December 21st, 2016

An Artist’s Life Manifesto: Marina Abramović’s Rules of Life, Solitude, and Silence

 

Abramović writes:

AN ARTIST’S CONDUCT IN HIS LIFE:

An artist should not lie to himself or others
An artist should not steal ideas from other artists
An artist should not compromise for himself or in regards to the art market
An artist should not kill other human beings
An artist should not make himself into an idol…
An artist should avoid falling in love with another artist

AN ARTIST’S RELATION TO SILENCE:

An artist has to understand silence
An artist has to create a space for silence to enter his work
Silence is like an island in the middle of a turbulent ocean

AN ARTIST’S RELATION TO SOLITUDE:

An artist must make time for the long periods of solitude
Solitude is extremely important
Away from home,
Away from the studio,
Away from family,
Away from friends
An artist should stay for long periods of time at waterfalls
An artist should stay for long periods of time at exploding volcanoes
An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at fast-running rivers
An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the horizon where the ocean and sky meet
An artist should stay for long periods of time looking at the stars in the night sky

During our recent public conversation in San Francisco, Abramović shared three more life-rules she borrowed from her dear friends Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson:

1. Have a good bullshit detector.
2. Fear nothing and no one.
3. Be tender.

This Pioneering Artist Is on the Brink of Her First Big Retrospective, at 98
Wednesday, August 07, 2019
By Gizara Arts
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https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/29/t-magazine/luchita-hurtado.html 

This Pioneering Artist Is on the Brink of Her First Big Retrospective, at 98

A string of solo exhibitions will shine new light on the work of the Venezuelan-born artist Luchita Hurtado.

In the Studio With Luchita Hurtado

Laure Joliet

In her expansive oil paintings, ink-based drawings, fabric collages and patterned garments, Hurtado explores what she sees as the interconnectedness of all beings. Her paintings from the ’70s — sinuous bodies that morph into mountains, bare nipples that juxtapose spiky leaves, bulbous fruits that echo curving belly shapes — represent women as sacred beings, powerful subjects of their own lives. Hurtado also incorporated womb imagery into her work before the feminist art movement made popular the same subject matter in the late ’70s.Born in the seaside town of Maiquetía, Venezuela, in 1920, Hurtado migrated to New York at age 8. At the then-all-girls high school Washington Irving, she studied fine art and developed a keen interest in anti-fascist political movements. After graduating, she volunteered at the Spanish-language newspaper La Prensa and met her first husband, a Chilean journalist twice her age. When he abandoned her and their infant son, she supported herself by creating imaginative installations for Lord & Taylor and fashion illustrations for Vogue — at night, she created totemic figure drawings with watercolor and crayon. (In 1946, at age 26, she met and married the Austrian-Mexican painter Wolfgang Paalen, moving with her two sons to join him in Mexico City.)

“Luchita has always had this very fluid identity, which makes her art so 21st century,” says the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, who is organizing her retrospective in London. “We have to contextualize her clearly with the historic avant-garde, because she is a contemporary of Frida Kahlo, she knew Diego Rivera and was married to Wolfgang Paalen, a key figure of surrealism — and she is a key figure of spiritual surrealism, with a connection to pre-Columbian art, but we cannot lock her in that.” Hurtado’s work blurs the lines between micro- and macroscopic worlds; she was at the forefront of not just spiritual surrealism, but also the environmental and feminist art movements. As Obrist puts it, “she navigated a century of different contexts and played an important role in all of those.” 

