What Really Matters

What Really Matters

"There’s a tendency for us to think that to be a prophet or to do anything grand, you have to have a special gift, be someone called for. And I think ultimately what really matters is the resolve — to want to do it, to give your life to that which you consider important."

~ Enrique Martínez Celaya

Embracing Limitations

"We must first become limited in order to become limitless...Learning to be creative within the confines of our limitations is the best hope we have to transform ourselves and to collectively transform our world." 

~ Phil Hansen, from "Embrace the Shake," TED Talks, May 2013   

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Turning Shame into Art


Tour participants at the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, in Sydney (Photo for the New York Times by Christo Crocker)

Excerpt from "New Tour at Museum Reveals All," by Mark Whittaker, The New York Times, May 1, 2012:

Stuart Ringholt said that in his 20s, he was profoundly affected by experiences of extreme embarrassment, a subject now at the center of much of his work. One of these involved toilet paper hanging out of his pants as he walked on the field at an Australian football game with hundreds of people looking on.

“I was wrecked — I went home and explained it to my girlfriend, and she was killing herself laughing,” he said. “I was distraught for a whole week.”

Being a dabbler in performance, Mr. Ringholt turned shame into art. He went to Palazzo Vecchio in Florence and stood in front of a marble fountain for 20 minutes with toilet paper trailing from his trousers. He walked around for a day in Basel, Switzerland, wearing a prosthetic nose with a “gob” of fake mucus hanging from it.

“I tried to understand how fear manifests in the body and how it debilitates you,” he said. Knowing these acts of abjection were performances didn’t make them easier, he added: “It was just as bad. You get a panic attack. You get cold sweats. I realized it was the same fear I got when I rang up a woman to ask her on a date.”

Eventually, he said, he learned to conquer his fear by understanding it. He called the woman and got the date, and he took his fear workshops on the road. That led to the nude museum tours.

See also: "I Ran Out Naked In The Sun" by Jane Hirshfield, from Come, Thief

Be Fully Awake to Everything

Excerpt of a letter written to a teenaged Jackson Pollock by his father, from American letters, 1927-1947: Jackson Pollock & Family:

Portrait of Jackson Pollock, ca. 1928Well it has been some time since I received your fine letter. It makes me a bit proud and swelled up to get letters from five young fellows by the names of Charles, Mart, Frank, Sande, and Jack. The letters are so full of life, interest, ambition, and good fellowship. It fills my old heart with gladness and makes me feel “Bully.” Well Jack I was glad to learn how you felt about your summer’s work & your coming school year. The secret of success is concentrating interest in life, interest in sports and good times, interest in your studies, interest in your fellow students, interest in the small things of nature, insects, birds, flowers, leaves, etc. In other words to be fully awake to everything about you & the more you learn the more you can appreciate & get a full measure of joy & happiness out of life. I do not think a young fellow should be too serious, he should be full of the Dickens some times to create a balance.

I think your philosophy on religion is okay. I think every person should think, act & believe according to the dictates of his own conscience without too much pressure from the outside. I too think there is a higher power, a supreme force, a governor, a something that controls the universe. What it is & in what form I do not know. It may be that our intellect or spirit exists in space in some other form after it parts from this body. Nothing is impossible and we know that nothing is destroyed, it only changes chemically. We burn up a house and its contents, we change the form but the same elements exist; gas, vapor, ashes. They are all there just the same.

Read the rest of the letter here...

Stunning Effects by Simple Means

Olafur Eliasson, Beauty, 1993

"In his work, Olafur Eliasson explores visual and physical phenomena. Using a hose with holes in it and a lamp, he created a rainbow, one of his first small optical spectacles (Beauty, 1993). Eliasson achieves stunning effects by simple means without needing to conceal the technical tricks involved. Basically, the works are about the relationship between the viewer and the object, with the viewer's reactions being part of the work. They are experiments with the way we habitually see things, with the artist deliberately seeking to set up patterns and introduce a new element into them."

