Archive for the ‘Battling Closed Minds and Limited Imaginations’ Category

In my art reading, I keep running into the phrase “Art Spirit”.  When I first encountered the term, I was confused as to its meaning.  However since I have spent 5 years acquainting myself with painters and their styles, via books and DVDs, the implications of Art Spirit are becoming clear to the point of being obvious to me.

What is the Art Spirit?  Ultimately one’s goal in making art is to produce paintings—but if production is the only motivation, the resulting art will lack spirit.  “Production” may be the pragmatic “American Way”, but it is not the artistic way.  The Art Spirit denotes a passion for the process, an identification with one’s tools, a thirst for discovery and new horizons, and a desire to spend as much time as possible creating art.  Whereas some artists will spend a few hours on 1 piece, others may work for weeks on a single painting.  The Art Spirit can be instrumental in creating 3 paintings a week, or 1 painting over a period of month—or even years.  Spirit is an intrinsic element and it cannot be measured in numbers.

The Art Spirit is all about love.  Love of art making is wrapped (and rapt!) in the moment, while fully experiencing and cherishing the process involved.  

The Art Spirit is all about adventure.  With each painting we attempt to be unique, in order to satisfy the Art Spirit.  No sinking into the rut of simply painting whatever might sell, or please someone else.  A person who actually makes a living from art will sell, and will please someone else.  But it’s likely that the Art Spirit has been operative by enabling the artist to find his or her individual “voice”.

The Art Spirit is all about courage.  There is no fear in trying a new thing, because the Art Spirit is never afraid of what someone might think so long as the artist is true to his or her individual view.  The Art Spirit has no fear about anything, since the only calamity would be to stop creating art!  The Art Spirit seeks primarily to express—to fulfill the artist’s hunger to paint something in a fresh way.  We can, and often do, paint the same scene over and over.  But each rendering will be different, revealing another aspect or impression of whatever we are painting.

The Art Spirit is all about seeing with an inner eye.  Pragmatic materialism is rushed and stressed to produce more—faster, faster, faster!  Pragmatic materialism does not even have an inner eye, as it deals only with externals at the survival level.  Seeing with an inner eye requires slowing down, losing track of time, forgetting oneself, and contemplating the essence of each possible subject for a painting. 

Although studying the technical aspects of art making is tremendously important, the Art Spirit is not the exclusive possession of genuises or professional fine artists.  If we love our calling, relish adventure, and endeavor to see with an inner eye we have the Art Spirit.  If we feel inexorably drawn to palette and paper, we have the Art Spirit.  The Art Spirit makes me dream of colors and shapes.  The Art Spirit has caused me to value my paint brushes and enjoy the experience of holding them in my hand, just as small children hang on to their beloved blankets. 

The Art Spirit is God’s gift to anyone who has a passion for art—anyone willing to slow down and treasure the process of making art. 

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

Note:  For an in depth treatise of the above topic, try THE ART SPIRIT, by Robert Henri.

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I frequently hear negative comments about “modern art”, meaning abstract or semi-abstract art—which, understandably enough, doesn’t appeal to everyone.  The comments crack me up because abstraction is anything but modern.  It came into being from the late 1800s to early 1900s and peaked in the famous 1960s.  If there is such a thing as “modern”, it is representational art—judging by what I see as I wander around art fairs.  Barns, ships, still lifes, street scenes, landscapes, and portraits are as popular and sought after as ever before.  

The most commonly heard remark concerning abstraction is one I’ve often made myself—and still do:  “A kid could do that!”  This comment applies especially to watercolor paintings, and particularly to paintings on Yupo paper—where the paint and water do about 75% of the work.  

Sometimes I have to agree—at least concerning my entry level renderings.  Maybe a kid could do what I’m doing!  Kids do amazing art, because they are free.  We adults need to follow the Biblical injunction to become as a little child—not only in faith and trust but in the freedom required to make expressive art of any kind, be it realistic, semi abstract, or purely non-representational. 