“Life changes you,” says Hurtado, shown here in a photograph taken by her son Matt Mullican in 1973. “I’ve been many persons, but each day, I’m completely different.” During this period, Hurtado and her husband Lee Mullican used the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica airport as their studio. The following year, the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles hosted her first solo exhibition, including paintings that melded English and Spanish words.
“Life changes you,” says Hurtado, shown here in a photograph taken by her son Matt Mullican in 1973. “I’ve been many persons, but each day, I’m completely different.” During this period, Hurtado and her husband Lee Mullican used the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica airport as their studio. The following year, the Woman’s Building in Los Angeles hosted her first solo exhibition, including paintings that melded English and Spanish words.CreditMatt Mullican

Hurtado possesses the grace of someone who has not spent her life promoting her art, but quietly and diligently producing it — at her kitchen table, in backyards and closets and, at one point, in a stand-alone studio in the Santa Monica Canyon (by 1951, she had relocated to Los Angeles). “I never stopped drawing, looking, living,” she tells me. “It’s all the same thing, all solving your own life.” Yet in the ’70s — when she was producing pioneering fabric collages punctuated with words including “you” and “womb” — she wrote to Noguchi to request professional favors for her third husband, the artist Lee Mullican, but rarely, if ever, did she tell him about her own practice. When asked why she didn’t openly share her paintings with artist friends, she says, “I always felt shy of it. I didn’t feel comfortable with people looking at my work.” She adds, too, that “there was a time when women really didn’t show their work.Later in the afternoon, we zip across town to a nondescript brick warehouse in Los Angeles’s West Adams neighborhood — the same building where, nearly four years ago, her studio director, Ryan Good, stumbled on nearly 1,200 works that were undated, many signed with the initials “LH.” While family and close friends were aware that Hurtado painted, her cross-disciplinary practice, distinct visual vernacular and prolific output remained largely unknown. “We didn’t know the extent of it,” says Good, while leafing through a photo album. “I knew that Luchita had made some paintings, but it was a different thing to look at her entire career.” He continues, “we know Isamu Noguchi and Sam Francis have jewelry she made, that Agnes Martin has clothes Luchita made and Gordon Onslow-Ford has some things, but it doesn’t seem like she gave other work away to the prominent artists she knew.”

 
 In the early ’60s, Hurtado drew enigmatic, muscular figures in vibrant ink washes. This untitled work from 1960 will be exhibited in May at the Serpentine alongside other anatomical drawings.CreditJeff McLane. Image courtesy of the artist and Hauser & Wirth.

In preparation for her upcoming shows, Hurtado’s studio registrar, Cole Root, has been sifting through photographs — self-portraits, family travel shots, abstract shadow studies — looking for clues about paintings that might have been sold or given to friends. “When I started there was no archive whatsoever,” says Root. “We’ve gone from a casual pace to moving at the speed of light.”

Part of the challenge in organizing Hurtado's archive is that she moved frequently throughout her life — early works from New York City and Mexico City, for instance, are mostly lost — and she doesn’t remember many of the pieces herself. “Some things survived, some things didn’t,” says Hurtado, “I’ve gotten use to loss.” Also, few of her works have ever been publicly exhibited. “Women artists have not had the visibility they should have and we need to protest, systematically, against forgetting — through books and exhibitions,” Obrist says. The exhibition at the Serpentine will be animated by what he calls “decisive moments or epiphanies” throughout Hurtado’s life.

“I remember my childhood more and more,” Hurtado tells me, tucking a tortoiseshell comb into her hair, which she had cut short herself the day before. She shares memories from Venezuela — hiding under fan-shaped leaves, watching crabs scuttle across the beach, devouring mangoes in a cool stream. Lately, when she wakes, she sees a vision of a pink ceiling floating above her. I imagine the series of paintings she created in 1975 in which bright-white squares are framed by mesmerizing planes of blue, goldenrod and fiery red — intended to draw moths to an illusory light, they give off a sense of ascension and expansion. “I’ve concluded that I’m going somewhere,” she tells me. “It’s not death; it’s a border that wecross. I don’t think I’ll be able to come back and tell you, but if I can, I’ll find a way. If you suddenly see a pink ceiling, that’s me.”

“Luchita Hurtado. Dark Years” is on view from Jan. 31 – April 6, 2019, at Hauser & Wirth, 32 East 69th Street, New York, hauserwirth.com.

 

Anna Furman is a freelance journalist who writes about art, culture and travel. 

