I am slowly making progress toward my goal of making 20 new artworks based on poetry quotes. When complete, I am hoping to submit them as a portfolio to apply to graduate school for a masters in fine art, so I can teach college-level art classes. Over the past few weeks, I have been noticing a thread of common themes, one of which is my childhood. For some its a time of nostalgia, and for others, something to forget. For me, its a mixed bag, and the few memories I have from early childhood are fragmented, with few details. I took inspiration for this piece from many personal photos and from Billy Collin’s poem, Forgetfulness. The piece was created in stages with gouache sepia-toned paints, acrylic paints, gesso, and soft pastel with a limited color palette.
I took additional inspiration from this artwork by searching for poems written about the subject of forgetfulness. I found this gem of a quote from Billy Collin’s poem, “Forgetfulness,” “As if one by one, the memories you used to harbor decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain, to a little fishing village with no phones.” Though the poem does not specifically address the issue of childhood amnesia, I felt it captured the feeling that memories are unstable and sometimes inaccessible.
I can remember small details, like elementary school book fairs, and my love of reading, library visits with my father, and being outdoors a lot on my favorite tire swing. However, more specific details have been more difficult to access, such as specific memories of how I got along with my sisters, who were many years older. It’s as if a giant hand has wiped out these memories, and without the aid of family photos and my mother’s memories, I would really be at a loss. All of this inspired me to make a pastel and gouache collage based on family photos of things I can no longer remember. This series has been a marathon, and a mirror, endless practice, mistakes, and setbacks. And all the while, it’s holding up a mirror to all of the weaknesses I have as an artist, especially in figure drawing and composition. How I wish I had paid more attention to figure drawing class as an art student! So, whatever the outcome of this series might be, getting into graduate school or not, it has been a journey chock full of lessons and opportunities to grow as an artist. Thanks for reading!
Hello Friends, family, and fans, At long last, I am posting some progress photos of my series, Constructed realities. They are still mostly in the phase 2 stage of color sketches, but they are coming along. So many things seem to get in the way of making time for art, I have got to start making this more of a priority. I often wonder how other creative types, such as Jane Austen, made time to write so prodigiously despite overwhelming household chores that were required during the 19th century in a family without servants or modern conveniences. Even when she was dying she managed to crank out a new book, Sanitation, which was left unfinished because of her death.
Despite the obstacles of daily life, she made time to write. I hope I can follow her example and bring my passion, time, and energy into making art, no matter what obstacles I face. I am taking stock of my progress so far to try and gain some more objectivity about the work still to be done, and to see the progress in hopes that it will motivate me to make more art! As mentioned in earlier blog posts this series is based on quotes from poetry, and a small portion of the quote will be added to the artwork so you can get the gist of what feelings and moods I hoped to convey in these pieces.
Art of Blog Schmidt: How to Build Artistic Muscles
Hello Readers. This is an older blog post, but I felt that it has some points which still resonate with me, such as the importance of making time to practice my craft as an artist, making daily and weekly time to work on my paintings and drawings. This new series, Constructed Realities has been challenging in many ways, with challenges in coming up with new ideas, overcoming weaknesses as an artist, and sometimes just getting started. I feel afraid to make a mistake sometimes, and just have to choose to jump into the deep water and see what happens. Below is a recycled blog post, How to Build Artistic Muscles. But the artwork I am posting here is new. This artwork is based on song lyrics and poems, and is all about the figure, using mixed media materials for drawings and paintings.
Bottom: Money is the Bait, (Value Sketch) Mixed Media on Crescent Board, Jodie Schmidt 2020.
Bottom: Abraham Lincoln Biographical Portrait (value sketch), Mixed Media on Crescent Illustration Board, 2020.
A few weeks ago, one of my art fans complimented me on a painting which she had viewed on my Art of Schmidt website, entitled, Phyllis and Dad. She said that she liked the colors, that she admired my talent, and wanted to know the story behind the painting. I told her that the painting was based on a collection of family photos that I had collected and that I always remembered my father as being older than other kid’s fathers. I also shared that this was the first photo I had ever seen of my father taken when he was young. Although I do not know his exact age, as the picture is not dated, I would estimate that he was in his early twenties when this photo was taken of him and his first wife, Phyllis.
