What Do You Do When You Ain’t Got Nothing?

A graphic pen and ink doodle of a human head in profile on a yellow background. The head has a with hole in it.

Have you ever had to make a speech?  What about an interview?  You know you have one shot to make an impression.  You want to be prepared and confident.  A lot may be expected of you.  What do you do when you ain’t got nothing?

I think of the old silent movies.  A scene shows a merchant demanding payment from the scamp drifter.  The drifter pulls his empty pant pockets inside out and shrugs.  The merchant protests, arms waving and fingers pointing.  Then, “ah-HAH!”  an idea comes to the drifter.  Some sort of solution is manifested and somehow all is well again.

Sometimes the harvest from the field of ideas is abundant.  Other times, it is like the empty pockets of the drifter.  The moral of our drifter’s story is often about faith and perseverance.  The drifter’s attitude is one that offers the sunny side of the street, and that you may be down but you’re never out.  Something will turn up so long as you hold out for it.

Still Nothing

That is fine but being at a loss for what to say or do is a feeling of predicament.  How does one generate ideas when nothing seems to come?  The ticking clock only seems to make things worse.  The longer the wait for an idea the less likely it seems anything will spark. 

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Managing Success While Being a Half Committed Artist

Stretching canvas in the studio of Curtis Green Arts. Several canvases in process of being stretched and ready for gesso and painting.

We are told that to succeed in anything, one must focus on that one thing and do that one thing well.  Fine, but what if the one thing you focus on requires many things to be done well, to succeed?  How do we manage our success while being a half committed artist?

Some of us may have observed about films, music, art and uttered, “They sure don’t make ‘em the way they used to!”

That makes me question, does the art suffer if the artist can only be half committed? We may come to a point where we finally say to ourselves that the time for complete commitment has come.  Our sideline creativity has come to a crossroad and it is time to commit or quit.

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My Box of Crayons

Crayola Crayons

When I was young and it was time to shop for school supplies, I could not wait to get my box of crayons!

My first set was small and simple, just enough to be useful and fun.  Later, the expanded sets were available. As I got older, it seemed more appropriate that I could handle the big boy box of a previously un-imaginable number of crayons.  It was the exciting sixty-four set with a built-in sharpener in the box! I would arrive at school with my impressive mega-box of crayons and plant it proudly on top of my desk. 

When it became time to use them, I would explore the arsenal of choices and linger over my decision of which one to use.  There were my old friends.  Red, blue, yellow, green, brown, black, even white!  My new friends in the sixty-four cray-o-la mega-set were very exotic, like Periwinkle.  What’s a Periwinkle?

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Putting Black on Palette

Back in Black

Who has not rocked out to the rock n’ roll anthem, “Back in Black” by the group AC/DC? Perhaps you were in your car while stuck in traffic and you turned it up while it was on the radio.  You may have been in your studio, playing air guitar in front of blank canvas. 

If you were painting outdoors it is not likely that the song was running through your head.  However, it would be very possible that black was certainly not on your palette!

Black is often considered to be a forbidden color for outdoor painting.  Technically, black is not even considered a color!  Since black is the absence of color, it is defined as neutral. 

Without getting too technical, black is either the absence of color or the accumulation of all colors at once.  That is a discussion that will be saved for later regarding additive and subtractive color mixing.  For now, let us get back to the use (or non-use) of black as a pigment for painting.

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Can Art Create Community?

Photo of a brick wall with graffiti with words Together we Create. Photo by Bamgal

If the question is ‘Can Art Create Community’ then the answer should be obvious. Art is intimately married to an innate human need to communicate. It can express and provoke thought.  It gives us an ability to record events and tell stories. We can understand ourselves or even ponder the sacred.   How has this been true and how has it changed?

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The Patience to Do It

People often say to me that they could never be an artist.  It is not for lack of skill or desire, they say, but because they don’t have the patience to do it.  I rarely understand what they mean by that.  My work typically deals with the immediate response and interpretation to what I see in front of me.  I work with big brushes and make broad strokes, and the process is energetic.  So that is possibly why I get confused when people tell me that they don’t have the patience to paint.  Well, what about the patience to look at something? 

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Hindsight is So Nineteen-Twenty

     It is the beginning of a new decade, and this one seems more significant since we are beginning the “Twenties”. The “Twenties”.  When we say that it seems we often think of that decade of a hundred years ago.  In many ways that decade seems to mark the beginning of the modern age as we know it now.  Many of us often nostalgically fantasize what it would have been like to live then.  “I wish I could have lived in the “Twenties””, we may say to ourselves or others.  Well, now we can!  Since we are all now able to say we were alive during the “twenties”, we may correlate what is similar and what is different about our decade compared to the one hundred years ago?

     The nineteenth century into the twentieth marked a period of dramatic change from agrarian society to an urban cosmopolitan society.  The turn of the century must have been confusing with the shift of the industrial age creating so many modern advances in commerce, politics and social norms.  The globe was just finishing World War One, machines began to fly, there was an establishment of the working middle class.  Notable artistic responses were the angst-ridden German Expressionism, American Regionalism, and the beginning of Modernism.