 
Curators Debate The Pros & Cons of All Women Art Shows
Thursday, July 25, 2019
By Malada Baldwin
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https://hyperallergic.com/460780/curators-debate-the-pros-and-cons-of-all-womens-art-shows/

 

Curators Debate the Pros and Cons of All-Women’s Art Shows

In the wake of #MeToo, all-women’s art shows have taken on new significance. But whether such shows are an effective strategy for achieving gender equity in the art world is still up for debate.

 

 

https://hyperallergic.com/460780/curators-debate-the-pros-and-cons-of-all-womens-art-shows/

 

 

 

Jill Finsen, “Yellow Sail” (2018) 20 x 20 inches, oil on canvas (all images courtesy New York Studio School)

It’s been nearly half a century since the founding of the feminist art movement in the United States. Despite the progress made since then, statistics still paint a depressing picture of gender disparity in the contemporary art world. According to the National Museum of Women in the Arts, even though 51% of visual artists working today are women, just 5% of artwork featured in major U.S. museums is made by women; only 25-35% of women artists have gallery representation; and women working across arts professions make an average of $20,000 less per year than men.

In recent years, in an effort to help correct for these long-standing disparities, many art institutions — even those with histories of disproportionately representing men — have hosted all-women’s art shows. In the midst of the cultural reckoning spurred by the #metoo movement, such shows have taken on new significance.

This summer, the The New York Studio School, a renowned art school formed in Greenwich Village in 1963, hosted its first-ever all-women’s alumni show. Called X Marks the Spot: Women of the Studio School, the exhibit featured the work of 90 female and female-identifying artists affiliated with the institution. Artworks on view ranged from Niki Singleton’s “I Never Preferred Blondes”, a showstopper painting of female desire and rage, to actress Lucy Liu’s self-portrait collage, “Slow Motion Love Kiss.”

Lucy Liu, “Slow Motion Love Kiss” (2018) Collage, 20″ x 17″

Whether all-women’s shows are an effective long-term strategy for achieving gender equity in the art world at large remains a subject of heated debate. At a panel discussion that accompanied the Studio School exhibit, some artists and curators argued that gender-based shows encourage tokenism and relegate women to the sidelines, while others argued that, after centuries of art shows that featured only men, all-women shows are a necessary corrective. Malado Baldwin and Maia Ibar, curators of X Marks the Spot, recently sat down with artist and Studio School alumnus Erin Haldrup Perrazzelli to discuss the pros and cons of organizing a show premised on gender.

Niki Singleton, “I Never Preferred Blondes” (2017) Handmade oil, acrylic, glitter on panels, 56 x 48 in

 

Malado Baldwin: No all-women show had been done before at the New York Studio School. When we proposed the show in 2016, during the presidential election campaigns — perhaps buoyed by a female candidate — we thought that it was past due time for such a #herstoric event. Significantly more women than men come out of the Studio School — which is true of most art schools — and in the years since we graduated, we have witnessed the discouragement of our female peers as they encounter the challenges of being female in the art world at large. We wanted to provide a platform for these artists to share their accomplishments — to encourage, support, and promote. And in doing so, perhaps tip the balance a bit in an effort towards equalization.

Erin Haldrup:  During a panel talk about the exhibit, two accomplished painters and alumnae of the school, Andrea Belag and Joyce Pensato, were asked if we should have all-women shows.  They both answered assuredly, no.

Malado Baldwin: They brought up good points about all-female shows relegating women to the sidelines. As a third-wave feminist artist myself — a former riot grrrl and strong advocate of feminism since my early teens — my views tended to differ. I believe inherent sexism continues to affect all areas of culture globally, and that it is essential to continue to raise awareness and strive towards equality by any means. I think that women’s advocacy groups and women’s shows are effective ways to affect that change.

Erin Haldrup Perrazzelli, “Creation”

Maia Ibar: This is a complicated topic that I am not sure will ever be resolved until there is equilibrium. We are in the process of reimagining the canon of the past. In 2018, the statistics about gender in the art world still indicate great inequality and show the serious, urgent, whacky reality of our time. Allowing marginalized people the space and opportunity to express their perspectives is critical. If we do not acknowledge the spectrum of the human condition, we continue to be part of the problem. Engaging in these marginalized perspectives can often be tense, but now is the time to step forward — post-#metoo, post-#feminisms, post-#cheeto. Shows like this bring awareness and celebration [of women artists]. We did not think that this show was devaluing or victimizing the artists but more embracing each others’ sisterhood; a door to check in, to share, to listen, to provide space.

