The Art Spirit

police-car

“Genius is not a possession of the limited few, but exists in some degree in everyone. Where there is natural growth, a full and free play of faculties, genius will manifest itself.” — Robert Henri
I have always been a fan of Walt Disney. Not just of his animated films but of a certain image I have of the man himself. It’s not the dictatorial egomaniac that some biographers have depicted but the gentle, welcoming character who appeared at the beginning of each episode of the Wonderful World of Disney — small moustache, grey gabardine suit, warm smile, standing in his book-lined office.
When I flew home from LA for the weekend, I decided to re-screen one of my favorite videotapes for an infusion of inspiration. It’s an episode of the Disney show that I Tivo-ed a couple of years ago in which Walt answers letters from art students seeking direction in life. His advice to them is to read a book called “The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri. Henri was a painter and art teacher in the early part of the twentieth century, a terrifically inspiring guy who taught the generation of American realists that emerged in the 20s; people like Edward Hopper and Stuart Davis and John Sloan and Rockwell Kent, many of whom I like a lot. He encouraged his students to paint what they saw around them, urban scenes of everyday life — gritty, bold, and true. Henri’s students collected their noted from his lectures and assembled them into The Art Spirit and it has been a valuable guide for artists ever since, full of observations and ideas that are accessible and encouraging.
One of Walt’s correspondents asks him how he can develop style and Disney responds via Henri, with something like, “Don’t worry about your originality. You couldn’t get rid of it even if you wanted to. It will stick with you and show up for better or worse in spite of all you or anyone else can do.” To demonstrate how individual vision is really at the heart of style, he takes four animators form his studio, men who by day are paid to subvert their individuality in the service of creating a unified look for Disney movies and films them, of a Sunday, painting a tree. Each has his own way of painting, but more importantly his own way of seeing. One describes the tree in terms of architecture, like a solidly engineered structure on the landscape. He paints the tree as if it were made of steel pylons. Another artist is fascinated by the movement of the tree’s bark and studies the surface textures in detail. A third sees the tree’s relationship to the sky behind it and studies the negative space of the branches. A fourth observes the entire tree as unified shape and works on its relationship to the rectangle of his canvas.
Then we see how each artists interprets his vision in different ways through his materials. One paints of a big slab of plywood thrown down on a rock, painting with long brushes in a muscular way. Another draws in charcoal and then fills in with casein. When the paintings are done, they are juxtaposed and we can really see the varieties of worldviews in the four men. Even though they are talented artists, the real lesson comes from their willingness to put their own characters in their work.
It’s all shot in muddy black and white, typical old TV images, and the painters are not fine artists showing in NY galleries, just modestly paid artisans working for the Man. But the little film demystifies the process of art making in a wonderful way. It’s also a reminder of how the world has changed. Hard to imagine these days prime time Sunday night TV being devoted to something as ethereal as this. And the Disney Company, marred by well-publicized corporate battles and an surfeit of marketing and promotion, seems pretty far removed from the gentle art lesson on this show.
If you can, Tivo the Wonderful World of Disney, and see if you stumble on this gem. Or pickup a copy of The Art Spirit and be directly inspired by a great teacher. Try to keep in mind the wisdom of this thought from Robert Henri: “The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.”
— Written in a rental car in a rainy parking lot by the Rose Bowl, a few miles from the Walt Disney studios.

