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Improving on mastery

answers for aristotle

This is interesting, from Brain Pickings, a quote from a book on intuition, Answers for Aristotle:

Research on acquiring skills shows that, roughly speaking, and pretty much independently of whether we are talking about a physical activity or an intellectual one, people tend to go through three phases while they improve their performance. During the first phase, the beginner focuses her attention simply on understanding what it is that the task requires and on not making mistakes. In phase two, such conscious attention to the basics of the task is no longer needed, and the individual performs quasi-automatically and with reasonable proficiency. Then comes the difficult part. Most people get stuck in phase two: they can do whatever it is they set out to do decently, but stop short of the level of accomplishment that provides the self-gratification that makes one’s outlook significantly more positive or purchases the external validation that results in raises and promotions. Phase three often remains elusive because while the initial improvement was aided by switching control from conscious thought to intuition—as the task became automatic and faster—further improvement requires mindful attention to the areas where mistakes are still being made and intense focus to correct them. Referred to as ‘deliberate practice,’ this phase is quite distinct from mindless or playful practice.

This reminds me of a point in painting where the painting is good enough, or at least as good as one’s work has been up to this point in my life, and there’s a fork in the road: either you consider it finished or you keep investing time in the areas where it seems to fall short, upon close inspection, but in ways that only I would probably notice. That seems like a self-indulgent or risky investment of time, since it isn’t clear that more work will make the painting more effective in the eyes of anyone else. Knowing what’s “good enough” is, in fact, part of what makes certain quickly executed paintings great. They do their work so economically that more effort would drain the life out of the marks already applied to the surface. I find myself at that fork in the road while doing a lot of paintings now. This passage from Answers for Aristotle also seems to point toward a period of mastery when you realize you can reliably do whatever you have chosen to do, up to that point in your painting life, but then you find yourself asking the question “This is what I can do. What it is I most deeply want to do with all these acquired skills?”

Art’s permission to stare

wallace shawn 2

Wallace Shawn

“I have an enormous appetite to see life as I know it presented in front of my eyes.

That seems strange—after all, why don’t I just walk out into the street? But the thing is that you can’t really look at things out in the street, much less in your own apartment or in your friends’ apartments. You can look in the theater in a completely different way from the way you can look in life. You’re allowed to really look at a play—even stare.

In life, you are a character in the scene. When you’re a character in the scene, you can’t really look at the scene. If someone’s talking to you, you must respond appropriately. You can’t just stare at the person. You can’t look at life with the degree of attention and focus that you can employ when you look at a play, because you have to participate. And the people you’re staring at would find it rude. But if you’re sitting in an audience watching a scene, you can focus your entire being on looking at that scene. It’s a very special privilege.

In . . .  Les Éphémères, they had a scene where a fisherman and his wife and some other people have taken their children on an outing, and they come home, and they put the kids to bed. The kids are already asleep—they’re very young children—and they carry them in asleep, and they put them to bed. It takes probably fifteen minutes, or at least ten. No talking. Now, I have very little interest in family life, in children, et cetera. If you said, We’re now going to do a ten-minute scene about putting children to bed, I would be bored before you even finished the sentence. But it was so true and so real and so interesting. It was beautiful, and I was moved by it.”

–Wallace Shawn, The Paris Review

Leonardo was a loser

 

difficult yearsGreat short video on working in obscurity. Leonardo: fail, fail, fail, fail, fail . . . success. “John Coltrane practiced the saxophone feverishly every single day for seventeen years before he got his first big hit . . . ” A previous video shows you a whole rogue’s gallery of losers in their twenties who eventually quit losing. “Leonardo got his big break when he was 46.”

Rogue Valley International – Medford Airport Unveils New Art Display in Terminal

The Rogue Valley International – Medford Airport is pleased to announce a new art display in the terminal. On July 21, 2014 at 1:00 pm, the Airport will hold an Open House to unveil new photographic art work created by Brian Pechtel, a respected local professional photographer who lives in the Rogue Valley.

Hunter Communications, a local fiber optic internet and voice provider, assisted in purchasing the art and seeing the project through to completion. Hunter CEO Rich Ryan commented, “We have been investing in the Southern Oregon community since 1994 and always jump at the opportunity to share our love of this area with others. The Airport often provides our first impression to travelers and visitors of all kinds, and we believe it is important to ensure this is a memorable impression by faithfully representing the beautiful, amazing region in which we reside.”

Hunter Communications has built over 1,000 miles of fiber optic network in Southern Oregon; provides networking and voice services for businesses, schools, municipalities, and emergency services; and continues to invest in our local economy.

“We’re very excited to see this display installed.” stated Bern Case, Airport Director. “To showcase scenic photography of the beautiful area we live in has been a goal since the terminal was completed. We’re appreciative of Hunter Communication and the commitment they’ve made to make this project such a success.”

There will be a total of nine 60 x 90 inch panels spanning the area over the ticketing counters in the lobby. The photographic images represent a variety of scenic locations in the Rogue Valley as well as beautiful Crater Lake. Throughout the year, the images will be rotated with nine additional panels.

For further information on the Open House, please contact Bern Case, Airport Director, at (541) 776-7222. Parking tickets will be validated for the event.

Simple hearts

flaubert's parrot“Works of art . . . (create) about them a confluence of simple hearts, a community united not in what they are . . . but in the collective mystery of what they are not and now find embodied before them. Unfortunately, the democracy of simple hearts is founded on the dangerous assumption that gorgeous parrots, hewn from what we lack . . . will continue to make themselves visible and available to us. But this is not necessarily so. Flaubert is dead, and the disciplines of desire have lost their urgency in the grand salons of comfort and privilege we have created for the arts. The self-congratulatory rhetoric of sensibilite continues to perpetuate itself, and in place of gorgeous parrots, we now content ourselves with the ghostly successors of Marie Antoinette’s peasant village, tastefully installed within the walls of Versailles.”

