clubbed in the head and imprisoned for flouting the Chinese government's authoritarianism. But art can be defiant in other ways as well.

Mural by Diego Rivera (1886-1957). Palacio Nacional, Mexico City, Mexico. Photo by Thelma Datter. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Mural by Diego Rivera (1886-1957). Palacio Nacional, Mexico City, Mexico. Photo by Thelma Datter.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Creating or performing art can represent ultimate resistance in the face of severe deprivation and terror. At the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp during World War II, sick and starving Jewish prisoners performed Verdi's "Requiem" in spite of the appalling degradation they were suffering. Although they had only a single smuggled score, they sang the famous oratorio 16 times, including once before senior SS officials from Berlin and an International Red Cross delegation. This Mass for the dead was transformed from what the Nazis thought of as the prisoners' meek submission to their fate into an act of defiance and even therapy. Rafael Schächter, the conductor, told the chorus: "We will sing to the Nazis what we cannot say to them." He had to reconstitute the group three times as members were transported to Auschwitz. Their performances symbolized challenge to the authorities that had imprisoned them and demonstrated courage to confront the worst of humankind. For the prisoners, singing Verdi's "Requiem" was an affirmation of life. As theatre and opera director Peter Sellars has said, "During the worst times a lot of the best art is made."

From the film "Defiant Requiem." Source: http://www.defiantrequiem.org/

From the film "Defiant Requiem." Source: http://www.defiantrequiem.org/

Here's yet another take on what is defiant art or a defiant artist. If the art world clamors for figurative or representational art, yet you love to work in an abstract style and continue to do so--or vice versa--then you're defiant in your art. If the art world is fascinated by grit and violence but you prefer peace and beauty, then you're defiant in your aesthetics.

"Low Tide, Yport" (1883), by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Clark Institute of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts.

"Low Tide, Yport" (1883), by Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Clark Institute of Art, Williamstown, Massachusetts.

I remember reading that Richard Diebenkorn went back and forth between abstract and figurative styles, always to the dismay of the art critics, who favored one or the other. He defied all of them and painted what he wanted to paint when he wanted to paint it. The Impressionists were excoriated for making what were deemed "unfinished" paintings, but they did not cave in and go back to the precise and realistic details of classical work. Simply to be an artist can be an act of defiance in a world that values what it considers practical, useful, and financially desirable. 

"Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair" (1940), by Friday Kahlo. Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Source: http://www.moma.org/collection/works/78333

"Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair" (1940), by Friday Kahlo. Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Source: http://www.moma.org/collection/works/78333

Our art can be defiant in what we want to express emotionally. In "Self-Portrait with Cropped Hair," painted after her divorce from artist Diego Rivera, her unfaithful husband, Frida Kahlo asserts her independence as a woman and as an artist. She breaks with the traditional Mexican hair and clothing styles of her previous self-portraits that Rivera favored by cutting off her long flowing hair and wearing his typical garb instead. To make things absolutely clear, she also writes onto the canvas the following lyric of a Mexican song: "Look, if I loved you, it was because of your hair. Now that you are without hair, I don't love you anymore."

For the rest of us, the lyric could be reworded to reflect a too common fact: "Look, if I loved your art, it was because of your concepts and politics. Now that your art is not  au courantin the market, I don't love it anymore."

It takes guts to be an artist in the face of all kinds of opposition, authorities, and obstacles. Sometimes it's not an outside force against which artists are defiant, but an internal situation over which they have little or no control. They don't give up despite the physical or mental hand that they've been dealt. I can't help but think of the many visual artists and writers who never asked for mental illness to dog their steps. 

"Starry Night" (1889), by Vincent van Gogh. Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Starry Night" (1889), by Vincent van Gogh. Museum of Modern Art, New York City. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Vincent van Gogh is a perfect example. In June 1889, he painted "Starry Night," one of his most iconic images, at a time when he resided in the asylum at Saint-Rémy. He had voluntarily entered and accepted the restrictions of confinement. Initially, he was allowed to draw and paint only within the walls of the institution. Even when permitted to go outside, he was supervised. And he alternated between periods of stability and crises of distress. Yet he produced astonishing work that countless thousands line up to view. Vincent van Gogh defied what he didn't seem able to overcome by continuing to challenge himself as an artist and evolve his unique style. Yes, eventually, he succumbed to his demons and committed suicide, but that doesn't negate all the years of defiance.

