So the summer Olympics are over. My life will change again. I am a CBC radio addict and really really really enjoyed the sports announcers, every hour all day every day for ten minutes before the hour. I often wondered what they were high on. They had so much fun, joking amongst themselves, making jokes at the expense of the athletes, conversing with players and local people. I loved their energy and enthusiasm.
One announcer (and I am so bad about remembering names, please forgive me; I tried to look it up but….) talked seriously about what sport is: playing a game for pleasure, the activity being more important than winning medals. There is so much talk in Canada now about how we can improve our performance at the Olympics. Do we really want our children taken away from normal lives, from families and friends, to train so we in Canada can have more medals? Are medals the meaning of sport?
Oh, how I wish he could come to my school and talk to the students about their career as artists. It’s not about the product; it’s all process. That’s the mind that creates a good product.
Well, I had a conversation (on the phone) with the man who had been copying my paintings (see August 13 entry). I have known him for several years and actually the conversation was good. When I saw his recent work, I was not as upset as before. Even though it bears a striking resemblance to mine (quite shockingly so), it is better than it had been and so I didn’t feel so insulted. There is nothing worse, to me, than having someone imitate my work and do it poorly! So not being angry when I talked to him really helped. I was able to present my feelings calmly and we had a decent conversation. I was not attacking nor he defensive. Although he had known for a while that I was not pleased with what he was doing, he was afraid to call me. He was glad I called so we could talk about it.
But I have a tendency to cough (and I really mean have a coughing fit) when I am nervous, which I definitely was at first. So I told him my cough was from having just been in my studio and we talked about fumes, occupational hazards and such.
Then I mentioned that I had seen his exhibit at the gallery. And also that in the past month, at least a half dozen people told me they saw his work and had mistaken it for mine. And that I found this upsetting. As I thought, he is not aware that this is not right, thinks it is his own work, etc. He asked me for advice on his work, which was a reasonable request under the circumstances in that he had been a student of mine years ago. I told him I felt he needed to leave out the collage (a signature part of my work), that the collage might have been a good starting point for him but it no longer felt necessary--and necessity is the most important element to consider in making art. I also told him to focus on imagery that is meaningful to him, has integrity in relation to his development.
I think he understood. We will see. I definitely feel better about the situation.
I just finished ready Dry by Augusten Burroughs, his memoir of the time when he was trying to stop drinking. To my surprise, from the very first page, I was totally absorbed. His language, how he expresses himself, his metaphors are so beautiful, so expressive, that I felt I was exploring the treasure chest of his mind, always looking forward to the next item to be brought out. His piercingly dry wit, his quirky, rebellious attitude and perceptiveness make this story transcend the potential devastation of his life. We are winners as he writes about his, at times, losing path with drinking. A really good read.
We are finally having a week of beautiful sunny days. It's supposed to stay like this through the weekend. What a relief from all that rain and cold! A friend came over to swim this afternoon. She brought her one year old Brittany spanial and five teenagers (two of her own and three friends).
The pup, Cassie, was a little shy of the water at first:
but she decided she really wanted that ball:
and it was worth it. "Look at me!"
The teenagers reminded me of the whales off Cape Breton:
They jumped (not dived, fortunately) off a big boulder in the middle of the lake.
Afterwards I told them the story of The Dive From Claussen's Pier. Not a good idea, to jump from that rock, in unknown waters. But they were okay. The adventurous spirit prevailed.
My good friend Lynn in New York sent me an editorial from
The article she sent me was written by Nicholas D. Kristof, entitled Jesus and the Jihad, parts of which I have quoted below. Kristof says
If the latest in the "Left Behind" series of evangelical thrillers is to be believed, Jesus will return to Earth, gather non-Christians to his left and toss them into everlasting fire……..These are the best-selling novels for adults in the United States, and they have sold more than 60 million copies worldwide…….. It's disconcerting to find ethnic cleansing celebrated as the height of piety.
If a Muslim were to write an Islamic version of "Glorious Appearing" and publish it in Saudi Arabia, jubilantly describing a massacre of millions of non-Muslims by God, we would have a fit.......................People have the right to believe in a racist God, or a God who throws millions of nonevangelicals into hell. I don't think we should ban books that say that. But we should be embarrassed when our best-selling books gleefully celebrate religious intolerance and violence against infidels.
That's not what America stands for, and I doubt that it's what God stands for.
Canada was not founded on religious need as was the United States. Although there are pockets of intolerance which are scary, there is not the overall Christian-religious dominance here in politics. Physical survival is more a basis of the government contract. That gives us a “free” medical service (we pay, in taxes) and gay marriage rights and a growing depth of literary achievement. Not a bad state of affairs, for the most part.
