Working Isn’t Lonely

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“When you’re working very hard you’re not lonely; you are the whole damn world.”

—Shelby Foote (1915-2005) writer

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Writing with Pictures: Poetic Advice

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Stanly Kunitz, in the August 1988 issue of The  Paris Review, described well the process of getting art from the head to the page. As a believer that illustration is “writing with pictures,” I often find advice from writers to be particularly use in my teaching and professional practice.

“The poem in the head is always perfect. Resistance starts when you try to convert it into language. Language itself is a kind of resistance to the pure flow of self. The solution is to become one’s language. You cannot write a poem until you hit upon its rhythm. That rhythm not only belongs to the subject matter, it belongs to your interior world, and the moment they hook up there’s a quantum leap of energy. You can ride on that rhythm, it will carry you somewhere strange. The next morning you look at the page and wonder how it all happened. You have to triumph over all your diurnal glibness and cheapness and defensiveness.”

Stanley Kunitz (1905-2006) won many awards for his writing including the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Pize. He was the U.S. Poet Laureate in 2000.

Ruskin On Style: Go Your Own Way

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In 1857 the opinioned and influencial British critic, artist, writer and educator John Ruskin put out a beginner’s drawing book in which he laid down the laws of that he believed on the subject. While there’s plenty to disagree with in his heavy-handed tract, I found it enjoyable and enlightening to read. Here’s my favorite screed from the book in which he encourages artists to push towards individuality in their work and against the forces of  assimilation, which exist in every age.

And herein the great masters separate themselves finally from the inferior ones; for if the men of inferior genius ever express law at all, it is by the sacrifice of individuality.

Thus, Salvator Rosa has great perception of the sweep of foliage and rolling of clouds, but never draws a single leaflet or mist wreath accurately. Similarly, Gainsborough, in his landscape, has great feeling for masses of form and harmony of color; but in the detail gives nothing but meaningless touches; not even so much as the species of tree, much less the variety of its leafage, being ever discernible. Now, although both these expressions of government and individuality are essential to masterly work, the individuality is the more essential, and the more difficult of attainment; and, therefore, that attainment separates the great masters finally from the inferior ones. It is the more essential, because, in these matters of beautiful arrangement in visible things, the same rules hold that hold in moral things. It is a lamentable and unnatural thing to “see a number of men subject to no government, actuated by no ruling principle, and associated by no common affection: but it would be a more lamentable thing still, were it possible, to see a number of men so oppressed into assimilation as to have no more any individual hope or character, no differences in aim, no dissimilarities of passion, no irregularities of judgment; a society in which no man could help another, since none would be feebler than himself; no man admire another, since none would be stronger than himself; no man be grateful to another, since by none he could be relieved; no man reverence another, since by none he could be instructed; a society in which every soul would be as the syllable of a stammerer instead of the word aof a speaker, in which every man would walk as in a frightful dream, seeing specters of himself, in everlasting multiplication, gliding helplessly around him in a speechless darkness.

Therefore it is that perpetual difference, play, and change in groups of form are more essential to them even than their being subdued by some great gathering law: the law is needful to them for their perfection and their power, but the difference is needful to them for their life.”

-from The Elements of Drawing, 1857, by John Ruskin (1819-1900)

 

 

Lessons: Be a Stove, Not a Refrigerator 

Words of wisdom, which I’ll use often, as a mantra for my students, my classroom, my school and for myself – from an article about professional photographers who use Instagram as a vehicle for artistic exploration: Be a Stove, Not a Refrigerator. Cook up new things, don’t just preserve old ones.

“…even within the parameters of a style, (Gueorgui) Pinkhassov’s images are charged with a perpetual element of surprise – he says he’d rather be a “stove” than a “refrigerator,” would rather cook than keep. The effect of seeing a new picture by him, as you scroll down the instagram feed, is often a jolt of wonder and gratitude.”

– On Photography, “Instagram – Free, Chaotic and Immediate – Has Become a Place to Watch Great Photographers Work Out Their Obsessions” by Taju Cole, New York Times Magazine, 12/13/15

Audubon: Drawing Blood

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“Audubon,” Frederick says, “was an American. Walked the swamps and woods for years, back when that whole country was just swamps and woods. He’d spend all day watching one individual bird. Then knew more than any birder before or since. He’d eat most of the birds after after he painted them. Can you imagine?” Frederick’s voice trembles with ardency. Gazing up. “Those bright mists and your gun on your shoulder and your eyes set firmly in your head.

Werner tries to see what Frederick sees: a time before photograph, before binoculars. And here was someone willing to tramp out into a book not so much full of birds as full of evanescence, of blue winged, trumpeting mysteries.”

from All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doer, 2014, p. 220.