Erin Haldrup: On the surface, the debate appeared to be about all-women art shows, but it was really an example of a deeper debate — the locking of horns between two opposing waves of feminism. There are differing philosophies regarding the best strategies for relieving women of their position as “the other” in society. Second wave feminists think that holding all-women’s shows relegates them to that very position.  Based on the strong generational divide in the room, it became clear that there is a new wave of feminism that seeks to give women opportunities, special or not, in order to create a chance for society at large to see that woman are on equal footing.

Jenny Lynn McNutt “URGE, Ninhursag” (2017)

Malado Baldwin: What I got from curating the show, participating in the panel, and hearing the audience voice their reactions, was how much peoples’ individual stories entered into their perspectives; testimonials that affirmed the necessity, as I understand it, of making space for female artists of all kinds to showcase their work. More often than not, we are juggling a lot, as moms and partners, or solo artists working and hopefully showing. Until someone makes that leap of faith and gives us an opportunity, says yes to a proposal, or asks us to be in a show, we are on the sidelines. It is about the work — it is not about gender. But, it is also about giving equal opportunity.

Maia Ibar: I would like to be in a position where I could say I don’t think about my identity as a “woman artist”, but as an artist and curator today, there is still a gender problem. My perspective has had to change after years of identifying myself purely as an “artist” without bringing the specific conditions of my [female] existence into it. Also, I’d mention that there can be a stereotypical competitive behavior between women when they are forced to fight for limited forms of recognition in a misogynist society.

Carole Seborovski, “Ocean of Love” (2018) Flashe, glass powder, aluminum leaf, glass beads, clay stilt, acrylic, acrylic latex, wood pan. 12 x 8 x 3½ in

This show was a way of saying “Hey, we are walking this path together, and if we help each other out and stay positive, we are activating this deconditioning process.”  I think that not having a specific theme besides the title of the show X Marks the Spot: Women of the NYSSbrought in some tremendously strong work. The artists and art were vibrant, bold, humorous, serious. It brought all kinds of topics — ranging from motherhood to pussy-grabbing, animals, landscapes, and abstractions. We were not specifically trying to tackle femininity for this show; we were picking the most compelling art and putting it together in the best way that provided the strength of the show.

Erin Haldrup: I also never thought of myself as a “woman painter” until I had children.  I want to be careful in expressing this because all women face extra challenges and mine are no more special than others’ — but my particular challenges have to do with balancing painting and motherhood. You have to really focus to harness, direct, and strengthen your energy as a mother who is also an artist.

When I think of historical examples of artists who are mothers, there is a dirth. I can come up with Alice Neel and Sally Mann as a couple great ones. But today, because things are changing for the better for artist mothers, there are many more examples. Some of the highest paid and most successful female artists are mothers, such as Cecily Brown, who is an alumnus of the New York Studio School. There are artists who are mothers in the show: Becky Yazdan, Catherine Lepp, Elisa Jensen and Cecelia Rembert, to name a few — and they are all doing an incredible of job of striking this balance.

Men never have to ask themselves whether it would pigeonhole them to create work that is uniquely male in its perspective — in fact, it’s expected, encouraged, and does well in the market. This goes back to what I was saying about masculinity still being the normal or dominant energy in society from which everything else is considered a deviation. So I see this prejudice as a problem.