I’ve been doing a lot of cleaning up lately. I bought a new bed for my guest/sewing room (it’s bigger and better than what I had) and had to rearrange all the furniture. As my sewing (and reading) habits are similar to my painting habits (very obsessive and absorbing), there were patterns and pieces of fabric hiding out in every corner and under magazines and books that never got put away because it always feels as if either I will use it soon or there is just not enough storage space or, more simply, I’d rather do something else usually than clean up.
So (this is a long preamble to say) I found some quotes I had typed out a few years ago when I was asked to give a talk at the Shambhala Centre in Halifax. My first response to the request was that I would be too afraid to do it. So she suggested then that I talk about fear. These quotes are about different artists’ reactions to the question of how they face a blank canvas, that gap in activity where anything can happen.
The sculptor Richard Tuttle said
If you force yourself, you’re just in the world of ideas, and there’s a distinction between ideas and inspiration. Agnes Martin (painter) reminds me that you can’t have inspiration every day. You have to learn how to handle yourself. Nervous energy is not acceptable and must be avoided. When a day begins with that kind of force, I take long walks to get rid of it.
I’m not too sure about the “nervous energy’ being a problem. The important point is not to get in your own way. Not to have formulas or be afraid of the openness of a blank canvas (or page). Creation as an act of bravery. I like that thought.
On the other end of the spectrum, the painter Susan Rothenberg said that she found it hard to get back to work after moving from NYC to New Mexico. “Then, one day, I suddenly got angry—enough time had passed—and I marched into the studio and set to work.” I personally find anger a good mechanism for breaking through blocks. Especially when a painting begins to look boring, feel clichéd, just doesn’t “do it.”
Then there is the trust that you need to have to make the marks. Joel Shapiro (sculptor) said “Your anxiety builds up to the point where you have no choice. Now, what am I afraid of revealing?” That’s a big factor in making changes, not standing still, not resting in that comfort zone of knowing what works. And not working for a period creates anxiety. Things can percolate from non-activity and that can be good. Yet there is always an inner compulsion, a necessity behind good work.
The painter Robert Mangold is quoted as saying “sometimes, in the studio, you can become too self-absorbed. When I go out and look at other work, I realize the world hasn’t stopped—and I’m motivated.” That is an interesting point, since so much of current art criticism focuses on what it “new.” In fact, we don’t work in a vacuum. Someone on the other side of the road can be doing the same thing without ever communicating with you. Can that be so very bad when it is all about communication anyway. And anyway, “Who’s on first?” or is it “Whose on first.” And that could be a whole other topic so...........
Peggy, of Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia, has a great sense of humor and I never knew it before. She is the star in a wonderful play at the Old Red Schoolhouse in Peggy’s Cove. The play is called Peggy and is an amazing, very funny one-person skit that tells the story of the Cove and what it means to Peggy (and Peggy to it). The actor, John Beale, grew up there. He has an extremely malleable, expressive face and had the audience in tears from laughter. There will be some performances over Labour Day weekend, Friday September 3rd through Monday September 6th, 2pm and 4pm daily. So if you get a chance, don’t miss it!
There is a chipmunk who has been eating my peas. It pulls them off the vine, opens the shells, and pulls out the peas. It also leaves the husks for me to clean up. Apparently, chipmunks are rare and so I should be happy to have it's company. He or she certainly is tame. Hardly moves when I go out to ask it to leave me some peas. I’m going to buy it a bag of peanuts.
Last year I had a couple of black bears in my driveway rooting through my refuse pails. I called the Department of Natural Resources. She said “O yes, there have been sightings in your neighborhood” and told me how to discourage bears (don’t put out the garbage until the last minute and make noise when out in the evening and don’t play dead with black bears, they will attack).
Then there are the deer (I use a rotten egg spray to keep them away. It works, so far). And the bunnies and the slugs. Now, the slugs are going too far! I am very squeamish about slugs (and a lot of other squishy bugs). A friend was telling me her husband picks them up with his bare hands and puts them in a carefully made bed of delectable garden trimmings and gives them a new home (in a yogurt container). What amazing patience. A real mastery of aggression. I have a long way to go there!
When I was in Cape Breton a couple of weeks ago I saw a fox on the road.
By the time I got out of my car to take a picture, it took off.
I was told that every year a mother moose brings her weaned and trained baby moose there and abandons it. Apparently it looks around frantically for mommy and then gives up and adjusts.