Questions and Comments:
What do you consider defiant art?
Which artists represent defiance for you?
How are you a defiant artist?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Mutual Inspiration: Science and Art

There was a time when I narrowly thought that science and art exist at opposite ends of a spectrum. It was hard to envision Einsteins and Pollocks collaborating. Yet, according to an article I read last month in the New York Timesthat's exactly what's happening at the Center for Art, Science & Technology (CAST) of MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in Cambridge. The results are innovative, to say the least.

From the "Sandcastles" Series by Vik Muniz and Marcelo Coelho. Source: http://totb.ro/foto-castele-desenate-pe-un-graunte-de-nisip/

From the "Sandcastles" Series by Vik Muniz and Marcelo Coelho.
Source: http://totb.ro/foto-castele-desenate-pe-un-graunte-de-nisip/

For example, Brazilian artist Vik Muniz was able to etch superfine lines on a single grain of sand. It took four years of trial and error in co-operation with lab technician Marcelo Coelho at M.I.T's Media Lab. Muniz used an electron microscope with a focused ion beam to create images of castles. They were then scanned and printed large scale for a series called "Sandcastles."

The article goes on to describe other projects, including the fabrication of art pieces with trained virus cells (!) and Tomás Saraceno's utopian vision of flying around the world on one of his buoyant sculptures. His observation of spiders has led to gallery-sized web sculptures reminiscent of neural pathways and and the ever-expanding cosmos.

"Galaxy forming along filaments, like droplets along the strands of a spider´s web" (2008), by Tomás Saraceno.  Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York. Source: http://artpulsemagazine.com/venice-biennale-making-worlds

"Galaxy forming along filaments, like droplets along the strands of a spider´s web" (2008), by Tomás Saraceno. 
Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York. Source: http://artpulsemagazine.com/venice-biennale-making-worlds

I found the MIT project interesting because, a few months earlier, I had responded to Pence Gallery's call for entry on “The Consilience of Art and Science.” While my textile submissions weren't juried into the show, the chosen pieces were definitely thought-provoking. Take Anna Davidson's "Fungal Quilt," 5" x 5.5', made with fungus, potato dextrose agar, thread, and polyurethane. A scientist and an artist, Davidson invited other scientists to a quilting bee, where they created the quilt made from other organisms. Her intention was to create a dialogue between science and domesticity.

"Fungal Quilt" (2014), by Anna Davidson. Source: http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists  and http://www.clayburgcreate.com/annadavidson/anna/uncategorized/665//Davidson.html

"Fungal Quilt" (2014), by Anna Davidson. Source: http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists
and http://www.clayburgcreate.com/annadavidson/anna/uncategorized/665//Davidson.html

New Mexico fiber artist Betty Busby, inspired by biology and paleontology, creates beautifully detailed and colorful macro pieces. Made of cotton and wool, "Third Colony," 65"x42", was also in Pence's science and art show.

"Third Colony" (2012), by Betty Busby. Source:  http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists/Bushby.html

"Third Colony" (2012), by Betty Busby. Source: 
http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists/Bushby.html

Although her 12"x12" acrylic painting "Shine a Light" reminds me of stained glass windows in a cathedral, Canadian artist Pauline Truong is depicting tagged human breast cancer cells, captured by an innovative technology called Multiplexed Ion Beam Imaging (MIBI). Discovered by scientists at Stanford, UC Davis, and San Francisco, MIBI uses secondary ion mass spectrometry to image antibodies that have been labeled with pure elemental metals, which enables researchers to examine multiple proteins simultaneously.

"Shine a LIght" (2015), by Pauline Truong. Source: http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists/Truong.html

"Shine a LIght" (2015), by Pauline Truong. Source: http://www.pencegallery.org/Exhibits_2016/01_Jan/artists/Truong.html

Pence Gallery's call for entry made me reflect on what artists and scientists have in common. Rather than considering one group more right-brained and the other more left-brained, I realized that they share a great deal.