~ from 50 Contemporary Artists You Should Know by Brad Finger and Christiane Weidemann

Looking with Your Whole Body

Excerpts from a conversation with Jane Rosen, Parabola, Fall 2011: 

Seeing isn't what we think it is. What we call seeing is "looking." Looking is when you go out and you look at something. You have a number of facts about that thing and you put them together as a mental construct. When students in my class look at the model often they are not seeing it. Paul Klee said to his students, "Yes. I want to draw what I see, but first you must see what you draw."

The first look is a word, a name. To me anything that is attached to words and names is mental looking. Then, I think there is a looking with your whole body as if there were tentacles that sense and touch the totality of the thing you're looking at so that the tree stops being leaves, branches, roots. It starts becoming a clustering, a gathering, a drooping, a lifting, a turning.

...the word "attend," attendez, to wait. Attention is to wait.

When you talk about seeing what is real, to me, there is an invisible reality behind the visible reality. What I think it's supposed to look like, I have to let go of, in order to see what is. That demands attending to it — in other words, waiting — allowing the impression of the bird to come in, rather than going out to it. It's a really subtle shift...You're just there and it's moving through you, and you're not in the way.

We almost always have a vest interest in the outcome of a sculpture or an idea, or an idea about how we want the world to be or how we want ourselves to be and, as a result, we don't see the sculpture, the coyote, the world, or ourselves. So if you let go and you follow it, there is always a moment where this other kind of reality becomes visible. That's what I think seeing is.

Read the whole interview here...

The Great American Everything

"At the time, the men were all talking about the great American novel, the great American play, the great American, oh, it was the great American everything. And I thought they didn’t know anything about America, a lot of them hadn’t been across the Hudson. So I thought, I’ll make my picture a red white and blue. I’ll make it an American painting...The bones do not symbolize death to me. They are shapes that I enjoy. It never occurs to me that they’re about death. They are very lively."

~ Georgia O'Keeffe, from "American Icons: Georgia O'Keeffe's Skull Paintings," Studio 360, November 12, 2010

Cow's Skull: Red, White, and Blue (1931)

Trickier and Trickier as You Go Along

Excerpt from "Authentic Voice: An Interview with Meredith Monk," from Mountain Record, Summer 2004:

Emptiness is what allows for something to actually evolve in a natural way. I’ve had to learn that over the years — because one of the traps of being an artist is to always want to be creating, always wanting to produce.

I remember once I had a long period when I thought; “I’ll never have another idea again! I’ve explored everything.” Ojo Caliente, New Mexico, August 13, 2011You’ve got this backpack of your history that you’re carrying around — how do you throw that off and really start from beginner’s mind? That gets trickier and trickier as you go along, to not fall into your habitual patterns in the way that you create, in the work itself, or anything.

Well, during that long period when I was feeling really down I read about the Taos pueblo in a book by Mabel Dodge Luhan. She was a society woman in the early twentieth century, and she ended up going to Taos and marrying a Native American from the pueblo. During the winter she wondered why everyone tiptoed around wearing soft moccasins and there was a keeping of so much silence in the pueblo. She asked about it and they said, “We have to make sure that Mother Nature gets her rest. She needs her rest so that everything will bloom in the spring.” I was so touched by that and I realized that that’s the nurturing of those periods that you think are fallow but are actually rich with possibility. You’re alive then and part of the ebb and flow of creation.

The Best Thing I Can Do for You

Lake George 1929 -nd After two months in Taos, Georgia O'Keeffe explains her time away in a letter to Alfred Stieglitz dated July 9, 1929:


There is much life in me — when it was always checked in moving toward you — I realized it would die if it could not move toward something ... I chose coming away because here at least I feel good — and it makes me feel I am growing very tall and straight inside — and very still — Maybe you will not love me for it — but for me it seems to be the best thing I can do for you — I hope this letter carries no hurt to you — It is the last thing I want to do in the world.

