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Archives for September, 2006

Pruimen in Kom (prunes in bowl)

Here is an example of a painting by Hanneke van Oosterhout that is good, but still needs something. The painting is well developed for all but the fruit. I think some well-chosen highlights could bring them alive.

Another question has to do with the way the foot of the bowl is reflected in the bowl itself. In the painting it seems as though there is something wrong, but the real bowl looks like this. Should Hanneke leave it as it is, or soften it somehow, departing from reality? [Poll]

Creating in public: Jordan Grumet on writing literature in the blogosphere

plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

Karl Zipser: Jordan, your blog is unusual because of its broad scope. You write about topics ranging from art collecting to internal medicine, and also publish your poetry and stories there. What was it that first inspired you to start writing a blog?

Jordan Grumet: In my younger years I had written quite a bit of poetry. As I describe in a series of posts, the process of becoming a physician hardened me. It squashed the more sensitive side and I stopped writing. The creative side has slowly worked its way back since the birth of my son Cameron.

I started my blog as a companion to my web site in which I collect and sell art work. In the beginning I concentrated mostly on art topics. My idea was to generate interest in art discussions and increase flow and readership to my site.

Karl: That’s practical.

Jordan: Yes. But reading other blogs, in particular Ed Winkleman’s, inspired me. So I had a paradigm shift. I went from writing solely about art to revisiting my poetry and starting to write creatively again.

Karl: And your blog is the primary place for this?

Jordan: I use my blog to practice the art of writing. Most of my posts are spur of the moment and are made up as I go. Often I do not know where a post or story is going when I start to write it.

Karl: How does the open, public aspect of blogging affect your writing? Is there a feeling of inhibition, or something the opposite of that?

Jordan: I love that my blog is public. Having an audience challenges me, challenges me to continue creating. To give it my best.

I have found that there is an interconnectedness in the blogging world. Recently I posted a story about rape called “Her Blues” at the same time as one of my commentors wrote about her own rape. It was a completely random coincidence. Neither of us knew about each other’s plans. Yet I find that the things I write connect with my reader’s experience. This is highly gratifying.

Karl: You talk about “random coincidence” in what you and others write. Is that really the same as “interconnectedness?”

Jordan: Maybe there is less “random coincidence” out there than we think. When you connect with your fellow bloggers (i.e. read there blogs and comments) you get to know someone in a much different way then when you meet them in person. Instead of being distracted by their looks or even their facial expressions, you are keyed into something much more important . . . their words. It is more intuitive.

I once wrote about how doctors use nonverbal cues to glean information about their patients. I think that something like this holds true among bloggers as well. Sometimes by reading a statement or post we subconsciously sense other’s needs and react to them. Was it a coincidence that we both posted on the topic of rape at the same time? Maybe. Or maybe we both sensed the need in ourselves and in our community of medical bloggers.

Karl: You talk about the importance of communicating with words, but also “nonverbal” communication. I’m confused.

Jordan: I think the word “nonverbal” is problematic. I guess what I am trying to say is that the mood of the blogosphere can be changed by subtleties in how and what people post. For instance if someone I usually read who is a prolific poster all of a sudden takes a few days off it means there is something wrong. Maybe they are having a crisis. Maybe they are feeling tired or bored. These things affect my mood as I post. And whether their posts are light and humorous or serious or sad, these things definitely affect what I write about.

Karl: Can you give an example of this influence?

Jordan: Recently in the medical blogosphere there was a lot of discussion about what was going on with the doctors accused of euthanasia during Katrina. This inspired me to write “A New Orleans Story” which was a more positive look at healthcare in that area of the country.

Another example is with the story “Her Blues”, which I ended on a positive note because I sensed from comments and others posts that some positivity was needed. There had been so much discussion of people’s horrendous experiences among the medical bloggers. Yet these “survivors” were healing, living life, and standing strong. I wanted to recognize that in my story.

Karl: You see the blogosphere as a real community?

Jordan: I believe that the blogosphere is a community. It’s not in the traditional sense a geographic/economic community. However, this frees us to concentrate on what is most essential . . . the emotional ties that bind us together as people. In a good active blogging community you will have a group of people who discuss difficult and often essential life issues. Blogging can bring people together. In many ways isn’t that how we define communities? A group of people with shared goals or experiences?

Karl: But is there not a danger of the integrity of your work being compromised by such a public way of writing?

Jordan: My writing is affected by the blogosphere, but the topics and presentation come from my inner voice. I had written the poem “Her Blues” 10 years ago. I blogged the story “Her blues” (which includes the poem) recently. The stories are innately mine. My interactions in the blogosphere add color, texture, and shading.

Karl: You were frank earlier about starting your blog to increase traffic to your art collecting/selling site. Now that you have made a paradigm shift in your blogging — to creative writing — have you abandoned the economic goal? Are you content to provide your writing for free?

Jordan: My paradigm shift has certainly changed my goals. I still operate my site selling artwork, although sales are definitely down. I would love to feel that my writing appealed to enough people that I could make a living at it (I would really enjoy that). On the other hand, writing has taught me that while there are a lot of things I don’t like about being a physician, I could never stop doing it completely. It is safe to say that my enjoyment in medicine is greatest since I started blogging and writing.

For now I will continue to provide my writing for free and I believe blogging is the best way to do this. I would like to write and have “traditionally” published either a novel or a collection of short stories. Not as much for economic gain but more to get my writing out there for others to see.