Franz Liszt (c1869), by Franz Seraph Hanfstaengl.  Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Franz Liszt (c1869), by Franz Seraph Hanfstaengl. 
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

First, there's the element of imagination, so essential to both. As Hungarian composer, pianist, and conductor Franz Liszt (1811-1886) reputedly said, "Without imagination there is no art and neither science." Without imagination, artists and scientists would not have the enthusiasm to push against the boundaries of what's already known or what's already been done, nor how we know and do.

Albert Einstein (Vienna, 1921). Photo by Ferdinand Schmutzer. https://commons.wikimedia.org

Albert Einstein (Vienna, 1921). Photo by Ferdinand Schmutzer. https://commons.wikimedia.org

Then there's the fact that scientists and artists ponder similar questions because they observe the world, working toward an understanding of life: What is our place in the universe? Who are we? What are we? Where are we headed? German-American physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955) believed that "the most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science."

While many artists work intuitively rather than logically, they still engage in a step-by-step process, just like scientists. Science and art are disciplines that embrace similar features, such as experimenting, investigating techniques and materials, exploring the environment, human and nonhuman beings, activities, weather, seasons, inner life, and more. Scientists and artists transform what they've experienced and share their perceptions, insights, perspectives, and solutions. While they use different means and mediums, they both offer discoveries we can apply or simply behold. They work long hours in labs or studios, undergoing frustration, disappointment, and failure until they achieve their goal.

T'ung Jen, Hexagram 13 of I Ching, Fellowship/Heaven over Fire

T'ung Jen, Hexagram 13 of I Ching, Fellowship/Heaven over Fire

One of the pieces I submitted to "The Consilience of Art and Science" is based on T'ung Jen, Hexagram 13 of the I Ching. To me, it represents the relationship between science and art. T'ung Jen is defined as "fellowship" and formed by the trigrams Heaven over Fire. It's about working together to attain a desired objective. Imagination from the heavenly realm (ideas out of thin air?) is forged in the fire of discipline to produce results. Artists inspire scientists and scientists inspire artists--both are groundbreakers. Scientific breakthroughs have enabled artists to use new mediums in their creativity; artistic breakthroughs have presaged scientific explanations. Differences and similarities in cooperation rather than conflict.

"T'ung Jen - Fellowship/Heaven over Fire (Hexagram 13 of I Ching)," by Mirka Knaster.

"T'ung Jen - Fellowship/Heaven over Fire (Hexagram 13 of I Ching)," by Mirka Knaster.

Questions and Comments:
How would you describe the relationship between science and art? Where is there compatibility; where is there tension?
How has science helped artists in their creative endeavors? How has art helped scientists?
How do you use science in your art?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Freedom to Create Art

Recently, my husband emailed me a link to an article in the New York Times. While he often alerts me to stories about art, this one was about women and bicycles in the Islamic Middle East, and whether they had permission from father/husband/etc. to ride. When two women, covered from head to toe, pedaled their clunkers up Salahuddin Road in Gaza, they caused quite a stir. The reporter wrote, "The sight of women on two wheels was so unusual that Alaa, 11, who was grazing sheep on the grassy median, assumed they were foreigners and shouted out his limited English vocabulary: 'Hello! One, two, three!'"

1897 advertisement in "The Graphic" for Elliman's Universal Embrocation (manufactured in Slough, England). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

1897 advertisement in "The Graphic" for Elliman's Universal Embrocation
(manufactured in Slough, England). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

In Western countries as well, women riding bicycles were a strange apparition at first. In this British advertisement from 1897, why did the man fall off his bicycle? Was he shocked at seeing a woman dressed in a bloomers outfit or at her having a bicycle? What, you might wonder, does all this have to do with art?

The Times article made me reflect on the freedoms and advantages we too easily take for granted. Had I been born 200 years ago, even 100 years ago, I highly doubt I would have had the opportunity to make the choices I've been fortunate to make and follow my heart's desires. I've never had to ask anyone for permission to ride a bicycle, get an education, write articles and books, create textile art, or travel.

Indirectly, the article also led me to the fact that March is Women's History Month, at least in the U.S., and that's where art enters the picture. 

Source: www.pittsfordschools.org

Source: www.pittsfordschools.org

Like a woman cyclist in the Middle East today, a woman artist was also once an anomaly. I still remember my university art history class (1968?): not one female artist appeared in H.W. Janson's text, History of Art. (I understand that the latest editions do include women.) It's not that women artists were non-existent; rather, Janson didn't deign to consider them worthy of being in his history of art.