Chillin' with Dylan

stones

Last week, I was hit by a sniffling cold midday. I spent the last few hours of the workday back at home, in bed with tea and Bob Dylan’s new memoir. By the next morning, I’d bounced back and finished reading the book.
For most of my life, I really had no interest in Dylan until about seven years ago when my friend, Bob Dye, more or less forced me to listen to The Freewheelin’ and Highway 61. The music softened my resistance but Pennebaker’s movie, “Don’t Look Back” triggered the sort of instant conversion usually limited to evangelicals. I haven’t paid much attention to the albums from the mid 1970s to the mid 90s but own and play most of the early and late records fairly regularly.
Despite all this enthusiasm, nothing prepared me for Chronicles, Vol. I. I had long assumed that , though I admired the music, the man was arrogant and withdrawn, the sort of person one would never want to spend ten minutes with. Instead, I discovered that Bob Dylan has all the hallmarks of the quintessential creative person (and I’m surprised that this surprised me).
First I was struck by how much he knows about music, all sorts of music, from classical to bebop to rap to doo-wop to the cheesiest sort of pop, and is able to extract something useful and inspiring from all of it. Like Picasso, he believed in borrowing from everywhere … but himself.
Secondly, he has always challenged himself — not to be successful financially and critically — but to constantly grow and branch out in new directions. Except for a period where he admits he was in some sort of creative stupor, he has always been motivated by some flickering notion in the back of his head that slowly grows and blooms as he feeds it. It’s not to ‘show the world’ or provoke the industry, but because he is always feeding himself with new influences that spark fresh ideas and directions.
Thirdly, despite the fact that he is such an important maverick, he has deep roots in those that came before. His love for and appreciation of roots blues and folks music has always been the core of his art. He has solid foundations, ones he forged himself, and he has been layering on top of them for fifty years. Reading about his early record collection had me revisiting mine, pulling out Sleepy John Estes, Dave Van Ronk, and Harry Smith’s American Folk Music once again.
Next, I was struck by his enormous generosity. He is lavish in his acknowledgment of all the influences on his art. He talks about what he learned from all sorts of surprising influences, everyone from Frank Sinatra, Jr. to Daniel Lanois.
It was fascinating to hear how he first came to write music, how content he had been to simply play others’ compositions, and how hesitant he was to compromise the body of folk music, sort of like if Horowitz began playing his own piano sonatas rather than Ludwig Van’s. Slowly Dylan began to introduce his own additional lyrics to folk standards and then eventually to create his own from the staff up.
While he was committed and hard working, Dylan never comes off as terribly ambitious. He wants to keep moving forward, to play for larger audiences so he can have new creative opportunities but he never set out to be a superstar. In fact, in his admiration for pop singers and Tin Pan Alley composers, he acknowledges that playing Woody Guthrie songs hardly seemed the road to fame and fortune, even in the folk-mad days of the early 1960s. Even recently, when he has been touring a lot, it’s to stretch himself creatively, to play music publicly that should be played, to shed the nostalgic classic rock trappings and talk to new audiences in new ways. Miles was much the same way. The still-touring members of the Stones, the Beatles, the Who, etc. have no such creative ambitions.
I’d urge you to read the book and see how it strikes you. I believe it has a lot in it for anyone contemplating their own creativity.
——————
A number of people have written to me for a certain kind of advice. Typically, they’ll ask how they can become professional illustrators or, even more frequently, how they can get books published. I tend to answer such letters less often than I used to because I realize that I don’t have the answers. But I think Bob does. Here are a few landmarks:
1. Figure out what you’re about. What do you like to do, what are your media, your subject matter, your style.
2. Explore. Getting to #1 requires flexibility, openness, a willingness to explore and to try on lots of costumes.
3. Focus. Spend less time on success and more on art. The more you work, the better your art, the more likely things are going to happen. And figure out what you really want. At one point, I just wanted my name on a book jacket, any book. Now I have a clearer sense of what I am willing to spend my time on. And consider your work from the point of view of those who you want to want it. Learn about the industry you are trying to break into and the audience you are talking to. Don’t just send off stuff to inappropriate and uninterested publishers. Understand the market.
4. Move to New York. You may have to make some sacrifices but if you’re not where it’s at, you’re not where it’s at. This applies to those hellbent on commercial success (but, of course, there are many other ways to be successful). But most importantly, when you are in the deep end of the creative pool surrounded by others full of energy and ideas and examples, you learn to swim a lot better.
5. Be generous. Seize every opportunity to thank people and include them in what you’re doing. Give your work away then make more.
6. There are no small parts. Play the coffee shops, pass the basket, don’t just hold out for the Garden. Be willing to illustrate school play programs or diner menus, publish a zine, start a blog etc. whatever will get your work out into the world.
7. Meet like-minded folks and be actively involved with them. Meet other artists and creative people but don’t just talk about the business of art (god, how dull) but share your passion for making things and infect each other.
8. Never complain, never explain. Be yourself and be glad of it. Creativity needs light and nourishment.
9. Above all, do what you love and love what you do. Don’t try to figure out what you should to to be successful but how to successfully express what’s makes you you. There’s nothing more pathetic and boring than those who have done everything they can to mold themselves to the prevailing notions of what is popular. That already exists (it’s on Fox and it’s called American Idol). You need to blaze new paths, your own paths. No one does what you do. Keep it that way by expressing the true you, the inner you.
Remember, Art’s most important job is to light the viewer’s fuse, to create new feelings and insights, to create by sharing. By sharing yourself, you make the world a better place. The important goal is not to win gold records or Hummers or groupies. It’s the same as the goal of every share cropper who picked up a Sears guitar and wailed the blues. To be authentic, to express yourself. That may lead you to Cleveland and the Hall of Fame or, even better, to an enriched feeling of what it is to be human.

