Thursday, December 8, 2011

Why we do art

To create one's own world in any of the arts takes courage.     Georgia O'Keeffe

As we near the end of 2011, I’d like to talk about why we do art. I recently read an article on how art is considered, by some, as one of the most useless college degrees available to students. The author’s vision was blinded by his limited knowledge of what art really is. No one can find a job as a CEO or VP right out of the starting gate (although historically most business leaders have had a strong liberal arts backgrounds), but you can find a job as a curator in a small gallery and there’s still plenty of work in the design and illustration fields. But do we actually work at our art solely to make money? If we’re not retired, many of us have what’s called the day job, be it a computer engineer or an administrative assistant. We all have to eat and art sales are fickle--especially in these times. So we do what we have to do. With that in mind, I came up with a few reasons why I do my art: Keeps me in the NOW.
This one heads my list since I know how important it is to live in the present. Years ago I used to voice the cliches about the past being dead and the future not yet grasped--never really living the belief. Even today, I have to work at staying in the present, but not when I’m working on my art. When I am observing an object, I have to home in on details. Nothing else enters my moment in time. As I’ve said before, when I draw or paint, I seem to become one with the subject. There have been times when I have actually become lost, when my “me” is gone and I’m in a totally different zone. Not that this happens often (I wish it would), but when it does, I am in wonderment. Usually, though, I enjoy the feeling of the moment. Nothing beats it--not reading, not fishing, not walking. For me my NOW begins when I take pencil in hand and begin my early sketches. Increases observation skills
One of the most common statements I hear from students is that since they started drawing or painting, they are looking at things differently. It’s true. You can’t help yourself from noticing more when you are creating art. It’s a visual business. I’ve read that this skill is so important that some medical schools are requiring art classes for their students so that they develop a better eye for details. When I was studying Communications during my post-grad days, I took a class in journalism. The instructor introduced a speaker, who was giving us a presentation on some theory of news reporting, and we were told to take copious notes. About twenty minutes later, the speaker left and our instructor told us we were having a pop quiz. He asked us to write a short essay on what the speaker looked like, including what he was wearing and his mannerisms. Most of us were stunned. We had taken notes on what the speaker said, not how he appeared. I guess you could say, I was using my left brain, where all the words and calculations linger, instead of using my right where our visuals are strongest. It was a great lesson. Art truly is in the details.

"One must from time to time attempt things that are beyond one's capacity."
Auguste Renoir

Keeps the brain working!
When we were children it was fun to slap paint on paper. We had no inhibitions. Just go for it and see what happens. I still like to do that, especially when I’m playing with abstracts. Usually, creating art does require concerted work (thus, why it is called art “work”). It demands concentration, practice, eye-hand coordination, determination to overcome our inner critic, choosing the right colors, the right strokes, the right combinations to create something pleasing from nothing. All these chores require calculations and judgements, something your brain is very good at doing (let’s hope so). The process keeps your brain alive and working!! Doing something for yourself.
Returning to the money topic one more time, I’d like to emphasize that it’s best when we create for ourselves and not for the “market.” Of course if you are tied into the commercial side of things, you have to create what the client wants. I did that for years when I worked in advertising and public relations. Sometimes I had to create the mundane and mediocre, but heck, I needed the money. Fortunately, most of my clients gave me lots of latitude, allowing me an opportunity to try new pathways. Today when it comes to my art, I don’t really try to please anyone. Most of my work appears in sketchbooks that I store on my shelves and the rest is hanging on my walls or tucked away in my downstairs' storeroom. I don’t have any desire at this point to enter art shows or competition. I did that when I first returned to fine arts. I was juried into almost every show I entered. I thought it was fun at first, then I realized how much work and expense it took. I also witnessed artists painting for the juror(s) or for the market (for later sales). It simply took the fun out of the process for me. One day I decided I would paint or draw only for myself and I’ve been happy ever since. And, I’ve learned that I don’t want to part with a lot of my work, although some stuff I could truly  do without. Now with Costco doing prints on canvases, I’m able to sell prints instead of originals, which I like much better. Doing art for myself has given me so much freedom, and I hope that I never, ever have to paint for someone else or the marketplace again. Outlet for expression

Stack of newspapers at San Francisco MOMA
By painting for yourself, you are also developing a wonderful outlet for your own expression. Sometimes I look at some modern work today and wonder what does it mean? I guess that’s the first thing a modern artist wants you to ask. This past summer I was at Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in San Francisco and there was a pile of newspapers in a corner--all black and white (no ad inserts). While standing there looking down at what I recycle everyday, I truly had to ask myself, “What’s that all about?” Going on the web later I found a lot of other people who were puzzled too. Then I ran across the site, It Depends. According to Arundhati of It Depends,  the stacks are a political statement:

If you think that these are just newspapers stacked neatly in a corner, wrong, wrong, wrong. The artist is making a political statement with this work. Notice how the different stacks are all of different heights and shapes symbolizing the deep inequalities of society. The pieces of string that have been used to tie the papers represent the chains imposed on society by the elite. Or something.

I guess I didn’t study the piece long enough to figure out it’s meaning. The point is that the artist was expressing his view point. I have a painting I rarely show and that’s because it’s political as well. When the Jews were forced to leave their homes in the Gaza Strip (right or wrong), I was disturbed by the turn of events. I imagined how hard it was for those folks to leave their homes of so many years. This caused me to create a watercolor entitled, “Uncle Theo Leaves Home.” Obviously without the title and some historical background, one probably wouldn’t get the meaning of the piece. Perhaps that’s what is lost on the stack of newspaper.

Uncle Theo Leaves Home, watercolor painting by JJ Goodell
Finding fulfillment
The biggest reason I do art though is because it’s fun!! It gives me a lot of pleasure, partly because there is a sense of accomplishment with each piece I finish and partly because art fills my life with so much satisfaction (and/or misery when things go wrong). After so many years in advertising and finding joy in creating ads and brochures--which I considered art at times--I am so very happy I found something as fulfilling and joyful as fine arts. I sometimes wonder if I will ever tire of creating artwork. Beyond the fact that I’m overly invested in the field (how did I accumulate so much art supplies in such a short time?), I can’t imagine myself ever dropping my pencil or paint brush for any other love.

Classes & Workshops Coming in January at Glastonbury Studios
Classes begin the week of January 8th and end week of February 12 To pre-register for these classes, please email me at

Every Tuesday evening: Studio Drawing              7 pm to 9 pm Exploring Color Pencil
A subject or media- driven class that helps students to sharpen their skills, it covers a variety of subjects from portraits to landscapes.  Supply list given at pre-registration.  Six week session. $70.00

Every Wednesday morning:  Sketch’n on the Go!™ 10 am to 12 pm Trying new media–pen and ink, oil pastels, colored pencil, plus more!
Enjoy learning all about sketching using a variety of media from pen and ink to watercolor pencil. Supply list given at pre-registration. During winter, we stay inside and hone our sketching skills.
Six week session. $70.00.

New Class!
Every Wednesday afternoon:  Beginning Acrylics 1 pm to 3 pm Learn the basic to acrylic painting from color mixing to brush/knife technique. No experience necessary. Supply list given at pre-registration.
Six week session. $70.00.
This class is limited to ten students 
Every Thursday evening: Intermediate Acrylics              7 pm to 9 pm
Here’s your chance to continue your acrylic painting adventure. Each week we will tackle a different subject, using a different technique.
Six week session.$70.00
This class is limited to ten students.

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic post; thanks! I'm sharing with a young artistic friend of mine. It may give her some guidance and comfort in her quest to find her way with art in the commercial world.