Sometimes I wonder why I am living in the country. Maybe I am not fit for this interaction with nature. On the positive side, there is no speed of a city to become absorbed in. The noise level of crows can be the biggest problem; the song of the loons the greatest joy. The constant prattle of the brook by my house a lullaby. Living so close to nature here, I see my own nature more clearly. And I can be my own nature more easily. So my fears of slugs and bears and my intense aversion to the yearly spring invasion of ants are small irritations in the larger picture.
After finishing Ann Packer’s The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, I thought I would have a hard time getting into another book. But I was wrong. I picked up Blessings by Anna Quindlen and, after a couple of pages, was equally absorbed. Where Packer’s book is told from a very intimate first person point of view, exploring, probing, analyzing feelings and events, looking in detail at the details of everyday movements, internal and external, Blessings is a third-person narrative, the focus shifting amongst the situations so that a more panoramic view of an intimate situation is explored. It is a beautiful book about the uniqueness of human resources, how personal change comes in so many ways. The story-line is about a young man, the caretaker for the estate of an austere, rigid older woman. He finds a newborn baby on his doorstep and decides to care for the baby, treat her as his own. He learns, grows, loves, matures, through this process, and in a strange, unexpected way, so does the woman. I didn’t feel as close to the people in this novel as I did in Ann Packer’s, but I was definitely absorbed by their story. Both books are on my best books list.
Of course it has been hard to find another book to match these two. Still working on it!
My horse is leaving. Well, he is not exactly my horse. He was on loan for three years. Some friends were moving to Toronto and couldn’t take him at the time so, knowing how much I loved him, I was offered the joy of caretaking.
They have a place for him now and some mutual friends, visiting Nova Scotia, are coming Tuesday to take him away. He’s packed up safely in a box, waiting. He is a piece of ceramic sculpture, created by a visiting Chinese artist who taught at NSCAD University one summer. I always loved this horse and am very sad to see him go, but can never forget how beautifully he graced my home. I had him on a high shelf in my kitchen (which is actually part of the living room) so that he would be safe and visible from anywhere in the room. His presence will always be here.
The Halifax waterfront is alive and well……….and very active. I missed the Tall Ships because I was in Cape Breton that weekend. Last time they were in the harbor (summer of 2000), I was there every day totally fascinated, climbing on board, exploring, taking pictures, taking my students to draw (they were so mesmerized by the magnificence of the boats they “forgot” to draw). Now the Buskers are taking over the boardwalk. It is so crowded, walking is difficult, the traffic is heavy, the air is filled with delight.
Getting away from it all, some children climbed up on top of the wave sculpture. Better view up there:
Other children put on big lobster claws and duked it out:
or crawled through claws into a fun house:
There were lots of trinkets to buy:
or you could ride around (and be serenaded) in a man-drawn cart before getting married:
Of course, there were lots of Buskers as well, but, as you can see, I was sidetracked by the peripheral events.
There’s someone in Halifax who is copying my paintings and selling them in galleries here and in other places. They are watered down, thin, not very good copies and it makes me very angry. I suppose I should feel flattered but I don’t. It feels insulting. It’s taken me years and years of studying and practice to come to the place where I am now. He hasn’t done the homework and it shows. I know because he took some classes with me and was very hard to teach. In fact, refused to try to learn anything except my techniques. None of the substance that led me to the decisions I make.
It’s not easy to create a good piece of art, one of enduring value, or even to know always when the work is worthwhile. I had some work returned recently from a gallery in Kentucky and was shocked to see what I had sent down. It was really bad. And I had thought, at the time, it was good. Some of my old pieces I still think are excellent, but my judgment was off on these.
But having someone “copy” my way of working and producing inferior paintings……….well that really makes me mad.
Just after “talking” to Toni about her situation (where a man with cerebral palsy was inappropriately demanding of her time), I run into a somewhat similar problem with a student yesterday. This time the three-legged puppy, the“handicap,” was pressure from the parents for the student to get “A’s” or they wouldn’t continue to fund her education. And she knows, as do I, that she doesn’t deserve an A. She was really heartbroken, in tears, totally overwhelmed with terror about her parents reaction when I talked to her yesterday. Yet it would be inappropriate of me to bend to the pressure to give her an inflated mark just to placate her parents. Her work is good, it shows promise, she works hard, she still has a lot to learn.
One of the harder parts of talking to this student was seeing how much she was striving to please her parents, a pressure that was not allowing her to experience school as a learning process. Nor did it let her see her strong points separate from her parents expectations. (Her parents are both artists with what seems to be rigid standards of what is good art.) The best I can do for her is to write a narrative evaluation that clearly describes her assets and give her an appropriate grade for her achievements.