National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave. NW, Washington, DC. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

I realize now that, in this regard, nothing during my student years had changed since 1944, when Wilhelmina Cole Holladay graduated Elmira College with a degree in art history. She hadn't encountered women artists in her texts either. But a trip to Europe made her aware of this gross omission when she and her husband Wallace came across paintings by 17th-century Dutch still-life artist Clara Peeters. Since they had never heard of Peeters or other women artists whose work they soon admired, the Holladays began to specialize in collecting, exhibiting, and researching women artists of all nationalities and time periods in order to highlight their accomplishments.

"Still Life with Cheeses, Artichoke, and Cherries" (1612-1618), by Clara Peeters. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Still Life with Cheeses, Artichoke, and Cherries" (1612-1618), by Clara Peeters. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

In 1981, the Holladays incorporated the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) and opened its doors in Washington, D.C., in 1987. It is dedicated to celebrating women’s achievements in the visual, performing, and literary arts. Toward that end, it has acquired more than 4,500 paintings, sculptures, works on paper, and decorative arts from as early as the 1500s. While some women artists might object to being ghettoized in this way, the museum demonstrates in a big way that art has not been confined to one gender.

"The Earth" (1984), by Kimsooja. Source: http://nmwa.org/works/earth

"The Earth" (1984), by Kimsooja. Source: http://nmwa.org/works/earth

It's also not confined to the historical limitations of the term "fine arts." This textile piece by South Korean artist Kimsooja originates from a childhood of sewing traditional bed covers with her mother and grandmother. She constructs contemporary collages from bits of old materials family members give her, then embellishes with thick embroidery thread, and adds thinned paint over the satiny jacquard fabrics for texture.

Women in the Arts, 2015. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Women in the Arts, 2015. National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Over the years, Wilhelmina created individual committees of more than 1,000 volunteers from 27 states and 7 countries, to provide educational opportunities to children through schools and such groups as the Girl Scouts, as well as offer opportunities for adults to participate in and encourage art in local communities around the world.

Because of the Holladays' efforts, I have learned about such artists as Lavinia Fontana (1552-1614), considered the first woman artist, outside of a court or convent, to work within the same sphere as her male counterparts. She was also the first to paint female nudes, and she did it all while being the principal breadwinner for the 13 members of her family.

"Self-portrait at the Clavichord with a Servant" (1576), by Lavinia Fontana. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"Self-portrait at the Clavichord with a Servant" (1576), by Lavinia Fontana. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Tewa artist Margaret Tafoya, New Mexico. Source: http://nmwa.org/

Tewa artist Margaret Tafoya, New Mexico.
Source: http://nmwa.org/

There are so many more that are new to me, from centuries ago as well as in contemporary times. I'm gratified to learn that they've all successfully risen to the challenge of creating art, whatever their conditions and circumstances.

During Women's History Month, I acknowledge not only famous women artists, but also those who are creatively engaged and expressive everywhere, in particular, those who struggle against the kinds of restraints women encounter in something as basic--at least to me--as riding a bicycle.

For her 2008 documentary "Unveiled Views: Muslim Women Artists Speak Out," Spanish filmmaker Alba Sotorra hitchhiked from Barcelona to Pakistan to meet five women she finds extraordinary. Three of them pursue their creative passions despite the obstacles: filmmaker Rakshan Bani-Ehmad pushes Iran's censorship rules to the stretching point; Afghan poet Moshagan Saadat survived the Taliban; and dancer Nahid Siddiqui is forced by politics to practice her art outside her native Pakistan. You can see them in this trailer.

Pakistani dancer Nahid Siddiqui in "Unveiled Views." Source: diasporafilmfest.com

Pakistani dancer Nahid Siddiqui in "Unveiled Views." Source: diasporafilmfest.com

These and so many other women (men too, of course, but this is Women's History Month) inspire us to test and go beyond limitations, whether we impose them on ourselves or they're imposed on us by others. These women also demonstrate that expressing one's art can be as vital as eating and drinking.

Questions and Comments:
What woman or women in your own life or in history have inspired you to be an artist or to appreciate others' art?

