Posts Tagged ‘Malcolm Gladwell’

After the Blood Moon

September 28, 2015

image

There’s a pervasive myth, shared by artists and non-artists alike, that art is a product of genius, madness or serendipity. Wrong. Art is not the chance offspring of some cosmic (or genetic) roll of the dice. Art is mostly a product of hard work. When you look back on the results of a lifetime of artmaking, even the role that talent played is insignificant. Living life productively, your artwork will take care of itself. If you do not live your life productively, nothing will save your artwork–not even talent. 

Ted Orland, The View from the Studio Door

Last night, while watching the beautiful “super moon” eclipse, I realized I did not have a journal with me as I did on the night of September 26, 1996. I was so thrilled on that night, that I dashed back into my house, retrieved some prismacolor pencils and tried my best to render what I saw in the heavens that night. Last night, I just sat back in a lawn chair and enjoyed. I had just finished unloading my gear from a three-day art festival and was bone-tired, and though I knew I had to get up early today to return to school, I owed it to myself to sit and enjoy a phenomenon that won’t be around again for another eighteen years.

Today I recall three days’ worth of conversations I enjoyed with art patrons at the South Street Art Festival. They often express amazement at the number of watercolor images I have hanging in my booth, along with trunks and crates filled with them. And they wonder how one person could produce so many paintings. The answer to that is simple: watercolor requires very little time to complete a composition. And in addition to that, I have been watercoloring more seriously since 1999–sixteen years now. And in addition to that–for the past four years, my production has increased from ten-to-fifteen paintings per year to over a hundred. That adds up to a large body of work. Unfortunately my art doesn’t sell fast enough to clean out my inventory, so the paintings accumulate. I appreciate it when someone tells me I have talent, but the reality is that I work hard to produce. And I’m hard on myself regarding self-critique. I want to improve. My deep-set belief is that anyone devoting hours, days, weeks, months, and years to doing a task is going to improve significantly as time moves on. Malcolm Gladwell, in his celebrated book Outliers, has made the argument that successful people have dedicated 10,000 hours to maturing their craft. I like that general rule. And as for my own work, I would rather look at one of my paintings from 2015 than 1999. The major difference is the number of hours’ experience I have piled up as the years unrolled. If I have any regrets now, it is the reality that I stopped making art from 1976 to about 1988, and I often wonder how my work would look now if there were not that hiatus from that past. No regrets actually–It was during those years that I was deeply immersed in graduate study, and I still believe that my ideas and experiences matured during those “silent” years.

Thanks for reading.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal when I feel alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Finding One’s Passion in the Midst of the 10,000-Hour Rule

July 8, 2013
Stage Coach Hotel, Fort Worth Stockyards District

Stage Coach Hotel, Fort Worth Stockyards District

Every art form conveys a message.  When an artist is young and still learning, that message is usually about technique: see what I can do.  Decorative art has a perfectly valid message, one of beauty.  As we mature, in both our art and in our life, we learn to understand our passions and these then become the subject we express in our works.  But at the same time, passion is not the only source of expression because thought can also come into play.  So an artist’s expression evolves from the heart (passion), the brain (thought) or a combination of the two (with usually an emphasis on one or the other).  

Alex Powers, (Interview) The Art of Watercolour, 2nd issue

I am posting my second attempt at watercolor sketching the Stage Coach Hotel in the Fort Worth Stockyard District.  When I photographed this portal a couple of weeks ago in late afternoon, the temperatures had already reached triple digits.  My eye was “held” at the richness of reds in the sun-damaged door, and the smoky, grimy window panes that survived above.  I couldn’t stop looking at these details, and took quite a number of photographs of the subject.  I knew I wanted to take this one back to the studio and see if I could make something of it.