When I got home, I turned on my computer to find an email from someone I hadn’t spoken to (in any form) since last October, no reason to have communicated, no strong friendship that I knew about, scolding me for not calling months ago. Out of the blue. Sorry, I’m not up for being bullied today.
Meanwhile, the day was stressful enough that I turned on the TV in the evening to watch a very stupid “reality” program, For Love or Money. I hadn’t seen it before (and won’t look for it again!) so I don’t know what the ongoing narrative is, but it really was a dumb show. First the young lady was dumb, thinking she was looking for love yet trying to manipulate (with hugs and kisses and calculated flirtatious behavior) every man to fall in love with her so she could get a shot at a million dollars. And the three men left for her to choose as the “lucky” one, were dumb for (frankly, from my point of view) being there. With a million dollars at stake, how could love flourish? And no one seemed to talk about anything of significance. It was really dumb.
So everyone is looking for love, from parents, from a grade at school, from a fantasy, from a relationship, from a million dollars. There are definitely better ways to find it. I think I’ll get a puppy. And train it where to pee.
Just when I thought the pressure would calm down for a few weeks, everything was turned upside down (again) by a phone call from Linda Fairchild telling me that she would like to change the opening day for my exhibit in San Francisco (from September 9 to September 23) The reason is good, the effect will be good. I cannot complain. She is opening a second space and would like it to be with my work and a big celebration. But………….it means changing what was going to be an extended holiday visiting my children (and missing the first week of school in September) to a shorter, more efficient trip (with no visit in Montreal to see Aaron & Jessica and still missing a few classes) and the possibility that Tamar, Dan & Damian will not be able to go to San Francisco. But I will visit them in Los Angeles. There is no point in being in California without seeing them! But a stop in Montreal will have to wait. Darn!
The best part (for me) is that she is adding three more paintings to what we picked out (and I have already shipped to her) in July. And I feel these three paintings will definitely make the exhibit stronger. They are necessary additions.
I’ve been listening to American Mavericks on Sunday mornings (CBC radio), an award winning program hosted by Suzanne Vega, the singer/writer with interviews with composers by Michael Tilson Thomas, the artistic director and conductor of the San Francisco Orchestra.
This morning the focus was on the relationships between art and music. The show was called If Jackson Pollack Wrote Music, and was subtitled Music’s Abstract Expressionists. The website describes the topic:
Contact with the abstract expressionist painters after World War II inspired many American Composers to look for a new American language in chaos, complexity and freedom.
Music from composers such as Cage, Brown, Feldman, Wolff were played (and can be heard on their website). The emphasis was on “freedom, chance, improvisation” for some, and “structure and scientific models” for others. Jackson Pollack’s paintings are referred to as a model for the music.
Considering that people will line up and wait for hours in line to see an exhibit of Robert Rauchenburg’s latest work but it is hard to fill an audience for a “new music” concert, the conclusion was drawn that music is more personal. I’m not sure about this. In fact, Rauchenburg is now a main stream contemporary artist and John Cage is a household name (well, in most households where the arts are of importance) equal in stature to Rauchenburg and Merce Cunningham, I think perhaps this is an over-generalization. We hear often of great painters “discovered” after they die poor and unappreciated. Painting too is very personal. When something is new, be it music or art, people too often think they have to “understand” something to enjoy it. It is true that the eyes are a major vehicle of communication and we “see” art more often and often more readily, whereas contemporary music does take a different kind of “understanding” and is not as “available” either in the everyday listening or in concert. It needs to be sought out.
When it comes to making art or music, the process is stated well by Jerome Kitze, a composer for 32 years, quoted on the website as saying:
I think you find your audience by not thinking about that very much. You’re doing your job and doing your work and not worrying about, let’s say, being rejected or accepted.
This weather is enough to make anyone feel lousy: chilly and raining almost every day. Anytime the sun comes out, people say "Summer, finally!" but that doesn't last long, just more rain again. And chilly. Good for the slugs in my garden. A new occupation for me, chasing slugs. No fun. I have the dehumidier going all the time in my studio so it is pleasant in there (besides the fact that I love to paint).
It's been so strange, the weather, that I haven't been able to grow lettuce. Planted seeds three times. No luck. And I'm not the only one. But the peas and beans and squash and lilies are doing great, as long as I keep the pests away! Where, oh where, is summer!
It’s another of those cold and wet days we have had too much of this summer. To cheer me up, here are some memories of a refreshing trip to beautiful Cape Breton last weekend, where it was sunny and warm………..