How are you inspiring others to feel free to express themselves artistically--to write, to sing, to play an instrument, to compose music, to garden, to paint, to sew, to sculpt...?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Responding Artistically to Our Times

If I didn't articulate the question before, I certainly can't help asking it now that I've watched Liz Garbus' documentary on Nina Simone (1933-2003), "What Happened, Miss Simone?": What is our role as artists or what is the role of art in responding to the times?

Nina Simone (1965), photo by Ron Kroon/Anefo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Nina Simone (1965), photo by Ron Kroon/Anefo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Legendary singer-songwriter Simone was part of my growing up years in the 1960s. I didn't know then that she was trained as a musical prodigy in segregated Tryon, North Carolina, and aspired to be the first African-American classical pianist. Sadly, the times were against it. At 19, she applied to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, but wasn't accepted, and she knew why--her skin color. Because she needed to make money, she wound up singing pop, jazz, and R & B at a club in Atlantic City. She created the stage name Nina Simone rather than use her given name, Eunice Waymon, for fear her preacher mother would find out she was singing "the Devil's music."

Civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965). Photo by Peter Pettus. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

Civil rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965). Photo by Peter Pettus. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

Although she never fulfilled her dream, Simone became iconic in another way, celebrated for her signature vocals. When the civil rights movement went into full swing, she responded with unflinching courage. She used her voice and platform to record civil rights-themed songs, such as "Mississippi Goddam," "Baltimore," "To Be Young, Gifted & Black," and "Backlash Blues."

Civil rights protesters on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965). Photo by Peter Pettus. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

Civil rights protesters on the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama (1965). Photo by Peter Pettus. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/.

In the film, she talks about being an artist of her times and unhesitatingly states that artists have to respond to the times they live in. They have the power to do something about what's going on in their world. While her political songs inspired, brought together, and heartened people seeking racial equality, that music also cost Simone her successful artistic career in America. She left for Africa, and then spent the rest of her life in Europe, where she eventually made a comeback.

Nina Simone, Morlaix Concert in Bretagne, France (1982). Photo by Roland Godefroy. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Nina Simone, Morlaix Concert in Bretagne, France (1982). Photo by Roland Godefroy. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

As artists, how do we respond to our times? Simone did it with protest songs. American author Upton Sinclair (1878-1968) did it with muckraking books. For example, in 1906, his classic novel, The Jungle, exposed horrendous conditions in the U.S. meat packing industry and caused a public uproar that, a few months later, helped bring about passage of the 1906 Pure Food and Drug Act and the Meat Inspection Act. After the Nazis devastated the Basque town of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) responded by painting "Guernica." It was exhibited widely and brought world attention to the war in Spain. In his statement read to the American Artists Congress in New York in 1937, he said:

Artists who live and work with spiritual values cannot and should not remain indifferent to a conflict in which the highest values of humanity and civilization are at stake.

"Guernica" (1937), by Pablo Picasso. Source: http://www.pablopicasso.org/guernica.jsp

"Guernica" (1937), by Pablo Picasso. Source: http://www.pablopicasso.org/guernica.jsp

American documentary photographer Dorothea Lange (1895-1965) responded to the Great Depression of the 1930s by humanizing the tragic hardship and desperate poverty she witnessed during those years. 

"Migrant Mother" (1936), by Dorothea Lange, Farm Security Administration. Library of Congress. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Migrant Mother" (1936), by Dorothea Lange, Farm Security Administration. Library of Congress. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (1932). Photo by Karl Von Vechten. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera (1932). Photo by Karl
Von Vechten. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Strongly influenced by the Mexican Revolution in 1914/15 and the Russian Revolution in 1917, Mexican artist Diego Rivera (1886-1957) changed directions from Cubism and Post-Impressionism. He turned to murals depicting the struggles of the working class and native peoples he grew up around as well as the political agendas he favored. His wife, Frida Kahlo (1907-1954), although deeply affected by indigenous Mexican culture, created a body of work in which self-portraits predominated. Clearly, not every artist responds the same way.

There are so many other musicians, painters, sculptors, and writers I could cite from the past. Today there are also countless artists responding to physical and cultural genocide, racism, homelessness, homophobia, xenophobia, women's rights, human trafficking, the global refugee crisis, political repression, cruelty to animals, environmental degradation, extinction of flora and fauna, and so much more. I know some of them and have the seen the work of others.