Holy Roller Novocaine

signpainter

Most mornings, after breakfast but before we head out for the day, Jack and I flip on our amps, grab our axes and fire it up. One of us plays rhythm, a standard 12-bar blues (E,A,B7) and the other solos, usually with the drive turned up for maximum distortion effect. Fortunately, we have thick floors and forgiving neighbors and for some reason Patti generally ignores or applauds our efforts. After ten minutes or so, we return our Fenders to their stands and go out the door, our fingertips and ear drums still vibrating, adrenaline still coursing through our arms and legs.
After I drop Jack off at the bus to camp, I walk the twenty or so blocks to the office, listening to my iPod. These days my absolute favorite is a new band called The Kings of Leon, three brothers and a cousin from Tennessee who kick serious ass. They are a sleazy, boozy, brawling blend of 70s country rock, satanic heavy metal, surf, and punk, and they channel the spirits of early Stones and Lou Reed and the Strokes , (all of whom I have always loved), and Tom Petty, Eagles, Skynrd, and Zeppelin, (none of whom I’ve paid much attention to) .
Though I think I would have always dug this band, these days I find I can really hear them,. I am aware of each note; I can feel the separation of the instruments; sense what Caleb and Matthew Followill are doing on their guitars; take it all apart and put it back together; and it’s all due to the few months Jack and I have spend whacking our own geetars.
Over the past couple of years, drawing has done the same for my appreciation for art, focusing my likes but quelling my dislikes, broadening my mind and letting me see what I would have formerly walked past or dismissed. I feel increasingly less intimidated by the heavy intellectualism of a lot of contemporary art and get a lot more pleasure whenever I’m in a museum.
You don’t have to be a musician to love music or an artist to love art or a writer to enjoy a novel, but when you try to make it yourself, even in the most rudimentary way, it enhances what you get out of really great Art. In the end, we are all Artists. Some of us have long hair, greasy fu-manchus, and peg leg jeans while others just back up nine-year-olds.

Inklinations

pen-sunbathersThe only downside to my vacation (and this will give you an indication of what a hopeless nerd I am) were a few pen problems. First of all, though we packed virtually everything in the house into our car for the trip, I left my trusty Rotring Rapidoliner in my bedside table drawer. The only reason for such an oversight is that I had just begin to use a device called the Rotring Art Pen — a sort of fountain pen that Richard Bell uses all the time and seems to swear by. I have been interested in drawing with a fountain pen of late because I like the more variable line it gives (I love my Rapidoliner because it flows so smoothly but the line can seem a little mechanical and rigid at time) and so I have been two-timing the Rapidoliner with this long, black stranger.
The Art Pen has one obvious design flaw, the back end tapers to a near point which mean that when you take off the cap, you can’t snap it onto the back and have to lay it down somewhere and then be mildly distracted about whether or not you’ve left it behind which may effect your drawing in a sort of stone-in-your-shoe sort of way.
Then, poolside, I discovered a more significant problem.
The Art Pen comes with a half dozen little prefilled plastic ink cartridges. The ink, I discovered after laboriously drawing this geezery couple and then beginning to slather on the old water color, is not waterproof. The ink began to branch out into spidery tendrils and my lines became fuzzy.
Fortunately I had bought a special bladder, the “Piston Fill Ink Converter”, that allows me to fill the pen manually and later I tossed out the feeble cartridge and pumped in some India Ink.
Another minor problem arose which is that the bladder, which is a sort of syringe that you advance and withdraw by rotating a little stick at the end, doesn’t seem to draw entirely of its own accord and one must ocasionally recrank it up and refill the nib. If you don’t do this very carefully, big drops of ink fall onto your drawing.
All that having been said, I continue to use the Art Pen but plan to send Richard a nasty note.
I’ll admit, I am a fickle pen owner. I search for years, find perfection, but my eyes keep roaming. Another pen I keep on the side is called the Grumbacher Artist Pen (there’s not alot of creativity in the pen naming community, it would seem) which has the teeniest needle point and the same pointed-end, cap-losing design as the Art Pen.
It is not refillable but the line is so fine it seems to last forever anyway. I did a drawing or two with it on my trip and still quite like it but for optimal performance, use very smooth paper.
Finally, the Art-Pal Creative pen — a very groovy-looking, gold pen with a brush nib that you fill with the ink of your choice. Looks, however, are horribly deceiving. It is a piece of junk. I filled it, used it briefly twice, and the nib sort of crumbled and the tip broke off. It might be possible to replace the nib but the pen came from Jerrys Artarama with no instructions and no way to buy new nibs. I’ve written to them for explanation but so far they have been mute.

