Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Inspiration and Method

Listen to abstract pastelist Debora Stewart talk about her inspiration, her methods, her techniques, and her art. Art Talks with Bruce Carter, WVIK, Augustana Public Radio, Augustana College, Rock Island IL. Listen to the March 28th interview here.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Book Review:
Trust the Process: An Artist’s Guide to Letting Go
, by Shaun McNiff

Contributed by Deb Stewart

Trust the Process is a book that I have read over and over again. I have sections marked and continue to use it as inspiration. It has so much insight into the creative process. I discovered this book while looking for guidance on a different path of creativity. A path that would combine art and spirituality because, for me, the two are intertwined. This is not a “how-to book” in any way, but one that provides direction on discovering your own individuality as an artist.

In the chapter titled Wellspring of Movement the author states: “We don’t realize how the expressiveness of our paintings and drawings correspond completely to the way in which we move our bodies. Art is close to dance, and our paintings will benefit as we expand our abilities to move with materials. We look for our natural gesture.” I practiced just making marks and the natural way this comes to me. I try to use those gestural marks in my work. Gesture drawing has always been my favorite form of drawing. Gesture and blind contour are so close to channeling creative energy. The author talks of moving while working which is something I often do. It is not uncommon for me to sing and move to music while working. Sometimes this helps to immerse me in the process.

One of my favorite chapters is Emanation, where McNiff discusses the idea that works emanate from each other. Creation is a process of emanation. You must begin to work before the work will emerge. When working in a more realistic way, I often had trouble with where to go with my art. I often felt “stuck” and would ask myself “What should I draw?” One of the ideas in this chapter led me to my current way of working. He suggests creating a series of small drawings that he calls inspiration cards or seeds. In creating these small cards, the artist is experimenting with themes and how one picture emerges (emanation) from the next. This helps the artist’s style to emerge. I continue to utilize this idea and it has helped me immensely in my work. I create gestural contour drawings from plants. I take sections of these drawings and create small drawings on three by four inch papers. This is what I now use in the creation of my abstract pastels.

In the chapters titled Many Ways of Creating and Moving Between Worlds, the author dispels some of the preconceived notions we may have about the lifestyle of the artist. He says that many famous artists, poets and other creative types lived rather normal lives. They wove their creative lives through their jobs, family responsibilities, and other responsibilities. There are many ways to be an artist. The stereotype of the artist does not fit for many people. In Moving Between Worlds McNiff discusses the different roles that we all play and how we move in and out of those roles and how one role can benefit the other. I find this true for me at this moment in time. I believe that the work I have done in human services and education has been of immense benefit to my life as an artist. And my life as an artist has also been of benefit to my work in agencies and schools. One role gives to the other.

I will end with a quote that I believe distills what the book is about:
“A Jesuit who works with art described to me how 'God leads through the process of creation. A force catches my attention and I listen to what attracts me.' The vision is what calls to us and what touches us. It is an ongoing movement, a process. It moves through us. In order to receive the vision, we learn how to sit, watch, and receive. It wants to be known. Creativity is a journey that we are on."
We do not want to repeat anyone else’s journey, but to be on our own. How do we discover our true and unique identity as an artist? The guidance in McNiff's book has helped me discover a unique path for myself as an artist. It has helped me depend more on intuition and learn from my own work. I would certainly recommend this book to anyone who sees their life in art as a spiritual journey. Because I believe that it is and this author helps us on our way.

This book ultimately is about the process of creativity. It is a guide through the mental, spiritual and physical aspects of becoming attuned with an intuitive process.

✱ reviewer's website: Debora Stewart: Contemporary Pastels and Drawings
Deb Stewart's blog
✱ Deb Stewart's painting, above, entitled: Emanation Series: Undergrowth. soft pastel on sanded paper and mounted on archival board, 24"H x 18"W
Shaun McNiff: Selected Paintings

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Kirk Varnedoe on Abstract art

Abstract art, while seeming insistently to reject and destroy representation, in fact steadily expands its possibilities. It adds new words and phrases to the language by colonizing the lead slugs and blank spaces in the type tray. Seeming nihilism becomes productive, or, to put it another way, one tradition’s killer virus becomes another tradition’s seed. Stressing abstract art’s position within an evolving social system of knowledge directly belies the old notion that abstraction is what we call an Adamic language, a bedrock form of expression at a timeless point prior to the accretion of conventions. If anything, the development of abstraction in the last fifty years suggests something more Alexandrian than Adamic, that is, a tradition of invention and interpretation that has become exceptionally refined and intricate, encompassing a mind-boggling range of drips, stains, blobs, blocks, bricks, and blank canvases. The woven web of abstraction is now so dense that, for its adepts, it can snare and cradle vanishingly subtle, evanescent, and slender forms of life and meaning. . . . Abstraction is a remarkable system of productive reductions and destructions that expands our potential for expression and communication.
This passage is taken from the initial lecture, entitled 'Why Abstract Art?', delivered by Kirk Varnedoe in 2003 as part of that year's A.W. Mellon Lectures in Fine Arts series, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. The Mellon Lectures began in 1949 and their goal, as decreed by the gallery's Board of Trustees, was to "bring to the people of the United States the results of the best contemporary thought and scholarship bearing upon the subject of fine arts."(1)

Kirk Varnedoe certainly had the credentials. At the time of these lectures, he was a Professor of the History of Art at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, and the former long-time and very influential curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art. "For years, he taught at Columbia University and at the Institute of Fine Arts, where his lectures routinely attracted huge audiences of students and the public. Even in one-on-one conversation, his speaking style was custom-made for the lecture hall: astonishingly fluent, easy and organized in perfectly formed, complex paragraphs that seemed to flow naturally and without hesitation." (2)

He delivered these six Mellon lectures between March and May 2003, all under the the title 'Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art since Pollock'. They have been published in a book and the editors have attempted to preserve Varnedoe's eloquence and flair for engaging an audience. (Watch a video snippet of Varnedoe delivering one of these lectures at NGA, here.)

(1) Kimmelman, Michael. "Kirk Varnedoe, 57, Curator Who Changed the Modern's Collection and Thinking, Dies". New York Times. August 15, 2003.
(2) Powell, Earl A. Forward to Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art since Pollock, by Kirk Varnedoe. Princeton, 2006. (Read the preface to the book, written by Adam Gopnik.)

Bonus Links:
. Mellon Lectures at the NGA
. a definition of 'Abstraction', taken from the Grove Dictionary of Art

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Welcome to WHAPS!

Welcome to the website of WHAPS, the Western Hemisphere Abstract Pastelists Society! Here we will explore the realm of abstract art as seen through the eyes of pastelists. WHAPS welcomes all prospective members, regardless of hemisphere.

Please send us your ideas for future features, artists that you would like us to profile, or ideas that you would like us to explore.
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Tell us what you want to see here.