A kid could have dropped the various colors of paint on the above pictured Yupo® paper and watched an abstract rendering develop before their eyes.  But would a kid have the patience to go back to the piece many times, removing blotches of paint to restore parts of the paper to its original white?  Would a kid have considered the contrast of complementary colors, and softened the transition between them?  Would a kid have plopped increments of rubbing alcohol from a medicine dropper, to create the circles which are scattered hither and thither?  Or added small details after the initial work dried?

Yes, I think some kids might do any of that.  Not every kid—and definitely not the kid whose heart is forever on the soccer field, or dependent on his or her peers.  But there are kids who could do that, providing they have the motivation and materials! 

Meanwhile, I’m thankful to be a kid at heart!  Perhaps the thing that distinguishes us kids from the rest of the world is that when it comes to making stuff we simply love to play.  I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing!”  If that’s true, then my art—whether an attempt at photographic realism or a plunge into way out abstraction—is a virtual “Fountain of Youth”!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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Painting is like writing in some ways.  A writer learns the technical aspects of his or her language—but the actual school for writing is reading, reading, reading, reading, and reading some more.  A beginning artist studies various techniques, learns some principles of design and color theory, and experiments with the tools of the craft.  But the supreme school for art is viewing.  Observation of sights, shapes, colors, and nuances of light and shade is a major factor in “art school”—along with studying the works of competent artists past and present.

Through reading widely and thoroughly, a writer develops a personal sensitivity to content and style.  From reading, a writer grows to discover his or her very own voice.  And from concentrated observation, a would-be artist instinctively learns what appeals.  We often change as we grow, but I believe that even our changes are in sync with that ongoing discovery of a personal “voice”.

Early in my art quest, I realized that I’m not cut out to produce photographic realism in painting.  I certainly admire those who choose that path, appreciate the discipline and skill involved, and cherish many works of realistic art.  But from early on, I knew that I would probably never paint a barn that looks exactly like a barn I have seen—or a garden which can be recognized as some specific garden.  My southwestern mesas and buttes may remotely resemble a specific mesa or butte in New Mexico, but I believe there will always be a touch of imagination or fantasy therein.  Likewise, the above-painted carnival glass may be identified as carnival glass—yet it is different from the actual carnival glassware which I set up for a still life model.  And the sky outside the window did not look anything like my rendering of sky!

Finding my own voice has been a very exciting thing for me as a writer—and also, I’m realizing, as a beginning artist!  I know that barns don’t have to look like barns, skies can be any color I choose, and flowers can grow upside down if I so desire to paint them that way.  So long as I strive for effective color and design I’ll never be bored with my work, and I’ll never make two paintings exactly alike—or at least I hope I will never do that!

Contemporary fine artist Barbara Nechis has said that if we try to compete with nature, nature always wins!  How very true!  I’ll happily leave nature to the Master Artist who created her, while endeavoring to capture my take on the essence of nature or whatever else I paint!  Freedom goes a long way—at least toward pleasing this dabbler in art!   🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

Note:  The top watercolor painting was done on 140# watercolor paper.  The last two were done on Yupo® paper.  I don’t know if my current fascination with this synthetic surface will be a lasting love, or just a passing fling.  But oh, what fun!

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I’ve attempted many new-to-me painting techniques in recent years, and one of them is painting negative shapes first.  Most every art teacher will, at some point, recommend beginning a work by concentrating on the spaces between objects rather than the objects themselves.  This helps us to stretch the grey cells and comprehend what is easy to overlook—the area around whatever we are looking at. 

Negative painting reportedly expands our view to focus on shapes as entities in themselves.  The goal is to forget we are painting a window or a vase (or whatever), and instead hone in on the essence of the window or vase by considering these to be simply shapes surrounded by other shapes.

Being a forthright person, I must admit I don’t totally quite get this concept.  Is the shape of a window more essential than the window itself, especially in what is fast becoming a favorite style of mine—realistic abstraction, where one endeavors to make things recognizeable yet changed or distorted from reality?  Does it actually matter what I paint first:  the abstract trees above, or the spaces between the trees?