Part of Diego Rivera's "History of Mexico" mural at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City, with images of Emiliano Zapata, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, and José Guadalupe Rodríquez behind a banner featuring the Zapatista slogan, Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Part of Diego Rivera's "History of Mexico" mural at the Palacio Nacional in Mexico City, with images
of Emiliano Zapata, Felipe Carrillo Puerto, and José Guadalupe Rodríquez behind a banner featuring
the Zapatista slogan, Tierra y Libertad (Land and Liberty). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

Still, not every artist is an activist in this obvious way. That doesn't mean artists are not responding to the times they live in. Sometimes, they have their biggest impact obliquely. Rather than depict war scenes, some prefer to paint peaceful landscapes or compose music that conveys a sense of serenity. Rather than portray human cruelty and violence, some prefer to create images of kindness and compassion. An artistic response can also be an abstract expression of our innermost feelings and thoughts rather than blatant pictures of atrocities. There's no formula for responding to our times. But in an age of instantaneous international communication, how can we not know what's happening? Do we feel called artistically to do something about it?

Questions and Comments:
What issues move you to create art that expresses your opinion about them?
If you are not politically inclined to bring attention to an injustice or crisis, how do you respond to the times you live in? 
How do you respond to art that is clearly a protest against some inequity? Does it stimulate you into taking action? Or are you not drawn to it because it horrifies and depresses you?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

What If You Can't See?

As artists and as viewers of art, what loss are we most likely to consider catastrophic? For many, if not most, it's no longer being able to see. On occasion, I have wondered how I would manage to continue expressing my creativity were my vision to fade away or my hands not function. How would I thread a needle? How would I cut cloth? How would I arrange patterns, colors, and textures to complement each other? How would I know whether my overall composition works?

Wool skeins naturally dyed with indigo, lac, madder, and tesu by Himalayan Weavers in Mussoorie, India. www.himalayanweavers.org. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Wool skeins naturally dyed with indigo, lac, madder, and tesu by Himalayan Weavers in Mussoorie, India. www.himalayanweavers.org. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Although I don't recall ruminating on this during January, curiously, I received several communications that included internet links about blind artists, along with an editor's invitation to interview a blind photographer in my own community. So, of course, I decided to explore the topic and discover what it might teach me.

Sargy Mann. Source: www.digtriad.com

Sargy Mann. Source: www.digtriad.com

It all started when a painter friend emailed me a vimeo link about British painter Sargy Mann (1937-2015), with whom I wasn't familiar. At the age of 36, he was diagnosed with congenital myopia and cataracts and then with retinal detachments and ulcerated corneas. Despite multiple surgeries, by the time he turned 50, he was certifiably blind.  Yet, just before he died last year, he asserted that, rather than stop him in his tracks, this condition actually made him see better, see more.

"Frances in the Corner Chair," by Sargy Mann. Source: www.cadogancontemporary.com

"Frances in the Corner Chair," by Sargy Mann. Source: www.cadogancontemporary.com

In the video, Mann is preparing for an upcoming TED talk. He says, "I wondered long and hard why the paintings I've made since being totally blind are as good as they are and, indeed, quite a lot of people think they're the best things I've ever done." He thought that perhaps previous to losing his sight, he'd been too timid and too influenced by the vision and experience of the master artists he revered. When he went out to choose a subject to paint, he was choosing one that Monet or Bonnard would have chosen, rather than his own. Once he became blind, that option was no longer available and, interestingly, it led him into a more personal world, one that was his own experience and own way of responding to it.

"Infinity Pool III," by Sargy Mann. Source: https://www.cadogancontemporary.com/

"Infinity Pool III," by Sargy Mann. Source: https://www.cadogancontemporary.com/

As a result, Mann didn't grieve or wallow in self-pity. Instead, he began to understand that perception involves more than just vision. According to an obituary in the The Guardian, he stated, “So much of it goes on in the head. Experience starts with touch." He simply kept working out how to paint while his brain found new ways to see the world. As he applied a pigment to canvas, he had a sensation of seeing the color. Unexpectedly, with blindness came breakthroughs: the freedom and courage to use color with more daring and expressiveness as well as to engage more intimately with his subject.