Malado Baldwin: There was so much great work in the show. I think the female perspective is an interesting and worthwhile one — and also, marketable. And since the point of the exhibition is to showcase artistic talent, I’ll mention some highlights: Alice Klugherz’s stunning performances spoke to a hardcore feminism with humor and seriousness. Niki Singleton’s show-stopper of female desire and rage, “I Never Preferred Blondes”, was full of contrasts. There were paintings that spoke to admiration of other women, like Susu Pianchupattana’s portrait of the beloved Queen mother Somdet Ya of Thailand, “Mom Told Her Tale.” Or, more intimate moments like Dena Shutzer’s painting of a woman in a laundromat, “Laundromat-20 dollars,” and actress Lucy Liu’s collage (perhaps a self-portrait), titled “Slow Motion Love Kiss.” The influential Studio School professor Margrit Lewczuk’s graphic small painting “Orange X” and Tamara Gonzales’ “Acoustic Location” paired nicely next the fierce multimedia collage-painting by Sylvina Rodruiguez, “N.A.”

Dena Schutzer, ‘Laundromat-20 dollars” (2018) Oil paint on canvas, 24 x 20 in

I find it interesting to flip history on its head by having women present work in which the man is the muse — reversing the male-gaze trope, so to speak — which I did in my video, “God_my_GODDESS”, a portrait of the writer Octavio Gonzalez.  Robert James Anderson’s powerful, time-based performance and singing (in drag) of Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” was also a favorite.

One could argue that we could have chosen to not advertise the all female-identifying roster in an effort to avoid a heated debate. We decided instead that there was strength in naming it: pointing out the reality of the statistics on gender and celebrating the diversity within all the women that have studied and taught at this special New York institution.

X Marks the Spot: Women of the New York Studio Schoolcurated by Malado Baldwin and Maia Ibar, ran from July 23rd to August 26th, 2018, at the New York Studio School. 

 
My Chateau Orquevaux Residency
Monday, July 16, 2018
By Gizara Arts
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I just returned from France after a two week painting residency in a Chateau built in the 1700's that sits atop a hill, overlooking the village of Orquevaux on 40 green acres of fertile land. Take a look at this beauty: https://www.chateauorquevaux.com/. This residency was the most soul quenching and artistically nourishing experience of my life. To be surrounded by 9 other artists, to have no other obligations but to create- it felt like I had died and gone to heaven. As you know very well, being an artistic person means spending countless hours alone- as we fine tune our chosen passions. I found my bliss there and hope to be a part of the community one day soon.

 The Chateau Orquevaux is three hours east of Paris. You can arrive by train in the city of Chaumont, just 30 minutes away or drive from Paris- which is what I did. Up until recently, the Village of Orquevaux was dying- and in a sad decline like so many of the small villages in France. Once a busy village that had a bustling iron factory, the village has been crumbling for over 100 years. And today, as the villager's kids grow up and move away to the cities of Dijon, or Champagne, there seems to be little hope for the tiny town. But, I am happy to say this village now has a sweet secret, and some interesting things are blossoming there...

Along comes Ziggy Attias: About Ziggy. His father had purchased the property years before and not done anything with it. Two years ago Ziggy was gifted the property from his father, in the hopes that it stays in the family and is passed along to the following generations. Originally from Long Island, Ziggy was born in Israel but raised in the New York area. In the 1980's Ziggy created amazing objects d'art. More recently he was a successful businessman, and owned two successful restaurants in the Hamptons. Walking away from that busy and demanding life, Ziggy now has a new dream- of turning the Chateau and Village of Orquevaux into a cultural and artistic center. 

The Chateau, sitting on a hill above the town had fallen into disrepair over the years. But now Ziggy is literally breathing new life into the Chateau and the once forgotten village. He is much beloved by the residents who are seeing their buildings restored and their village come to life. The Chateau has a rich and extensive history: Chateau Lineage and housed the writings of the French Philosopher Diderot for many years: Diderot at the Chateau. It was taken over by the Nazis during WW2- and the studio doors still have the names of offices written on them when it served as their headquarters. A chilling reminder of a bad chapter in the chateau's history.