I was of course, grateful to hear the compliments about my artwork, but at the same time, I wanted to share that the artwork I post on my website does not come about by magic. It takes a lot of effort. Furthermore, sometimes more than one version of a painting or drawing is created to lead to the finished product that people see on my website, commerce site, and social media feeds on Facebook and Instagram. In fact, I have to practice on a weekly basis to keep my drawing and painting skills from getting rusty. During this conversation, I shared all of these insights with her and I hastened to add that if I relied solely on my artistic “talent” then it wouldn’t get me very far. Instead, I have found that practicing art is much like practicing a sport or playing an instrument. I believe that in order to get good at any of these disciplines, one needs to practice, a lot, and on a regular basis to maintain a certain level of skill. And sometimes it may require me to make a drawing or painting over and over again until I get it “just right.” In the words of songwriter, Sting: “I will reapply the needle of the record player again and again to the bars of music that seem beyond my analysis, like a safecracker picking a lock, until the prize is mine.” (Sting, Broken Music, dust jacket cover, 2003).
I was thinking about this conversation this week when I was trying to decide what to blog about. While I was pondering this, I wondered how to make this knowledge which I have gained about the need for artists to practice their art, into an applicable blog post that anyone can learn from. According to the author, and textile artist, Bren Boardman, one specific way for artists to stay “in practice” with their craft is to keep a sketchbook. The sketchbook serves as a repository to record their ideas and inspirations, such as “color swatches, quotes, magazine clippings, newspaper cuttings, or reference photos” for artwork in progress. (Boardman, Bren. “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”, https: www.textileartist.org).
Bren Boardman, textile artist, and author of the article, “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”, states that sketchbooks can help artists to develop their ideas for artwork and that using a mind map in their sketchbooks is an effective strategy for fleshing out ideas for new artwork. In her article, she provides some useful tips on how to start a mind map diagram, sort of like the “web” I remember from grade school in which my teachers used to help my fellow students brainstorm new ideas. In Boardman’s mind maps, she starts with a word or phrase that encapsulates her concept for a new artwork and draws connecting branches, which describe her ideas in more detail, sometimes using imagery. To start a mind map, she recommends that you write a word or phrase, with which you can associate, the main idea. (Boardman, Bren. 2013)
In addition, Boardman states that it is helpful to consider what type of sketchbook you would like to create such as a reference sketchbook, where you might “collect color mixing tests, color swatches or samples, or an idea generation sketchbook”; such as creating a mind map which describes the process and ends with the final result. On the other hand, perhaps you might make a sketchbook that would describe a trip or journey. Furthermore, if you still feel overwhelmed about the process of starting a sketchbook, I’m including a list of suggestions that Boardman offers in her article to get you started with the process. For example, you might include: “photos, magazines or prints, magazine or newspaper cuttings, drawings, sketches and doodles, text, poetry, stories, thoughts, thoughts, letters, extracts, statements, words, fabric, threads, wools, beads, buckles, papers of all kinds.” (Boardman, Bren. “Sketchbooks and Mind Mapping for Artists”)
In this blog post, I include my process for adapting Boardman’s mind map idea and translating it into a project I wanted to create a genealogical portrait of recording artist, Sting. My inspiration for this project was based on an overworked watercolor painting I made last summer, a portrait by Durer of a man standing in front of a landscape, and a TV miniseries, entitled, Finding YourRoots, with Henry Louis Gates, J., on PBS. The segment I took inspiration from was called, “Sting, Sally Field, and Deepak Chopra,” and was filmed in 2014. Gates spoke with each individual in turn and he shared what he had learned about their ancestry through genealogical research. In particular, Gates shared that Sting’s third-great grandparents were lacemakers who started a family in Nottingham, England in the 1820s. However, due to the Industrial Revolution, which led to mass production of products and consumer goods, they were forced to seek work elsewhere in Calais, France, and Australia.
I took inspiration from this TV series, a failed watercolor portrait of Sting, and from a sketch by Duerer which featured a portrait of a man and a landscape in the background. To record my thoughts, I took notes as I watched the TV segment and I re-draw these thoughts in a mind map. I knew I wanted to make a portrait that was different from the typical face front painting or sketch of a person with a wall as background, and that I wanted to let the artwork tell a story about the person. I wanted to use symbols to tell the person’s story so that it would lead the viewer to contemplate the scene and ask questions about what the symbols might mean. After I completed the notes, I set to work looking for images on the internet of Sting, his home town of Wallsend, England, and some symbols to describe his ancestor’s migration to France and their profession as lacemakers. Then I put all the photos together in Adobe Photoshop to create a collage as reference for the resulting sketch and three value watercolor painting. I plan to continue this project as a larger acrylic painting in a 12 x 24-inch size. Stay tuned for more updates on my painting process of this portrait! Thanks for stopping by!
