I'd like to welcome Artist and Teacher Skip Lawrence to my blog!
Skip has shared a bit of his wisdom and perspective on making art in this Guest Post,"Poetry or Craft."
Follow Skip Lawrence on Facebook or check out his website, www.skiplawrence.com
His next Mentored Workshop at Bon Secours Center, Marriottsville, MD, runs
March 18-24, 2018. We have a few spots open. Start 2018 with a boost of inspiration!
Email me, email@example.com for enrollment info and details.
In reference to making art, I recently heard David Hockney say that, “craftsmanship is a must.”
From the Renaissance to the Abstract Expressionists art students began their apprenticeship by learning the craft of their chosen media.
“We can teach craft, it’s the poetry you cannot teach.” Hockney goes on to say,
“Now we teach poetry and forget craft.”
There is enough truth in that statement to make one stop and think.
A Chinese philosopher proclaimed art is a matter of,
“the Hand, the Eye, and the Heart”.
Many artists new and experienced alike, seem to shift back and forth from working primarily with the hand, the eye and the heart, rarely giving equal measure to all three.
When I look at the latest paintings in watercolor society shows I am more than impressed with the polished technique exhibited: skills of the hand and the eye.
What I most thirst for, though, is to see the reason behind all the technical skills:
more heart and soul.
I know how challenging this is as I fight for a balance of ideas, feeling and form in every painting I do. I have come to realize that in making art, usually one aspect (the hand, or eye or heart) is primary and the other aspects might be missing in the process or have minimal influence.
I think this is well worth giving some thought...ask yourself...
Which of these do you primarily work with; the hand, the eye or the heart?
Do you start a painting aware which is going to primarily direct the process?
Which are you most comfortable working from: the Hand, the Eye or the Heart?
Do you resist letting one or another take the lead?
When you are most satisfied with the results of your work, what is the ratio of hand/eye/heart?
If you get stuck or a piece seems to fail, does it rely too much on one aspect at the expense of the others?
What if you tried switching it up...?
I know I shift between as I am working, but I do try to find a balance. Or at least a workable combination of hand/eye/heart.
I believe when all three aspects work in a sort of equanimity the resulting artwork has a stronger presence.
You know when you see it: the piece of artwork engages intellectually, moves you emotionally and the craft impresses or intrigues you.
It just works.
Where is the silence inside the sound?
Where is the sound around the silence?
What is the space between snowflakes?
When I began taking swim lessons last February, the concept of actually swimming was a complete unknown to me.
Because of past failures, traumas and a lifelong storehouse of fear, any 'swimming' skill I had was self taught and very fragile. So I was starting from scratch. From Zero.
Fast forward to now, nine months, a lot of lessons and dedicated practice later, and I am at the point where I feel like I am at a plateau. (Amazing, right? To get so 'good' as to be bored? Take that in!! Wow!)
I have worked to a certain level of competence, and now I am not sure how to progress forward, how to get better, raise the bar and tackle the next level of challenge.
As luck would have it, Kathy, my swim guru, was at the pool Tuesday, when I was there for my swim.
I told her my concerns, and she gave me some new drills to work on new skills, to move me forward.
So today, when I was swimming, I drilled with a pull buoy and hand paddles...
In other words... In the Big Picture... New Tools, unfamiliar tools, different muscles being engaged, focus on new patterns of movement.
In short: awkward, clumsy, frustrating.
But also, enlightening, liberating and exciting!
As tough as it was using the new tools, doing the drills, I could immediately feel the potential to move to another level of skill. Because of my prior practice, the next level will come faster. I will strengthen areas of my practice...which will strengthen my oveall skill.
Isn't this always how it is when you move to a new level of exploration in any discipline?
Be it, swimming, making art, meditation, relationships, writing,
You will start from knowing nothing, build your skills, then reach a level of competence, of confidence and comfort. Or stagnation and boredom... Then what?
Do you crave challenge? Or do you just keep doing the same old, same old, until you can repeat it in your sleep, safe in the knowledge that you have reached a comfortable level of skill. You can can swim in the shallow end, as long as your feet can touch the bottom..
Any time you push to the next level of achievement you have to let go of the edge of the pool. You have to go into deeper water, all over again. Become a beginner...let go of certainty. It takes a little dose of courage, and the faith that you can do this.
While I was swimming today, I was so grateful that I have found an activity that challenges me to be a total beginner. At this age, we think we know so much! To be humbled by one's ignorance, to be motivated by a childlike desire and an open heart and mind, really is a GIFT!
I try to keep this awareness when making art. The more I know, the more I realize how much I don't know!! Instead of seeing this as a failure, I see it as an opportunity. A fresh challenge.
There is so much more to discover.
Whenever one moves to unfamiliar territory in a art- be it new materials, techniques or content-there will be growing pains. Clumsiness. Frustration. New muscles being challenged.