golf-course-1.jpg

And finally, I am determined to pick up some gouache today. I tried working with watercolor and no line drawing but the results felt wishy-washy. I need to be able to add a layer that is more defined and sharp and bright on top of watercolor and I have resorted to white ink put on with a dip pen and then tinted the ink with watercolor which works okay but is fiddly and hard to control.
I’m sure if I paid better attention to my lessons from Roz I wouldn’t have this dilemma but it seems easier to just buy more art supplies.

The Art of the Cinema

In the movies, artists are generally bastards, nuts or addicts. Here are some of my favorites.

Biopics

The Agony & the Ecstacy: Irving Stone boils down the Sistine Chapel with a liberal amount of artistic license. Good painting scenes. With Charlton Heston (ugh) as Mike B and Rex Harrison as Julius II.

Lust for Life: More Irving Stone. Kirk as Vincent, Tony Quinn as Gauguin, Vincent Minelli at the helm. Beautiful and nutty and the best Vincent biopic.

Bird: Clint Eastwood’s version of Charlie Parker’s life.Good but not as good as:

Round Midnight: Dexter Gordon plays Bird, Lester Young & Bud Powell all rolled into one. It will make you love jazz.

Moulin Rouge: The original: Toulouse-Lautrec and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Basquiat: Julian Schnabel directs this story of fame, drugs and demise. I liked Basquiat a lot more than the film but it’s still worth a gander.

Ed Wood: Proof that one of the most important things an artist needs is belief in himself.

Tucker: Automaker as artist. A sunny metaphor for Coppola’s battle with the Hollywood establishment

Amadeus: Nothing like the scene where Mozart dictates the Reqiuem to Salieri. I could watch this dozens of times. And I have.

Savage Messiah: I loved this movie in college. Ken Russell’s bio of French sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and his mad affair. Tortured, weird and romantic.

Pollack: Ed Harris’s tribute to Action Jackson but with a little too much drunkness and a little too little painting.

My Left Foot: Danny Day Lewis as Christy Brown, paralyzed poet and painter. Have been meaning to see it for 15 years. Will soon.

Shine: Pianist David Helfgott has a mean dad, a breakdown, and a lot of scenery to chew. Decent but overrated.

Hilary and Jackie: The lives of classical musician sisters, one wild, one straight. I enjoyed it but honestly don’t remember it that clearly.

Documentaries

Rivers and Tides: Simply the best movie I’ve ever seen about the creative process. Documents the work of Andy Goldsworthy the British sculptor. Still in some theatres. Avaialable on DVD in 9/04

Le Mystére Picasso: In 1956, Clouzot filmed Picasso painting on transparent canvases, revising the work as he goes, a chicken becomes a nude becomes a landscape, etc. Mind blowing.

Crumb: portrait of the great underground comix artist and illustrated journal keeper, intense and revealing. See it even if you think you don’t like him.

Wild Wheels: a tribute to art cars (covered with mirrors, grass, plastic fruit, etc) and the people who make them.

28th Instance of June 1914, 10:50 a.m. – McDermott & McGough are a pair of artists who live as if it were PreWWI, their clothes, their home, their plumbing, their manner and their photography. Beautiful and strangely compelling.

Fiction

Edward Scissorhands: A fairy tale about the artist as outsider. By one of the most creative directors in modern cinema.

