A Day at the Opera

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I went to the Metropolitan Opera with my dad today. At the cinema that is, with one of those direct live screenings which have become so popular. The opera in question was called The Nose, which is based on a famous short story by Nikolai Gogol, about a petty bureaucrat who wakes up one day to discover his nose is missing. When he goes in search of it, he discovers his nose has become an independent character and occupies a much higher rank in society than he does. It’s a completely absurd story of course, and I was intensely curious to see how the stage production would look, as the Met approached South African artist William Kentridge (click to see a video from PBS), about doing stage production, and this had been the opera of his choice. There were many graphics and animations accompanying the singers and chorus on stage, as well as a man walking around in a papier maché man-sized nose. The music score is by Shostakovich, and the production had reportedly been presented during the Met’s 2010 season to much acclaim. I can certainly see why. It was a visual feast and a completely surreal experience. Oh and the music and singing was pretty good too.

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Inspiration of the Day: Dahlov Ipcar

Above: Dahlov IpcarFour Greyhounds, 20″ X 35″ Oil on Canvas, 2004

She might be new to me, but Dahlov Ipcar has been at it for a long time. As her wikipedia page states: “In 1939 at the age of 21, [Dahlov Ipcar] had her first solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, called Creative Growth, the first of many solo shows over the next forty years.” I have my friend Claudia from LibraryThing to thank for introducing me to this artist’s work. Claudia, being a resident of Maine, as is Ipcar, says her work is ubiquitous in that state and has admired her paintings for a long time. Now 94, Ipcar is still as dedicated to her work as ever. As stated in a Bangor Daily News article: “It’s a rare morning if Dahlov Ipcar has not had a chance to paint. After all, that’s how Ipcar usually starts her days.” The article goes on to point out that many of the 30 children’s books she has written and illustrated during her career have been re-released in recent years. A retrospective of her work, called The Art of Dahlov Ipcar was also published in 2010 (click on the link to see previews). For those of us getting a bit (or a lot) of a late start in life as artists, it’s encouraging to know it’s never too late… Continue reading

Can Creativity Save Lives?

If you’ve been reading me, then you must know I’ve been looking through various name listings lately. I’m looking at “old English names” “Author names” “Artist Names”, etc. for the precious bundle of joy due to arrive here in just 4 or 5 days. Imagine my surprise when I saw listed under “H” in artist names a certain Adolph Hitler. I do recall reading somewhere that he had considered studies in art and architecture. I had never delved too much into the personal history of the man because had never considered him as a human being before—just a scary monster who was best left along with the other underbed dwellers—so the following entry in About.com somehow chilled me to the bone:

Movement, Style, School or Type of Art:
Hitler described himself as a painter in the Academic tradition. Most everyone else who’s seen his work has described Hitler’s painting style as either “Bad” or “Extremely bad.”

Date and place of birth: April 20, 1889, Braunau am Inn, Austria

Life: Though he became convinced in his youth that he possessed great artistic talent, very few other people (besides his own mother) felt similarly about Adolf Hitler. He received an “excellent” mark in Art during his final year of formal schooling, but his failure to complete a Leaving Certificate in the U.S. equivalent of high school did him no favors when he first took the exam to enter the prestigious Akademie der bildenden Künste Wien (Academy of Fine Art in Vienna) in 1907. Ostensibly rejecting him for lack of academic skills, the Academy’s admissions department also commented on Hitler’s lack of understanding of human anatomy. Undaunted, Hitler again took the entrance exam in 1908, with similar results. He temporarily refocused on a future in architecture but this, too, did not come to pass due to lack of education. Regrettably, he then embarked upon a well-documented crooked path toward attempted world domination after this final artistic disappointment.

Important works: None of his own. The most important thing Hitler did for art was to spotlight the “Degenerates” – artists whose works were avant garde, or otherwise failed to meet National Socialist arts policies. Of course, he did this for the wrong reasons, wanting to ridicule and ruin talented artists’ careers. No one was more enraged than he when his plan backfired and the public flocked to Degenerate exhibitions.

Date and place of death: April 30, 1945, Berlin (Committed suicide in an underground bunker of the chancellery building.)

Art quotes by Adolph Hitler:

  • All my life I have wanted to be a great painter in oils … As soon as I have carried out my program for Germany, I shall take up painting. I feel that I have it in my soul to become one of the great artists of the age and that future historians will remember me not for what I have done for Germany, but for my art.
  • As for the degenerate artists, I forbid them to force their so-called experiences upon the public. If they do see fields blue, they are deranged, and should go to an asylum. If they only pretend to see them blue, they are criminals, and should go to prison. I will purge the nation of them.
  • My pictures, in the collections which I have bought in the course of years, have never been collected for private purposes, but only for the extension of a gallery in my home town of Linz on Donau. – from Hitler’s Last Will and Testament dated April 29, 1945.