Ziggy has already purchased more properties in the village of Orquevaux- a 5-minute walk from the Chateaux. He has plans to build within the beauty of the existing buildings a museum, a performance center, multiple artist's studios and a sculpture park on the grounds of the Chateau. His dream is to continually foster artists from all over the world, and to make this quaint village into a rich cultural destination. For now, there is a small fee to attend the residency: Residency Cost. But reduced fees and scholarships are also available. The fees he collects are going to the cost of repairing and restoring the Chateau and the properties in the village. His dream is to make this residency a non-profit organization and grant scholarships to artists. With his passion is to support the arts, a true philanthropist, Ziggy is a unique man with a huge heart and spectacular vision!

Apply today: Residency Application- Tell them that Lisa sent you!

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Chateau Orquevaux Grounds

The Chateau Orquevaux Grounds

My Studio and Paintings

Thirteen paintings in fourteen days. What I could do if I had no responsibilities other then creating art!

 
Gizara Wins Painting Residency in France
Wednesday, April 04, 2018
By Gizara Arts
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I am so happy to announce that I have been awarded a painting residency at The Chateau Orquevaux in France in June. Two weeks of uninterrupted bliss in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen: Artists at the Chateau. Please visit the site to apply for a residency. 

"Our mission is to create an environment where all artists are welcome. A safe place to explore, contemplate and share ideas. A place where artists can be free of explaining themselves and... to create a vibrant artistic community. The Chateau d'Orquevaux Artist Residency emphasizes the human experience and the creative process. The residency creates a safe environment for the artist in their quest for personal growth and artistic expression - while reinforcing that the end product is not necessarily the principal focus. Life is a creative journey and every moment is part of the process."

"New experiences stimulate creativity and revitalize the creative mind.  For this reason our residency is self-motivated and self-catering. The artist must immerse himself or herself in the French country lifestyle. The things you thought you knew back home will begin to look different. This magnificent estate in the French countryside of Champagne-Ardenne is a unique environment, offering artists a place with limited distraction and an abundance of natural inspiration."

 

 

 
The Agony of Artists
Thursday, January 04, 2018
By Gizara Arts
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https://www.brainpickings.org/2015/02/09/e-e-cummings-miscellany-agony-of-the-artist/

“You’re an artist when you say you are,” Amanda Palmer offered in her emboldening reflection on the creative life“And you’re a good artist when you make somebody else experience or feel something deep or unexpected.” Nearly a century earlier, Sherwood Anderson advised his aspiring-artist son“The object of art is not to make salable pictures. It is to save yourself.” But one of the greatest meditations on what art is and isn’t, on the pleasures and perils of the creative life, comes from E.E. Cummings (October 14, 1894–September 3, 1962), whose lesser-known prose enchants very differently and yet by the same mechanism that his celebrated poetry does — by inviting the reader to “pick his way toward comprehension, which comes, when it does, in a burst of delight and recognition.”

A concentrated burst of such delight and recognition is delivered in E.E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised (public library) — a most unusual and satisfying compendium Cummings himself described as “a cluster of epigrams, forty-nine essays on various subjects, a poem dispraising dogmata, and several selections from unfinished plays.” Many of the pieces had been previously published under clever pseudonyms (for instance, “An Ex-Millionaire’s Rules for Success in Life” by a C.E. Niltse, “Success Editor” at Vanity Fair), and a few had appeared anonymously in various magazines. It was originally published as a limited edition in 1958, when Cummings was sixty-four, and reissued three years after his death to include a number of the author’s previously unseen line drawings — a fine addition to the canon of great authors with lesser-known talents in other fields, including Vladimir Nabokov’s butterfly studiesJ.R.R. Tolkien’s illustrationsRichard Feynman’s sketchesSylvia Plath’s drawingsWilliam Faulkner’s Jazz Age etchingsFlannery O’Connor’s cartoons, and Zelda Fitzgerald’s watercolors.

With his usual mischievous charisma and elegant acrobatics oscillating between wit and wisdom, Cummings writes in the preface to the original edition:

Taken ensemble, the forty-nine astonish and cheer and enlighten their progenitor. He’s astonished that, as nearly as anyone can make out, I wrote them. He’s cheered because, while re-reading them, I’ve encountered a great deal of liveliness and nothing dead. Last but not least; he’s enlightened via the realization that, whereas times can merely change, an individual may grow.

