Friday, December 18, 2015


My artist friends rarely ask me to critique their work and I never offer anything more than ”Gee. That’s great! I like what you’re doing!” On the rare occasion when I am directly asked, I hem and haw and mutter platitudes. I just don’t feel I have the right to impose my vision on someone else’s work. I also don’t like other people telling me what to do. The last time I listened to an artist friend, it took six months to undo the damage. The only exception is my friend Elena who can actually take a brush to my canvas and make it better.

Teaching art in general is a treacherous business. You can learn the basic techniques in a couple of hours, but the remaining time you need to become proficient has to be done on your own. When we first moved to Fairfield County, decades ago, there were at least a half dozen hunky older men who taught bored housewives “watercolor.” All their students’ work looked alike, a bag of tricks taught to them by their mentor. Mostly, the guys were serial seducers; while it was amusing to watch them in action, it was  hard to consider them serious artists or art teachers.

The only one I knew who had any idea of what he was doing was a Hungarian emigre painter named Victor Candell. He wasn’t a particularly good artist himself but he was a master teacher, the Sigmund Freud of the suburban art scene. He taught a weekly seminar at the Greenwich Arts Center to a bunch of conservative matrons desperate to find their inner creative souls. I was the oddball in the class; I had actually studied art, but after being a ‘stay-at-home’ mom for several years, needed some help getting back up to speed. Candell taught me what abstraction really meant (I had been painting “Abstracts” for over a decade with no idea of what I was actually doing). I would never be doing the work I’m doing now without his guidance so many decades ago.

Anyhow, what brings this all to mind is an image a friend recently sent me of her latest work, an excellent example of Action Painting. She asked me to critique it, something I rarely, if ever, do. What could I say that would be helpful, not throw her off track the way someone had done to me decades ago?  After pondering a while, I realized what she needed to do and rather than my telling her, she had to get there on her own. The only way for that to happen was for her to work, day in and day out, until her conscious mind no longer controlled her hand and her subconscious, with all the suffering she had been through in her life, came through in her art. I gave her the example of Rothko who managed to infuse abstraction with intense emotion. That was where she needed to go, but I couldn’t tell her how; she had to get there on her own.

By the way, my suggestion that she plumb her emotional depths puts her completely out of step with the current art world.  There are no serious painters of note today. Everything is a gimmick, a spoof, a take off, a marketing ploy. If you want to know where today’s artists learned their craft, I recommend Sarah Thornton’s book of essays, Seven Days in the Art World, published in 2008, The piece de resistance is The Crit which describes a seminar at CalArts in Los Angeles, (one of the top art schools in the country) in which MFA students present their work for collective critique. I’m not going to tell you what happens; you have to read it for yourself, especially if you want to understand the current scene.

Anyhow, the bottom line is, I really hesitate to critique or advise anyone; I have enough trouble managing myself.  Can you imagine Cezanne asking Bonnard whether he should keep on painting apples? Maybe try pears?

Friday, December 11, 2015


I’m a typical Libran and I can’t make up my mind. I keep weighing pros and cons, should I or shouldn’t I? The only reason I ever got married is that a man came along (a Taurus) who took matters into his own hands and made the decision for me. After our third date, he announced that we were going to San Francisco on our honeymoon. No wiggle room there. He was a psychologist, not an astrologer but, without even knowing my “sign”, he knew what needed to be done. If he had left it to me, I’d still be deciding.

What’s so interesting is that for many years most of my women friends were Librans (born September 23 to October 22nd), in fact, two of my best friends had the exact same birthday, September 29th and several others were a week or two apart. We often had a Libra birthday party together and were remarkably similar in personality and interests. Of course, I don’t believe any of this. I didn’t believe in Tarot either, but a year and a half ago, when the Tarot card reader in California suggested I write about art, I started this blog and it was the best advice I ever received!

Most of the Librans I know are nice people; we’re very attractive to men (not to brag) and confident (ahem). The only problem we all have is this damn indecisiveness. Always weighing the pros and cons and having a terrible time making a decision. I need to make two major business decisions in the next few months and am struggling. I even wish I had a man around to make them for me; that’s how desperate I am!

