Thursday, April 11, 2013

No Guilt. No Shame in Art!

Hans Hofmann, courtesy of

The following is part of a note I wrote to someone when they lamented that the digital images of their work failed to reveal the struggle. I hope it is worth sharing.

"I think it is clear that your paintings are the result of dialogue and some kind of journey. I prefer not to use the word struggle as it conjures up that old machismo that I think gives people a negative impression of painting. I like to say finding the painting in the painting.

Martin told me you were a fan of Leland Bell. I studied with Leland in 1975-76 and he was probably one of the most hands-on artists I ever worked with. I didn't share his distrust of a painting that comes too quickly though. I figure a painting takes as long as it takes. Minutes or years.

These days I tend toward years simply because I have really no interest in making another painting, just painting itself, so I watch them come and go out of the simple curiosity of where they will take me. When they come to a clearing that I want to know more about and think I can learn from, then I stop and let them be.

Presumably this is what we all do. After interviewing and writing about the arts and artists for over forty years I found that the overwhelming impression was that they didn't want it to get out that what they were doing was a good time, that in order to justify being an artist while everyone else was doing a job, they had to act like it was all this angst-ridden struggle and suffering, and when I got them to admit what a blast it was to be an artist, they felt betrayed.

It is like when you're in love, you have to keep it to yourself, because no one else is and they will hate you for it. That artists are in love is a stupidly disguised charade.

You don't have to look at Van Gogh or Hofmann or Matisse or Picasso very long to see that whatever else, they were in love with painting and that it was the love of their lives. Looks like the love of your life to me. I think Leland would have been a much happier guy if he had admitted that completely. No shame in love. No shame in art.

I tried to alleviate my students of that guilt as a teacher, and I try to do the same for my artist friends. Joan Snyder and Louise Fishman, painters I admire very much and used to know a little, seem stuck there and beyond redemption in this regard.  I got in a little trouble writing about both of them.

Makes me think of Camus's line about that there are two kinds of people, ones that are happy and ones that don't know it. Applies to artists too of course. But they have the third thing of never wanting anyone to know that they are happy."

I've just known too many artists that hang a "curing cancer" sign outside their studio door but behind those locked doors they are dancing around in their tutus with a brush in their hand. Sends a bad message to young artists. No guilt. No shame.

Addison Parks, Spring Hill, 2013

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