Yet I understand the negative painting rationale for two reasons:  1)  When focusing on the space between objects first, we make those spaces as appealing or even more so than the objects within the negatives.  The areas between windows, vases, or trees, become “art” in themselves rather than just filler, and 2)  Painting the negative spaces is FUN!

I’ve named the above watercolor and acrylic on Yupo® paper rendering, “Autumn Skydance”.  I drew the basic tree forms with a pencil and painted the negative spaces first.  An experienced artist will frequently skip the pencil sketch and immediately paint spaces, so that objects (or the shapes of objects) emerge spontaneously.

Canadian artist, Linda Kemp demonstrates and teaches negative painting in her beautiful book:  WATERCOLOR—painting outside the lines, a positive approach to negative painting—published by North Light Books. 

Margaret L. Been, ®2011

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One of the many delightful adventures involved in finding a new life passion, is researching its history.  Since I’ve been steeped and schooled in literature and the English language from little on, I’m no stranger to the craft of writing.  But art history provides a whole new world for me to explore.

Especially fascinating to me are the various art movements of the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Many of us love the French Impressionists, and the Post Impressionists who followed.  Nearly everyone is familiar with reproductions of Monet’s gardens, Degas’ ballerinas, and Van Gogh’s sunflowers.  The fact that these works have not become clichés testifies to their enduring, classic appeal.

The Impressionists came into being with the advent of photography.  For centuries, the artist (along with the scribe) had been the keeper of documentary provenance and the servant of history.  Painting frequently focused on detail.  In the mid 19th century, Paris was considered to be the art hub of the world.  Art accepted for display by the jury of the Louvres Grand Salon was subject to strict guidelines as to technique and subject matter.  Detailed representations of religious, historical, or mythological scenes dominated—with no room for deviation, individual choice of themes, or experimental methods of painting.

Into this stulted environment came the Impressionists, let by Monet.  Camera technology was capable of capturing detail but at that point photographs were in sepia, or black and white.  The Impressionists were inspired (and also aggravated!) to explode in color.  In contrast to the subdued Northern European palette in vogue at the time, these pioneers introduced a vibrancy of color which shocked and angered the art establishment. 

Freed from the boundaries of detailed representation, Impressionist artists explored the frontiers of subjective creativity.  Painters began to develop the essence and effects of outdoor light, en plein air.  The Impressionists also violated the standards of Parisian exhibitors and patrons by spurning traditional topics and painting everyday life—boating parties, gardens, gatherings at outdoor cafés, etc.

Because the reaction of the Paris art community was so vitriolic and violent, the Impressionists (named “Les Refusés” by their critics) had to stage their own showings which were not well-attended.  Patronage was virtually non-existent for years, and the Impressionists—so loved today—were probably the world’s first “starving artists”.  Judges proclaimed Impressionism to be “highly unsuitable for the public—the result of mental derangement.”

Finally, in the 1870s, the French Impressionists found a kindred soul who believed in them.  Gallery owner/art connoisseur Paul Durand-Ruel began buying and selling Impressionist works, largely to American collectors.  Durand-Ruel is quoted to have said, “The American public does not laugh; it buys!”

The Impressionists were followed by more experimental schools, theories, and “isms”, one of which grabs me by the throat:  Fauvism.  Introduced by Henri Matisse in the early 20th century, the Fauvists emphasized the free and arbitrary use of that element which I love best:  COLOR.  Les Fauvists not only wrenched themselves loose from accurate color representation, but they also forayed into the wonderland of abstract (or at least vaguely recognizable) shapes. 

Again, the Parisian art world reacted in anger.  “Les Fauves” means “The Wild Beasts”—humorous because the initial Fauvist, Henri Matisse, was every bit a conventional, family-oriented, balanced, and stable individual in contrast to many great artists before and since. 

Art and the raging isms . . . such fun to read about!  For the untrained and amateur hobbyist such as I am, one motivation predominates; I will paint what I want, however I want!  I’m not painting for an Academie des Beaux Arts, not for patrons, not for a teacher, but rather for myself.  Whomever wishes to come along and enjoy the results of my freedom is welcome!  🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

Note:  I’ve never had a desire to “copy”, but I’m open to inspiration from some areas of art making.  I identify with Les Fauvists, although I’d never even heard of them when I began sloshing brazen color all over the place!