Following the thread from the Alex Powers interview, I am finally settling down to watercoloring my passion after years of adding techniques and tricks to my toolbox.  Reading Robert Henri’s The Art Spirit finally got my attention about that–it is time to let techniques support my objective in painting rather than building “interesting” paintings on a myriad of techniques.  The immediate result is that my paintings are coming along even faster now, and I’m spending less time combing through my toolbox for gimmicks to toss out onto the painting.

Portals have fascinated me for decades, but it wasn’t until this past winter that I took my first crack at painting close-up studies of door knobs.  I next turned my attention to the surfaces of weathered old doors.  When the spring came around, I began experimenting with screen door compositions.  All of these studies took place in my studio.  For the past few weeks I have been traveling about, painting portals on site and enjoying the speed and decision-making of plein air painting.  Now that Texas has settled into its inferno summer temperatures, I am perusing photographs that I’ve taken of these portals and making plans for additional compositions.  All of this has been fulfilling for me.  I don’t know how to explain my passion for the subjects I paint.  I suppose I could just toss out the adage: for those who don’t understand, no explanation is possible; for those who do, none is necessary.

I have probably mentioned in earlier blogs that I play guitar.  I have not been able to accomplish with music what I have with the visual arts.   I suppose that would fall somewhere under the “10,000- Hour” rule of Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers.  I have easily put in my 10,000 hours of study and application in the visual arts.  On guitar, well that’s another story.  But my point in opening with the quote from Alex Powers is this: younger, less experienced artists can easily get caught up in the fascination of learning many, many techniques and tricks that “wow” the observer, just as many younger, less experienced guitar players load up their toolboxes with tricks and gimmicks to stun listeners with their performance.  And yet, many young and less experienced artists still do not know how to build a painting, just as many guitar players in the same class cannot play a single song all the way through.  And when they do (painters and guitar players), they often show creative flourishes, but not a finished masterpiece.  I don’t say this with the sadness that I used to: when I play guitar, I am conscious that I can play all the notes correctly and sometimes even keep my timing consistent.  But the “soul” is not there.  My guitar does not gently weep.  My listeners do not feel what I feel, because it is not  coming through my fingers, not emerging from my guitar.  I have witnessed scores of guitar gods playing my instrument, and I would swear that it was not the same instrument.  I marveled at how they coaxed that sound, that soul, from my acoustic box.  At this point, I still cannot.

I used to complain this way about my paintings–that they were fine illustrations, ably constructed, correctly rendered, and so on.  But now, I want feelings and moods to emerge from my pictures, not gimmicks.  I want viewers to see my work, and feel what I felt in constructing it.  And, to borrow a line from Hemingway: “I’m not there, but I feel I’m getting closer.”  I am more excited about painting now than I ever recall feeling before.  Because I know what I want.  I know what I seek.  The passion is there.  And I’m starting to believe that the passion can emerge from my brush.  Who knows? Maybe some day passion will rise from my guitar strings as well.  But, one thing at a time.

Thanks for reading.  Sorry if this was too much navel-gazing.  It’s been on my mind awhile now.

I paint in order to remember.

I journal because I feel that I am alone.

I blog to remind myself that I am not alone.

Rapid Watercolor Pencil Sketch of Methodist Church Tower

September 21, 2011

Provincetown Methodist Church Tower

Quality time for art work today was near-zero.  Another lousy public school day–too many classes and responsibilities and bureaucratic crap to tend.  Tonight was a grading night till near midnight.  I will rise at 5:00 tomorrow morning, as I did the last two mornings, for no other reason than catching up on school responsibilities.

During a lull in one of my classes today, I attempted a super-quick rendering of this, taken from Edward Hopper’s 1930 watercolor of a Methodist Church in Provincetown, Massachusetts.  He accomplished this feat from the backseat of a Dodge, somehow folding his 6’5″ frame inside that small space, and balancing a vertical 25 x 20″ watercolor page.  At least I had the luxury of standing at a teacher’s desk.