The Royal Tennenbaums: The story of a creative family and the least good of the great films of Wes Anderson.

The Moderns: Alan Rudolph’s story of artists in Paris in the 1920s is wildly surreal and romantic and has a wonderful soundtrack.

An American in Paris: A highly realistic story of artistic struggle. Gene Kelly, Minelli, and my fav: Oscar Levant.

Quartet: 4 stories, one of a pianist who studies for years to get a critic’s approval. Also by Maugham.

The Razor’s Edge: Bill Murray (of all people) was in the good version of this story of a WWI vet discovering himself as an artist and a spiritual being.. It was very inspiring to me when I first saw it two decades ago.

The Commitments: Slightly too raucous story of an Irish soul band but a good appreciation of appreciation.

The Hours: Virginia Woolf and all that.

New York Stories: The first part of the trilogy is by Scorcese with Nick Nolte as a larger than life painter who can only work when obsessed with a woman. Some beautiful moments.

The Horse’s Mouth: I loved this book as a kid — it made painting into the most heroic of acts. Alec Guiness plays Gulley, a screw up of a painter, in search of the perfect wall for his mural.

Got any to add?

Comments

How about Life with Picasso by Francoise Gilot?

According to IMDB there’s a TV film called:

Pablo Picasso: Réminiscence

Is that the one?

What’s it like?

I love your top two documentaries. I just watched Love is the Devil about Francis Bacon, which I found very fascinating.

Then there’s “Surviving Picasso”, came out a few years ago.

Benny and Joon has some wonderful scenes with Mary Stuart Masterson’s character creating directly on the canvas using her hands as well as drawing with more traditional materials.

‘Camille Claudel’ is a wonderful movie about the life of the sculptor that worked for Rodin and then later became his mistress. Of course its a tragic story , women artists didn’t really have a chance in those days . She ends up being committed by her brother the french poet Paul Claudel . I don’t think she was crazy just filled with a lot of passion for her art . Passion was not something women were allowed to feel in those days.

what about Cavaragio by Derek jarman and there was a great documetary about that mail artist based in NY which I saw at the edinburgh film festival… but I can’t remember his name!

I recently saw Frida with Salma Hayek. Apart from the fact that she is much more gorgeous than the real Frida to look at, I thought the quirkiness of this movie was brilliant. It surprised me.

A friend of mine at work keeps INSISTING that I need to see “The Girl with the Pearl Earring” because of its art theme. Maybe that would be a good one to check into! Thanks for the listings!

As a documentary on the creative process and the techniques and aids used by the some of the great masters I highly recommend David Hockney’s Secret Knowledge – it is available in both video and book. I was absolutely fascinated when the documentary screened here in Australia, it opened many new insights and evolution of the creative process.

i agree with the royal tenenbaums also because wes anderson’s brother did all the great illustrations (the ones that “Richie Tenenbaum” does) and all the “book” illustrations and also does a great job on the rushmore/royal tenenbaums special additions packages.

also : American Splendor about Harvey Pekar (!!!) with a little bit of Crumb (!)

I must also cast a vote for Frida. What a beautiful movie! Each frame is an artistic composition with rich rich color. Also, I’m afraid Bill Murray’s Razor’s Edge, although I’m sure his intentions were good, cannot hold a candle to the book which was simply amazing. The problem with the movie is that the protagonist is just not supposed to be a funny guy! Another movie not to be missed is My Architect which is about Louis Kahn. It’s still playing at some theaters but I’m buying this one when it’s available. This from someone who doesn’t watch the same movie twice.

P.S. -

what about songs about art / artists ?

how about “artemisia” about artemisia genteleschi (sp?)? struggle of women artists. love affair. torture by thumbscrews. pretty decent film.

I loved a documentary on the building of the National Gallery of Art with IM Pei…showing a lot of the work with Henry Moore and Sandy Calder.

All of the work that went into every inch of the place….interesting.

Movies: Sweet and Lowdown, Woody Allen, starring Sean Penn as brilliant guitarist best moment: when penn bashes his guitar against a tree crying “i made a mistake, i made a mistake”

Lady Sings the Blues, Diana Ross Billie Holiday. for the music alone and Ross ain’t too bad either ….