I fell in love with New Mexico—especially Santa Fe and Taos—years before I’d ever heard of Georgia O’Keeffe.  Above is one of my Southwest-themed renderings—digitally enhanced with suns, moon, poofs of cloud or whatever, and an explosion of light created by a program called Home Photo Studio. 

This software is great for art as well as photos.  Quite possibly, I qualify as a “wild beast” for venturing into digital enhancement! 

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Our daughter, Laura, made this whiligig at a workshop near her home in Washington State.  The beauty is a composite of treasures culled from rummage and estate sales in her area.


Those of us who enjoy junking are NEVER BORED—and we’ll probably never be tempted to go off the deep end financially with our passion for collecting, because the stuff we prefer doesn’t normally cost that much. 

The items we love best are those which many folks disregard, discard, and even look down their noses at.  These people don’t get it.  They’re missing a huge chunk of abundant living to be found in foraging garage sales, scrap yards, and curbsides!

Now that rummage season is in full swing, our joy cups run over on a regular basis.  We come home from a morning of foraging renewed, refreshed, and super charged with creative ideas as to where we will place, or how we will use, our newly acquired treasure.  One thing is certain:  where junkers are concerned, there are no two homes alike.  Our decor is highly individual.  It can be simulated, but never cloned!

In celebration of junk, junk, wonderful junk, here are some outdoor shots of our comfy little condo where Joe and I live contentedly with loads of junk:

↑  The small blue granite pitcher peeking out of the Hosta is mounted on an upside down lamp base from one of those derelict “Made in China” lamps which, after 2 years of use, tend to become electrically unsafe.  The base (hidden in the photo) was too pretty to discard, so I cut off its cord and glued my vintage blue pitcher on its bottom.  Behind the pitcher is a broken, circa 1930 plate.  I never discard broken china or pottery, as it can always find a pleasant home among my garden or house plants.

And observe the old watering can, complete with its “rose” on the spout.  These are pricey now, as most everyone wants an old watering can.  Fortunately, I found mine years ago.  🙂

 ↑   A saxophone playing frog leans against the bird feeder, with our mutant Bleeding Heart providing a background.  Froggie was actually a new purchase, a gift from our daughter Laura. 

Note the Virginia Creeper creeping up the trellis—one of my all time favorite vines, also called Woodbine or Englemann Ivy.  It’s indestructable in our northern climate.  More damaged pottery rests on a handmade-by-Joe bench on the right as you view the photo.

↑  A closer look reveals the frog’s companions:  a bunny and a skull from the Southwest, reminiscent of artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

↑  The hangy thingy next to the hummer feeder was assembled by a local artist who has a business called FUNKY FINDS.

You can see the tops of a couple of old screens.  Screens and shutters with chipped, peeling paint are always welcome—indoors or out.  One can never get enough of those!

↑  Here is our patio, right off the living room so that we savor a year ’round indoor/outdoor atmosphere.  The patio is the setting for many lazy spring, summer, and autumn days spent sipping iced tea, reading, snoozing, and cloud gazing.  The patio faces east, so that we can sun bathe in the morning and rest in the afternoon shade. 

This picture was taken in a downpour.  The card table gets covered with a lovely vintage cloth on sunny days.  It also serves as a place for my art equipment and afternoons of sketching and painting.

The smashing antique croquet set was a rummage sale treasure which cost $5.00.  It has all its mallets, balls, and arches—with an old rag tied to each arch.  We can take the croquet set up the berm to the park, just a few yards away, for killer games.


In closing, here is one of my most precious photos of our grandsons, Nathaniel and Joelly, with their creation from their finds from a junk yard near our up north home.  Nathaniel is the driver of this unique vehicle.  I’m not sure what Joelly is doing with the stick—I think it’s a car window cleaner.  ↓

Upon all the evidence, I rest my case!  Junk is wonderful! 

