Too Hip

The art scene.  I think of Andy Warhol and cavernous, drafty soho lofts with floors covered in paint.  I see Basquiat paintings, large and outrageous covering the walls, with black-clad hipsters milling about holding glasses of wine, making Barnard or NYU-educated remarks about the art. I see model-tall, anorexic women, lovely, with haunted expressions, smoking cigarettes. looking intense and earnest.  The scene is hip, hip, hip.

I was at a  gallery opening here in Austin last night which is what inspired my thinking about the art-scene( as I have imagined it above).  Alas,  there were no Basquiats or Warhols on the wall, just lots of photos and paintings and drawings of nude models. The place was small, but tasteful, with high ceilings and clean concrete floors. It’s small size made it feel intimate, conducive to conversing with other people looking at the art. It was really nice to have a “waiter” come around and offer small glasses of red or white wine, and I made a note to myself of the practicality and cost-effectiveness of this strategy of providing alcohol to a lot of people.

As I watched people come into the gallery, I did see model-thin women-a few with what my daughter would call “emo makeup,”  and some black-clad men with a token tattoo here and there.  And the purple-cloaked woman who sashayed into the room certainly caught my eye, as did the young woman in black patent-leather thigh-high boots. Ah, and one young woman who I overheard to be one of the nude models in some of the photographs, showed up wearing a feathered mask.

I stood there in my own “Free-People” labeled cashmere sweater, with modest green earrings, blue- jeans (which cost a fortune) and red high-heels, marveling at the costuming-the artfulness of the people. I smiled knowing I was not hip, nor will I ever be.  It was enough for me to see my two paintings on the wall of this juried exhibit. Even more thrilling, a friend of mine bought one of those paintings. And, I was grateful to have the opportunity to show a bit of the Austin art world what calligraphers are up to these days. (or at least what this calligrapher is up to!)

I left the party early as more revelers came in. Perhaps some of the wilder belly-dancing costumes on some of the women coming into the exhibit could be explained by the fact that Studio II Gallery is next to Lucila’s Belly-Dancing studio.  This is the same Lucila who sponsors the monthly full-moon drum circle of which my husband and I are regular attendees . And the gallery is also near Plum Blossom Studio where I occasionally enjoy massages and acupuncture treatments, facials and tarot-readings. My house is a stone’s throw away from all of these places-my own “Scene” of art, home, health and community.

Eccesiastes of Calligraphy

In response to the ongoing debate about calligraphy ( is it art or craft; is illegibility okay? what about formal vs. handwriting?),  I wrote the following, part of which I recently calligraphed in my class in California:

Ecclesiastes of Calligraphy

For every piece there is

a time to rule up

a time to jump outside the lines

a time to be formal

a time to improvise

a time to be legible

a time to be illegible

a time to use nibs

a time to use chopsticks

a time to use color

a time for black and white

a time to doodle

a time to put well-behaved lettering on the lines

a time to be silly and fey

a time to be ominous and serious

a time to use gothic

a time to use your own handwriting

For every piece

There is reverence for the client who appreciates fine work:

there is hope that art will bring healing into the world

there is joy for being gifted as an artist,

for making things that matter

there is an honoring of posterity in making artifacts that can last beyond our years,

there is love of humanity for our ability to express ourselves through art

there is payment which goes beyond the money we receive;

for every piece there  is an opportunity to express our uniqueness, to dance with lines and color on a multitude of surfaces, to seize the moment and truly LIVE

I risk, therefore I fail (sometimes)

I am one of the most fearful, cautious people I know. Or at least I used to be.  It is thus odd to me that the art I do is all about risk: I improvise, trust my intuition, go with my gut. During my “free play” improvisations things come out which surprise me-and it sometimes feels so uncomfortable to not know where I am going.

As a teacher, I feel compelled to offer students an opportunity to take risks in a safe, encouraging environment. My own experience has shown that a willingness to go off the well-trodden path can often lead to discoveries that can change the course of one’s artistic direction and experience. Rather than try to lead people where I think they should go , I try to encourage them to trust themselves, to use the exercises and techniques I offer as jumping off points; I try to help them find their own WAY.  Sometimes I underestimate the need for people to have more structure; sometimes I overestimate peoples’ ability to deal with discomfort. In taking my own risks as a teacher, I am bound to fail sometimes.