I used Prismacolor watercolor pencils exclusively on this quick study.  I’m trying to open up another avenue of watercolor exploration, working only in watercolor pencils, and avoiding the Winsor & Newton tube paints or cakes from my plein air hand-size palette.  I’m still trying to get used to the new experience, and feel that this is the best of my pieces in the past three days.  I only have 20 minutes  total invested in this one, and think that if I could give one, uninterrupted hour to an endeavor such as this (I think I never got even 5 minutes of non-interruption on this one), that I could crank out something halfway decent.  I’m starting to get a feel for the pencils on architectural details.  Who knows, maybe tomorrow?  I wouldn’t bank on that.  Tomorrow I have 4 classes in 4 classrooms on 2 floors–worse than today’s ridiculous schedule.

So, why am I doing this?  For a number of reasons.  One:  school this year is a farce.  I have an assignment to teach four different subjects, and every-other-day I have to change classrooms with every bell.  I’m not a pediatrician who is able to stroll briskly from one examination room to the next, keeping separate the prescriptions and diagnoses of male and female children from infancy to pre-teen.  I just cannot do that the way I did twenty years ago.  My brain is scattered and I’m having problems keeping the disciplines of Art I, Advanced Placement Art History, Regular Art History and Philosophy flying in proper, linear formations.  Aside from the teaching there is the grading, accountability, attendance, disciplinary and intervention issues.  How could any administration, locally or statewide, really believe such a feat possible?  And this will last the entire academic year.

Two.  My passion now is to make art.  I used to live for the classroom.  My heart used to beat for the classroom.  Posturing politicians and political administrators managed to kill that for the time being.  Right now, making art matters to me, not crossing all the “t’s” and dotting all the “i’s” for administrative, vacuous political paperwork and bureaucracy.

Three.  For the past several years, the issue of productivity has weighed heavily on me as a practicing visual artist.  I finally realize that talent doesn’t matter.  If one doesn’t produce, who cares if s/he has talent?  If one does not make art, who cares about his/her aesthetics or theories?  No one.  If an artist is going to be authentic, s/he has to be prolific.  I used to average 10-15 watercolors a year, and used my school job as an excuse.  I didn’t have time.  I made a New Year’s resolution in January 2010 to create 30 watercolors by year’s end.  I made nearly 100.  I have not bothered to count the watercolors of 2011, but one day I will.  Maybe I will not reach 100, but I certainly have made more than 10-15.  Sometimes I average one a day.  Many times I average one a week.  Large 20 x 30 compositions I have managed to complete in less than two weeks.  I am now making art more than ever before in my life, and in that I do find a genuine delight, even if the world around me crumbles.  This is one thing over which I can exert control.

I’m inspired when I learn that Bach wrote a cantata a week, in the service of the church.  Some of them were not that good, but he still produced.  I learned that Jean-Paul Sartre and T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were capable of churning out unheard-of numbers of manuscript pages per day.  And yes, some of the work was sub-standard.  But they produced.  Artists produce plenty of good work along with plenty of bad work.  But they produce, period.

Four.  The blog.  This daily exercise in blogging keeps me working in the enterprise of making art.  I feel an accountability.  Though I’m not a copy editor of a newspaper facing daily deadlines, I do feel the interior deadline of the blog, daily, and have for a long time.  When I don’t put out a blog for the day, I feel that I have not turned in my homework.  I feel that I have not completed my 40 hours for the week.  The blog is always there.  I’m grateful for all my subscribers, for all my daily readers, and for the wonderful network connections that continually find ways to fling my words and images out before an audience.  And so, I continue to make art to feed the blog.

Five.  10,000 hours.  That is the magic number from Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers.  It takes 10,000 hours of practicing one’s craft to achieve excellence.  This is a fascinating book.  I don’t know if I’ve turned in my 10,000 hours, but I’m conscious that I will not improve on my art if I don’t repeat the practice, the discipline, and at the same time push myself in new directions, flexing aesthetic muscle.

And so I keep at it, and this is a Quality part of my life right now.  Thanks always for reading.