Tuesday, April 13, 2010


Oh, it feels good to be here. Rarely during these past weeks and months have I had the time for my art or for this. There just wasn't time. That has been tough because Art is the means I choose to be myself. Fortunately I have the life and works of Georgia O'Keeffe to serve as wonderful examples of maintaining an artful life whatever the circumstances.

She chose every day to practice art, to live art. It takes a lot of fortitude to outlast such pressures. You really have to want to live it, to practice it, to withstand that. One of my favorite anecdotes from Ms. O'Keeffe's life involves her stint as "supervisor of drawing and penmanship" in 1913. "She was responsible for the art education of hundreds of pupils in Amarillo's half-dozen schools." She was a proponent of the teachings of Arthur Wesley Dow and "fiercely opposed the old-fashioned teaching technique of 'copying,' and she told her pupils not to buy an expensive drawing book ... that had been recommended by the educators. In the spring of 1913, however, the Texas legislature passed a law requiring the use of textbooks chosen by the state commission ... A tense, lengthy struggle between Georgia and the state of Texas ensued - but when the school year ended, the books had not been bought."

Why art? Why does the practice of art make such a difference? See, it is not just art - not 'just' a painting, not 'just' a photograph, not 'just' a sculpture, not 'just' a song, not 'just' a poem. It is art from the heart.

Ms. O'Keeffe saw this so clearly and communicated it with her work entitled "My Heart," stones rendered in pastels. She had a visual reminder before her in New Mexico of constancy amid change, the Pedernal, birthplace of the Navajos' 'Changing Woman.' The heart Ms. O'Keeffe saw, like the Pedernal, is the constant in human life amidst whatever change occurs. The heart is the constant. Years before her pastel rendering of her heart Alfred Stieglitz, her husband, had shown her work with that of other women artists to declare to the world his assertion that "women could reveal a new and uniquely feminine perspective on modern experience." I feel Stieglitz was only partially correct in that assertion.

Rather than revealing a new perspective on modern experience alone, anyone practicing, anyone living, an artful life can reveal through their work a new and unique perspective on Human experience. How? How?

The practice of art is the practice of mindfulness. It is the practice of being here now. It is the practice of connecting to the Everlasting through the heart and channeling the tuition received there to the mind to inform the art. There are no short cuts here - no painting by the numbers, no storytelling by special software, no drawing by textbook copying. The only way to art is through the heart. The beauty of it is, to me, that just as Ms. O'Keeffe's heart could have been part of that Pedernal, her art, anyone's art, offers a perspective on the human experience.
The vision and knowledge of human experience that comes when heart and mind are tuned to the Everlasting in the here and now is vision and knowledge that sees above and beyond, beyond what is available to the senses, beyond the petty contrivances that may clutter our days.
This is brilliantly articulated in a review in The New Yorker of a 1930s show of her work, this portion of which will be my closing note:

Not only is it a piece of consummate craftsmanship, but it
likewise possesses that mysterious force, that hold upon the hidden soul, which distinguishes important communication from the casual reports of the eye ...

[Photos: Top: Weeping cherry, the author, 2010; Middle: detail from pastel by author's son, Dan, 1999; Bottom: detail from scratchboard piece by author's son, Sean, 2002]

[Bibliography: Lisle, Laurie. "Portrait of an Artist: A Biography of Georgia O'Keeffe." New York: Washington Square Press, 1980, 1986]

No comments: