Friday, November 21, 2014


Until recently, the world was governed by aphorisms, shared words of wisdom accepted by everyone as truth. The ones I remember most came from my best friend, Dina, who died about ten years ago. She was a little older than I, a Lithuanian Jewish refugee who had spent her teens in a German work camp in Poland. She emerged with a zest for life I have not seen in anyone else, ever. The Nazi’s had taken away her parents, her brother, her chance for an education and her youth. She was not giving up any more. The past was past and whatever time she had left was to be enjoyed.

A talented sculptor and art teacher, a voluptuous beauty, a great cook and an unbeatable poker player, she had a wide circle of friends, mostly men. Some, I assumed, were lovers as she intended to make up for lost time. She was always encouraging me to have affairs, recommending one man or another. When I protested that I had a husband I loved and no need to look elsewhere, she would scoff : “Have fun! Enjoy life!” Men find you attractive! (Who? No man ever came near me. I had an omnipresent husband the size of a Michigan State linebacker) “Don’t waste life,” she would warn me. I guess if I had grown up in a Nazi prison camp, I might also want to keep my dance card full.

One of he things I loved most about her was her stock of wise sayings, aphorisms she had learned at home or concocted from her own experiences. Fortunately, several have stuck with me. “Three heads can’t sleep on one pillow” was one of my favorites, meaning it’s impossible for an outsider to know what goes on in someone else’s marriage. She and I had a friend who slept with every important man in Stamford, from the ex-mayor on down. We all felt sorry for her sweet, long-suffering husband only to discover that he encouraged her flings and they were what kept the marriage going.

Another one I liked was: “She exchanged a pair of good shoes for dancing slippers.” It was her way of describing a mutual acquaintance who had left her reliable spouse for a notorious womanizer, a man who taught watercolor painting (among other things) to rich, neglected wives. Still another favorite described an insatiably greedy friend as having a “hollow toe,” meaning that her need for “things” was bottomless – could never be filled.

The aphorism of hers that I found most disturbing was “Every artist has only ten good years.” I covered that subject in Post #37 and will deal with it again in a talk I’m giving at UConn in April about Marc Chagall.

Will let you know when and where as we get closer to the date.

Friday, November 14, 2014


"Diner Goddess,"  oil on canvas, 68"x44" 2012
One of the most famous moments in movie history comes when Bogie chucks Bergman under the chin, looks at her lovingly and says: “Here’s lookin’ at ya, kid.” I think about that scene every once in a while when I’m working on a painting. When the figures on the canvas communicate with me (or each other) I know things are going right. I’m a great believer in “eye contact” in general. That’s why I never read notes when I lecture; I need to look my listeners in the eye to see if they understand me.

I’m intrigued with an artist’s ability to create life out of inanimate materials; it’s almost a God-given power, like Michelangelo’s depiction of God touching Adam’s hand on the Sistine Chapel ceiling. You see the beginnings of this kind of contact thousands of years ago in Prehistoric cave paintings, where the realistic depiction of animals was meant to bring them to life for the hunt. In one of my earliest blogs, I related the (apocryphal) story about the Renaissance sculptor, Donatello, who was known to scream at his statues “Talk! Damn you! Talk! It was as if he were performing an act of magic, infusing life into a piece of stone. I often do not regard a painting finished until the moment the figures come alive. They don’t have to talk only to me; I’m not possessive. I’m perfectly happy if, like Bogey and Bergman, they talk to each other.

Detail from Lower East Side
polyptych, oil on canvas, 2014 
What always surprises me however, is how few artists are interested in making contact between the figure on the canvas and the viewer (or creator.) They are denying a gift from the gods. During the late Middle Ages, depictions of Christ show him staring straight ahead or looking down sadly from the Cross. I must say I get a kick out of those modern-day interpretations of Jesus now found in gift shops and dollar stores where the eyes follow you. Talk of communication! Jesus is watching you! For the last 200 years, however, subjects tend to look directly at the viewer, maybe because of competition from photography. “Look at the camera! Smile!”

I love when I am successful at bringing someone to life on canvas: I dance around the room; I sing and talk to my paintings. Many years ago, I did some huge cardboard puppets drawn from local political figures – “Gangsters” I called them. I knew my drawings were complete when the figures spoke to me; unpleasant as they were, I had given them life.

"Restauranteur" from "Gangster Series." acrylic on box cardboard, 6'x3'

Sunday, November 9, 2014


I thought I remembered Picasso remarking that “Children are the enemy of creativity.” It turns out he never said anything of the kind. Why would he? He never allowed anyone (especially his children) to interfere with his creative life. He actually said “good taste” was the enemy of creativity; I don’t think he thought of his children as impediments at all.

Hang-Ups   34"x46 Acrylic on canvas
So if not Picasso, who then? I turned to Google and came up with several hundred thousand “hits.” Apparently, it was British author, Cyril Connolly, who famously said “There is no more somber enemy of good art than the pram in the hall.”  Anyone who has gone through the sleep-deprived months (or years) following the birth of a child might be tempted to agree with him, although I don’t know a single person, who, in retrospect, would have done things differently. Like childbirth, the pain of sleepless nights quickly dissipates once a normal schedule is established.

Child's Play   38"x48"   Acrylic on canvas
It turns out that, according to Google, (what would we do without Google?) lots of things can be blamed for lack of creativity: some internal, some external. Ray Bradbury was quoted saying  “Don’t think! Thinking is the enemy of creativity; just DO!” Saul Steinberg suggested “boredom;” Sylvia Plath said “self doubt.” David Lynch offered “negativity.”  A writer I never heard, Lucas Parry, blamed procrastination, fear of failure and any form of self doubt. My own candidate is “perfectionism”. The need to be correct all the time discourages experimentation.

My Life & Art   36"x48"  Acrylic on canvas
As for children, it’s obvious that if you haven’t slept in months you’re not going to do very well on the creativity scale. On the good side, when you finally do get a night’s sleep, you tend to work demonically to make up for lost time. And children do grow up eventually and/or you can hand over dealing with them to “experts,” leaving you free to pursue your creative life. In the long run, I agree with most people who study creativity: rigidity of thinking kills it, not children. I admit that three children in five years took a toll on my creative life but, in the long run, I’ve had plenty of child-free time to create and if I haven’t accomplished all that I set out to do, the Pram in the Hall wasn’t to blame.

Oh, and by the way, a friend of mine reminded me not to forget “having to earn a living.” He’s right. That can kill creativity faster than anything else,.