Sources and Further Reading (see original article)

As you may know (or can easily find out by reading a bit more of this blog), I am on a journey of recovery and so far the most effective form of treatment to get me out of a debilitating clinical depression (the state I’m in by default if I’m not being manic) has been to make creativity and creative output the priority in my life, and wanting to share this experience led me to start createthreesixty5.com.

So far I’ve been very impressed with the quality of work our collaborators have submitted, and I do want to encourage almost all creative effort at all level of experience, perceived talent or skill. But I have asked myself the question “what if someone starts sending in truly horrible stuff? Will I want to have my name attached to that as an aesthete, as a Creative & Art Director?” So far I haven’t had to deal with this issue. But after reading the above, and especially the excellent New Yorker article called Hitler as Artist (the chilling conclusion addresses an issue I have struggled with for the better part of my life), I’m starting to think I have a strong ethical responsibility if I am to become any kind of authority on Creativity at any point in time.

The moral of the story? Better let people express themselves, however “badly” than brimming their creative impulses and risk them lashing out and becoming mass murderers on a universal scale instead. Sheesh.

Drawing by Adolph Hitler. As much as I hate to say it, I don’t find it so bad and would publish it on the other site if someone sent me something in a similar vein. A most troubling thought, all things considered.

My Name Is Smiler, and I’m a Recovering Blocked Artist.

For nearly 20 years, I made a very decent living as an art director, first in advertising and eventually at a national women’s magazine. I had originally studied fine arts, my first love, but decided to pursue commercial arts instead, figuring I had better chances of making ends meet that way. While things went well for me professionally, creatively speaking, I suffered in silence. All too rarely having the opportunity to fully develop my best ideas, usually because marketing surveys, focus groups, and business people had the last word—with creativity being the least of their priorities—my own creativity was retreating little by little, as I had no energy of drive to work on my own projects on what little free time I had left for such things. While I had access to budgets allowing me to hire extremely talented and accomplished professionals from around the world—designers, photographers, illustrators, stylists and so on—I ultimately felt more and more like a fraud and that my own accomplishments were nothing more than sheer dumb luck, compared to those truly talented people who seemed to have endless reserves of energy, motivation, talent and drive.

Some 15 years ago, I had the immense honour of participating at a workshop at the School of Visual Arts in NYC given by the Great Milton Glazer, who was a recipient of the National Medal of Art in February 2010, presented by President Obama. This one-week intensive taught me lessons about creativity unlike any I had ever experienced before yet at the same time seemed to speak directly to my own sensibilities, and it is not an exaggeration to say that I fell in love with his brilliant mind as a great thinker and an accomplished artist. Although I am not at liberty to disclose what took place during that workshop, I can say that the tools he gave us will stay with me for the rest of my life. “You must draw every day” was something he emphasized very strongly, and as I went about being the best art director and executive I could be, I felt I had failed to follow through on the great teachings of a creative guru.

Those who have been following this blog have seen my earlier attempts at reconnecting with creativity for it’s own sake, and I can’t emphasize enough that for me, the journey so far has been a very humbling one. In Zen Buddhism, the concept of Beginner’s Mind is a very important aspect of the practice. My interpretation of Beginner’s Mind is that one should approach every endeavour as a child would, with no preconceived notions, no judgment, and a willingness to try things no matter how unfamiliar. I’ve spent a good part of my life being a student of the creative process and I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Beginner’s Mind is the source of all great creative accomplishments. And it begins with a willingness to try and try, again and again and again while being kind toward our efforts, and keeping harsh criticism at bay.

My blog profile starts with the adage : “When eating an elephant take one bite at a time”. The project createthreesixty5 grew out of a desire to share my journey of recovery as an artist, one small step at a time. I believe we are all creative. Some are more technically proficient, and others less so, but this is irrelevant for our purposes here. The most important thing to remember is that there is no such thing as “bad art” when the work comes from a desire to simply explore possibilities. Although as I child I admired the great Renaissance artists for their masterful ability to create realistic images, I am now more interested in children’s drawings, doodles, goofs & spills, unusual combinations and “happy accidents”.

I sincerely hope others will be just as excited as I am to embark on this createthreesixty5 journey which officially begins on Thursday April 15th, but which for me is the continuation of the work of a lifetime.

From Smiler, with Love.