I am including my revised artist statement for this series, which I have called Voices and Visions, but I am now calling Constructed Realities. I am finally getting into he value sketches and drawings, and its starting to slowly come together. But I still have a long way to go toward the final product. I’m not sure if they will be traditional oil paintings or mixed media pieces. Right now, I am looking for readers to let me know how my artist statement sounds, and if the artwork I am posting here, “matches” with it. If you could, post a comment on my website, http://www.artofschmidt.com or Art of Schmidt Facebook page and let me know how this statement and artwork make you feel. I want to be sure that I am not too esoteric, and that everyone who reads it can understand what I hope to express in my art. Thanks!
Artist Statement for Constructed Realities
How does an idea for a painting get born? For me, it’s sometimes a memory being replayed, hearing a song lyric that resonates with me, reading a poem that lends itself to telling a story or visiting an inspiring art exhibit. This series of paintings focuses on the connection between the human condition and stories described in the written word, through poetry and song lyrics. The works may describe a feeling, such as a search for love, broken relationships, and homes, uncertainty, nostalgia about one’s childhood, wishes and desires, journeys, the modern world and industrialization, overcoming adversity, artist’s block, etc. These themes are described using metaphors and symbols, such as maps, industrialization, etc. In addition, limited. The color palette in oil paint, to keep the focus on the content of the artwork and not the color.
Two things have sparked this re-current theme about visual storytelling, and they are: 1.) An art class that I took at Frederick Community College, and 2.) Learning about art journals and mixed media artwork. In January of 2015, I took a drawing course at Frederick Community College in Frederick, MD. One of the final assignments I tackled was to illustrate a poem of my choice using pastels. A major challenge in this assignment was to find a poem that had some concrete images to illustrate. I chose Robert Frost’s poem, Ghost House, which has an abundance of concrete imagery. The first lines, “I dwell in a lonely house I know, that vanished nearly a summer ago, and left no trace but the cellar walls …”
(Frost) griped me with a strong visual picture. I immediately thought of a derelict house and I tried to create a narrative about this haunted house. Slowly, different images popped into my head, a derelict house, a ghost bride, a tree, a path, and some crows. To facilitate this process, I collected artwork that inspired me on Google image searches and checked out art technique books on vampires and fantasy creatures from the public library. To create this current body of work, I collected a notebook of images that inspired me, from Google searches or Pinterest, and stitching them together in PhotoShop to create unique compositions. Next, I read books on poetry or did Google searches to look for poems that lent themselves to visual depiction. Brief lines from the poems or songs which inspired these works are embedded within the works so that the viewer can make the connection between the imagery and words which inspired each work.
I then collaged various photos of the house, ghost bride, path, crows, landscape, etc. in Adobe Photoshop and printed out the collage on copier paper in the size in which I intended to create the artwork. The final step was to trace the image with carbon paper and Pen and to begin filling in the pastel paper with tones and shades of blue and purple pastels. Some of the poetry that has inspired this new series, entitled, Voices and Visions, are verses written by Emily Dickinson, William Wordsworth, Robert Frost, and T.S. Elliot, among others.
And my second inspirational spark to create this series is the art journaling movement. A new trend in popular culture is the concept of the art journal, in which the artist writes and illustrates specific things, feelings, seasons, etc., often in mixed media materials. According to mixed media artist, Dina Wakely, art journaling is a way to express your emotions through imagery and text, and no specific rules need to apply to this process. She also shares that the idea of art journaling is not a new one, and well-known artists, such as Leonardo Da Vinci, kept a series of notebooks. Like Dina, I find that creating narrative art can be a meaningful process, either to express difficult emotions such as sharing universal truths with others in
Much the same way as song lyrics do. In a similar fashion to the poets, Dickinson and Frost, songwriters such as The Cranberries, Sting, Shawn Colvin, U2, Roseanne Cash, Johnny Cash, and Coldplay, and many others have masterfully shared universal truths about love, loss, uncertainty, identity, depression, and loneliness. A good case in point is Sting’s song, Let Your Soul Be Your Pilot, an ode about uncertainty and the process of finding answers in the midst of it.
Hello Friends, I am recycling an old blog post here, because it seems so relevant to the struggle I have had in getting this new series, Voices, and Visions off the ground. It has taken me several months to get traction, but I finally have some sketches to share! At last! The series is about the human condition, and is inspired by poems, by writers such as Williams Wordsworth, who wrote the poem, “The World is too much with us.” Though it was written several hundred years ago, in 1807, about the conflicts between our connection to nature, and the pull of materialism driven by the industrial revolution in England during the 19th century, it still seems so relevant today. Anyways, on to the blog post, which is about the Artist’s Block.
What is Artist’s Block?