The other problem we Librans have is that we have to keep our lives (scales) balanced and will go to great extremes to avoid conflict or disruption. When my life is in balance, I fly; when the scales are out of kilter, I can’t function. Since this is theoretically an “art” blog, this brings us, obviously, to the Principles of Design, the course every art student takes at the very beginning of his or her training). We are taught that a work of art needs to be “balanced,” however, unlike a math problem or an algorithm, there is no correct answer; it’s all intuitive, not mechanical. But a work of art,  like a seesaw, won’t work properly unless it is balanced, whether symmetrically or asymmetrically, either way, doesn’t matter. It seems to be intuitive, unexplainable, built into our DNA. I can look at a painting or a photograph and “know” immediately whether it is balanced or not. Maybe, all it needs is some more dark paint in the right-hand corner. Ah! Now it’s “right”.

Anyhow, let’s go back to Librans. Perhaps there is some perfectly good scientific explanation why we share personality traits. Maybe it’s as simple as being born a certain time of the year; as the days grow colder and shorter, more time is spent bundled up indoors. There’s a certain amount of hibernation that takes place in the months following our birth and maybe this causes changes in our neurological structure? Someday, science will solve the mystery of astrology and it may turn out to be the weather on earth, not the alignment of the stars. 

Friday, December 4, 2015


 One of the problems (which I fortunately don’t have to face) of being successful in the art world is that you get stuck in a style. The examples are legion of dealers asking artists to stay with the work that sells. Don’t blame the dealer; it’s a business to him. He’s not interested in the artist’s immortal soul; he just wants to pay the rent. There’s nothing worse that being told to do “another” painting like the one you just finished because there’s a customer for it. If that’s okay with you, then you should consider yourself a commercial artist, a perfectly legitimate trade, where you know from the getgo that you are providing a product and the buyer is determining the nature of the product. Most artists I know look upon a painting as a problem to be solved and once having solved it, are reluctant to keep repeating themselves.

On the other hand, most great artists loved variations on a theme. Like Mondrian, Cezanne, Monet; once they got something going, they were perfectly happy to explore it the rest of their lives. There are some artists, however who create problems for their dealers by wanting to stop painting the work the collectors want and move into new territory. Jackson Pollock was the perfect example. It’s sad when a successful artist gets boxed in my his success: mortgages, employees, property in Majorca, wives, ex-wives, disturbed children, all take their toll. Selling is no longer an option; it is a necessity….and that’s the end of any change or growth. They become captives of the market and their work deteriorates. Of course, like Basquiat or Modigliani, some artists solve the problem of repeating themselves by dying young, before boredom sets in.

This is a long-winded way of getting to the subject of today’s blog. If you haven’t been to my studio lately, you are in for a big surprise. The ditzy ladies, the corrupt politicians, the sultry sirens, the greedy developers have all been replaced by a kind of serene surrealism. That’s because I am finally moving away from my “day job” as a preservation consultant. I still plan to write a newsletter, but I am done with the battles. However, it was the battles that gave me subject matter, my “edge” and without them, I don’t feel the need for social criticism. The same thing happened to George Grosz when he fled the Nazis and came to America. He loved it here. He lost his raison d’etre and. I, having lost my “opposition” have retreated from reality into the unconscious. I’m now painting dreamy surrealist streetscapes, the kind of work people actually want to LIVE with. Although this is not my goal (never has been), I have been selling most of my recent work and find myself trying to talk people out of buying so I will have something for future shows. I tell them to tape their names on to the back of the canvases so they can claim the pieces later. My prices are still pathetically low (I’ve never been good at business) but before, I couldn’t give the work away. While people may have admired the old, satirical paintings as “art,” they didn’t want to be reminded in their living rooms the foibles of a corrupt society (which it still is) and that success usually goes to the least worthy among us, not the best.

I like the fact that as my life has changed, my artwork has changed with it. Every once in a while, I find myself going back to satire: pulchritudinous females, corrupt real estate developers and politicians. The results make me smile, but there isn’t the need for “revenge” any more. My head is literally in the clouds, painting imaginary cities that float in space. 

P.S. In bed at night, watching TV, I cut figures out of black kraft paper and in the morning, paste them onto paper plates (“Arte Povera” style) or put them on the overhead projector where they can be enlarged to monumental size. I have nothing to sell, but they are so breathtaking, I don’t care.
I haven’t missed a meal yet.