Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"Inside the Painter's Studio"--the elite tell young artists secrets of making it

Photo by Stefan van Drake.
Book review-plus.

"Inside the Painter's Studio"
 By Joe Fig
Princeton Architectural Press, NY, NY (2010) US $35 ($16.49 on Amazon)

Vincent van Gogh is someone for whom we have great compassion and with whom, a sense of deep identity.

More so today as thousands of young and emerging artists struggle online and elsewhere for commercial recognition.

"And I must continue to follow the path I take now. If I do nothing, if I study nothing, if I cease searching, then, woe is me, I am lost. That is how I look at it - keep going, keep going come what may."
Vincent van Gogh, July 1880 in a letter to brother Theo.

Chuck Close, one of the 24 painters Fig interviewed using the same template of questions, opines: "Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us show up and get to work."

Fig lets his photos of the artists' studios and their own words create an authentic artistic impression of the painter, his or her methods, some tools and tricks of the trade, whether they prefer messy or clean studios, whether they stand or sit when working, listen to music while painting, what's their typical day, but at the end of Fig's template come the zingers, the questions many of us ponder.

And when should you go to grad school? Even, should you? Is it nothing more than a $60,000 rip-off?

Do you have a motto or creed as a painter? What advice can you give young artists? How do you best market yourself?

Avoid New York and LA or flock there and soak up the struggles and see art in the flesh? As you might expect, no answer is the same.

Including artist's bios, it's 239 pages offer an insightful and fun read. You learn bits that might help you in your own work or studio karma and get to snoop into other artists' studios, always intriguing.

On a more metaphysical plane there is the bruising reality very few painters work full-time and make a living at it. Fig only left his day job about two years ago, he said when interviewing Joe Fig, the last of his subjects.

All this started as a research project but when Fig compiled it, he monetized his work and I'm glad he did.

Fascinating that a number of these made painters advised young artists to cling with each other, support each other, gain energy from each other, much like van Gogh's longing for an artists' commune to compete with the Paris Salon, a dream never realized.

And don't go to grad school until you have worked five to seven years in a studio, your own or as an assistant, some advise.

"Just stick with your friends, make artwork that you like, and do what's easy for you. Find your bliss not by doing what looks like 'art,' but actually find your bliss by doing what's easy--what comes naturally," says Inka Essenhigh of New York's Lower Eastside.

Eric Fischl and James Siena share Essenhigh's ethos and pathos.

Siena says: "Artists who emerge from that world of the unknowns into the world of the knowns generally are first very well known among other artists."

Be socialble, adds Steve Mumford of New York City. "...get out and meet your peers and meet the gallery people as much as possible."

The most common thread among these painters' advice is persistence, honesty to your own work and artistic energies and insights from artist colleagues- fresh eyes,  always changing and growing.

Other artists featured in Fig's book: Gregory Amenoff, Ross Bleckner, Will Cotton, Barnaby Furnas, April Gornik, Jane Hammond, Mary Heilmann, Bill Jensen, Ryan McGinness, Julie Mehretu, Malcolm Morley, Philip Pearlstein, Matthew Ritchie, Alexis Rockman, Dana Schutz, Amy Sillman, Joan Snyder, Billy Sullivan and Fred Tomaselli.

Van Gogh, brutally self-abusive as he was persistent, wrote brother Theo in 1885 about painters and some who fear a blank canvas:

"Their soul, their brains, are not there for the sake of the brush but the brush for the sake of their brains. Furthermore, it is the canvas which is frightened of the real painter, not the painter who is frightened of the canvas." 

Rock on and practice peace and love.

See ArtTraveler videos on YouTube and track the adventures of Dutch walkers Joost and Rob as they trek 1,000 km on their Via de la Plata pilgramage from Seville to Santiago de Compostelo.

Some studios like mine look like a disaster zone.
Stefan, the ArtTraveler(TM)


  1. very much enjoyed this post...i also concur with c. close

  2. Peace and Love....and inspiration is worth it's weight in GOLD!!! To be inspired...is a revelation of mind...spirit and being. Do not discount or disregard a process that ultimately leads to creative awareness!

  3. well, ok David...i would agree...i think the important point to take away is that waiting for inspiration is folly....often times just showing up and moving about the studio...getting started, will jump start inspiration...