Art of Schmidt Blog Post
This year has been a difficult one with lots of transitions and changes. One of these big changes was my decision to drop out of the Human Services Associate’s degree program at Frederick Community College, after 18 months of double-mindedness between feeling like I had to finish it because I didn’t have any other solid plans for my career, and I had already put in countless hours writing papers, studying and completely fieldwork. I had felt burnt out and unmotivated to finish the program, and I also felt split in half between my desire to be a professional artist and the need to carve out a definite career plan for myself. It was a difficult decision but I finally decided to drop out after some soul searching and talking with my academic advisor for a variety of reasons. In addition, the workload that this academic program demanded left very little time for creating art. And if I am 100 percent honest with myself, I have always wanted to take my art to the next level beyond just a hobby, but felt unsure of how to pursue this goal after I graduated from McDaniel College with a degree in Art in 2005, and it didn’t seem “practical” to pursue art as anything more than a hobby. I always felt somewhat unsure if Social Work was really the right path for me in contrast.
Lately, I have been learning that creative time is important to me and my well being. Creating artwork has been an outlet for me at various times in my life during stressful moments and personal struggles, especially during my father’s long illness and eventual death in 2011 from heart disease. Making paintings and drawings in oil, watercolor, pastel, and pencil has provided me with a safe way to process difficult feelings and emotions. However, lately, making art has been very challenging and more like a test of endurance and skill than the oasis or refuge it used to be. In spite of the difficulties, I have been pressing on with sketches and paintings to prepare for my October art show at the Frederick Coffee Company as Artist of the month. However, the joy I once felt in making art seems to have deserted me. I am making very slow progress with starting only 1-2 paintings a week, after looking at some reference photos I took of Catoctin State Park, here in Thurmont, MD. What is going on here? How can I go from feeling like creating artwork is my lifeline, to it has become my enemy and tormentor and relentless critic? After reading an article, entitled, “7 Types of Creative Block(And what to do About Them)”, by Mark McGuiness, I think I am beginning to understand that this lack of forwarding motion is the dreaded Artist’s Block that seems to afflict creative types from a variety of field from musicians, writers, and artists.
Voices and Visions: Work in Progress: Extreme Makeover
Make Time for Art
For the past two weeks, I have really been making an effort to make time to get into my art studio and work on my Voices and Visions series, every Thursday from 10 am-12 pm. It’s been challenging. I am focusing on finishing one piece of artwork that I started a few weeks ago, called, The Dream of Time Travel. This mixed media piece has gone through many changes and edits. I’ve subtracted some elements and added others trying to find the right composition and color scheme to express the emotions I want viewers to feel when looking at this artwork.
The Creative Process: Dream of Time Travel
And yet, I am still trying to figure out just what that feeling might be that I want the viewer to take away from my painting. Is it sadness, longing, discontent, or some other emotion? I feel that finding the answer to this question will be the key to solving the difficulties I have had with completing this piece in terms of composition, color choices and subject matter.
I began making my edits on this piece by cutting up my color sketches in watercolor and adding other elements such as paint chips for the clouds. After that, I took more drastic measures, cutting out anything from the painting that did not add to the composition, seeking simplicity. Even after hours of work, I could see that I needed to start the whole project over from scratch, because some elements of the piece just didn’t work, especially the imaginary ones, like the road leading to the fairy tale book. I realized that trying to do a surrealist style in this work, and it just wasn’t working.
Back to the Drawing Board
After I realized that the piece was not working, I decided to start over from scratch and gather my own photo references of self-portraits and a landscape to combine them into a Photoshop collage. Then, after I had placed all of my photos into the collage, I began drawing the composition free hand, trying to make it the same scale as the photo reference. While I was working on this piece, I realized I need to draw more often, and that I had become too reliant on tracing photos for my art, rather than drawing from life or photo references. So, my new piece is a sketch that I still need to finish, but one that I think will be easier to complete as a painting.
The Takeaways from the Creative Process
Other takeaways from this project are: 1.) Sometimes you just need to get started on art to make progress, even if you’re out of practice, 2.) Failed art pieces can be the springboard for new art, 3.) Simple compositions work best for me, 4.) I need to draw more often, 5.) Drawing from one’s imagination is really difficult, and perhaps I need to stick to a more realistic style, and 6.) I need to think about what emotion I want my viewers to feel from my artwork, which will influence my color and compositional choices. Through it all, I am learning that everything on my journey of creativity is useful to me and that good art can’t be rushed, not for me anyway.