Today it rains —

From My Faraway One: Selected Letters of Georgia O'Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz edited by Sarah Greenough

See also: 

Learning How to See Again Using Sound

| Artists Wanted | In Focus : Pete Eckert from Artists Wanted on Vimeo.

Even though he can’t see, Pete Eckhert demonstrates that he is a visual person through photography. He was the Grand Prize recipient of Artists Wanted: Exposure 2008, an international photography competition, and was awarded $2,008 with a formal reception at Leo Kesting Gallery in New York City on Thursday August 7, 2008.

Check out Artists Wanted and visit the program on Facebook.

Sketchy Subway Artist

Excerpt from “An iPhone Artist Haunts the Subways,” by Emily B. Hager, New York Times, October 22, 2010:

R train. 10/21/10 (Eric Molinsky) Click here to watch video. Eric Molinsky does not like to get caught. One recent afternoon on a Manhattan-bound R train, Mr. Molinsky, a freelance radio producer and inveterate people-watcher, slid into position. He scanned the not-yet-packed car. At one end, two aging New York dames laughed. Mr. Molinsky, 39, set his sights on the blonde.

He is not a stalker. He is an artist who secretly draws fellow subway riders on his iPhone, and has collected scores of New York characters on his blog. “Usually if my cover is blown,” Mr. Molinsky explained, “it’s kind of a slippery slope to the drawing just not really happening in the end.” Using his index finger and the application Sketchbook, he quickly drew a crude black-and-white outline of the woman’s face and then began to add layers of color. A base of skin tone, yellow for her dyed hair, green spectacles.

The woman looked up. “It doesn’t really affect my drawing if they know I’m drawing them,” Mr. Molinsky said. “But it does make me a little bit more self-conscious about it and makes me wonder if they’re going to come over and take a look and maybe say, ‘Hey I don’t look anything like that.’ ”

Read the entire City Room post…

See also: The Subway Issue, “the first-ever themed issue of The Times’s Sunday Metropolitan section.”

Small Wonders



Party Bed, Charles LeDray

by Charles LeDray
Institute of Contemporary Art
Through October 17, 2010

workworkworkworkwork consists of hundreds of objects, including shirts, pottery, paintings, necklaces and magazines that recreate displays of objects for sale that homeless people frequently put on New York sidewalks. (Bing, 2003) The piece is not classified by object, however it is more of a confusion of pieces, each “grouping is ordered in its own special way, as if different senses of order were involved, individual orders—different levels of marketing and presentability.” (Saltz, 1992)

~ Wikipedia

Mens Suits, Charles LeDray, 2006


Excerpt from “Life’s Wear and Tear,” by Sebastian Smee, the Boston Globe, July 16, 2010:

Charles LeDray treats clothes as surrogates for human identity, particularly male identity, and for the many types of work that go into constructing it. As such—and unlike the fashion industry, which is founded on an unblinking faith in the potential of clothes to communicate power, beauty, and self-worth—his work is intensely alive to the pathos clothes can communicate, and to the many senses in which they just don’t . . . quite. . . fit.

LeDray, who was born in Seattle in 1960 and lives and works in New York, gives this “not quite fitting’’ a literal twist. The majority of the clothes he makes and transforms into sculptures are small. Too small to wear, but not so small that they seem precious or cute.

And yes, LeDray makes them. All of them. By hand. Himself.

Today, when the actual making of art objects is frequently displaced from the hands of the nominal creator to various anonymous assistants, there’s an atavistic appeal in LeDray’s displays of virtuosic skill and dedication. But it’s not just a sentimental appeal.

The time LeDray dedicates to the making of his pieces — in some cases as long as three or four years — is as much a conceptual tool as the medium itself. Painstakingly cut, carved, stitched, sewn, and thrown, his sculptures crystallize, through ironic devotion, a sense of pathos. They sharpen our awareness of the expendability of things…

Thinking of the artist working away, with scissors, pins, needle, and thread, I thought of W.S. Merwin’s great poem, “Separation’’:

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

Overcoat, 2004