–Dave Hickey, Air Guitar, “Simple Hearts”

Rain and light

Cozy/Rainy Day, Davis Cone, acrylic on canvas

Cozy/Rainy Day, Davis Cone, acrylic on canvas

Bill

Saint Bill

Saint Bill

Submissions until July 21 for the all-Bill Murray exhibition at Public Works in San Francisco. It could be so much better than much of what appears here. Opens Aug. 8.

Art vs. ideology

esq-soderbergh-lgFrom Esquire:

SS: It’s at the center of everything, this idea of narrative and stories. So I am always thinking about it: Is there another way to do it? That’s why I was so fascinated and obsessed with the cave paintings in France. I’m like, “Fuck, there it is. The first stories.” I draw a little bit and was like, “Somebody practiced those.” 30,000 years ago you have your forehead out to here, you don’t just pick up a piece of charcoal and do that. That was something that struck me as “Where’s the practice board?” The other thing that I’m interested in, which is tangential, but not unrelated… All art to me is about problem solving. So I’m obsessed with problem solving. Somewhere someone discovered something or somebody was tasked to figure something out and they did. What did they figure out and how? One of the things that I believe is true is the art model of problem solving is incredibly efficient because ideology has no place there. There’s only the thing and what the thing needs to be. When I look around the world and think why is everything working or not working, it’s because it’s entrenched ideology. You can’t solve a problem if you’re sitting down with people who say, “All these ideas are off the table because of what I believe.”

 

A Perfect World

The Artist's Road
Shared with the Southern Oregon Artists Resource by Elaine Frenett, who received it in an email from The Artist’s Road, a website focused on travel and plein air painting. “Having spent a lifetime exploring and finding purpose and fulfillment through art, we decided to build this art and painting website to share what we have learned and to inspire others in their creative lives. Much of the important content (over 375 articles) you’ll find here is instructional – the steps to making paintings in oil, pastel or watercolor -  often illustrated by videos, slide shows and Step-by-Step demonstrations. Enjoy the free content. We believe that you will find value and inspiration in it.”
Many thanks to The Artist’s Road for this unique and important perspective on the importance of art.
The Dream by Henri Rousseau, 1910 (PD)
The Dream          1910 (PD)          Henri Rousseau

   We recently read a description of what artists do – perhaps the best description ever uttered – in a reprint of a commencement speech given by the late Kurt Vonnegut to the graduating class of Syracuse University in 1994. It is elegant in its spare simplicity and spot on. Mr. Vonnegut was fondly recalling a conversation he had had with one of his favorite teachers:

   “The teacher whose name I mentioned when we all remembered good teachers asked me one time, ‘What is it artists do?’ And I mumbled something. ‘They do two things,’ he said. ‘First, they admit they can’t straighten out the whole universe. And then second, they make at least one little part of it exactly as it should be. A blob of clay, a square of canvas, a piece of paper, or whatever.’ ”

Cut through all the rationalizing we do about why we feel we must continue to make art each day and what it comes down to, for most of us, is that pure and noble desire to make one thing exactly as we think it should be. We have little to no control over anything else. But when we sit down to make something, then the world is ours alone. At those moments, completely absorbed with our thoughts and efforts, it matters not what anyone else thinks now, or in the future. And if we are in the zone and able to create the beautiful thing living in our hearts and minds, then we would be wise to also protect our hatchling from the greater world of Art. By all means share it when the time is right, for sharing is ultimately what art is for. However, be in no hurry to enter into any art competitions with your newborn. Besides wasting precious hard-earned cash, a rejection or two can undo all the inspiration, self confidence and perfection which we seek to instill in our work in the first place. If we have truly made our little piece of the world exactly as we feel it should be, then honestly, we need no further approbation.

Artists need to be able to separate their tender-hearted makings from the cold-hearted enterprises of the larger world. Competing with other artists and selling art can be tough on the sensitive souls whose creations the world sorely needs. There is no easy answer to this conundrum – it is a double-edged sword. That is why we believe it is so important to carve out a space and a regular time when the larger world can be shut out so that we can listen to the song of the muse without commercial interruption.

The Great American Interdisciplinary . . . (noun here)

Matthew Barney

Matthew Barney

I saw all of The Cremaster Cycle at the Guggenheim when the show was up . . . God, was it that long ago? My response was something like Bill Murray’s in Tootsie while he was watching the soap opera: “That is one nutty hospital.” My only reservation by the end of the five feature-length films was that I still didn’t know what the eye at the top of the pyramid on the back of a dollar bill is looking at, though I admired Barney’s attempt to cover just about everything else in human life. The rest of the exhibition taught me what the word vitrine means though I’ll probably never have a chance to use that word after this post. So far I’ve taken a pass on “River of Fundament,” a title that makes me smile, as I’m sure it’s meant to, though I really did admire Barney’s filthy Irish energy the first time around. Plus, like me, he grew up in Idaho, so I have to root for him. But being on Barney’s side is like putting money on the New England Patriots, isn’t it? (Go Bills!) This amused me:

“We hear about Matthew Barney’s six-hour film of Norman Mailer’s seven-hundred-page  Ancient Evenings, an unwatchable adapation of an unreadable book, and we think, Hey that might be great! It’s the American way.”

Adam Gopnik, “Go Giants”, The New Yorker, April 21, 20145

(I’m off to attend my son’s wedding in Mexico for the rest of the week, if we can trust United to get us there. We missed our originating flight this morning, which is why I was catching up on Gopnik.)