Topic: art (4 posts)

Mark Rothko

Eleven paintings by the American artist Mark Rothko just opened at the Boston Museum of Art. I went just before I headed to Martha's Vineyard for a few weeks. This small but intense show looks at Rothko's work both before and after the discovery of his main device of his signature rectangle in about 1948. Talk about epiphany! Imagine Rothko discovering this major vehicle, his presentational form.  He stayed with it the rest of his life. Mark Rothko committed suicide in 1971.

I've always gone back to Rothko's work for stability, a kind of foundation or grounding of creative expression for me when feeling lost in my own thoughts,  or looking for motivation. His paintings exude such power and cut through so much to arrive at something very fundamental.

You ask, how can just 11 paintings constitute an exhbition worth going to? The answer: if they are eleven paintings by this amazing 20th century master.

If you do go, give yourself a little time. These are not to be rushed through. Slow your clock, if you can.

There are three of the very late-in-his-career "black" paintings in the show. They are simliar to the ones in the Rothko Chapel in Houston (Chapel). I've been to see these several times. The ones at the MFA are smaller and precede the ones in Houston, which were commissioned. The paintings in the current show are exquisite, enveloping and will have a deep impact on you if you can let everything else go. Accessible, no, not very, but worth the effort if you are able to just be. Takes a while.

Mark Rothko at the MFA Boston, through July 1, 2018.

I referenced another Rothko in this blog from last spring: I Love Art

Highly Recommended

Topics: paintings,art

Permalink | Posted September 29, 2017


You've done them, right? Had a private showing of your work to friends and colleagues. Maybe you know of a few people who bought your work before and you have new work you'd like them to see. By invitation:

A glass of wine, a beer, something good to eat, great conversation, some introductions, no big deal. A Sunday afternoon (when there's no football game), perhaps after work on a weeknight, a time to unwind, do something a little different and look at some art. Take some care how you prepare. Nice lighting, something good playing at low volume in the background. Perhaps even a few portfolios to look at that are well edited, beautifully printed and clearly presented.

Over now many years I've held these with varying degrees of success. I had one last year that almost no one came to, but other ones have been very good. No, this isn't just about selling your work, although that is a bonus if it does happen. It is about getting your work seen. 

Look, what's the point of good work languishing, sitting in a box somewhere unseen? If you're excited by something you've made that is really good and significant a gallery is not the only place for people to see it, it is just one of the places. Most galleries have long lead times and plan their shows far in advance. Few galleries can adapt quickly, show new work soon after it's made.  Even an exhibition space in a library or a hospital has a line of people wanting to show their work there. Then there is framing and an artist statement and a press release too: it all gets so formal (to say nothing about the expense).

Have a party, invite your friends and past supporters of your work. And show your work. Don't have a place to show your art? Find a room in the town hall, a meeting room in a church or synagogue, borrow the use of a conference room at work. Get industrious. Maybe you can get that gallery owner to come see your work, or that museum curator. Hint: offer to pick them up and return them. Too busy with the prep for your invitational art party? Ask a friend to do it. I've done this in Boston over the years. Chances are the curator will appreciate that you are making it easy for them. 

Invite anyone you can think of that will be moved by your work. Even strangers. Make sure you pester them with reminders about the event coming up. Each time you do that include a new amazing picture in your email or the card you send them. If you do send a card, make it be beautiful. The party is just one time but the card lasts and lasts. A curator I sent the card to of the barn in the wheat field didn't come to my party but years later I saw it on her bulletin board at her desk. 

Finally, think about it this way. You are a practicing artist making what you believe to be your best work ever. But you get shut out every which way you turn. The galleries won't see you, the museums are worse. The portfolio reviews are expensive, abusive and debilitating. Take control. Bring the people to you. Kill yourself getting it all together to have have your showing and only 13 people come? That's 13 more than if you'd done nothing. And who knows, maybe this one will start a tradition of you having one of these every couple of years or so. I say, go for it.

Topics: Commentary,art

Permalink | Posted October 15, 2015

Artists Work

When I was teaching full time one of my often repeated phrases was "Artists Work." By that I meant that making art is physical work because artists make things. Sally Mann in her lovely autobiography Hold Still writes about long hours spent in the darkroom, slaving away on this or that image. She works in 8 x 10 so I know first hand what that is like. It often took 15 or 20 tries to get to a final, using byzantine manipulations and heroic efforts to get it right. 

The principle of hard work and long hours was, throughout the years of my time at Northeastern, hard for students to grasp. They often would expect greatness from their photography with very little effort. I remember thinking that this sense of entitlement they had was probably because they were brought up in a privileged place  and by doting parents. I can also remember critiquing work in intro classes (I spent my whole career teaching Intro to Photo most semesters) with students being upset that I wasn't impressed with their "masterpiece" . 

