Friday, July 27, 2012

Nature's Voice

There is a place where it is cool even though the air is hot. A magical place, full of freezing cold water that comes up out of the earth. A special gift to us who have labored all week in 90-degree temperatures trying to capture the world around us. Seven springs literally come up out of Great North Mountain and flow down stream forming an ideal swimming hole. The water is ice cold and as clear as glass. You can drink it. This has become one of our favorite places to paint.

We recently finished our latest painting workshop at Shrine Mont. It was—as it has been for the last fours years—simply wonderful. It is this sense of place that we are looking for. We look for connections to the landscape—connections to the mountains, still waters, rock formations or to color. Some things speak more loudly than others.

It is always part of the workshop objective to achieve a “state of mind” when painting. The painting becomes a witness to that state of mind. Or really, the various states of mind one experiences when painting like this. The picture itself is secondary.

There is a state of mind when discovering. Something spoke to me and I listened; I explored; I looked and I felt. What spoke to me? What did I hear? What do I feel? What do I want to share? Things reveal themselves. There is no question that some places demand your attention and others do not. There could be meaning in the sound of moving water: a memory. It could be the magnitude of the mountains: the age, the vastness of one’s surroundings. It could be a reflection or the way light falls on a tree.

"Painting from nature is not copying the object, it is realizing one's sensations." (Cézanne)

This connection of the artist to the landscape, of the artist to the specific landscape, is one you find through out art history. Georgia O’Keeffe didn’t paint just any landscape but a one that spoke to her, that worked with her vision and sense of place. Cézanne had his beloved Mont Ste-Victoire. Homer, the coast of New England. Neil Welliver, the woods of Maine.

In this case though it isn’t just any place that speaks. It is also this place, Shrine Mont, in Orkney Springs, Virginia that fuels our endeavors—a place that people have been coming to for well over one hundred and fifty years for respite and rejuvenation. A place originally of tourism and now enriched with spiritual meaning. It is a place that also sits in one of the most beautiful areas of Virginia.

Shrine Mont adds a dimension to this landscape that removes us from the ordinary to the “extra ordinary”. It takes us away from the commonplace and everyday and allows us to hear nature’s voice. Things are discovered that may never have occurred had we only spent a day outside. Shrine Mont has no television, no air conditioning. It is old and worn and very special.

“At such times there is a song going on within us, a song to which we listen. It fills us with surprise. We marvel at it.” (Robert Henri)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Submitting to the Unknown

Submissions are a part of every artist’s life. Whether it’s submitting a portfolio to an art school, a portfolio for a job, or a submission to an art show or gallery. They are something that every artist has to do if they want to put their work in the public arena.

What value does submitting our work have? Why does it seem that art making which it on the face of it, lacks opponents, all about competition? Obviously for school or a job, it's the difference between a career in art or a job in the art field. Submitting to shows and galleries can be the difference between recognition and obscurity. Art is competitive whether we like it or not.

That said, it should be remembered that if an artist is never recognized, it doesn’t mean they aren’t talented—just obscure. There are plenty of artists who have submitted work and gotten recognition who only have nominal talent. And there are great artists who have died trying. Vermeer was not recognized in his lifetime. Neither was Van Gogh.

So much recognition is about time and place—what is fashionable, what is new, who does the judging. Art has not been judged in an academy system since the late 1800s. Self-promotion and networking are how many branded artists have gotten recognition. Gallery directors can exude enormous power. But so can prestigious art schools.

Recently a friend and I have begun to submit a children’s book that we have collaborated on. He wrote the story. I designed the book and painted the illustrations. It is a daunting enterprise. Not that I haven’t submitted work before. I have and I’ve gotten some results. Some years I’m in as many as twelve shows.

But sometimes, the same painting that is awarded in one show, is not accepted in another. But submitting a children’s book is different. We are unknown. The competition is fierce. The chance of even a small nod is remote. So why bother? Why take this chance in a new arena against so many odds?

I think it has to do with taking chances. Taking a chance means that maybe something will happen. Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geiser) submitted The Cat in the Hat twenty-seven times before it was accepted for publication. Chicken Soup for the Soul was submitted one hundred and forty times. If we don’t take that chance, maybe twenty-seven maybe one hundred and forty, nothing will happen.

I try to encourage my students to submit their work—submit their work to graduate school, a job interview, or a juried art show. See what happens. Maybe nothing, maybe everything will. Count only the acceptances and discard the rest. You never know.