As mentioned in a previous blog post, I haven’t been painting much lately. This is a challenge because, without artwork to illustrate my blog posts with, I don’t know what to write about. Over the past few weeks, I have considered writing about art business related topics. However, since I have been having some doubts about whether I want my art to be made mainly for pleasure, such as a hobby or for profit, based on a business model. In fact, I sometimes feel that making art for profit, sometimes steals the joy of creating, and it often involves a host of other tasks I don’t enjoy such as marketing and bookkeeping, which also takes away the limited time I have to make artwork. To resolve this problem, I am going to return to an earlier topic which I had enjoyed writing about and that is, artists I admire. In this case, I will focus my discussion upon the life of John Singer Sargent, and his subsequent reinvention as a painter around 1900, in which he shifted his focus from creating oil portraits of high society figures to creating watercolors of people and places he visited in Europe.
Re-Invention of the Self: A pop culture staple
All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, and imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people. —Ursula K. Le Guin
The topic of reinvention is important to me because I am in the process of trying to separate others ideas of what they think I should be doing with my life, and my own conflicts between pursuing art, and what role I want it to play in my life. Is it a profession, a hobby or something in between? Along the way, I have also been sidetracked with other pursuits such as pursuing more practical lines of work, such as graphic design and social work, and even, art entrepreneurship. This is a process that began in 2005 when I graduated from McDaniel College with an art degree to the present moment.
That is why reading about Sargent’s journey to aesthetic reinvention, in the article, “Examining Sargent’s Shift from Oils to Watercolors”, by Judith H. Dubrinsky, of the New York Times, caught my eye and inspired me to write about him. I took classes in both graphic design and social work and after much ambivalence and indecision, decided ultimately that they were not interesting enough for me to complete a degree and change my career direction. It seems that I always return to making art no matter what other avenues for employment, volunteering or education that I have pursued. As I have been introspecting about this process of shedding layers of false selves, my truer self-seems to be emerging, and I am finding fulfillment in finally getting to pursue my dream of teaching art. Meanwhile, I am working part-time as a receptionist, who provides stable income and a sense of security, when art sales are low or the teaching contracts are not long-term, as is the case with my new contractual position at Buckingham’s Choice. The topic of reinvention, however, is not just limited to the past, as in the case of Sargent. Instead, it can still be observed in more current times.
For example, in popular culture, a good case in point of the re-invented self is found in the 2009 movie, Julie and Julia, a biopic about the life of the renowned chef, Julia Child, which is intermingled with the life one of her fans, Julie Powell who aspires to be a cook, but struggles with finishing things, like her novel. Powell gets inspired by Child’s book, The Art of French cooking, and takes on the challenge of cooking all of Child’s recipes from the book, and blogging about her adventures and mishaps during this journey. In addition, the writer, Georgina Del Vecho, in an article, Can You ReallyReinvent Yourself? States that, “Countless teen movies revolve around the plotline of a transformation—“The Princess Diaries,” “Grease,” “She’s All That” and “Clueless,” to name a few—which, even if the transformed character ends up realizing they’ve forsaken their morals in pursuit of popularity/fame/a man, still suggest that changing your appearance or other aspects about yourself can help you reach your goal.” (Source: Del Vecho, Georgina. “Can You Really ReinventYourself?”The Chronicle: The Independent NewsOrganization at Duke University, 09/13/2007, https://www.dukechronicle.com/article/2017/09/can-you-really-reinvent-yourself, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
Another example of transformation, which is popular today, is the notion of changing your profession and seeking to find a dream job, such as leaving the corporate world to start your own business, especially during the retirement years. (Source: Freedman, Marc. “The Dangerous Myth of Reinvention.” The Harvard Business Review, January 1, 2014, https://hbr.org/2014/01/the-dangerous-myth-of-reinvention), accessed on November 15, 2018.)
These examples, however, opens up the question, such as, do these types of transformations really change who you are as a person, or not? I’m particularly interested in this questions and the journey of reinventing myself because I have been making some significant changes in my own life. For years I have wanted to teach art, but haven’t known how to go about it. For example, I have faced many roadblocks to getting qualified to teach after I obtained my baccalaureate degree in art. Despite taking the standardized teaching certification test, called the Praxis 1 test many times, I could not pass it. This test is required to obtain teacher certification in the state of Maryland, and it allows you to apply for teaching jobs in the public school system.