One of the finest pieces in the collection — an exquisite wellspring of such lively growth — is a satirical yet remarkably profound essay titled “The Agony of the Artist (with a capital A),” originally published in Vanity Fair in 1927 under Cummings’s own name. (A name the capitalization of which has itself been the subject of much misunderstanding.)

‘THE DOG IN THE MANGER … Aesop knew …’

Cummings begins by a humorous taxonomy of the three types of artists:

First we have the ultrasuccessful artist, comprising two equally insincere groups: “commercial artists,” who concoct almost priceless pictures for advertising purposes, and “fashionable portrait painters,” who receive incredible sums for making unbeautifully rich women look richly beautiful. Very few people, of course, can attain the heights of commercial and fashionable art. Next we have the thousands upon thousands of “academicians” — patient, plodding, platitudinous persons, whose loftiest aim is to do something which “looks just like” something else and who are quite content so long as this undangerous privilege is vouchsafed them. Finally there exists a species, properly designated as the Artist (with capital A) which differs radically from the ultrasuccessful type and the academic type. On the one hand, your Artist has nothing to do with success, his ultimate function being neither to perpetuate the jeweled neck of Mrs. O. Howe Thingumbob nor yet to assassinate dandruff. On the other hand he bears no likeness to the tranquil academician — for your Artist is not tranquil; he is in agony.

‘THE FIRST ROBIN … if the punishment fitted the crime …’

Cummings considers the source of the Artist’s disquiet:

Most people merely accept this agony of the Artist, as they accept evolution. The rest move their minds to the extent of supposing that anybody with Art school training, plus “temperament” — or a flair for agony — may become an Artist. In other words, the Artist is thought to be an unsublimated academician; a noncommercial, anti-fashionable painter who, instead of taking things easily, suffers from a tendency to set the world on fire and an extreme sensibility to injustice. Can this be true? If not, what makes an Artist and in what does an Artist’s agony consist?

The agony, Cummings argues, has to do with the path one takes to becoming a capital-A Artist. Half a century before Teresita Fernandez’s spectacular commencement address on what it really means to be an artist, Cummings jeers at the misleading cultural narratives about that path:

You may have always secretly admired poor Uncle Henry who, after suddenly threatening to become an Artist with a capital A, inadvertently drank himself to death with a small d instead… Or both you and I may have previously decided to become everything except Artists, without actually having become anything whatever. Briefly, a person may decide to become an Artist for innumerable reasons of great psychological importance; but what interests us is the consequences, not the causes, of our decisions to become Artists.

‘THE HELPING HAND … nobody is exempt …’

The obvious decision for those who decide to become Artists, Cummings notes as he sets up his wry critique of standard education, is to go to Art school:

Must not people learn Art, just as people learn electricity or plumbing or anything else, for that matter? Of course, Art is different from electricity and plumbing, in that anybody can become an electrician or a plumber, whereas only people with temperament may become Artists. Nevertheless, there are some things which even people with temperament must know before they become Artists and these are the secrets which are revealed at Art school (how to paint a landscape correctly, how to make a face look like someone, what colors to mix with other colors, which way to sharpen pencils, etc.). Only when a person with temperament has thoroughly mastered all this invaluable information can be begin to create his own hook. If you and I didn’t absorb these fundamentals, reader, we could never become Artists, no matter how temperamental we were.

‘THE SWAN AND LEDA … protect your dear ones …’

But the travesty of the system, Cummings points out, is that at Art school the future capital-A artist ends up at the mercy of the “academician” who learned from the “fashionable portrait painter.” The future Artist is being taught technique by “the renowned Mr. Z, who was formerly a pupil of the great Y,” who in turn “studied at various times under X, W and V and only came into the full possession of his own great powers shortly before his untimely death.” In a sentiment that calls to mind Pete Seeger’s assertion that all artists are “links in a chain,” Cummings concludes:

We are not really studying with Mr. Z at all. We are really studying through Mr. Z.