Making art is very hard work. Besides requiring isolation and concentration, it seems to need much failure before any success arrives. This can be hard for people to understand. Making bad ones to get to good ones, making things that are flawed in the pursuit of perfection is the norm, at least for me. Professional artists, therefore, know a great deal about failure in pursuit of their discipline. I can remember long sessions, sometimes teary ones, during office hours with beginning students just not understanding why I didn't think this or that photograph was the best ever. I would, with as much patience as I could muster, explain that this negative opinion of mine wasn't directed at them as a person but at the piece of paper held in their hands. Finally, my good friends have heard this from me often, "perfection's illusive". I'll say.

In the analog world it meant making print after print to get to the final. In the current digital world this means working, often for hours, on the image on screen, making a print in the hopes that it will be a final, then finding that it is not, and making another one. And sometimes on and on. Based on my most current efforts to make prints for the "Monsters" show, this also meant making cropping decisions and size decisions too. By the way: cropping isn't something I've done much in my career. Why? Because the intention was always to shoot it as I wanted it printed as well as the subsequent print being blown up more now, would be lower in quality. For the current work this was something of a revelation to me. Because the files were so extraordinarily good I had tremendous freedom to make acute crops and to blow up the photographs quite large without the image getting noisy or breaking down. 

Artists work. Not for fame or for money or even to show, but, for most, there is a need to create, to express thought and ideas through some visual form of expression, musical form or written result. I am a visual artist. Know how I know? Because most of my career's been spent making my pictures for no one, made just because I had to, having made stacks of finished prints that sat there, complete and ready for whatever, with no one knowing or caring one bit. We all know those that make art for the wrong reasons, for the approbation, sales and fame. But those aren't the ones we would choose to emulate, are they? Photography's no different. 

Work. With experience work becomes a process, a ritual if you will. I've written this before but watching the great American artist Frederick Sommer cook hamburgers on a small four burner gas stove in Prescott, Arizona was a revelation. Ritual. 

Fred Sommer

Hauling out the 8 x 10 from the trunk of some rental car, setting it on its tripod, unfolding it and mounting the lens, extending the front standard, zeroing the camera using the bubble level on top, opening the lens, sliding under the dark cloth and so on--- all such ritualized activities as to be almost without thought in the doing, being done thousands upon thousands of times before. Value in the repetition, in the ritual of trying to make something far more than the thing made, this through the physical work expended to make it. 

So, when in doubt, held up by some excuse manifested in getting the kids to school, or making that deadline at work or getting the groceries for that dinner party coming up, make some pictures. You're an artist? Great. Now go make some work.

Artists work.

Topics: Working Conditions,art,Don''t Sell yourself short

Permalink | Posted September 21, 2015


Quilts? What? You thought this was a photo blog, didn't you? Well it is but when something remarkable happens it's important that I bring it to your attention.

I've learned from past experience that when my friend Peter Vanderwarker says to go see a show, he means it and I should follow his recommendation. In his recent email he was very excited about the show at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts called  "Quilts and Color" up now through July 27. These are quilts from the Pilgrim/Roy Collection, by the way.

So I went. It is downstairs in the new wing, under the cafe'.  This is where they tend to put contemporary shows as the galleries are new and very state of the art. The Quilts show reminded me right off why the MFA is a world class museum. 

Because these magnificent creations are displayed with wonderful light in dark rooms that are quiet, meditative spaces, perfect for looking and really seeing the quilts. No  glass over them, no frames, just hung on the walls, mostly with black around them but sometimes with a complimentary color:

Wall descriptions and texts are minimal and helpful. This is one kick-ass show that will simply blow your socks off. 

Like color? This show is color. Like design? Ditto. Like form? Same. Like texture? Yes. Complexity and simplicity, crucial and soothing, loving and warm, these are descriptions that come to my mind. Think about how these were made, what the quilt's function is, what it means to its maker and the family that owned it. Then think about how this art form comes from every day people and where these quilts hang now. Most of the quilts were made in the 19th century but let's be clear this is an American art form and these incredible quilts were made by women.

The collector, Gerald Roy, quotes one of the quilt makers. She says, "I make my quilts as fast as I can so my children won't freeze and as beautiful as I can so my heart won't break".

"You will not see a more beautiful show anywhere in New England. What a bliss-out."—The Boston Globe

Stressed out? Bummed? Get bad news today? Your job suck? Your faith in humanity at an all time low? Your belief in things getting better shattered by current events? Believe the world is going to hell in a hand basket?

I got very bad news yesterday just before going to see this show. My application for a Guggenheim Fellowship was denied, once again. The application is a great deal of work and it requires four recommendations from top people in your field. There were 3000 applications and 178 winners. My application was as good as I could make it and the people who wrote on my behalf were very important people in photography. I was bummed. I went to the  "Quilts and Color" show and things were okay again, they really were.

Go see this show.

Topics: Color,Commentary,art

Permalink | Posted April 10, 2014