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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A few years back my KOVEL”S ANTIQUE COLLECTOR’S NEWSLETTER told of a study at the University of Iowa which indicated that collectors have damaged frontal lobes. 

Actually, I think the study focused on folks who save decades of empty cereal boxes, plastic refrigerator dishes, and stacks of newspapers.  Those of us who collect English teapots, Teddy bears, and vintage kitchen kitsch may be exempt from such a dire (and seemingly ridiculous) judgment.

Nonetheless, those of us who do enjoy our collections find the “damaged frontal lobe” diagnosis to be hilarious.  If we are “damaged”, so be it.  We are contented, adventuresome, and never bored!

Environment may play a part in our hobbies and activities, but genes are also involved.  My parents were collectors.  However, their tastes were a bit more limited (and perhaps more refined?) than mine.  I have taken the gene thing to a new level. 

One of my nephews and a daughter share the collector’s gene with me—as well as at least one granddaughter.  More grandchildren may surface as they become mature adults.  Even I was once a minimalist, until something snapped in my early thirties and I never looked back!  It takes maturity to discover exactly whom we are and what rings our chimes!

Another, similar gene has been passed down in my family:  the passion for creating way out, funky stuff.  The Brits, who love to turn verbs into adjectives, call people like us, “makey”.  Would the “experts” at the U. of Iowa determine that we eccentric makeys have damaged frontal lobes as well?  It seems that collecting and eclectic creating are related, at least in my experience!

The first truly makey person I know of in my family was my Aunt Lois, although there must have been pioneers before her.  Aunt Lois was born in 1900.   I’ve blogged about her before, and I probably will again as she was a true mover and shaker in my life.  I think of her nearly every day!

Lois’s funky spirit first went on display when her husband taught at Berea College in Kentucky, and she immersed herself in mountain arts and crafts.  From there, Lois and her husband moved to California.  Need I say more than that?

I only saw Lois a few times in my life, in the 1930s and 40s, when she would return to Wisconsin for a visit and breeze in wearing the most interesting hand-made costumes.  Maya Angelou has called such garb “get-ups”.  My Aunt Lois was the Queen of the Get-ups.

I found Lois to be inspiring and wonderful.—not only her shawls, capes, and hats, but her entire persona.  She was full of smiles and excited descriptions of whatever craft she was into at the time.  She eschewed patterns and rules in her art.  Lois was an original.  Although not a hippie in lifestyle, she had that free creative spirit which would explode in wild, wonderful color generations later—the very wild, wonderful color that permeates my life and home.

I’m pleased to carry the Lois gene, and I have a niece in Colorado who has the gene as well.  I don’t think my niece ever met Lois, but the makey stamp is there—plain as the words I’m keyboarding at this very moment.

Among many other skills, my niece is a decoupage artist.  Here is a sample of her work, photographed in her Western home:

It just occurred to me that the makey gene has been passed from aunt to niece, and then again from aunt to niece.  I wonder what Aunt Lois’s aunt was like!  I’d like to see an MRI image of her frontal lobes!

Margaret L. Been, ©2011

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“We do not stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”  George Bernard Shaw

What a profound truth!  I know people who think and act “old”, simply because they stopped playing long ago.  And, conversely, I know individuals in their 90s who are still “young”, because of an interest in life, and a passion for hobbies and creative play.  My own father lived to be 102, and enjoyed life nearly until the end!  

Creative play is one of our greatest gifts, as we were made in the image of a creative God.  People who have never learned to play are bored, and they are apt to be boring!

I’m thankful to have had parents who realized the intrinsic value of creative play!  I’m thankful for years of gluing, cutting, coloring, digging in mud (nearly to China!), and grubbing for tadpoles in the river which bordered my childhood home. 

I’m thankful for a mom who let me keep the tadpoles in a fish bowl in our kitchen (until the critters lost their tails and sprouted legs; then they went back to the river). 

I’m grateful for the live Easter bunny I received one year, and for always having a dog to cherish.  I’m thankful for litters of kittens who entertained our family with their antics, back in the halcyon days when cats were allowed to roam at large and actually act like cats! 