After that, I was rejected to four graduate degree art programs, which is a required qualification if you want to teach art on the college level. It seemed that all doors for teaching art had been effectively closed. I have driven down many detours and pursued lots of classes and volunteering, most of which not related to art, but seemed more “practical.” Making time for art and thinking about how I wanted it to be a part of my life got sidelined. For years, I simply focused on survival and paying my bills, which was important because I had student loans to pay off. However, after my father died in 2011, it was a catalyst to motivate me to find a way to make art a part of my life again. Initially, this began by taking art classes with Rebecca Pearl, a local Thurmont, MD artist, and teacher. Later, it grew to include a sideline as a pet portrait painter and exhibiting my artwork in local art shows. Recently, I have begun teaching art classes in an enrichment art class at the retirement community in Adamstown, Md, called Buckingham’s Choice, and I have applied for a position as an enrichment art teacher at Frederick Community College in the Institute for Learning in Retirement. However, this journey hasn’t been easy. I’ve had to work against my inner resistance to change, even good change, and fears of the unknown, to get to this new destination in my life. But, upon reflection, I’m realizing that perhaps the biggest failure of all, would be not to pursue one’s hopes, dreams or ambitions and settle for the unresolved life, which is characterized by “what might have been,” or “if only.”
John Singer Sargent: Artistic Scope and Reinvention
I tend to associate Sargent with oil paintings of well-known entities such as Theodore Roosevelt and the robber baron John D. Rockefeller. But, little did I know that he had much more range and ability in the arts than I can imagine. In fact, sometime around 1900, Sargent abandoned his oil paints and picked up watercolor paints instead. (Source: ibid) According to the author, Dubrinsky, he abandoned painting portraits of high society figures and instead focused on painting “gardens, exotic locales, and people at leisure, at work and at rest, often on his travels in Europe and the Middle East. Experimenting with unusual compositions and new techniques, he reinvented himself aesthetically.” (Source: ibid)
Furthermore, later in life, he painted a series of murals for the Boston Public Library, with the theme of the Triumph of Religion. According to the Boston Public Library, Sargent, depicted several themes in his murals, including “early Egyptian beliefs, Judaism and Christianity”, in his murals, located in the McKim building of the Boston Public Library. (Source: “Digital Commonwealth: Massachusetts Collections Online, Mural Cycles at the Central Library in Copley Square”: Boston Public Library, https://www.digitalcommonwealth.org/collections/commonwealth:sq87dv033, accessed on November 15, 2018, and The Art Story, “John Singer Sargent: American Painter”, https://www.theartstory.org/artist-sargent-john-singer.htm, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
He obtained his artistic training at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France. (Source: ibid) Furthermore, some of his artistic influences included: the artists: Goya, Velasquez, and other contemporary Impressionist painters, and he quickly put into practice the lessons he learned from these masters. (Source: ibid)
What Made John Singer Sargent’s Work Exceptional?
According to the website, The Art Story.org, John Singer Sargent was a celebrated portrait artist who specialized in painting pictures of the elite members of society, such as the oil magnate J.D. Rockefeller, and the presidents Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, in locations such as Paris, London and New York. (Source: The Art Story, “John Singer Sargent: American Painter”, https://www.theartstory.org/artist-sargent-john-singer.htm, accessed on November 15, 2018.)
What distinguished him from other artists was the way that he revolutionized portrait painting by utilizing impressionistic brushwork and nontraditional compositions to “capture his sitters’ character and even reputation.” (Source: ibid) And sometimes his models did not like the completed painting and even refused to buy it, perhaps because it revealed uncomfortable truths? (Source: ibid) The portrait, Madame X, painted early in his career is a prime example of this tendency. (Source: ibid)
Sargent’s Range of Artistic Projects: Watercolors and Murals
However, he did not limit himself to portraiture; instead, he also painted outdoors with his colleague, Claude Monet”. (Source: ibid) In addition, Sargent also created murals which were commissioned by government officials in the US and in the UK later in his career. (Source: ibid) He was a talented young painter and he created a “spectacular array of exciting and masterful paintings while only in his twenties.”(Source: ibid)
Scandal in Paris Salon of 1884: Madame X Painting
Despite these accomplishments, in 1884 at the Paris Salon, his portrait, Madame X, created a stir amongst the leaders of the Paris art establishment, who found its depiction of the American ex-patriot, Virginia Gateau, too blatantly sexual, in her low cut black dress which showed a shocking amount of her skin for the 19th century time period and standards of the day. (Source: Baker, Harriet. “The Story Behind John Singer Sargent’s RA ‘Carnation, Lily, Lily Rose.” The Royal Academy, 13 February 2015, https://www.royalacademy.org.uk/article/john-singer-sargent-carnation-lily-lily-rose, accused on November 15, 2018.
