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April 19, 2017


I AM enjoying these greatly! Please do keep sharing!

Oddly enough, I especially appreciate your 'formal' botanical drawings, especially the red bottlebrush. The looser, freer ones are lovely but there's a kind of strength and confidence in the formality which is very personal, sensitive and not at all 'academic' Hard to find the right words but you know what I mean.

Thanks, Martine! I will...

Yes, Natalie, I'm surprised to hear you say that, but other agree with you - that painting of the red bottlebrush got the most "likes" on Instagram of any recent post. I worked hard back in my twenties to learn how to do this sort of dry-brush watercolor, without any ink line; I was doing some biological, medical and botanical illustration then, and this led in turn to formal paintings that were more for myself, but sold well too. I'm of two minds: I love the subjects, enjoy doing this kind of work, and like showing things in a way that encourages a closer look at nature, but I'm mistrustful of popular realism and always feel like I should push myself beyond "facility." I'm sure you understand! However, I trust your observation and experience, and it's made me think -- if you see the personal and sensitive here, then the work does go beyond mere facility or academic "study". *I* feel that these paintings are quite personal, but wasn't aware that this was coming through at all.

Wonderful, Beth. The photos with the actual flowers and your depiction of them are so pleasing to me. The beer and chips also. :)

Beth, I know what you mean and I want to clarify what I said above.

Ever since the various modern art movements took centre stage, displacing realism as a primary criteria for judging whether an artwork was worthy of acclaim (and money)or not,'academic' became an insult and no serious artist wanted to risk being tarred with that brush. If in their heart of hearts some young art students admired Picasso, Matisse, Miro, Pollock, Warhol, Rothko or any other 20th Century luminaries but didn't want to BE them, it was difficult to know what to do with the 'facility' you mention (that word too has become derogatory). If they just loved drawing from nature and were naturally good at it, how could they pursue and develop that skill when all around them the most critically acclaimed and hot-selling artists were the experimenters,'rule-breakers' etc.? Their 'facility' seemed more like a flaw, an obstacle rather than an asset.

But the truth is and always has been that the finest art, of any period, is that which is true to the one who produces it, whether that's an individual or a specific culture (e.g. Etruscan, African etc.) It comes from the heart and from a particular focus/style/skill which matches it. So the point I'm making is that you should give full reign to your 'facility' because it's you, it comes from both your heart and your mind and there's no need to give it labels like 'botanical, biological, medical illustration'. It's your skill and you can do whatever you want with it! Never mind what gets most likes on Instagram etc. Pushing beyond facility could also mean exploring your facility!

End of lecture. xx

Tears came to my eyes when I read this, Natalie. Why? Because all my life I've been told the exact opposite by art teachers and mentors, and struggled against what felt like my own true nature. I am precise and observant, and I love what I'm seeing and painting in its particularity, whether that is a landscape or a flower or a person -- it is a spiritual thing for me -- and I have a talent for drawing that I've tried hard to develop -- but I've been told over and over that there's something wrong with that. At the same time, I've observed that actual people repeatedly respond to this kind of art more than anything else that I do. I'm certainly not one to be driven by popularism, but it's worth asking, What does that say? That people are naive and unsophisticated? What it says to me is that people are hungry for art that affirms what they themselves see and feel and experience underneath the surface of ordinary things. It also says that they have the ability to discern what is authentic and what isn't. If I am someone who sees into things deeply, and can bring that across in a true and direct way in my art (or writing, or photography, or whatever), then I'm being true to myself, and also to something that is true in human experience. It's quite simple.

The art I admire the most is pretty eclectic -- it can be Picasso, or Matisse, or Cezanne, or Rembrandt or Velasquez, or a 5th C BC vase painter, or Rothko or Rauchenberg. But I agree with you that all good art has integrity; it's true to the person who created it, and that is a big part of why it moves us. When I look at a white-ground lekythos by the Achilles painter, I am moved nearly to tears by the simplicity of his line as he draws an outstretched hand; these are the simplest of domestic scenes, but they commemorate a death through an expression of daily rituals of life in which the deceased was once a participant, and will never be again, but continue in human life to this day. There's something about the quality of his line that stretches directly to Picasso's "Vollard Suite," to Matisse's drawings, and to what I am striving for in my own line drawings of everyday objects. All these are pared-down expressions, realistic but less concerned with absolute accuracy and more with feeling, that seek to go to the heart of things. When the arrow strikes at the center, we know it, and when it's off, we know that too, but only practice can hope to achieve the rare perfect hit when heart and mind and hand are all aligned.

Anyway, that's what I am thinking about these days. Thank you so much for engaging with me on this.

"...Because all my life I've been told the exact opposite by art teachers and mentors..."

They were/are the product as well as the promoters of the particular art-ethos or art-zeitgeist of our times. That was also the case in previous times, for example when the'academic'ideal was worshipped and everything not on that pedestal was a waste of time and talent.

It's very hard but necessary to get to a point when all those zeitgeisty voices clamoring for our attention become only a distant murmur and the only voice we hear clearly is the inner one. It doesn't necessarily speak a familiar language but that's our task: learning to decipher it.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.