Saturday, November 21, 2015


I don’t have to tell my readers, life is full of distractions. When was the last time any one of us had more than ten minutes to think without a text message coming through, a phone call or an e-mail that HAD to be answered AT ONCE!
Creative thinking requires concentration. You need to get into a state (now fashionably referred to as “flow”) where ideas filter through the unconscious mind and come out in new forms. I am often asked what I listen to when I am painting and my questioner is usually surprised to hear “Nothing. I require total silence.” There’s no such thing as “background noise” to me; any noise, especially the human voice, is a distraction.

Do I get lonely? Sure, but not while I’m working. I have to get into a creative zone before anything new and interesting emerges and that requires time and isolation. It might take a couple of hours before my hand relaxes enough to turn out something worthwhile. I have no idea how someone can paint in a communal art studio where you hear other people’s conversation and music. At least, I never could. The best solution I know is the old Paris cafĂ© where artists worked in solitude, (often, like Chagall and Picasso, locking their doors against visitors) and then spent the evening chatting with friends and colleagues. Studio visits (if any) were carefully planned so as not to disrupt “the flow.”

We live in a world of multi-tasking, another way of describing doing many things, not AT once – that is physically impossible - but rapidly switching from one activity to another. In addition, we are subject to endless distractions and become easily addicted to our electronics. You have only to watch people at a party sneakily checking their iPhones while appearing to converse with you. What are they expecting that can’t wait an hour or so? An invitation to be Cinderella at the Ball? It takes enormous discipline (which I don’t have) not to check my e-mail with ever increasing frequency. We start out being “connected” for good reasons: young children alone at home, your spouse needs to be picked up at the train, etc. and before you know it, you are hooked, an electronic junkie!

I find it interesting that  “mindfulness” and “meditation” classes are so popular nowadays, teaching people how to turn off the babble in the brain and just shut down. When the mind begins its chatter, you are told to “let it go,” empty your consciousness of thoughts and worries. “Breathe,” the teacher says, “Breathe.” It’s amazing how relaxing it is to just sit and breathe in and out; you become aware of how tense and ‘wired up’ you are. In one of the articles I read before writing this blog, the author suggested just letting your tongue hang out for a minute or two. She admitted you would look ridiculous, but said it was a great way to unwind. I may give it a try. If not, I’ll just “breathe.” The world isn’t going to miss me while I’m catching my breath.

P.S. During the hour or so I spent writing this, I received four phone calls, three from telemarketers. I didn’t answer any of them, but it was hard to get back my flow. Next time, I’ll turn everything off (or at least, I’ll try).

Friday, November 13, 2015


One of my sons recently “accused” me of having ADD or ADHD. “I don’t!” I protested, “I’m a creative. I just happen to have a short interest span.” Today, I would probably be medicated. I was fortunate to attend a public school in New York City that was one of five singled out to experiment with the teaching methods of the philosopher, John Dewey, the so called “Activity Schools.”  I was a perfect candidate since their dictum of “Learning by Doing” suited my lack of interest in rote memorization. I hated the highly disciplined teaching style I encountered later on in an all-girls Junior High School that was run like a nunnery. My husband (a clinical psychologist) was fond of saying that, given my hatred of routine and repetition, he had no idea how he lasted as long with me as he did (fifty years).

Anyhow, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to tame my tendency to wander when I have to and can apply my rear to the seat of a chair when it is required. I agree with my husband that my short interest span is not pathological, but simply a different way of doing things. If properly channeled, my creativity is enormously useful, especially if I can partner with someone who likes to fuss with the details. When I write something that needs to be technically perfect like the newsletter I write, I hand it over to my friend Colin who whips it into shape, not a comma out of place. And with artwork, the guy who rakes my leaves has turned out to be a perfect studio assistant; he can stretch canvases like nobody else I have ever seen.

Many years ago, I had a friend who owned a highly successful state-of-the-art engineering company with about thirty employees. He had a theory about hiring that worked very well for him and, now that I think about it, works for me. He hired people whom he designated as “Starters” or “Finishers.” These qualities rarely appeared in one person and by not demanding that his employees be able to do both well, he got the best out of them. The Starters had brilliant, innovative ideas, but got bogged down and unhappy when they had to deal with details and implementation. On the other hand, there were people who were great at follow-through, but couldn’t come up with a creative idea if their life depended on it. By separating the functions and giving them to people who were good at what they did, he came up with some amazing innovations in the field of telecommunications and his company did exceedingly well.

The point is, I’m a Starter. I’m good at coming up with new ideas, but get bored when the creative part is over. I’m happiest when accompanied by a “Finisher,” somebody who likes the details, getting everything right. I have no patience for follow up and, as my parents used to complain, I have no “sitz-fleisch,” meaning, no meat on my behind.

Friday, November 6, 2015


I was originally going to write about the humanist tradition in art. You know. Giotto, Brueghel, the Social Realists of the Thirties, going all the way back to the ancient Greeks. But then, after perusing recent art magazines and going into a bunch of New York art galleries, I don’t know that there’s much humanism around. There’s a lot of minimalist, abstract painting: big, decorative canvasses that look good in loft apartments, as well as some large-scale public environmental art plus a good deal of Pop-ish, cartoon-derived stuff. There’s also a slew of larger-than-life, digitally modified photographs and paintings that look like photographs. Not much that could be defined as humanist but then, why should there be? To parody the old theater cliche: Humanism (especially in the form of social satire,) is what closes on Sunday. There’s no market for it.

When the rare occasions when figurative art does appear and images of people are used, the work is either incredibly angry and distorted or so sentimental and clichĂ©  that I cringe – end up wishing the artist had stuck to colored squares. So, where have all the humanists gone, the ones who genuinely care about people? The same place as everywhere else in our society, replaced by cheap thrills and computer-driven technical tricks. To explain what’s going on, you have to look at the “art market” (and it is nothing more than a market.) Who buys art anyhow? . The “Common Man” spends his hard-earned dollars on 60” flat screen TVs. He doesn’t need ‘pitchas’ on the wall? And, if he does feel a desire for some real art, he can always pick up a giclee print for a coupla bucks at WalMart. Looks just like a genuine Van Gogh, down to the 3D brushstrokes.

Through most of the history of art, work was produced for the aristocracy and the church. They were sophisticated buyers, quite knowledgeable (and self promoting). Except for brief periods in the Netherlands during the 16th and 17th centuries, the activities and feelings of ordinary people were rarely depicted until the mid-1800s, when they appeared as part of broader, socialist- based movements that extolled the Working Class and their everyday life. Humanism showed up in German Expressionism after World War I and during the Great Depression in the thirties. Remnants survived into the 1950s but got knocked out for good during the McCarthy political era where any art that sympathetically depicted  “real” people was suspected of ties to radicalism.

There’s no trace of humanism in the art world today, except for isolated throwbacks with leftover ideals and an out of date interest in the real (not electronic) world. Conspicuous consumption and meaningless art is expressive of the time we live in and is the order of the day. Even a die-hard humanist (like your blogger) finds herself moving away from reality and into the safety of dreams.