Monday, May 29, 2017


68" tall oil on canvas with projected figures 

Someone recently asked me what music I listen to when I paint and I truthfully answered “None.” In order to get into that space in my head where creative ideas come from, I require total silence: no distractions, no e-mail, phone, ambient noise, people moving around the house etc. Only then can I access that part of my subconscious that creates art. I’m not saying this is true for everyone, some artists I know like to work in tumult, with other artists around them, studio assistants, children, spouses, dogs etc. They thrive on distraction, distraction that allows their subconscious to take over. I’m just the opposite, distraction prevents me from allowing my right brain to go to work and come up with something I’ve never done before.

The early 19th century French painter, Eugene Delacroix famously said that you should “think of the blessings that await you, not of the emptiness that drives you to seek constant distraction.” He went on to discuss the joys of a life of uninterrupted art “and plenty of it.”  Picasso was once quoted as saying that “without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” Of course, he did some of his greatest artwork in collaboration with the painter Braque, but I suspect that after their collaborating was done, each went back to his studio to work on his own .

68" tall oil on canvas with projected figures

 The brain scientists who study the phenomenon they call “Flow” talk about a euphoric experience that takes place when ideas begin to pour out of the subconscious. To achieve a state of flow takes time, often a long period in which nothing appears to be happening. It’s like pregnancy; it’s hard to see that anything is in the works until it’s pretty far along.

It’s not just artists who suffer from interrupted thoughts, I recently heard a well-known writer say that her idea of heaven would be six months in solitary confinement with a pencil and paper (or word processor). Scientists often do their most creative work before they become well known and are deluged with the distractions of success. And, given the current state of constant interaction with I-phones, e-mails, etc., it’s almost impossible to get time alone to decompress and think creatively.

68" tall oil on canvas with projected figures
I recently read a biography written by his daughter, of one of my favorite mid 20th century artists, Philip Guston. In the 1930s, he was a pretty good Social Realist painter and in the 50s, one of the better Abstract Expressionists, but, after dropping out of the New York art scene, in the 60s, distraught by the politics of the time, (McCarthy era) he became, for want of a better term, a “cartoon expressionist” and ended up doing his best and most original work. His daughter described his need for total and absolute silence while he worked in a studio in his home. His children could not invite anyone over; no one was allowed to call (the phone disrupted his train of thought). There were to be no distractions whatever while “the great one” was painting. While I sympathize with his tyrannized family, I understand completely what he was going through.  And look at what he produced!

As much as I crave solitude and require it to achieve a high level of creativity, I also need companionship – at least part of the time. It’s too bad we don’t have artists’ cafes any more, places like the CafĂ© Voltaire in Paris, or the Cedar Bar in downtown New York. After a glass of wine and a good chat about current politics, or the gallery scene or who was sleeping with whom, I’d be pretty content to go back alone into my studio and paint. 


  1. You are a one of a kind, and while fame has not stopped at your studio, it should. I love what yo are doing with the projector. You amaze me. Hugs, FS

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