« On Painting

Peace – Art’s First Rule

Originally posted on November, 7, 2007

"Misty Morning", watercolor and dry pastel, 38cm x 29cm, 100% cotton paper, 2007

It has been said that the first rule in painting is that there are no rules. Also, it has been said that a painting begins with an “idea?. I believe that both of these conflicting statements to be false. It is not to say that a painting may not begin with an idea. It is to say that an idea is not an integral part. Within the limitations of a short essay I can only suggest why I think so. Even if I was to persuasively argue this position many people would still not agree. Such are many popular firmly held convictions. I will, however, return in future articles to this problem. It is vitally important today.

Not only for the artist painter, but for the artist generally, peace and tranquillity are absolutely prerequisite. It is for this reason that I believe that it is impossible to teach art. Aesthetic sensibility is not something you can learn. Artistic sensibilities are the natural result of peace and calm in one’s life and much contact with nature. You cannot teach this in a classroom or a workshop. Impossible! This for the same reason, “we do not sing because we are happy, we are happy because we sing?.

If you are one of the few people who are actually reading this article I can only tell you this: It is not the things in life that you do not know that are the problem, it is the things that you think that you know that are not so.

Very, very few people can grasp the importance of what I’m saying: Almost nobody gets it. It is too simple. Our minds have been conditioned to look for complex problems to solve. Yet the great minds among us pursuing scientific problems find their solutions when they relax and do and think of other things. This has been documented countless times. Most of our important scientific discoveries have happened this way.

Back to the problem at hand: artistic creativity. Finding the core of our creative instincts may be like pealing an onion. We simplify our lives one small piece at a time. The instinct for positive emotions and creative work is innate. We cannot find it by looking in our minds. It is in our hearts. Tranquillity and peace is the golden rule. It is the only rule. There are no other rules.

Published in french as Être en paix – principale règle de l’art

On the beach

Originally posted on October, 30, 2007

My artistic path took its annual detour this last month. Walking up and down a sandy beach in Normandy during October recharges my batteries.

It seems that a large part of my thinking concerns the status of the individual artist. How is the individual to withstand the global cultural tsunami?

Such activity, be it walking a beach or a mountain trail is my way of keeping perspective. The main casualty, it seems, of the technological zeitgeist is the reasoning intellect. Without the support of the sensitive feeling and aesthetic sensibilities rational thought becomes cold and hollow. We risk allowing the cult of the new to control our lives: individually and collectively.

It is simple but it is not easy to maintain this understanding. Since I see almost nobody doing it, myself included, it must be indeed quite difficult.

The last year or two I’ve spent much time reading what the political and social pundits [sic] are saying. They are not saying anything different from what they were saying 40, 100 or 200 years ago. The current situation has dramatically changed but the underlying fundamentals of our societies have not evolved. Change is not progress in an evolutionary sense. It seems we’ve been pretty much stuck for about 400 years now.

As an artist, if we are to dig below the surface of things, we must get off the social treadmill. Our job is to isolate the deeper truth of reality, internalize and then clothe it symbolically. Like I said, it is simple but not easy.

See you on the beach,

Published in french as Sur la plage

Follow your heart: buy the painting you like

Originally posted on September, 16, 2007

“Contemporary art has become a gage of trendiness, if not necessarily good taste?” (see: Art or entertainment?.)

Current wisdom dictates that if you are making an investment in contemporary painting you do not buy something that you like. On the contrary, you follow the route that is being followed by investors in the know: you invest in a painter.

  1. First and foremost you never buy a new or recent painting as an investment. You instead buy a new or recent painter.
  2. If you do not have the inclination, time, or money, this is not a problem. This is the specialty of most contemporary art galleries. Their game is finding the right artists and inflating their prices.
  3. Assume that this painter’s name is known by at least 3 people in the second echelon of the art world: maybe a critic for a monthly publication, or the ex-wife of a collector. These people can be helpful when the times come to circulate the painter’s name.
  4. Make sure that your artist has talent or personality. Or in lieu of talent, flash or a new style of painting will substitute.
  5. His personality needs to last at least three years. So deeper character is not important. In three years you will have secured your investment and turned a reasonable profit.
  6. Obtain the services of a good public relation person. For a modest fee this will get your artist’s name into the society- columns and onto semi-society guest lists.
  7. For a little more this person can get exposure for your name to help your investment (i.e., “well known patron of the art…? or “Noted collector…? etc.).
  8. Next, you purchase a one-man/woman show at a good gallery. This may cost you 15,000 to 20,000 € but it is a bargain. It brings you a winner and gives your reputation a big boost at the same time.
  9. Of course you invite critics to this show. Pray that they will like at least two of the paintings.
  10. Subsidize a few friends to buy a few paintings. Nothing will motivate investors to buy than seeing those little red dots.
  11. During this show, find someone with time, money, and patience to take your artist around cocktail parties and teach him some basic manners: Also the typical artist-at-party chit-chat.

Read the rest of "Follow your heart: buy the painting you like"

Buy an artist: the other end of the painting spectrum

Originally posted on August, 30, 2007

Chinese painting has been long an inspiration for me. My last article addressed the impact of neo-liberalism on today’s painters in China. I spoke of one end of the spectrum: the mass production which to me is abominable. In order to better understand neo-liberalism we need to look at the other end of the spectrum: China’s elite winners and shakers of contemporary painting.

I think that this recent example of their good fortune says it all (link). A few short years ago this painting with its strong political overtones was being strongly suppressed in China. Now they are being co-opted. If you cannot kill the message buy the messenger. Neo-liberalism does not take hostages. You are either with them or against them.

Sichaun Province in western China is building personal museums for 8 artists (Zhang Xiaogang, Wang Guangyi, Fang Lijun, Yue Minjun, Zhou Chunya, He Duoling, Zhang Peili and Wu Shanzhuan). The province provided land and about 13 millions dollars for the buildings.

In the 90’s these artists sold works for $100. Now some artists are selling pieces for more than 2 millions dollars. All have in this short time become millionaires. Now that is a winner in anybody’s terms. Also it epitomizes the black and white mentality of the neo-liberal philosophy. In China today you have sweatshop painters receiving 18ct per painting on the one hand; on the other hand, here you have an elitist getting more than 2 millions dollars. The question, at least for me arises as to what motivates this high rolling artist? Is it the money? Or better stated, did it become the money? If you are curious you can google these artists and look at their art.

Published in french as Acheter un artiste : l’autre bout de la gamme de la peinture.

« On Painting