Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cold Wax + Oil Workshop in Winnipeg

Last week I gave a cold wax and oil workshop in Winnipeg to these artists.  All of them have been painting in acrylic for many years, so cold wax and oil was a big departure for them. And even though I suggested that they make 'bad art' in one exercise during this class, there were some really exciting paintings that came out of the workshop.

I've probably written about making 'bad art' before.  The idea was mentioned in the book, the Tao of Photography, as well as  in Eric Maisel's book, "Coaching the Artist Within":
"To create we have to take the bad with the good.  We're bound to write bad paragraphs along with good ones.  That's the eternal law.  We can get rid of those bad paragraphs later on, but first we must write them.  Otherwise we won't write anything at all.  If we try to write only the good paragraphs, we are three-quarters of the way toward paralysis.  The name that we've coined for this problem is 'perfectionism.' But it isn't that people afflicted this way are striving to be perfect.  They are just striving to be good, which would be no problem at all, if only they also had internal permission to be bad."

Many of the artists in this class belong to a collective called the 'Group of 8".  They meet regularly to plan group shows, to discuss their art, offer critiques and support each other.  What a gift that is.  Part of what I like to do in my classes is to set aside time for the students to share their background, as well as their thoughts and experiences related to their art with each other.  The class comes to a whole other level of depth and support when the students share their experiences in life and art. 

One of the women in the group is having a solo show in the fall.  She has a friend who offered to help her with her artist's statement by providing her with a list of sixty questions to ask herself.  Thoughtful questions about her art practice..."Why did you decide to be a visual artist?, Why do you paint the kind of images you do?, How do your paintings express who you are as an artist? How do you know when a painting is finished?"  We tried to tackle some of these questions in the class at lunchtimes, but there wasn't enough time in a 2 day workshop to discuss more than one or two.  I'll save a few of those questions for a longer workshop.

Confidence, like art, never comes from having all the answers; it comes from being open to all the questions.  Earl Gray Steven

 To be on a quest is nothing more or less than to become an asker of questions.
Sam Keen

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Why Do We Need Art?

Cicada 42x42" oil on panel  ©Janice Mason Steeves 2011

The southern Ontario City of Woodstock received a $3.3 million dollar grant last year to renovate and expand their art gallery to four times the space with the ability to house world class exhibitions. With construction nearing completion, this  past week, recently elected Mayor Pat Sobeski dealt the city and the arts a huge blow. In a last minute decision City Council decided to offer the space instead to a local college and leave the art gallery in the small cramped space they have occupied for the past twenty-eight years.  In a rally last weekend, a huge group of arts supporters turned out to protest this move, waving signs that said: "ART IS FOR EVERYONE". The mayor is now reconsidering his decision and may propose that the college and the art gallery share the space.  This is a less than perfect decision for the art gallery but still affords them twice the space they had previously.

Just before the rally, in my anger at the mayor's ignorant attitude to the arts, I wrote him a letter. My letter most likely fell on deaf ears, but writing it gave me some small satisfaction. 

I reminded him of the speech given by Canada's Governor-General, Adrienne Clarkson when she presented the first Governor General's Awards for Visual and Media Arts in March 2000.
Here are some selected quotations from that magnificent and inspiring speech. The entire speech was printed in the National Post, March 23, 2000:

     "All art is magical activity because even though its subject matter can be representational or abstract, it is meant to propel us to a level of consciousness that’s not purely intellectual.  As the British philosopher, R.G. Collingwood said sixty years ago, “Art is a necessity for every sort and condition of man and is actually found in every healthy society. A society which thinks, as our own does, that it has outlived that need is wrong, or else it is a dying society, perishing for lack of interest in it’s own maintenance.’
     We need art.  Those who deny this need deny society as a whole its right to live and experience with every fibre as sentient beings.  They deny the evolving humanity which makes society aspire to the heights of perception.  They deny the deep community that comes from a shared vision.
     For most of us who appreciate art, but do not create it, art is, in the words of Baudelaire, infinitely precious, a nectar that is at once refreshing and warming: bringing both the physical and spiritual into a natural, ideal balance.
     Those who would deny us the right to spiritual nourishment by alluding to an ill-defined and, to be sure, contemptible 'elite' do not understand what it is to see, to be enlightened by a vision that transforms from within.  All of us can be changed, can be transformed, at any time, by a painting, a sculpture or a film.
     By drawing us along with them, artists make us aware that we all create art,in every action and every word.  We must therefore all strive to express human emotion, to vanquish that which corrupts the conscience in the eternal struggle to be human.  
     Art is what makes life worthwhile, what makes it passionate, what makes it livable.  To all of you who have given us the ability to see, to feel alive, to be more human, thank you."