“Normality is a paved road: It’s comfortable to walk, but no flowers grow on it.” ~ Vincent Van Gogh
Most of the time, if not all of the time, an artist needs to follow her own way. Of course, we all have a lot to learn, and it’s good to be humble and always listening, but when it comes to art, every human being is creative in his or her unique way.
It is fascinating for me to walk into KORE Gallery, where I am a member artist along with dozens of others, and see how many different styles and perspectives one can have on landscape painting, for example. There must be something special in man, that every artist can develop his own style, and there seems to be no limit to artistic interpretations and creativity.
Did you ever think about how we can recognize the differences between a Van Gogh, a Monet, a Picasso, ad infinitum?
As an artist, my goal is not just to create a beautiful painting, but to develop my own unique style and to paint something that no one else in the world would ever paint.
There is a clarity, or maybe it’s a desperation, that comes with age. In the time I have left I want to avoid “normality,” find my own path, and maybe a few creative “flowers” will grow along the way.
“Color is my day-long obsession, joy and torment.” ~ Claude Monet
Someone was looking at my painting the other day and asked,
“Why is the tree purple?”
“I feel like most trees should be purple,” I replied, and I don’t really know why this is true.
Experimenting with color is part of the mystery and the magic of creating art for me. I realize that most trees are gray or brown, but in those grays and browns, I see shades of violet, and blue, and pink, or at least the light seems to suggest those colors to my mind.
I love color, and most of the artists I admire used color in creative ways. Monet used all kinds of unexpected colors: he painted orange haystacks, blue and orange cathedrals, and if you look at his series of Poplars, even purple trees. Mary Cassatt used blues and greens and violets in her flesh tones with beautiful effects. Picasso had his blue period–maybe this is my purple period.
It is fascinating to me to see the unique styles of various artists. I hope you can come out to the Portland Art and Heritage Fair this Saturday to see the many different interpretations of the the theme, “Life on the River.” Mine will be the oil pastel painting of the river with the purple trees.
We had just arrived in Maputo, Mozambique, and it was our first trip into town. A bunch of us piled into Don Hulsey’s Landrover, and we bounced over the sand roads until we came to the asphalt roads that led to the city. The sights were like nothing I had ever experienced. I saw houses of sticks, people hanging off of pickup trucks catching a ride, and women and children dressed in colorful clothes, carrying baskets and bowls on their heads.
At one point we had a bus in front of us that was carrying packages on the top. A box fell off the bus in front of us, so we pulled over to save the package. After the bus pulled over, the man who owned the box ran back to us, and our teammate Kevin handed him the package.
Don invited him to ride with us, which was better for him than dangling precariously from the side of the bus, and worrying about his package falling off again. The grateful man jumped up into the truck with his box, and Kevin had to squish into the gear shift in the middle.
We were already giggling in the back seat when suddenly the box started squawking! It struck us as hilarious that the two-seater front cab was overflowing with Kevin, Don, and a stranger with squawking chickens in a box. When we looked up at the bus still in front of us, we saw a baby goat, standing, riding on the top of the bus. We were not in Kentucky anymore, we were in Africa now, a whole new world.
That incident reminds me of the scripture that says God gives us good gifts. Sometimes the gift is not what we expected, but it is good. We do not know what will be in the next box that falls into our hands, or what the future holds, but we know that God is good. He will not give us a snake if we ask for a fish (Luke 11:11). He is a good Father, who answers our prayers with good things. He may even give you a box of chickens when you need a good laugh!
“Looking at God’s creation, it is pretty clear that the creator itself did not know where to stop. There is not one pink flower, or even fifty pink flowers, but hundreds. Snowflakes, of course, are the ultimate exercise in sheer creative glee. No two alike. This creator looks suspiciously like someone who just might send us support for our creative adventures.”
–from The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
I love that quote by Julia Cameron, and I hope my landscapes celebrate the extravagance of the Creator.
This week I am delivering an oil pastel landscape painting of the Ohio River to be shown at the Portland Art & Heritage Fair. Click here for info about the Portland Art and Heritage Fair. I am honored to be a part of this exhibition about the Ohio River at the Portland Museum on September 28. I hope you can come out for a fun day of activities for the family and see the exhibition.
We watched the sun come up over the Indian ocean this morning. It was breathtaking. We celebrated the resurrection with believers from around 14 different nations, all gathered on the beach for Easter Sunday morning.
After the glorious sunrise and Easter activities with our kids, the dishes were all piled up in the sink from much cooking and eating all weekend, candy was scattered around, and we were resting, recovering from getting up at 3:30 am.
Scheduled to teach the local children at 3pm, I was exhausted, and did not feel like speaking Portuguese for an hour. Battling a bad attitude, and asking God to help me, I went down to the church to teach.
About 40 children from the local orphanage filed into my classroom with their caretaker, and I felt panicked having her and all of those children awaiting my Portuguese. Hurling a desperate prayer toward heaven, I started off. God showed up for me. Those children listened intently as I taught a lesson from John 3. They even quieted the children who came in late so that they could listen. I did stumble over my words some, but it didn’t seem to bother these children. They seemed captivated by the illustrations and the lesson.
