I wonder if anyone at an art show in 1900 said “O, look, ANOTHER painting of a woman at a bar.” There’s SO many paintings of a woman at a bar. Woman drinking at a bar. Woman sitting at a table near a bar. Then, sometime in 1945, Max Ernst comes along and says, “Hold my absinthe” and he paints ‘The Cocktail Drinker.”
The reason I mention this is you might look out on the artistic landscape and say: o another profile of a face, another soup of abstraction, another… and so on. But these paintings become the visual language of our current times. Out of those, arise a few particularly noteworthy pieces and we use those in the future to guide our understandings of ourselves.
In the case of ‘another painting of a woman at the bar’ we have Manet’s “A Bar at the Folies-Bergère”:
Renoir’s “Moulin de la Gallete”:
Gauguin’s “Night Café at Arles”:
Don’t forget Van Gogh’s “Agostina Segatori Sitting in the Café du Tambourin”:
And so on. You get the point. It’s a motif of the time. What is the time we live in today? What do we try to understand through our art, our repetitions, our motifs and visual languages? This is what gets asked fifty, a hundred years down the road. This is the ever evolving story of art.
“Yesterday I resumed work. It’s the best way to avoid thinking of these sad times. All the same, I feel ashamed to think about my little researches into form and colour while so many people are suffering and dying…”
– Claude Monet. 1914. While working on his water lilies paintings during World War I.
I feel like this sometimes. There’s so much going on. There’s this endless stream of chaos beating down my door. Who am I to turn my back on this issue or that issue and “resume my little researches into form and colour” while so much pain and suffering exists. Maybe it’s the fact that joy CAN exist side by side with the pain.
WWI raged on outside his door with troops marching to the trenches and cannons and explosions in the distance. He turned back to these canvases, toiling away on what must have alternately seemed like a retreat, an excuse, a guilty pleasure, a creative drive.
I feel this way sometimes: these lines, curves, visions, ideas… They speak to and of the current times. They are informed by it and offer inspiration. Art is a vital part of our human experience and that creative drive of expression is inherent in our existence. It’s found in every culture, every tradition: the desire to make beautiful, to make special, to create some mirror of ourselves in the world around us. Yet, while the wars, the protests, the heart ache rages on, our little studies, our tidy pictures, can seem frivolous.
There is no end to the ugly, though. If we don’t create the beautiful, then what are we left with? So I keep at it. And, if you are a creator, I urge you to keep at it too.
Read more about Monet here: Wartime water lilies: how Monet created his garden at Giverny
To own an original painting is to have the original playing – the live perfect performance – of a song. I’ve met many a musician who has, in a painting I’ve made, seen a visual representation of a song, much as I’ve heard many a song and, in that song, heard an auditory journey of a particular image.
Imagine if you could own Jimi Hendrix’s “Axis”. Or Beethoven’s 5th. Or Miles Davis’ “Agartha”. And so on. Each canvas print of a painting is like the perfect and pristine vinyl recording. The paper prints and posters are good quality CDs and, finally, you have your variable-kbps mp3s floating around on the web.
So just imagine: each guitar lick and hi-hat and cymbal crash, each thrum of bass or plunk of a piano by a human hand is each of those brushstrokes.
A great painting is like a symphony. There’s entire cavalcades of sound – entire violin sections roaring across the yellow sky over a horizon of great bassoon and oboes resounding through the purples. A penny whistle sparkles across the crystalline golden whites and, for a moment, that lead violin is the sinewy line drawing it all together. And the artist crafts each of those violins. Each oboe and oboe player. Each note has to be played in a final perfect harmony.
This is why original art – that final finished piece – that one and perfect singular canvas – ends up with so much value. Like the recorded song, we can replay it a thousand or million times through countless means of recreation but there’s only one original moment where careful little nuances were breathed into each brushstroke to make the painting.
People say ‘why get the painting when the print is so much cheaper.’ This is a true fact. Just as the mp3 version is much cheaper than having the band play at your house where you can experience the raw entirety of the sensation of that SONG, so is the painting. So is the painting. If you decide to take part in that relationship, consider this: you’re helping to bring these songs, these performances of art, into the world. By supporting the arts you are enriching the cultural experiences of others as well as yourself.
This immediacy and connection to the moment is what gives art – and especially great art – its value. It is the intangible NOWNESS of it. The greatest art echoes our human archetypal experiences and mixes them with the constant exploration of our perception of the experience coupled with all the set and setting of the moment – the politics and world views and financial considerations and environmental conditions and so on. It’s all wrapped into that vision. And out of it… out if it arises “what it looks like.” Or feels like or sounds like in that now.
It is my task to offer you, as least from my own perspective, what it looks like. This is why, to me, an artist is really just a scribe. I’m here to take notes. To be open. To be a channel. To see what comes through me. It’s terrifying and tragic. It’s blissfully beautiful. It’s heart breaking and mystifying. It’s mystically enthralling. And, like the musician, I have to choose a note, a color, a line. I do my best to find the right note, the perfect color, that precise line, and that feeling. The feeling and the reason and the intention and the moment that I, Michael Divine, want to sign my name to.