Blue Nude

Blue Nude_1893
Ugh. I’m really dreading this, so may as well get it over and done with ASAP. I feel like I’m the one getting undressed here. My painting teacher Ian, other than giving a great class and providing all kinds of useful tips and insights, is also teaching us not to be so critical of our work. He also encourages us to bring in personal projects to work on or just to get feedback and so far he’s seen half a dozen of my paintings in progress and each time, the first thing I do is point out everything that’s wrong with my pieces, as if to excuse myself for not showing something that’s finished, resolved and totally up to my standards. About one of my paintings (simply called Water), he said “just shut up and let me enjoy it” which is one of the nicest things a teacher has ever said to me. I actually like that one, but I can’t show it here unfortunately because it doesn’t translate well on photos at all. It’s all about subtleties and texture and just looks like a blur of blue otherwise. However, I am showing this latest Blue Nude piece. We’ve been working from a live model and the exercise consists in starting from a very dark canvas and painting in the light areas to start. It’s quite tricky because you have to use colour very differently than you do on a white background and you also have to work with transparencies to preserve the darkness of the background, which ends up giving more depth to it. I’m enjoying the process so much that I’m thinking of doing a whole bunch of paintings like that. I was really annoyed with the model yesterday because her leg position was different from last week’s and I started telling her she should scoot them over, but she just ignored me. That was a sobering reminder that I can’t be an art director wherever and whenever I want to, and that as an artist, I have to learn to just take things as they are and not try to “improve” on them all the time.

So this is me trying very hard NOT to apologize for my painting. How am I doing? That being said, compliments were flying high at the end of class, when both a student and the teacher said it reminded them of a painting by Picasso, more specifically from his blue period, said Ian. Gee… what do you say to that? Just a simple thanks and then STFU I guess. /End of post before I start pointing out all the reasons why their compliment is totally over the top.

On Aging

Odalisque in Red Trousers, Henri Matisse

“We cannot prevent ourselves from getting older,
but we can prevent ourselves from becoming old.”
~ Henri Matisse

« On ne peut s’empêcher de vieillir, mais on peut
s’empêcher de devenir vieux. »
~ Matisse

Mme Matisse: Madras Rouge (The Red Madras Headress), Henri Matisse

Landscape at Collioure, Henri Matisse

Madame de Pompadour reçoit le Mardi 20 Novembre 1951 au Pavillon de Marsan a 22 heures, Henri Matisse

Above: Henri Matisse, Odalisque in Red Trousers, c.1924-1925
Oil on canvas 50.0 x 61.0cm. Musée de l’Orangerie, Paris

Mme Matisse: Madras Rouge (The Red Madras Headress)
Summer 1907Oil on canvas, 99.4 x 80.5 cm

Landscape at Collioure, summer 1905.
Oil on canvas, 38.8 x 46.6 cm

 

Madame de Pompadour reçoit le Mardi 20 Novembre 1951
au Pavillon de Marsan a 22 heures
Lithograph, 79.8 x 59.4 cm

On Artists

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With the most primitive means the artist creates something which the most ingenious
and efficient technology will never be able to create. ~Kasimir Malevich

Epitaphios (The Shroud of Christ)
1908 Gouache on carton
Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow

 

Ray Charles on My Mind

I just now finished watching Ray, the movie biopic about Ray Charles starring Jamie Foxx. It came out in 2004 but I somehow managed not to see it until tonight after renting it on iTunes. It would seem, as a general rule, that movie biopics always leave me feeling blue. Sometimes I can’t quite say why, but in Ray’s case the obvious things to point out would be the heroin addiction and the womanizing. I knew about all that beforehand and besides, when talking about musicians those are pretty standard vices, but it somehow affected me more this time. Something to do with the fact that he was a legend to me before my baby teeth starting falling out. Seeing this man, a musical genius at grips with such negative influences didn’t inspire in me a judgmental attitude so much as pity, which is one emotion I don’t do well. I think Jamie Foxx well deserved the Oscar he got playing for this role. It can’t have been easy to act with his eyes closed during the whole movie, but what must have helped him greatly as an actor were Ray Charles’ continual tics and twiches and general physical awkwardness, otherwise Foxx wouldn’t have had much to go on. Whatever the case may be, Foxx did it convincigly and well. I couldn’t suspend disbelief enough to forget it was Jamie Foxx acting, maybe because Foxx himself is such an accomplished singer and actor, but it didn’t prevent me from getting into the story.

Maybe what leaves me sad, ultimately, is the reminder that yet another legendary talent I grew up with is now gone forever. I remember one of the times he came to Montreal, for the Jazz Fest in the summer of 2000. I had gotten ticket for my dad and me, knowing that my dad had always liked Ray Charles and figuring it was a nice gift for his 60th birthday. Sadly, I don’t remember much of the concert. I was mostly upset that we weren’t closer to the stage and so far from the action. I do recall that the steak dinner we had afterwards, at Moishe’s famous steak house was out of this world. Makes me hungry just thinking about it.

Photograph of Ray Charles by Howard Moorehead