.Sargy Mann. Source: www.facebook.com

.Sargy Mann. Source: www.facebook.com

In an interview with the BBC, Mann explained, "Reasonably enough, people always want to know how I arrive at the color in my paintings when I can't see at all. It is worth mentioning here that most people, I think, dream in full and perfect color. I certainly do, and when one is asleep, one is perceptually blind, so the brain can do it--though God knows how. I can imagine color and color combinations pretty well and I wonder, is it so very different from a composer or arranger of music working on manuscript paper, thinking 'I would like the theme in flute and clarinet, against strings and French horns'? In the paintings I have made since losing all my sight...the last 10 years, I cover the whole canvas from my imaginings and my knowledge of my pigments and how they look in different combinations."

"Busto del canonico Francesco Chiarenti" (1640), by Giovanni Gonnelli, Museo del vetro, Gambassi Terme. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

"Busto del canonico Francesco Chiarenti" (1640), by Giovanni Gonnelli, Museo del vetro, Gambassi Terme. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

For Mann, drawing and painting became "almost like a sixth sense.” For Italian sculptor Giovanni Gonnelli, also known as il cieco da Gambassi  or "the blindman from Gambassi" (1603–1664), touch and "inner" vision enabled him to sculpt again in clay after he went blind. He received praise and patronage from such important figures as the Grand Duke of Tuscany and Pope Urban VIII.

I came across many other artists who did/do not let impaired sight keep them from pursuing their creative passions. Between 1916 and 1926, French painter Claude Monet (1840-1926) managed to work on 12 canvases of his celebrated series The Water Lilies, even though he was nearly blind by 1923.

"The Water Lily Pond" (c. 1917-19), by Claude Monet. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

"The Water Lily Pond" (c. 1917-19), by Claude Monet. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Today, there are organizations that support and exhibit artists who are visually challenged. For example, you can see some of their work on The Blind Artists Society website and read about international artists on another webpage. There's no way to discern that the art was created by a blind person.

What I've gleaned from viewing the artwork and learning the artists' stories is that fear of loss is a waste of time and energy. As creative individuals, they all found new ways of continuing to express themselves, often better than they had before. Any of us could do the same.

[In a future post, I'll share what I'm learning about how blind photographers are able to use light to keep making photographs.]

Questions and Comments:
What do you fear losing as an artist?
Do you know artists who have lost their sight or other functions? How did they deal with it? Do you think their artwork actually got better? If so, why?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.

Being True to Your Art

As the new year began, two well known but divergent artists made their final farewell: Pierre Boulez (1925-2016), French composer and conductor, on January 5; David Bowie (1947-2016), English singer, songwriter, musician, and record producer, on January 10. Though they lived in radically different realms of music, they shared some similar opinions about creativity.

Pierre Boulez at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium (2004).  Photo by Franganillo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Pierre Boulez at the Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium (2004). 
Photo by Franganillo. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

n a recent email, one of my readers cites Boulez for his influence on her determination to stay true to the art she wants to make, not the art that anyone else might expect or the art that captures the latest market trends. In an interview, Boulez said:  You must not think really of reaching an audience. You must think first to express yourself.
That means creating anew, rather than relying on the same old familiar things that have become comfortable and garner public appreciation, not bothering to change. Because of his constant experimentation, Boulez often met with criticism and was called an enfant terrible. That never stopped him.

Bowie was a master of shapeshifting, embodying multiple musical styles and personae, even becoming a painter and an art collector. His philosophy about creativity? He liked to shake things up: 

Every time I’ve made a radical change it’s helped me feel buoyant as an artist.

David Bowie at Rock am Ring Park Music Festival, Germany (1987). Photo by Jo Atmon. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

David Bowie at Rock am Ring Park Music Festival, Germany (1987). Photo by Jo Atmon. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

The emails I received about the passing of these musical stars coincided with an email from another reader. Her anecdote resonates with the statements they made. As one of the only fiber artists in a show, she learned that, in the gallery's guest book, one visitor left the following comment: ""Why is there fiber? It is not art." A lively debate ensued. The upshot was that, afterward, the person who wrote the comment conceded that he was starting to understand, like the galleries themselves, that fiber art, in its many forms, is ART.