If one can keep the humility of the beginner, the Know Nothing, everything is a fresh discovery.
There is no failure as a beginner, only fresh starts.
The expert has an investment in certainty, maintaining the known, the repeatable, quantifiable outcome.
I choose to always be a beginner, to let go of certainty, to try new things, to be clumsy, frustrated, to fail and start again...to grow and learn... and start all over.
I'd rather make a blazing, risky mess, than repeat a dull, uninspired formula.
So sad and limiting to be an expert, to be certain, to outgrow the glorious potential and wild openness and uncertainty of a beginner!
I am grateful that the pool is open today, Thanksgiving.
I am grateful that there is only one other lap swimmer and that the pool is quiet.
I am grateful that the pool water is almost warm.
I am grateful that my back feels pretty good today.
I am grateful that my goggles don't leak.
I am grateful that I finally learned to swim.
I am grateful that I persisted despite anxiety and old trauma.
I am grateful for Kathy, my good and sensitive teacher.
I am grateful for the support of the buoyant water, beneath me.
I am grateful for all the air to breathe, above me.
I am grateful for the black line on the bottom of the pool, straight, consistent, repetitive little tiles, counting breath, like a mantra.
I am grateful for a long reach. I am grateful for a strong pull. I am grateful for flutter kick and hip rotation and high elbow.
I am grateful for the sensuous pleasure of the water flowing over my skin, my muscles.
I am grateful for the whoosh of water past my ears, the slight tang of chlorine in my mouth.
I am grateful to float in stillness, to surrender tension to the water and feel restored.
I am grateful that swimming has triumphed over pain.
I am grateful, every moment, for what the water has given me.
Have you read Hilary Spurling's two volume bio of Matisse ?
I highly recommend it. I love biographies of artists and creative people. The bio of Matisse is lengthy, but I found it a fascinating read. His long life spanned two world wars and a sea change in culture and the arts.
Anytime I read an artist's biography I take notes to see where their process might feel familiar, to see what I can take into the studio myself.
It is tempting, especially with someone like the immortal Henri Matisse, to think,
”This is it - they have it ALL FIGURED OUT. If I just do what they did, I’ll discover the BIG SECRET for myself!” But the lessons are so much more relevant if one can view their journey through the prism of one's own experience. That particular artist mastered the lessons of their lifetime in the context of their culture, their moment in history, their karma. Our journeys may share a few similarities as artists, but that is usually where any overlap end.
There is a lifetime’s worth of wisdom to glean from Matisse’s fearlessness and dedication to his own vision.
Here are a few nuggets that I saved to help me along my way.
TEN THINGS I LEARNED FROM HENRI MATISSE
1) Say more with less.
2) Say more with more.
3) Changing form is not artistic schizophrenia, it is creativity.
4) Try everything, but only keep what serves your vision. In other words, don’t follow a popular style or material at the expense of your own authentic narrative.
5) Beauty isn’t always pretty
6) but, Pretty can be powerful when imbued with great feeling and originality.
7)Making creative choices and decisions is more important than just depicting/describing something.
8) Any subject/object can be the starting point for making art.
9) Age is no excuse for laziness.
10) Find joy in the process.
That last one is a very important piece of wisdom.
Matisse worked in an almost relentless state of self-imposed pressure and anxiety. Sometimes the public loved the result, often it did not, at least in Matisse's lifetime. There are no guarantees of success when making art, so if there is any satisfaction to be had, it had better come in the creative process.
When I look at the carnival of color and apparent joie de vivre in Matisse’s work,
I wonder what a little dose of relaxation and joy might have done for him.
Would he have had the compulsive perseverance to push ahead in his work if he had "lightened up" a bit? History's gain was his loss. He suffered insomnia, sickness, and was plagued by constant anxiety while making his glorious art.
I guess I can rest assured that I am not rewriting the course of Art History, so I can afford to enjoy the ride. Any of us who have the opportunity in this life to make art are truly fortunate. To get all angsty about is seems so small and self-important, as if to throw the gift back to the gods.
I hope that Matisse took some satisfaction in knowing that he was always true to his own vision. That is the the main thing I took from Matisse, and if I can say that, at the end of my days, I will feel like a real success.
So, to Life, to Art, to Matisse! Enjoy!
Artist, writer, workshop planner, swimmer, dog-mom, wife...I find inspiration in the serendipitous connections between making a meaningful, beautiful life and making honest art.
All work on this site is original by Diane Santarella Lawrence, unless noted, and is
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Many of the beautiful images taken in the studios of Skip and me are by Joel Kiester and Brian Eiseman of 1513Photo. Many thanks, Guys, for your friendship and elegant work!
And Thanks to my two biggest fans, my husband Skip Lawrence and Rothko the Wonderdog for constantly surprising, challenging, inspiring and supporting me.