‘THE GARDEN OF EDEN … before the dawn of history …’

He then turns to the prevalent notion, perhaps best captured by Anaïs Nin and tightly woven into the mythology of genius, that temperamental excess is essential for creativity:

If you and I didn’t have temperament, we should now become ordinary humdrum academicians. But, being temperamental, we scorn all forms of academic guidance and throw ourselves on the world, eager to suffer — eager to become, through agony, Artists with capital A.

He considers the particular problem of the American artist:

Our next problem is to find the necessary agony. Where is it, gentle reader?

Your answer: the agony lies in the fact that we stand no chance of being appreciated… Not only is there a complete absence of taste anent the domestic product, but once an Artist is found guilty of being a native of the richest country on earth he must choose between spiritual prostitution and physical starvation. What monstrous injustice!

‘THE SPINSTER’S DILEMMA … but a parrot did …’

Cummings goes on to illustrate the pretentious and posturing of reducing art to objects and forgetting that it is primarily a contagious experience:

Let me show you a painting which cost the purchaser a mere trifle and which is the work (or better, play) of some illiterate peasant who never dreamed of value and perspective. How would you category this bit of anonymity? Is it beautiful? You do not hesitate: yes. Is it Art? You reply: it is primitive, instinctive, or uncivilized Art. Being “uncivilized,” the Art of this nameless painter is immeasurably inferior to the civilized Art of painters like ourselves, is it not? You object: primitive Art cannot be judged by the same standards as civilized Art. But tell me, how can you, having graduated from an Art school, feel anything but scorn for such a childish daub? Once more you object: this primitive design has an intrinsic rhythm, a life of its own, it is therefore Art.

And therein lies Cummings’s most serious — solemn, even — point: That what we learn about art through formulaic instruction takes us further away from what Jeanette Winterson aptly termed “the paradox of active surrender” which art asks of us in order to work us over with its transformative power. In a passage that could well be the Modernist’s manifesto, Cummings considers what ordains that hypothetical peasant’s painting capital-A Art:

It is Art because it is alive. It proves that, if you and I are to create at all, we must create with today and let all the Art schools and Medicis in the universe go hang themselves with yesterday’s rope. It teaches us that we have made a profound error in trying to learnArt, since whatever Art stands for is whatever cannotbe learned. Indeed, the Artist is no other than he who unlearns what he has learned, in order to know himself; and the agony of the Artist, far from being the result of the world’s failure to discover and appreciate him, arises from his own personal struggle to discover, to appreciate and finally to express himself.

‘THE FRIEND IN NEED … a boon to travelers …’

This condition — which the wise and wonderful Ann Truitt would come to capture perfectly two decades later in considering the difference being doing art and being an artist, asserting that “artists have no choice but to express their lives” — is the sole requirement of being a capital-A Artist. With an eye toward a far more luminous and liberating definition of success, Cummings urges:

Look into yourself, reader, for you must find Art there, if at all… Art is not something which may or may not be acquired, it is something which you are not or which you are. If a thorough search of yourself fails to reveal the presence of this something, you may be perfectly sure that no amount of striving, academic or otherwise, can bring it into your life. But if you arethis something — then, gentle reader, no amount of discrimination and misapprehension can possibly prevent you from becoming an Artist. To be sure, you will not encounter “success,” but you will experience what is a thousand times sweeter than “success.” You will know that when all’s said and done (and the very biggest Butter Baron has bought the very last and least Velasquez) “to become an Artist” means nothing: whereas to become alive, or one’s self, means everything.

Or, as Sherwood Anderson wrote three decades earlier his magnificent letter of life-advice to his son“The thing of course, is to make yourself alive. Most people remain all of their lives in a stupor. The point of being an artist is that you may live.”

‘THE DEATH OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN … even prominent people …’

E. E. Cummings: A Miscellany Revised is, sadly, out of print — but it’s well worth the hunt. Complement it with Susan Cheever’s spectacular biography of Cummings and the unusual story of the fairy tales he wrote for his only daughter, then revisit Georgia O’Keeffe’s exquisite letter on success and what it means to be an artist and some of today’s most prominent artists contemplating this slippery subject.