Sheets in the wind at the motel where most of the wedding guests stayed:
The sunset from the whale watching cruise boat:
And a familiar postcard scene of the Cabot Trail. I stopped at lots of lookouts to take pix because it was too beautiful to leave behind (and also to keep myself from falling asleep at the wheel after so much party!):
I’ve been really frazzled lately. Too much to do in too little time. And the focus is mostly business issues: photography, shipping, customs clearance, exhibits, etc. AND painting. Fun and games. But lots of pressure to get it all done and to do it right away. Deadlines. I enjoy working under pressure, the painting part. Knowing that someone will see the work. It’s the other stuff, the business stuff, that is more stressful. I have an intense panic with governmental issues, dealing with the clerical mentalities I often find there. (I had to go to Customs last week to clear a shipment from a gallery in Kentucky, returning work, wanting new work. It did go easily, but I was nervous, to say the least!)
When I immigrated to Canada, it was a lot harder than I had expected. All seemed to go well at first: application, interview, apparent acceptance, medical exams, then wait for the OK letter. I had already sold my loft in Manhattan, bought a house in Nova Scotia (in Sambro Head), and shipped my belongings, expecting to find a positive letter in my mailbox before I left. Instead I received a “Thank you, but no thank you” note. Apparently the man who had been working with my file was transferred to Jamaica and the new person decided to say no. I packed up my (new) car, put my dog Miranda in with me, and drove here anyway. (Where else was I to go?) Aaron was to follow later in the summer. When here, I had to get a temporary permit for myself and my belongings and then had to renew it several times. Aaron seemed to have good luck getting school permits.
And I reapplied three more times for immigrant status. I was told “there are more artists in Nova Scotia than any other province” and I had to prove that I was not just another artist (reference letters, proof of sales, gallery commitments in the U.S., etc.). The fourth time I was accepted, finally. (Maybe they were tired of saying no!) Just before that, on one of my return trips from NYC, I stopped at the border to renew my permit and was told by the officer that she would not let me in.
“Obviously,” she said, “you want to live in Nova Scotia and you have to wait until you are granted immigrant status.
“What to you want me to do? Go back to New York today?”
“Yes,” she said.
“What about my dog (Katie)?”
“Where’s your dog?”
She didn’t know where Chester was, which made her seem very dumb to me (everyone knows where Chester is, right!), but she gave me one month to go in and get my things. I had it extended to two months. Then when I was in Vermont waiting (and Aaron stayed here with friends), I received my papers and here I am (and Aaron is in Montreal now).
A couple of years later I received a phone call from Immigration asking that, since I have been so successful here, would I be willing to counsel new immigrants in my field. Of course I would, but they have never called again. Maybe it was a crank call, a bureaucrat amusing himself. I can laugh about it now, but I still don’t enjoy anything to do with the clerical side of government.
Going to Cape Breton was a big change in the tone of my summer. It was all play—meeting people I hope to continue to know, enjoying, celebrating. For the Wedding Adventure I didn’t take any of my business stuff with me, other than the beautiful cards Aaron designed for me.
And I came home and jumped in my lake. For the first time this summer. The weather has been so lousy and I’ve been so busy, it was all so very refreshing. Now the pressure is off (I hope) for the next three weeks. Then I go to Montreal for a couple of days to visit Aaron & Jessica, to Los Angeles to visit Tamar, Dan & Damian, to San Francisco for an exhibit of my work at the Linda Fairchild Gallery (I hope to see you there, September 9!).
Saturday past was a full moon, a blue moon. I went to Cape Breton for the weekend, to a wedding, a real Cape Breton wedding—lots of singing, dancing, drinking, food, fun.
The weather was, and has been, hot and sunny (whereas here it has been raining and cold for weeks and weeks, every day.) The couple getting married had a new kind of civil ceremony, a certified domestic agreement. Although originally designed to accommodate gay couples, any one can register. In essence there was no officiate, they designed their own ceremony, signed a paper, and, as the bride's mother suggested by the cake, the noose was tied!
The surprise event of the day was a whale watching cruise after the ceremony and food. Gulls watched from shore as a boatload of revellers pulled out to sea.
I’ve seen whales from my living room window when I lived in Duncan’s Cove. But this was very special, magical. We were transported with eewww’s and oooh’s and aaaahhh’s and LOOOK!!!! LOOK!!!!!!!! as the ocean came alive with pilot whales dancing around us. Many many whales, too many to count. (And too fast for me to get a good photo!)
I came back soaked from the ocean spray and soaked with wonderful memories. It was a relaxed, joyous Cape Breton party. The wedding experience was just ducky!
(P.S. The scarecrow's wedding was in Cheticamp. I didn't attend. I was in Pleasant Bay.)