Think contemporary art is a joke? You’re paying for it anyway

plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

The satire, “What is Art?” has brought in some intriguing comments. Auspicious commented on public funding of art:

I think that it is also worthwhile remembering the economic drivers. A lot of public money is spent on the arts (yes, I know one can argue whether this is not enough, or too much, but either way it is a lot) and a lot of the big galleries in the major cities are publicly funded.

That means that the average joe is being taxed to allow the purchase and storage of art that is of no interest to them. Worse than that, the art purchased with the money is discussed in terms that seems specifically designed to exclude them.

This could have caused the art elite to direct taste toward the tastes of the average person (to get more money to spend), but it has gone the other way. Art needs to be wacky and not understandable to make it seem special enough to go on taking money from the people who are excluded from the discussion. The art establishment needs to be able to say ‘you will never understand, so trust us, and give us the money anyway.’ If questioned hard enough by the popular press they need to answer in language opaque enough to make people with more interesting things to do give up.

It is a sad fact that the very people who think that art in the Tate is a joke are those who are paying for it.

This comment agrees with the basic premise of the satire, and takes the discussion further. Historically, “public money” has been critical for the arts. Auspicious’ comment shows a potential danger for contemporary art. If art is held in contempt by the ordinary person, then there will be less motivation to support the arts. In a democracy, this suggests that incomprehensible art will dilute support for spending public money on the arts.

I find this argument compelling. However, I’d like to hear some opposing views. Any members of the art elite out there who want to argue either 1) that the “art elite” is a false concept, and hence the satire and the above comment are based on a false premise, or 2) that the “art elite” is in fact essential for art?

So you want to write a book about art? Interview with Lisa Hunter

plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

I want to expand my blog Art & Perception as a book. Lisa Hunter, author of The Intrepid Art Collector, gave me some excellent advice. [Note, this post was written before Art & Perception became a group blog]

Karl Zipser: We bloggers write what we want to write and act as our own publishers. When you want to publish a book, how does this affect what you can write about?

Lisa Hunter: Writers don’t like to hear this, but commercial publishers really want evidence that the book will sell. They’ll want to know if the author has a “platform” (i.e. whether he/she gives seminars, has a TV show, writes a syndicated newspaper column, etc.) They’ll also want to know what the readership demographic is, and what opportunities for PR exist. And they’ll want a “competition analysis,” which lists all similar books and explains why this one is different or better. At big commercial publishers, the marketing people can be just as important as editors in deciding what books to publish!

Karl: Are books about art a special case with respect to publishing?

Lisa: A major factor with art books is how expensive they are to produce. Color illustrations raise the printing costs substantially (and this is on top of reproduction rights fees.) Oftentimes, a book proposal is shot down because the book would cost so much that few people would buy it. I know this from personal experience. Recently, I had a great idea for a coffee table book that several editors loved, but no one could see how it would be profitable. Sigh.

Karl: Tell me about the writing process itself. Did you write your book first and then look for a publisher?

Lisa: Non-fiction is unique, in that you don’t have to write the book until you have a contract with a publisher. Acceptance is typically based on a proposal, outline and sample chapter. An agent who believes in your project — and who knows what publishers are looking for — is a HUGE help in getting editors to take the project seriously.

Karl: So you get the agent and editors to believe in you with a great proposal, etc, and then . . .

Lisa: Of course, once you have the contract, you actually have to write the book, and if you’ve never written anything 300+ pages before, that can be intimidating. When I was writing The Intrepid Art Collector, I was lucky because the chapters were all stand-alone. I could work on them one-at-a-time, as if I were writing magazine articles. After a while, I had my 80,000 words. For a more narrative type of book, an outline is critical to stay on track. And when writer’s block and deadlines build up stress, I recommend chocolate.

Vijgen in een Doos (figs in a box)

This painting fascinates me. Hanneke van Oosterhout has painted figs with personality. This is almost a group portrait. I sometimes wonder, “Does the world really need more still-life paintings?” This picture answers, “Yes!” Hanneke is pushing the limits of this genre.

Emaille Kopje (enamel cup)

Some time ago Hanneke van Oosterhout showed me an old cup that she had bought at an antique market. I thought to myself, “what a piece of junk.”

Hanneke took the cup to her studio and made this drawing. She then transferred it to a panel and painted it. Initially, there was a cloth under the cup (as in the drawing), but she was not satisfied with this, so she painted it over with white and light grays, adding a bit of raw sienna to the grey for warmth in the foreground (a color effect to bring the front part of the table/base forward).

Lately, Hanneke van Oosterhout’s still-life paintings have affected the way I look at things. I notice myself observing fruit and ordinary objects like ceramics in a different way. I see the beauty in them. Hanneke says, “That’s the way it is for me all the time. That’s why I am so eager to paint everything I see!”

Koninginnendag (queen’s day)

This painting by Hanneke van Oosterhout is in an interesting state (click painting to enlarge it). Originally it had a black background, but Hanneke found this an ugly combination with the orange colors. For this reason, she painted the background white, in order to make a new start with it. However, she painted the white thinly, and the background is not really white now, but has an interesting cloudy quality. Although not planned, this is a perfect example of the type of optical effect that can be achieved by painting in layers. The cloudy quality that results gives a feeling of mystery to the still-life which would not be there if the background were pure white.

I don’t know what Hanneke’s plans are for this picture. It will be interesting to follow how it develops, and if she decides to keep some of this accidental background quality, or make something different. I like the cool background grays that contrast nicely with the warm grays in the objects. What do you think?