Shadowlands, Debra Winger and Anthony Hopkins, about C.S Lewis

Fiction: Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man , James Joyce…those last paragraphs/lines, i weep everytime

Sula, Toni Morrison, the artist without an artform

Oranges are Not The Only Fruit, Jeannette Winterton, evangelical upbringing + lesbian= writer

Einstein’s Dreams Alan Lightman, a mathematic/scientific poet….vignette dream meditations on Einsteins mind during his patent clerk days toiling on relativity by night.

whoops! guess i added books too….woolf/the hours made me do it!

sorry

How to Draw a Bunny – about Ray Johnson, mail artist (2002)

Goya: The movie (1999)

(Also liked Frida and Girl with a Pearl Earring)

“Angels and Insects” includes scenes of a woman who keeps an artistic nature journal … although there are definitely other themes …

I’ll keep thinking …

My Architect – about Louis Kahn, got an Oscar nod this year, and well deserved too.

Rivers and Tides? I dunno. I felt like even more of an outsider to Goldsworthy’s work after seeing that. It would have benefitted from some serious editing.

That’s my $.02

It’s not totally about an artist’s struggle, but A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries, film by James Ivory, based on a novel-based-on-her-life by Kaylie Jones (her dad was James Jones, who wrote From Here to Enternity), is about growing up in a bohemian, artistic family.

Also, Un Coeur En Hiver, a French film about a violinist and the man who makes her the violin.

Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould is a wonderful movie. About Glenn Gould.

I’d nominate Pecker by John Waters – quirky, funny and very, very scathingly revealing about the machinations of the art world.

Not to be missed is the PBS special on photographer Ansel Adams; I think it was from the series “the American Experience.” Available from the PBS catalog.

“Agony and the Ecstacy” also has a wonderful score by Alex North. I often listen to it while I’m working.

Tony Hancock’s comdey ‘The Rebel’ c.1960; an office worker goes off to live the artist’s life in Paris. Although Hancock was the best-loved sitcom star in Britain at the time he had a yearning to do a movie like Jacques Tati’s. Never quite pulled it off, tragically.

How To Draw a Bunny about Ray Johnson is really worth going out of your way to see.

La Belle Noiseuse by Jacques Rivette

Dream of Light by Victor Erice

A couple of months ago I saw back-to-back three films about artists:

Pandaemonium about poet Samuel Coleridge and his friendship with Woodsworth – and descent into drug-addled craziness – a rocknroll account of an interesting fellow.

Passion about composer Percy Grainger, another troubled artist, the story took me by surprise having thought him a “simple” sort of composer. I was very mistaken.

and The Pianist, the haunting Polanski film about Szpilman’s endurance through Nazi terror in Warsaw.

They were all exhausting and heart-wrenching stories. But man oh man, it was a good day.

The Fifth Element!

see – the part where bruce willis is listening to the diva sing – and it keeps cutting back to Leelo fighting the badguys over the stones.

see – there’s this pretty little moment when he believes everything is true. Art shows the way to love shows the way to love saves the universe.

i really need to write about this more coherently someday. :D

I have to second Stone’s Lust for Life…the movie made me want to find out more about Vincent…I saw it after hearing the song by Don MaClean–Starry Starry Night. (GREAT POET/GREAT SONG…ONE OF MY FAVORITES!!) By the way…I learned how to play it on my tin whistle Danny…how’s the guitar going????

I also have to second The Pianist. The compelling love and urge to play music touched my soul. His identity was more deeply embeded as a pianist, rather than a Jew. I feel my art defines me more than anything else as well.

Thanks everyone…I will have to visit the video store on some of these!!

I haven’t seen this one added, it is fairly obscure. You seem to

be an enthusiastic Van Gogh fan like myself, and you would

definitely enjoy “Vincent and Theo”. It shows a lot of the darker

side of Van G.’s life, such as the time he took in a pregnant

prostitute. The scenes are brilliant and suffused with the yellow

light of “The Night Cafe”.

Directed by Robert Altman, it stars Tim Roth as a quiet, intense,

muttering painter. I love this film and watch it every few months.

Also someone mentioned “Surviving Picasso” and “Camille Claudel”. Camille is devastatingly sad, but casts a lot of light on the relationship between herself and Rodin.