After his debacle in Paris, Sargent moved to England “and spent summer seasons in an artist’s colony in Broadway, Worcestershire”. (Source: ibid) At this location, he painted the stunning and timeless painting, Carnation Lily, LilyRose, which epitomized the innocence of childhood, and helped to bring him back into the arms of the art establishment. (Source: ibid) Sargent’s inspiration for this double portrait came from a variety of sources such as artwork by the English Pre-Raphaelites, and the Impressionists who painted en plein air. (Source: ibid) However, his initial inspiration for this painting can be traced back to “an evening boating trip along the Thames at Pangbourne in 1885, when he saw Chinese lanterns hanging from trees.” (Source: ibid) He began working on Carnation Lily, Lily Rose during a visit with Francis David Millet. (Source: ibid) The two girls who posed for the portrait were Polly and Dorothy, who were daughters of the artist Frederick Barnard. (Source: ibid)
Closing Thoughts: Why I feel a kinship with Sargent
In conclusion, I feel I can relate to Sargent’s life story in a small way, such as his search to find success, his failures, and his desire to reinvent himself in his middle age. In a similar way, I am at a crossroads in my life and looking for ways to reinvent my life via teaching art. I’m also shedding old selves, perhaps influenced or invented by others or myself. I’m trying to be completely honest with myself about what I really want to do with my life and what I want my contribution to society to be. I am not even sure I want to be an artist-entrepreneur anymore, and I am re-examining what it means for me to be an artist. For now, I am finding that teaching others to draw and paint is incredibly rewarding, and it seems to be part of that answer. I admire Sargent’s courage to break free from his comfort zone, and perhaps from the expectations of others about what he should paint. I hope that I can grab onto some of that courage.
Readers, Please Note: The paintings I am posting to accompany this blog post include not only a portrait that Sargent completed, Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose, but also some other master artworks
which I have copied and which I intend to make part of an art history blog series. Thanks for reading! Next month I plan to write about the artist Eastman Johnson. Have a wonderful day!
I have a confession to make; I haven’t been painting very much lately, even though I call myself an artist. In fact, it’s been almost a month since I painted a picture, or even wanted to work on a painting. Yesterday was my first day back at the easel, working on a complicated water lily painting. Although this subject seems simple, it has been quite challenging to execute. I have been trying to push myself beyond my usual comfort zone of placing everything in the middle of my artwork and to create alternative compositions. I have spent a lot of time, effort and thought to explore different compositions and value schemes to resolve the painting.
Sometimes Life Gets in the Way of Creativity
But it’s been an off and on the journey, with very little motivation to create again. This lack of motivation to be creative is, unfortunately, nothing new in my journey as an artist. Instead, it has been a frequent and unwelcome companion. For some reason, I no longer have that naive joy I used to have in creating art, where I was free from the brutal inner critic. Instead, now it seems that my artwork must have a purpose, in order to be worthwhile. Somewhere, perhaps buried deep inside me, is a desire to create, but that has to compete with a myriad of other priorities that fight for my attention, such as cooking, organizing, cleaning, to-do lists, etc. It’s a constant tug of war, deciding what my priorities should be. Other things that make me doubt the point of being creative and feeling like it’s a luxury to make art have been the drying up of art sales and commissioned work. In addition, I have had to cancel several art events due to weather conditions, or a lack of interest from others. All in all, it makes me wonder, what is the point? Does anyone really care if I make art or not? Does it impact their lives? Is it meaningful for me to make art, whether it sells or not? Is this a hobby, a business, or something in between? What is my purpose in creating art?
Ways I have been Making Time for Art
Despite my doubts about the validity of making artwork, I have been pushing myself to create art nonetheless, kind of like adhering to a fitness schedule. One of my methods to keep my drawing skills sharp has been to draw a dog portrait from a reference book called, For the Love of Dogs, by the photographer, Rachael Hale, five days a week and to post the results on Instagram. I try to keep the sketches simple, and I spend about 30-45 minutes on each drawing. However, I am not sure how to get back my love for creativity. Instead of taking time to ponder this question, I tend to spend my time reading or watching the British television mystery series on YouTube, called Lewis. But now I am starting to wonder, what steps can I take to start enjoying making art again? So, on that note, I would like to share some tips from an article I read on a website called, Skinny Artist, managed by Drew Kimble.
The author, of the article, “5 Ways to Rediscover Your Art and Reclaim Your Passion”, states that there are five techniques which can be used by artists to rediscover their creative spark. The techniques he lists include: 1. finding ways to nourish your creativity, 2. reducing distractions in your environment, 3.) locating a community of creatives, either online or in real life, 4. engaging in small creative practices on a daily basis, and 5., keeping your creative practice varied by changing up your techniques, media, etc. (Source: Drew Kimble, “5 Ways to Rediscover Your Art and Reclaim Your Passion,” www.skinnyartist.com.) In the interest of brevity, I am only going to share a few of Drew Kimble’s tips.
