For artists and musicians only: beautiful insights into the creative process.
This book is about what it feels like to sit in your studio or classroom, at your wheel or keyboard, easel or camera, trying to do the work you need to do.
The work we have not done seems more real in our minds than the pieces we have completed.
Making the work you want to make means finding nourishment within the work itself.
The flawless creature wouldn’t need to make art.
The disinterest of others doesn't reflect a gulf in vision.
The overwhelming majority of your artwork is simply to teach you how to make the small fraction of your artwork that soars.
Failed pieces are essential.
You learn how to make your work by making your work,
Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working. — Stephen DeStaebler
Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping. The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens once. Quitting means not starting again — and art is all about starting again.
For 20 years, his single-minded quest was to land a one-man show at his city’s major art museum. He finally got it. And never produced a serious piece of art again. Don't let your current goal become your only goal.
Leaving art school: Not many people continue making art when — abruptly — their work is no longer seen, no longer exhibited, no longer commented upon, no longer encouraged. Could you?
"No one understands my work. No one likes my work. I’m no good." - These fears have less to do with art than they do with the artist.
The first few brushstrokes to the blank canvas satisfy the requirements of many possible paintings, while the last few fit only that painting — they could go nowhere else. The development of an imagined piece into an actual piece is a progression of decreasing possibilities.
The poem in the head is always perfect.
Artists don’t daydream about making great art — they daydream about having made great art.
Art is like beginning a sentence before you know its ending.
Making art is chancy — it doesn’t mix well with predictability. Uncertainty is the essential, inevitable and all-pervasive companion to your desire to make art. And tolerance for uncertainty is the prerequisite to succeeding.
The myth of the extraordinary provides the excuse for an artist to quit trying to make art, and the excuse for a viewer to quit trying to understand it.
If there were some ongoing redefinition of “what chess is”, you’d probably feel a little uneasy trying to play chess. Of course you could always stick with the game by limiting yourself to a few easy moves you’ve seen work for others. Then again you might conclude that since you weren’t sure yourself what chess was, you weren’t a real chess player and were only faking it when you moved the pieces around.
That moment of completion is also a moment of loss — the loss of all the other forms the imagined piece might have taken.
The world is filled with people who were given great natural gifts, yet never produce anything. When that happens, the world soon ceases to care whether they are talented.
Those who rely upon that gift alone, without developing further, peak quickly and soon fade to obscurity.
Artists get better by sharpening their skills or by acquiring new ones; they get better by learning to work, and by learning from their work.
The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pounds of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work-and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
Some part of you dies when you stop making art.
Your work tells you about your working methods, your discipline, your strengths and weaknesses, your habitual gestures, your willingness to embrace. The lessons you are meant to learn are in your work. To see them, you need only look at the work clearly — without judgement, without need or fear, without wishes or hopes. Without emotional expectations. Ask your work what it needs, not what you need. Then set aside your fears and listen.
Ben Shahn: “It may be a point of great pride to have a Van Gogh on the living room wall, but the prospect of having Van Gogh himself in the living room would put a great many devoted art lovers to rout.”
Try an insulating period: a gap of pure time between the making of your art, and the time when you share it with outsiders. (So it's not reflecting on *you*, just on the work that's in your past.)
In the outside world there may be no reaction to what we do; in our artwork there is nothing but reaction. The breathtakingly wonderful thing about this reaction is its truthfulness. Look at your work and it tells you how it is when you hold back or when you embrace. When you are lazy, your art is lazy; when you hold back, it holds back; when you hesitate, it stands there staring, hands in its pockets. But when you commit, it comes on like blazes.
We don’t learn much about making art from being moved by it. (Seeing others' art.)
We may feel almost honor-bound to make art that recaptures the power of classics. Or feel tempted to use the same techniques, the same subjects, the same symbols as appear in the work that aroused our passion — to borrow, in effect, a charge from another time and place.
If, indeed, for any given time only a certain sort of work resonates with life, then that is the work you need to be doing in that moment. If you try to do some other work, you will miss your moment.
Post-modernist art is post-audience art.
Power can't be borrowed across space and time. There’s a difference between meaning that is embodied and meaning that is referenced. No one should wear a Greek fisherman’s hat except a Greek fisherman.
New ideas come into play far less frequently than practical ideas — ideas that can be re-used for a thousand variations, supplying the framework for a whole body of work rather than a single piece.
When things go haywire, your best opening strategy might be to return — very carefully and consciously — to the habits and practices in play the last time you felt good about the work.
The discovery of useful forms is precious. Once found, they should never be abandoned for trivial reasons.
For most artists, making good art depends upon making lots of art, and any device that carries the first brushstroke to the next blank canvas has tangible, practical value.
The hardest part of artmaking is living your life in such a way that your work gets done, over and over. Finding a host of practices that are just plain useful.
A piece of art is the surface expression of a life lived within productive patterns.
"When bankers get together for dinner, they discuss art. When artists get together for dinner, they discuss money." — Oscar Wilde
By leading the viewer to experience the world through the very different sensibilities of the artist, a good work of art inevitably calls the viewer’s own belief system into question.
Censorship is an entirely natural state of affairs. Nature places a simple constraint on those who leave the flock to go their own way: they get eaten.
Healthy artistic environments are about as common as unicorns.
"When my daughter about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college — that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forgot?”" — Howard Ikemoto
The dilemma facing academia is that it must accommodate not only students who are striving to become artists, but also teachers who are struggling to remain artists.
If you chase two rabbits, you catch neither.
What was the artist trying to achieve? Did they succeed? Was it worth doing?
Provocative art challenges not only the viewer, but also its maker. Art that falls short often does so not because the artist failed to meet the challenge, but because there was never a challenge there in the first place. Think of it like Olympic diving: you don’t win high points for making even the perfect swan dive off the low board.
"For the beginner there are many paths, for the advanced, few." - Zen proverb
The progression of most artists’ work over time is a progression from art toward craft.
An artist’s major discoveries usually come early on, and a lifetime is then allotted to fill out and refine those discoveries.
Answers are reassuring, but when you’re onto something really useful, it will probably take the form of a question.
The people with the interesting answers are those who ask the interesting questions.