I also would like to mention a great film that stars J. M. Basquiat as himself, “Downtown 81″. It is a musical and poetic romp through the art and post-punk scene of NYC circa 1981. It was recently released after 20 years on a shelf! Great fun film, also with amazing live music scenes and a cameo by Blondie.

A good movie about becoming an artist, against all odds:

“Dog of Flanders”

(the original 1959 version, with David Ladd, Donald Crisp, Monique Ahrens, Theodore Bikel,)

The documentary Speaking in Strings about violinist Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg profiles a very passionate and unorthodox musician.

i don’t have a film to add, though i did enjoy Pollack, but thank you Dan once again, for your unfettering vision. that’s what attracted me to your site initially, you take a stand for all those individuals who allowed themselves to be consumed, perhaps devoured by their passion for visual expression. you are truly a becon on this artists’ path.

‘Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh’: the biography of Vincent using only his paintings, some locations and excerpts from his correspondence.It was powerful movie.

-Nandita

For fictional: “The Legend of 1600.” Beautiful. The duel between the protagonist and Jelly Roll Morton is one of the most amazing scenes on film. Great score by Ennio Morricone (his last, in fact).

henry and june!

Just in case anybody else is still checking out the comments on this post, here’s a hard-to-find but really great doc of an artist: Gabriel Orozco (that’s the name of the film and the artist). To crib from the Miami film fest: “Internationally recognized Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco uses found objects to instigate a dialogue into how meaning can be formed from the arbitrary and the ordinary.” Very inspiring.

i too was so totally mesmerized by Le Mystére Picasso, i think its a really long film, but both times ive seen it i cannot rememeber time. I can only remember at the end kind of waking up and realizing my mouth was open and i had a crusty line of drool leading from the side of my mouth.

How about an angel at my table – both film and book

i too was so totally mesmerized by Le Mystére Picasso, i think its a really long film, but both times ive seen it i cannot rememeber time. I can only remember at the end kind of waking up and realizing my mouth was open and i had a crusty line of drool leading from the side of my mouth.

How about an angel at my table – both film and book

Inspiration Journal: Tony Forster

This guy is scarily good. Tony Forster’s watercolors depict his treks around the world, to the rain forests of Costa Rica, the volcanic island of Montserrat, Bolivia’s mile-high lakes, the slopes of the Sierra Nevada and the scorching desert of Death Valley. I first saw them in a froo-froo gallery, stopped dead in my tracks on Madison Avenue, thinking “Wait, wasn’t I supposed to have made these, y’know, in some parallel universe?” On the edges of his gorgeous landscapes paintings (he paints on sheets of watercolor paper, usually 22″x31″), he attaches little sample swatches, topographic maps, and then stencils, types, and hand writes notes. This softcover book of his work was published by the Frye Art Museum in 2000.

Inspirational Journal: GI Sketchbook

For anyone who has ever felt that they had no time to draw, were too stressed out to draw, had nothing interesting to draw, I offer a few pages from “G.I. Sketch Book”, published by Penguin Books on July 1944:

From the FOREWORD
WHEN YOU get upward of ten million men together from every walk of life, you find a large number of them who think pictorially and who burn with a desire to record their thoughts. What cries out more for the permanent record of the artist than enormous masses of men in combat, in preparation for combat, at rest, or at play! The skill of an artist is not always the same; there are influences that heighten or lessen the ability to transmute mood and scene. If he is greatly moved by what he sees, it is very probable that he will transcend his ordinary technical limitations and produce something that will come close to satisfying even him.
The pictures in this book have all been made by American G.I.’s and, as you thumb your way through the pages of sketches and finished pictures, bear in mind under what conditions some of these chef d’oeuvres were produced. What foxhole did a marine use as his studio? What bombed and burning deck inspired the sailor-painter to portray magnificent light and atmospheric effects? Many scenes were sketched on wrapping paper, some painted on ship’s canvas with ship’s paint. One lad in the Air Forces sends his wife a daily letter from China, from India or from Burma, constantly illustrating a point with a pen and ink sketch. This is what he writes about his G.I. life and art: “It’s a nice feeling that though I am so far away, I am still contributing to the cultural life of our community. Also to know that I am still doing art work in the combat zone, and under real primitive and warring conditions, proves conclusively that the desire for the fine and aesthetic is not a shallow, meek appendage to the lives of humans, but a forceful necessity to life.”