Nourish Your Creativity
Drew Kimble states that to keep your creative well flowing, you need to re-group by viewing as much art as you can. (Source: ibid) By observing works in art galleries, books, art magazines, websites, etc., it will help you to define the direction in which you would like your artwork to go, and inspire you with imagery to re-construct, abstract or re-interpret your artwork through the lens of other artwork. (Source: ibid) A quote from Isaac Newton helps to illustrate this concept: “If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.”
Limit Your Distractions
In our twenty-first century modern society, we are frequently inundated with distractions, whether it comes in the form of cell phones, the internet, movies, hello, YouTube, etc. (Source: ibid) A cell phone alone contains a myriad of distractions including: “movies, instant messenger, arcades, phone games”, such as Pokémon Go, etc, etc. (Source: ibid.) This does not include other distractions, which may seem well-intentioned or important: such as cleaning, cooking or organizing our homes. And for most of us, we need to make a living outside of our art, unless we are retired, have a trust fund, or a well-off partner who helps to support our artistic careers, so there is also time we need to dedicate to our jobs. (Source: Ibid.) On the other hand, to be creative, we must carve out empty places in our schedules, or what I like to call, white space. (Source: Ibid.) Without stillness and solitude, it is difficult to create an environment conducive to creativity where memories, experiences, literature, song lyrics, cultural influences, history, imagery, etc, can merge to create the seeds of inspiration. (Source: Ibid.) In fact, Agatha Christie has been known for saying that some of her best ideas came to her for novels when she was washing dishes. She states, “The best time to plan a book is while you’re doing the dishes.” (Source: https://www.brainyquote.com/authors/agatha_christie)
In addition, the author, Drew Kimble, suggests that keeping a “time journal” for many days can help him to identify what activities he spends his time doing. (Source: Ibid.) Another tip he shares is to schedule time for making art and to be gentle with yourself, even if you don’t meet your expectations and cross everything off your to-do list. (Source: Ibid.) Likewise, I have been trying to reduce the number of items I place on my to-do list, as far as creative projects are concerned. I’ve been realizing that most days, I can only do one project at a time, especially on days when I work at my part-time job. I’m trying to make Thursdays a day to spend more time on creative projects. One of the projects I hope to get started on, is my poetry illustration narrative series, an art project I have yet to complete because of its complexity. I also want to focus my energies on my daily drawing challenge, which features dog portraits. I’m learning that if I take on too many art projects, I have a tendency to leave these projects unfinished and then I feel guilty for being so unproductive. One other way I could make time for art would be to cut down on the time I allocate for entertainment, especially movies, which can take up a lot of my free time if I am not careful.
Conclusion: What’s the Point of Making Art?
In closing, I would like to return to some questions about the meaning of art, both to myself and to the society in which I live. Pondering the role of art in my society and in my life specifically, I read and researched some articles online to see what others had to say about the importance of art in our society, to address one of the main questions I posted about making art, which is, What’s the point? So here are a few thoughts from an article I read: “Why We All Need Art in Our Lives,” by Lesli Walsh, April 11, 2013, retrieved from http://www.michipreneur.com/why-we-all-need-art-in-our-lives/. The first point, the author, Walsh makes is that 1.) art is an integral part of who we are as humans, and that it can help us to create balance in our lives or to find other routes for self-expression when words fail us. (Source: Ibid) Point number two is that art helps us to understand how historical events impact people emotionally, and how it has shaped our own lives. (Source: Ibid) Thirdly, making or viewing art can help us to become more self-aware about our inner thoughts, desires, fears, etc, and gives us a chance to slow down and decrease the stress we experience from living in a multi-tasking, fast-paced society. (Source: Ibid) Through self-awareness, we can grieve losses and heal from traumas. Another value we can get from making art is that it can help us to develop critical thinking skills, by teaching us how to represent abstract thoughts and concepts in concrete ways through visual symbols. (Source: Ibid) Finally, by talking about the art we make, we can learn how to be better communicators with others. (Source: Ibid) One last thought about the value of art is that it can transcend cultural differences and give people a common language, where words are not necessary. (Source: Ibid) Thanks for stopping by and reading!
Its been a while since I have posted since I have been waiting for some new news to share with you. My artwork will be displayed at the GWC Gallery for the month of October as part of a No Theme Show. Gloria is a new gallery owner who is working on helping new artists to have a space to exhibit their art. Come on down and visit! Here is a link to her website: https://www.gwc-artwork.com/. These are some of my oil paintings on display at the gallery. They feature scenes from beautiful Catoctin State Park, based on photos I took during the autumn. The paintings are custom framed with a beautiful wood frame, so they are all ready to hang on your wall!