Afterward I gave out some simple questions, written by my little helper, Gerito. Honestly, I didn’t think the questions were such a great idea, but I wanted to encourage Gerito, who had worked so hard writing them. He had the idea that we should write questions, have the children answer them, and turn them back in. I thought I would never see those papers again.
But I was wrong. The children were excited to get those papers! After the class, one child at a time proudly came and presented his paper, all filled out correctly. Tears came to my eyes as I stood and read each paper—I had to, they each stood there waiting for my approval. I patted each one on the back, and told them what a good job they had done. This seemed to make them truly happy, and after that they looked with fascination at my Bible picture book. My heart was full as I watched their delight over a simple picture book.
Later that night something struck me. The first question on the paper was “Who is God?” Every one of those orphaned children had answered “O Nosso Pai,” our Father.
They had no earthly fathers, but they believed God is their father. How would you have answered that question? Who is God to you? I want to be like those children, who believed in God as their good father, and rejoiced over the simple gifts that came their way.
Maybe I should destroy my art work if I don’t like it. I heard that Picasso slashed some of his paintings into shreds with his palette knife because they didn’t measure up to his standards for himself (1).
I’m not quite as intense as Picasso, but I’m also not quite as relaxed as Andy Warhol, though I aspire to be. He’s what he said:
“Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art” (2).
This month I am showing my art work in two different group exhibitions in Louisville, Kentucky, and it’s always inspiring to me to see the work of so many different artists.
Looking at all of the art work on display, I sometimes wonder how other artists choose what to submit for these invitational juried exhibitions. (Artists send photos of their work to the gallery and hope to be accepted into the show.)
I have three categories of work, at least. Work that I love, work I’m unsure about, and work that I don’t like. I have a closet full of such pieces, work that didn’t turn out so great, and you’ll never see it, unless maybe you’re one of my kids sorting my stuff after I die.
Sometimes, I know that a painting or a drawing is bad, and I won’t show it. Other times I have trouble being objective about my own work. At those times, I try to think like Warhol. Let everyone else decide if it’s good. While they are deciding, I’ll just keep making even more art.
“And I have caught a pregnant bluehead lizard that has already had one egg. Soon it will have more eggs.”
–Joseph Brooks, October 21, 1996
When we first went to Mozambique, our son Joseph was 6. As I sort through old emails, I came across a letter that he dictated to Martin to be typed into an email to send to his friends back home. It reads like this:
“Everywhere you walk, there is sand. Most of the time it does not rain even though there are dark clouds. We have tall thorns around the whole compound as a fence.
“It’s more exciting here because every day you have friends to play with, and you don’t have to go far to find any. Most of the time we play marbles or play with a hacky sack or we play soccer which is really called football here.
“And I have caught a pregnant bluehead lizard that has already had one egg. Soon it will have more eggs.
“And also, there was this hole in the flower bed, and I accidentally shot a marble, and it went down the hole. As I was trying to dig it up to get it, a head popped out of the hole. I thought it was a snake at first, but then my gardener told me that it was a frog. So I ran and got a jar and caught it while my gardener watched it. And I still have the toad and the lizard. The frog is as tall as my finger and as wide as my fist.”
Joseph always was, and still is, a happy person. Maybe it’s because he focused on the toads. Too many times in life we are expecting a snake, and God gives us a toad instead, and it’s wonderful, but I tend to just say, “Whew! That was close.” I forget about it, and go on looking for the next snake. Instead, like Joseph, I should run and get a jar, and celebrate the toads! How many times has God given me a toad when I was expecting a snake, but I just move on, forgetting all of the good times God has given, and all of the times I have been rescued, and I go on looking for the next snake to bite me, instead of being happy about the all of the toads.
I often hear, “Write what you would want to read.” As I think about what I want to read as an artist, and maybe what most artists need, it is encouragement to keep going. Did anyone’s parents ever say to them, “You should be an artist when you grow up”? Maybe a few did, but mostly they say be a doctor, lawyer, engineer, etc.
Being an artist is not for everyone–it is constant work and frequent rejection. When I was teaching, one of my colleagues said he had dropped out of being an art major to study law because art was too much work.
“For art, ” he said, “you actually had to make stuff!”
But another thing I keep hearing from artists is “You always come back,” or some variation of my own story, which is for years I neglected doing my artwork because everything else seemed more important, but eventually I came back to making art.
So why is art important? According to Friedrich Neitzche,
“The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.”
I can relate to that. Not that my art is great, but that I create out of gratitude. I see such beauty in nature, in people, or in colors and textures, and I’m so thankful to always have beauty. Even and especially in the midst of pain and a constant flow of devastating news, that beauty is freely given, if I can just pay attention long enough to notice.
When we make art, we know we are more than just machines: we can feel again, we can react to what we see in front of us or in our imaginations in ways that are intuitive, emotional, and unexplainable. We do not know what is going to happen on the canvas or on the page. We are led by something or someone beyond ourselves. There is mystery and magic once again when we create art.