I’m thankful for my mother’s huge box of elegant velvet and taffeta evening gowns from the early 20th century, for her plumey hats and beaded reticules—and for countless rainy afternoons of my spreading these garments all over the room and dressing up in them.  (My friends and I were allowed to play “Dress-ups” in my parents’ bedroom, because my mother had a full length mirror before which we could parade, primp, and be absolutely silly!)

Although my body is wearing out and only God knows what will become of the rest of me before He takes me home, I pray I’ll never grow too old to create with my hands and “make messes”!  I pray I’ll always have a spirit of pizzazz and panache for living. 

And I pray that, to the best of my ability, I’ll never stop playing!   🙂

Margaret L. Been, ©2010

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Indeed, it is SPRING!  My heart pulsates to the music of cardinels, redwings, robins, mourning doves, sandhill cranes, Canada geese, and other skyward signs of the season.

There is another sign—or rather a plethora of SIGNS—which soon will pop up in yards all over the little communities in our vicinity.  They may vary in wording—RUMMAGE SALE, GARAGE SALE, ESTATE SALE, YARD SALE, or whatever.  But these signs all mean the same thing:  absolute, abject BLISS!

I think some folks endowed with a sense of humor cackled when Joe and I moved to a condo last fall, after we had lived in fairly roomy houses for over fifty years of our marriage.  “HA,” these individuals reasoned.  “Now she’ll have to stop collecting!”

Well I am having the last “HA”.  We had scarcely unpacked our 280 moving cartons last fall when we discovered that we were smack dab in prime rummage country, and we dug right in—always coming home from a Saturday morning foray with one more thing to stick in a bare spot somewhere. 

Now we are relishing the realization that rummages will resume, any moment now.  There is alway room for more STUFF—somewhere, somehow!  I call it “uncondo-ing the condo”. 

Sometimes I don’t know which I enjoy most—the treasure hunts resulting in adding fresh decor to our home, or the raised eyebrows and eye rolling of those folks who “just don’t get it”.  When people unversed in the joy of junking visit our home, they look perplexed—even distressed. 

But most fun of all, are those few individuals who “do get it”.  They may be practically strangers in terms of longevitiy of friendship, but something snaps when they enter our home.  These kindred spirits move quietly from room to room, wall to wall, and corner to corner—studying every detail with intense interest.  Appreciation and a sense of freedom are written on their faces. 

Appreciative visitors experience THE GREAT AHA as they wander through our home as if it were a museum.  They know that, when it comes to interior decorating, “MORE IS MORE”. 

There is a nasty word out there, for those of us who love rummaging and junking.  We are called “hoarders”.  Never mind.  We are a mighty army of individuals who find beauty in things that the trendy folks cast off.  We are a brigade of non-materialistic “materialists” who value things for their sentimental implications, memories evoked, funki-ness, and unsung beauty rather than for their status or price.  You will not find the latest and most fashionable in our homes (or on our bodies, for that matter).  But you will find the most fun in our lives—as expressed in our homes and personalities. 

We are never bored—always alive to whatever we see, hear, smell, touch, or imagine.  We are an esoteric sorority and fraternity bonded by our enjoyment of stuff.  We share a priceless gift of creating beautiful arrangements comprised of whatever the trendy people throw away.

Maybe we collectors are hoarders:  hoarders of dreams, memories, and fun.  Hoarders of pizzazz and panache unearthed in everyday life!  Hoarders of quality of life!  But unlike the quintessential hoarder in fact and fiction, we junkers are hoarders who share!  We love to share our home, our stuff, and our joie de vie with whomever will slow down long enough to appreciate! 

So here’s to my “sisters and brothers” in JUNK:  Karen, Betty, Judy, Alicia, Sandy, Barbara, Julie, Andy, and countless others.  Here’s to author/photographer Mary Randolph Carter and her wonderful junk books which keep me vicariously and happily junking even in winter. 


Margaret L. Been—All Rights Reserved

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