“Art is the highest form of hope.
In those moments when you feel discouraged or lost in the studio, or when you experience rejection, rest completely assured that what you don’t know about something is also a form of knowledge, though much harder to understand. In many ways, making art is like blindly trying to see the shape of what you don’t yet know. Whenever you catch a little a glimpse of that blind spot, of your ignorance, of your vulnerability, of that unknown, don’t be afraid or embarrassed to stare at it. Instead, try to relish in its profound mystery. Art is about taking the risk of engaging in something somewhat ridiculous and irrational simply because you need to get a closer look at it, you simply need to break it open to see what’s inside.
Painting has nothing to do with thinking, because in painting thinking is painting. Thinking is language – record-keeping – and has to take place before and after. Einstein did not think when he was calculating: he calculated – producing the next equation in reaction to the one that went before – just as in painting one form is a response to another, and so on.
This thing that can happen in painting. The happen that can happen in painting. It is almost addictive to painters. Finding the painting in the painting, through the painting, with the painting, by the painting. What this means is that the painting is something that happens through the very act of painting, and not the result of some preconceived image that through careful effort produces the desired result. What we are talking about is the painting that evolves, changes, even appears to the painter in the act of painting.
I was thinking about this because I was thinking about Charles Seliger, who was as addicted to this experience as any painter I can think of. At the end of a painting he had arrived somewhere that changed him. That is the addiction. To be changed by making a painting. To learn something, about the world, about art, about ourselves, about the universe.
My paint is like a rocket, which describes its own space. I try to make the impossible possible. What is happening I cannot foresee, it is a surprise. Painting, like passion, is an emotion full of truth and rings a living sound, like the roar coming from the lion’s breast. To paint is to destroy what preceded. I never try to make a painting, but a chunk of life. It is a scream; it is a night; it is like a child; it is a tiger behind bars.
It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.
Thus the man who is responsive to artistic stimuli reacts to the reality of dreams as does the philosopher to the reality of existence; he observes closely, and he enjoys his observation: for it is out of these images that he interprets life, out of these processes that he trains himself for life.
I’ve never really had a hobby, unless you count art, which the IRS once told me I had to declare as a hobby since I hadn’t made money with it.
I might be satisfied with a work done at one sitting, but I would soon tire of it; therefore, I prefer to rework it so that later I may recognize it as representative of my state of mind.
I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. It is analogous to the unseen…
Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.
Some of the pictures are truly mysterious to me… which is why I so often say publicly that I don’t know or don’t care what they’re really about. And yet I can also say that the paintings are prayers… that they have to do with whatever it is that makes you want more than what daily life affords.
The painting is not on a surface, but on a plane which is imagined. It moves in a mind. It is not there physically at all. It is an illusion, a piece of magic, so that what you see is not what you see.
Slowly I discovered the secret of my art. It consists of a meditation on nature, on the expression of a dream which is always inspired by reality. With more involvement and regularity, I learned to push each study in a certain direction. Little by little the notion that painting is a means of expression asserted itself, and that one can express the same thing in several ways. Exactitude is not truth, Delacroix liked to say.
Frustration is one of the great things in art; satisfaction is nothing.
Yes, well it’s a terrifying thing; it doesn’t matter how much money anybody has, like Bob Motherwell, or anybody else. You get up in the morning, and you’ve had too many martinis, and you go downstairs to your studio, and there’s a canvas there: you’ve got to deal with it. And it’s not easy.
Surrealism is destructive, but it destroys only what it considers to be shackles limiting our vision.
Every so often, a painter has to destroy painting. Cezanne did it, Picasso did it with Cubism. Then Pollock did it. He busted our idea of a picture all to hell. Then there could be new paintings again.
When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing. No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet, it was a golden age, for we all had nothing to lose and a vision to gain. Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I shall not venture to discuss. But I do know that many of those who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow. We must all hope we find them.
Follow your bliss and doors will open where there were no doors before.
Beauty and seriousness are perhaps the most shocking tactics left to artists these days.
Monumentality is an affair of relativity.
The truly monumental can only come about by means of the most exact and refined relation between parts. Since each thing carries both a meaning of its own and an associated meaning in relation to something else – its essential value is relative. We speak of the mood we experience when looking at a landscape. This mood results from the relation of certain things rather than from their separate actualities. This is because objects do not in themselves possess the total effect they give when interrelated.
The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create — so that
without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.
Just do your work. And if the world needs your work it will come and get you. And if it doesn’t, do your work anyway. You can have fantasies about having control over the world, but I know I can barely control my kitchen sink. That is the grace I’m given. Because when one can control things, one is limited to one’s own vision.
Change is good for art but hard on the artist. I feel that serious artists go into the studio day after day and let the art slowly take them, sometimes kicking and screaming, into new territories. They let the making of things have its own life, and this living force brings them into areas of creating they could never have imagined. Solutions come from this working process. Sometimes you have the feeling that you are being pulled by a team of wild dogs. Looking back over 20 or 30 years, I could never have dreamt where these images came from and where the art has taken me. To make something truly amazing is to make something you could never have dreamt of.
There is tremendous psychic terror when the brush meets the painting. As an artist you need to have a high tolerance for anxiety and a high tolerance for embarrassment. A high tolerance for anxiety because you feel pulled by forces greater than you. It is as if something is going through you, and it is not about you. A high tolerance for embarrassment because some of the stuff is going to look pretty bad. It has an identity outside of yourself and must be accepted. You have to take the good and the bad, the ugly as well as the beautiful, and the pain as well as the joy to get yourself someplace. Lots of artists let their work take them to a plateau, and then they stay on that plateau, maybe with a need to rest from the anxiety. I can’t do that. For me, that would just be fear of my own anxiety. The work would seem too mechanical and without feeling. I work toward feeling, not away from it. Therefore my life is always filled with anxiety. Each work for me is not about one idea; it is about an emotional event that must be searched for and clarified.
The work of art must seize upon you, wrap you up in itself, carry you away. It is the means by which the artist conveys his passion; it is the current which he puts forth which sweeps you along in his passion.
If I stay long enough in the studio, just stay with the work even if it doesn’t feel great or seem satisfying or directional or conclusive, if I just stay to tend and garden, then my mind gradually yields control to the more automatic labor of painting, and with that comes a sweet spot in the process further down, a worn groove, a sense of ease.
Drawing makes you see things clearer, and clearer, and clearer still. The image is passing through you in a physiological way, into your brain, into your memory – where it stays – it’s transmitted by your hands.
An artist’s job is to go into the studio and say ‘I don’t know what to do, I’m lost.
I don’t want to have anything to say, it just gets in the way. I think the journey of an artist is a journey of discovery and some engagements with paint, with the nature of material, with bodily things…One wants to open the story, not close it.