On Drawing

CorruptionI’ve been inspired lately by a number of books on drawing: Vitamin P: New Perspectives in Drawing, Danny Gregory’s An Illustrated Life, and Big Book of Contemporary Illustration…Gregory’s book includes the artists talking about their favorite drawing materials, which is helpful, and Vitamin P is stuffed with amazing visual delights – a very ecclectic offering.  It has made me ponder the benefits of drawing, especially since I’ve mainly been doing abstract work lately.  I drew constantly as a child (and have the bump on my finger to prove it – I insisted on pressing really hard).  I thought I might enrol in Emily Carr when I was younger, but then other stuff happened.  I used to draw and write poetry in my earlier journals – in the eighties – but when I went to grad school, it killed my creativity, since I was far to busy reading and writing in a completely different and much more formal way.  Now, however, I am again invested in utilizing those petrified skills.  Perhaps I’ll take a summer drawing class to re-hone my abilities.

Gregory’s book also has some thought-provoking quotes regarding the value of drawing, such as this one by Rick Beerhorst: “…Drawing and writing help me remain whole in a world that feels so broken apart.”  Many of the artists who keep sketchbooks talk about the way drawing quiets them down, allows them to pay closer attention to the moment and to inhabit it.  They remember objects far more if they’ve drawn them than if they’ve photographed them.  Drawing is how they know and understand the world around them; many of them can’t imagine life without it – no matter whether they find it pleasurable or frustrating, whether they excel at it or have to struggle with it.

Cranberry Fields Forever

Fall09 058Fall09 048Recently Louise and I took at trip to Fort Langley for the Cranberry Festival.  There were many booths in the centre of town, and good food, including bannock made right on the spot, and a lady outside the church selling amazing baking apples and confederate pears from her own orchard (the most delicious pears I’ve ever tasted).  However, it only takes an hour or so and then the thick crowds really get to me, especially if people start to step on our dog’s tail.  What actually ended up being the best part of the day was driving out to the flooded cranberry fields and then to farmers’ fields, where we coaxed some horses and cows over.  I think Fort Langley is beautiful and could easily live there if not for the mind-numbing soul-destroying commute it would entail.  It is aesthetically speaking far superior to Langley, which has developed so fast and so extensively that it is unbearably, depressingly ugly.  There are these contrived “instant neighbourhoods” that have cultured lawns and then drop off into the surrounding builder’s rubble.  It’s like they sprang out of the ground fully formed.  They look oddly out of place, but I prefer even these artificial communities to the row upon row of alienating mall complexes.

Money Trumps Art? Not for the Vogels.

I saw this statement somewhere recently (I think I was watching television): “Art is Mute when Money Talks.”  Seeing that sentence so soon after watching Robert Hughes give his opinions about art and the market in Mona Lisa Curse, resulted in a moment pregnant with meaning. 

Aside from being his usual crusty and amusing self, Hughes belittled the “taste” of a hardcore Warhol collector by telling him that Warhol “was one of the stupidest men I ever met.”  Hughes, however, is right about the negative impact of rising prices.  Artworks have become celebrities courted by the rich.  Art is drained of potency when pieces by Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons bring in multi-million dollar figures at auction. 

Investment in art is an insidious business.  It prices art out of the reach of museums and custodial public institutions, making it inaccessible to a broader public.  All that is left in the public domain are photographic reproductions.

A contrast to this bleak tale of obscene wealth is another story recently broadcast on The Independent Lens (PBS).  “Herb & Dorothy,” a film by Megumi Sasaki, documents art collectors Herb and Dorothy Vogel.  They are atypical in the art world.  Despite the fact that they were of modest means (she was a librarian and he worked for the post office), the Vogels used their extra cash to purchase art that they liked, attending New York openings and visiting artists’ studios, befriending and encouraging them. 

 They stuffed their small apartment full of conceptual and minimalist works and amassed one of the most significant contemporary collections in the world.  And what did they do with it when they could no longer safely keep it in their home (curators would shiver in horror at the risk of fire or leaks from the Vogels’aquariums)?  Did they sell it off at a huge profit?  No, they allowed it to be exhibited at numerous locations and then, in 1991, donated it to the National Gallery of Art.  People can now see it at a venue where no admission fee is charged.  In fact, the National Gallery could not accommodate all of the pieces (multiple moving vans were required), and efforts were made to distribute some of the collection to other public institutions.  Did the Vogels remain artless?  No, they have continued to collect.

The Vogels’ commitment underlines the joy of purchasing art not as an investment, but as a lifelong pursuit that is rewarding and enriching.  They had to make sacrifices to do it and ultimately they wanted to share it.  These are the kinds of collectors we need, not the kind who store their works in bank vaults until they’ve quadrupled in value (remember it’s not the artist who benefits from this increase), but the kind who cherish art as a gift to society, and that deeply understand and value the role of artists.

“Hard” Thinking

When do you do your best thinking, the difficult thinking, the self-reflexive thinking that deals with crises and fissures (local and global)?  Take a poll of your friends.  The sad fact is that many people ignore or avoid this type of “hard” thinking and they might not even be aware of it. 

Take the opportunity to ask a friend or yourself one difficult question each day.  “What does ‘culture’ mean to you?”  “What are your goals?”  “Have you reached your goals?”  “Why haven’t you changed that thing that’s bothering you?”  “Why don’t you deal proactively with that complaint?”  “Is happiness overrated and, if so, what is most important to you?”  “Why do I have so much stuff?”

Questioning is the first step to identifying and conquering apathy because “hard” thinking should lead to action.  Yes, this is a form of politics.