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I have been enjoying Maria Popova’s excellent blog, Brain Pickings. There is an article on Leo Tolstoy’s book, ‘What is Art?’ (1898), in which he distinguished ‘real’ art from its antithesis by its ability to ‘destroy in the consciousness of the receiver the separation between himself and the artist.’ He called this infectiousness, citing three essential conditions, individuality, clarity and most importantly, the artist’s sincerity.
‘But most of all is the degree of infectiousness of art increased by the degree of sincerity in the artist. As soon as the spectator, hearer, or reader feels that the artist is infected by his own production, and writes, sings, or plays for himself, and not merely to act on others, this mental condition of the artist infects the receiver; and contrariwise, as soon as the spectator, reader, or hearer feels that the author is not writing, singing, or playing for his own satisfaction — does not himself feel what he wishes to express — but is doing it for him, the receiver, a resistance immediately springs up, and the most individual and the newest feelings and the cleverest technique not only fail to produce any infection but actually repel.’
I thought about much contemporary art, which is created for effect, and liked/celebrated for it. Maybe audiences had changed, or Tolstoy had a second set of distinctions between the real and ready conned audience. If real art elicited empathy, did the counterfeit produce a simulated version? Hopefully narcissism is a fad that will disperse before sliding into our DNA. But he made sense of why I had become so paralyzed since shifting gear to regarding art as a commercial enterprise, and promoting oneself rather than leaving it to a gallery. The moment one began thinking in terms of how the piece was received, it was killed off. At least for me. Many great artists can switch off from those considerations, while making work which they intend to sell. Rubens was one.
I recently moved to Mother Studio in Hackney Wick, which is a lovely place by the canal. There is an Open Studio here at the end of June. It is more of a DIY event, and the focus seems to be on simply opening one’s studio in order to share, and enjoying the work of other artists one doesn’t see for the rest of the year, rather than sales. Many artists I have known were by their nature, non materialistic. The material was in the making. I find this constant pressure to promote oneself on social media channels, antithetical to one’s nature, and therefore art itself. It is important to remain true to the nature of art, which has nothing to do with money.
It is also important to seek out and connect to art that moves one. One artist who ‘infects’ me is Louise Balaam. Her emotional response to the sea encompasses the outermost within, and reminds one of what seemed lost, but was only forgotten. I think that being in and representing nature can only heal. Leonardo Da Vinci always did this.
I do enjoy nurturing creativity and freedom of expression in others, with an aesthetic fulcrum intact. Drawing is central to flying, and I am teaching some drawing and life drawing classes over the Summer in my studio at Mother.