So the past couple of weeks at our little Divine Comedy have been challenging. We moved north of Napa back in December and, after the wettest winter on record, we had the hottest summer on record which led to the worst fires, you guessed it, on record.
Our air was thick with smoke and we woke every morning examining the current fire maps. We were rather surrounded – to the north, south, and west at times less than ten miles from the brunt of them. When everything is like a tinderbox and winds may shift at any moment, that ten miles doesn’t seem so far. Some friends transported all of our artwork to Oakland for safekeeping – ‘just in case’ – and our bags were packed the whole time.
Thankfully just in case didn’t come to pass for us. Many others though lost homes, businesses, and even lives. I’m sure you’ve seen the pictures – of Santa Rosa, Napa, etc. It’s heart breaking the swath of destruction left by the fire. These extremes are the tangible examples of what climate change looks like and the reality we live in. We’re incredibly grateful that our gardens, home, and lives are still intact.
In the coming month I’ll have some new works to share with you and will also be doing some fundraising for those who lost everything these past few weeks.
The painting above (and the detail below) were made while our air was thick and the light was this weird golden rose color from the smoke filtered sunlight. It was hard to relax into the general painting flow so I worked on some free-flowing pieces, painting over canvases that remained at home.
Here’s to the rain of the coming autumn :)
“I recalled the artists who had done their work in gulags, prison cells, hospital beds; who did their work while hounded, exiled, reviled, pilloried. And those who were executed…
This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.
I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge — even wisdom. Like art.”
– Toni Morrison
#5 – “Turning our problems into narratives can help us work through them” – is really a key part of my work. When I am thinking of what next to paint, I try to find works that help to guide me through my life, the preciously beautiful as well as the preciously tragic. The transference of thought into matter for no other reason than as an expression of ourselves and finding the patience to see it through, whether a napkin doodle or an epic painting, is an important part of our humanness to nurture.
And if it is only to make us happy and healthier humans – well, that’s not so bad. After all, happier healthier humans make better choices for themselves and others. In my opinion, it makes for a better planet to live on.
From Business Insider:
Painting, sculpting, dancing, making music, and all the other artistic pursuits have benefits that go far beyond pure enjoyment or cultural creation — these activities can also strengthen your brain and improve your mood. Here are seven reasons to give yourself time to make art, even if you think you’re bad at it.
1. Making art may reduce stress and anxiety.
In one recent study in the journal Art Therapy, researchers found that after just 45 minutes of art-making, levels of the hormone cortisol — which is associated with stress — were reduced in participants’ saliva, regardless of their prior art skills.
I made another poster for the Bicycle Day Parade in San Francisco, April 19th.
Beginning in 2014, I started making the posters for the annual Bicycle Day Parade in San Francisco. The annual event is free – just show up with your bike – and held yearly on April 19th in Golden Gate Park to celebrate the discovery of LSD by Swiss chemist, Albert Hoffman.
Bicycle Day was first celebrated by Thomas Roberts, a psychology professor at Northern Illinois University. Read more about him here.
Making art is exploration. It is the act of becoming. We take what we have inside and bear witness to its messy beginnings, the warp and woof of it’s threads and momentums, and weave it together to make the most beautiful vision we can – the most precious thing – of the art which is ours. And even that which is “ugly” can still be the most beautiful if done with love. It all leads back to that.
All of life is art. The act of life is art. Whatever is the thing which makes your soul sing, that is your art and when you do it well – when you preform your art – you feel alive. This is what art-making is. It is to be alive. It is practicing our own ever-becoming selves of this ever-becoming now.
Here are some words from Kurt Vonnegut to an elementary school that invited him to speak, as he was their favorite author. (Note: he is one of my own favorite authors as well.)
“Dear Xavier High School, and Ms. Lockwood, and Messrs Perin, McFeely, Batten, Maurer and Congiusta:
I thank you for your friendly letters. You sure know how to cheer up a really old geezer (84) in his sunset years. I don’t make public appearances any more because I now resemble nothing so much as an iguana.
What I had to say to you, moreover, would not take long, to wit: Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience BECOMING, to find out what’s inside you, TO MAKE YOUR SOUL GROW.
Seriously! I mean starting right now, do art and do it for the rest of your lives. Draw a funny or nice picture of Ms. Lockwood, and give it to her. Dance home after school, and sing in the shower and on and on. Make a face in your mashed potatoes. Pretend you’re Count Dracula.
Here’s an assignment for tonight, and I hope Ms. Lockwood will flunk you if you don’t do it: Write a six line poem, about anything, but RHYMED. No fair tennis without a net. Make it as good as you possibly can. But don’t tell anybody what you’re doing. Don’t show it or recite it to anybody, not even your girlfriend or parents or whatever, or Ms. Lockwood. OK?
Tear it up into teeny-weeny pieces, and discard them into widely separated trash recepticals. You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.
God bless you all!
– Kurt Vonnegut”
PS: Kurt Vonnegut was awesome. :)
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