     The twentieth century into the twenty-first could be compared similarly.  We experienced an Electronic Revolution and the Information Age.  Our society is moving into a more global one, socially and financially.  Our artistic responses have been non-object-oriented conceptual works and experiential communal art events. 

     But how do these art responses relate to us today?  It seems apparent that the two decades, ours and the one a hundred years ago, share in one similarity in that the age was baffling and fast paced.  The speed of information and change then and the speed of information and change now could be comparable.  The change is in our frame of reference. What if the fastest thing you remember is the horse compared to the car? The pace at which information flows, our twenty-four hour society and the access to every known fact at our finger-tips creates another kind of dizzying pace that could be relative to the one felt by our great-grandparents.  The artist becoming a navigator, simple responder, or an aggregate processor puts us in alliance with our times to our culture.  The pace and confusion is reflected in our art as we should expect it would.  The axiom is, after all, art is often a reflection of our times.

As the new decade approaches, these milestones often create in us a period of reflection.  Like my activity in my studio the other day, many of us tend to weed out and separate things during the change of the new year.  The question becomes, what do we keep?  What do we let pass?  How will we shape our future?  If our times today are considered as chaotically filled with constant updates of information and announcements of events that pass by our lives as ephemera, we may begin to consider a slowing down.  I am already reading and learning of “slow movements” and “returning” to various things like, dinner-time at a dinner table and actual eye-to-eye engagement with others.   

     At the beginning of this century, I ended my career as a closet landscape painter and decided to pursue oil painting in its traditional practice, honestly and earnestly.  The idea was to create a kind of answer to the dis-embodiment of object- oriented artworks.  I still believed in the artwork as an object, and I wanted to make my artistic output closer to the definition of the word painting.  My statement at the time was; after de-constructing everything, my current work is a record of my serious pursuit of putting it back together.  Well, okay.  A decade has passed since then and I feel less rebellious towards my own time.  

     I was rummaging through my studio, sorting and clearing out a few things.  Stacks of old canvases and sketches, basically untouched, began to reveal a story.  The story was the progress of my work over the last decade.  Going back and looking at the old canvases was like going through a lost photo album.  I could remember the thoughts I was having, the difficulties or successes of the moment.  It was astonishing to see where my work was at ten years ago.  Of course, I had to consider and ask myself, where will it go from here?

     One of my favorite books on art history is titled, “The Story of Modern Art”, by Norbert Lynton. The book was required reading during my art history days in college, and I still have it. Albeit the torn up and dog-eared pages are over-highlighted, it remains a good read.  Interestingly, the book covers in great essay style detail about the changes and developments in art from the Impressionist period of the eighteen-sixties into the twentieth century.   On the very last page of the book is this quote, “What Western man has lost is the kind of tempo that goes with looking and the stillness that goes with a focused attention.

The Opposite of a Critique

Photo by Chris Barbalis

Article By Curtis Green, Photo by Chris Barbalis

     At one point during my time as an art student, we learned how to describe a work of art.  This was an excellent exercise for all of us young eager and emotional students ready to pour out our guts to anyone who would listen.  Our professor had us put our work up on the wall.  There, we were to stand before everyone else and start divulging our own descriptions of our pieces.   This was opposite of a critique.  A critique included our work on the wall for sure, but now others would talk about what they saw and thought about it.  This time the artists would speak for themselves.   Oh boy! Continue reading “The Opposite of a Critique”

Artists as Grateful Gift Givers

Oil painting and fine art print depicting trees and a field with the golden hues of fall.

Oil painting and fine art print depicting trees and a field with the golden hues of fall. Sentiment for Fall – Curtis Green

As the holiday season approaches, I started thinking about artists as grateful gift givers. Artists can be thought of as gracious and giving or snobby and pretentious or maybe a mix of all of these.  As my thoughts were coming together, I remembered a funny routine by comedian George Carlin about his views on the game of golf.  The bit explained his unique perspective about the game.  He joked that golf was a snobby, elitist, pretentious endeavor played for the sake of chasing a tiny ball around for hours on end.  Perhaps art can be viewed with similar terms.  Continue reading “Artists as Grateful Gift Givers”

The Art Collector vs. The Art Collector

Photo by Aaina Sharma

I read a lot of articles about the art world. I subscribe to current articles that often relate what happened at certain events or shows. They offer news from small galleries to big museums, auctions and art fairs around the world. These articles are shared and reposted over several platforms. They sometimes read like a red carpet review of “who wore what, where and when” but they also contain serious information like auction trends and percentages per genre. Topics may be about a particular artist, who has somehow busted an all time record for the sale of a single piece. This industry reading is part of what one does, when one does, what I do, make art. I wonder, is there a scenario of the Art Collector vs. the Art Collector? Continue reading “The Art Collector vs. The Art Collector”