Failure. Ah, my worst fear. Or is it?  I think about the word…then feel the feelings, then think again..and I start to smile. I start to laugh!! Ah, how ridiculous. I am a wonderfully imperfect human teacher trying to help other people relax into themselves and I am worried about failure?

Back to risk. I will continue to risk being human-to experiment, to try new things, even if they don’t ultimately pan out.  If I don’t follow my own heart, trust my own WAY, then I can offer very little to any one else.

I really do feel the fear and do it anyway.  Teaching, making art, living life—it is all one big trust walk and I am so happy to be in the thick of it.


Being content.  It seems the artist’s lot is one of constant anxiety. Haunting questions such as, “do I have anything worth saying?” or “am I good enough” or “will I ever sell anything?”can be a familiar mantra in one’s head.  And then there is the isolation one experiences when one chooses to make art. More anxious thoughts  arise such as “my friends will disown me for hiding,” or “why am I so selfish?”, all contributing to a general feeling of unrest.  It takes time-lots of time-alone to develop ideas, to muck around in the paint or drawing or sculpture without guarantee that anything decent will emerge. Who knows, maybe nothing will happen and all that time will be wasted.

Being content. In the face of the myriad struggles which we face as artists, can we really be content?  I was challenged to reconsider the “artist as angst-ridden soul” in a workshop I took with Ewan Clayton in the mountains of North Carolina. He was presenting a Japanese concept (I don’t know what to call it, really) or aesthetic called Wabi Sabi.  In the context of that presentation, he talked about art arising from contentment, not anxiety.   I immediately distrusted this notion, thinking that only through blood, sweat and tears could something worthy of being called art emerge from my being.

I am reconsidering this distrust.  I look at a flower and I draw it. I am peaceful in my observation and joyous in putting down the lines.  Ah, my breath is even and steady.  I really love to draw that flower, I am content.

I feel this way in life-drawing class.  Indeed, I have experienced such peaceful, content moments as I observe and draw the models before me.  Because I have been at this practice for awhile, I know better than to worry about perfection. I simply try to really see and then draw what I see. All the while, content to just BE in the moment.  The same feeling arises when I write calligraphy. I dance my calligraphic line across the page and look in wonder at the connections I have made over the years: I have finally grasped all the basics and can put them together freely in my own way. Not perfect, but the writing is my own.

Anxiety of any kind is highly overrated.  I challenge myself to more times of being content, of allowing what IS  to be..what is.  To let things rise and fall, ebb and flow, to move with the current, to surrender to something larger than me. Life.  Love. Connection.

I Draw, Therefore I See

Drawing from life, daily practice, just showing up on the page.

In January, I made a commitment to myself to draw something-anything-every day.  I got a spiral bound sketch pad (Hobby Lobby, cheap!) which I tuck into my purse every day, along with a small bag full of pencils and pens.  It has become a habit to take out these simple tools and materials and sketch whatever is in front of me, wherever I am.  My husband, daughter and cats are my usual subjects because they are ever-present and available as models.  I have sketched my daughters’ volleyball team members, people in airports, my hand, other peoples’ hands, chairs, books, flowers, working men across the school from where I pick up Maeve. After a month of this practice, I see progress as evidenced by my ability to catch the essence of a subject in fewer yet stronger lines.

Frederick Franck, in his delightful and sensitive book: Zen Seeing, Zen Drawing talks about drawing as a practice for learning how to See (yes, that is a purposeful capital S). In order to really capture the spirit of a subject one must really look at its details; one must be fully present. It is actually quite exhilarating to be so involved in what I draw, and I am certain this practice helps lower my blood-pressure and keep my breathing steady.  Drawing relaxes me.  I don’t worry about how good the drawing is-I just move my pencil across the page. I try not to look too much at the page as I draw, and my grasp of the pencil is very loose.  Perhaps by the end of the year, drawing will be such a normal extension of myself that it will seem effortless.

Besides these small gestural drawings, I am also revisiting  books on perspective and proportion.  For instance, I am far more likely to get a good quick sketch of a hand if I understand what the structure of a hand looks like-if I have a blueprint of a hand in my mind. I go to Peck’s book “Atlas of Human Anatomy for the Artist” for these studies.  Although I still can’t remember the names of bones and muscles in a hand, I know what they look like!

And so I am off to draw again. My cat is yawning, perched and waiting for me to begin so she can jump off the table and into my lap.