The people engaged in fiber art could bypass the barriers and rejections as well as the lack of understanding and simply take up watercolor or oil painting, long considered fine art. But, as Boulez remarked, first we need to express ourselves--in the medium and ways in which we want to express ourselves. People have to catch up with us, rather than we have to follow their dictates.

From Wassily Kandinsky (1913). Rückblicke. Berlin: Sturm Verlag. Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

From Wassily Kandinsky (1913).
Rückblicke. Berlin: Sturm Verlag.
Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/

When Russian painter and art theorist Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) disappointed the critics with an exhibition in Berlin in which he didn't present what he'd done before (the explosive colors of his Munich period), he reacted against them with these words:

They barricade themselves against anything new. But this is precisely where the artist's task lies: to fight, to paint against the commonplace. Art must push forward. Mere explosions in art are ultimately boring.

It's not surprising that all these quotes came to me in this past week. Before 2015 ended, I knew of at least five fiber art shows in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area, though there were probably more. I had a chance to visit four of them (and had two of my own works in one of them). Given the person's negative reaction to fiber as not being art, it was extraordinary to have all these exhibitions running simultaneously--two in museums, two in arts centers, and one in a community foundation building. To me, this is an indication that people, museums, and galleries are finally catching up with what others have known for a long time: You can be as artistic with fiber as you can be with clay, oils, watercolors, ink, or marble, maybe even more so.

What follows is a mere handful of images (there are hundreds) from these shows demonstrating the vast variety of fiber artists being true to expressing themselves, whether there's an audience or not. It turns out there is one, and it's growing.

"Puku, Puku, Puchi, Puchi," by Yoko Kataoka (Tokyo). "Best of Show" at Fiber Arts VII (2015), Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

"Puku, Puku, Puchi, Puchi," by Yoko Kataoka (Tokyo). "Best of Show" at Fiber Arts VII (2015), Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

Detail of "Puku, Puku, Puchi, Puchi" (stainless mesh, paper, yarn, indigo, pencil), by Yoko Kataoka (Tokyo).  "Best of Show" at Fiber Arts VII (2015), Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

Detail of "Puku, Puku, Puchi, Puchi" (stainless mesh, paper, yarn, indigo, pencil), by Yoko Kataoka (Tokyo). 
"Best of Show" at Fiber Arts VII (2015), Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

"Collecting Shadows" (flax, sewing yarn), by Raija Jokinen (Helsinki). Fiber Arts VII, Sebastopol Center for the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

"Collecting Shadows" (flax, sewing yarn), by Raija Jokinen (Helsinki). Fiber Arts VII, Sebastopol Center for
the Arts, Sebastopol, CA.

"Parallel Dimensions" (recycled wool, wool blends, cotton)), by Maureen Whalen Cole. STRATA, SAQA  Northern California/Northern Nevada, Harrington Gallery, Firehouse Arts Center, Pleasanton CA.

"Parallel Dimensions" (recycled wool, wool blends, cotton)), by Maureen Whalen Cole. STRATA, SAQA
Northern California/Northern Nevada, Harrington Gallery, Firehouse Arts Center, Pleasanton CA.

"Grey Funnel" (continuous grey ribbon), by Sabine Reckewell. The Sculpted Fiber, The Art Museum of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, CA.

"Grey Funnel" (continuous grey ribbon), by Sabine Reckewell. The Sculpted Fiber, The Art Museum of Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, CA.

"Annie Creek" (textiles, weaving), by George-Ann Bowers. FiberSHED, The Marin Community Foundation, Novato, CA.

"Annie Creek" (textiles, weaving), by George-Ann Bowers. FiberSHED, The Marin Community Foundation, Novato, CA.

"Bridge 4" (merino wool, yak, silk, mixed media), by Jenne Giles. FiberSHED, The Marin Community Foundation, Novato, CA.

"Bridge 4" (merino wool, yak, silk, mixed media), by Jenne Giles. FiberSHED, The Marin Community Foundation,
Novato, CA.

Questions and Comments:
What does it take to be true to your creative vision, regardless of what's currently popular?
What holds you back from taking the next leap in your artwork and not caring what anyone else thinks?
Does it disturb you when an artist takes a different direction from his/her work that you love? If so, why?

*Note: To view the conversation that was started on the former Weebly site of this blog and add your comment, click here or to start a new conversation, click "Comment" below.