"Those who don't want to imitate anything produce nothing." Salvador Dali
The quote above interests me. In October 2014 I had an illuminating experience (illumination will figure in this story). While standing close to someone looking at one of my paintings, (the one pictured below) I heard her say, "Well, this is just a rip off." I was taken aback. I should have turned on my heal immediately, but did not. Instead, I asked her what she meant. After she determined that I was the artist, she said that my art was copied from work made by an artist she knew. I was aware of the paintings created by said artist (she has also paints trees). My work isn't the same as hers, and I told my accuser so. The conversation never improved, but my attitude about it has. The woman was rude in the extreme, but her barbs made me think. What she said could have stopped the enthusiasm I have for painting the subjects that I choose to paint. Instead, her comments have made me think about originality, creativity, and inspiration. I personally think that we can be inspired by so many sources. I am not sure that I would call these influences imitations, as Dali did, but I get his meaning.
Fast forward to a recent visit to the Harn Museum of Art at the University of Florida. While there, I took in the exhibition, "Monet and the American Impressionists." The Harn Museum was a wonderful surprise, and this particular exhibition was well worth the visit.
I was stopped in my tracks when I saw a particular painting by Helen Maria Turner. Turner impressed me as a successful female artist in a time when a woman working outside the home was particularly difficult. Turner was more than fifty years old before she achieved both critical and commercial success. Though she traveled widely, Turner’s greatest source of inspiration was the wooded ambience of Cragsmoor, in Ulster County, New York. Cragsmoor was an artists’ colony where she maintained a summer home until the 1940s.
Summer residents at the artist colony at Cragsmoor used Japanese paper lanterns to light their way at night, which explains her use of the lanterns in her painting entitled, "Lilies, Lanterns, and Sunshine," painted in 1923. The reproduction below doesn't begin to do justice to the painting I viewed in Florida.
The minute that I saw Turner's canvas, I was reminded of John Singer Sargent's "Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose," as that painting includes two figures with Japanese lanterns as well. Sargent's painting was completed in 1885-6. I realized that my antagonist would have likely castigated Helen Maria Turner for "copying" Sargent since both paintings included Japanese lanterns and two figures in the compositions. I don't know if Turner saw the painting by Sargent, but they are clearly different pieces of art with different sensibilities. If I ever encounter a barb from a viewer again accusing me of copying another's work, I have my answer ready!
Travel can lead your inspiration down unexpected roads, and your work can
end up in a remarkable destination.
In 2012 my husband and I visited Iceland. While there, we went to a restaurant that was located in an old farmstead, which had been owned by the same family for generations. The restaurant was fascinating, and the food was delicious. In fact, our lunch was so yummy that we went back again for dinner. There were old books on each table of the upstairs dining room. Inside the books were photographs and stories about the owners of the farm. Books were also utilized as menus for the evening meals. I was charmed by these creative ideas using books.
Fast-forward several months, and I was asked to participate in a show to commemorate the Holocaust. Those books from the restaurant in Iceland had stuck in my mind. As a result, I made the decision to use books for "Treatise," my Holocaust commemorative art installation. "Treatise" has been displayed at the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia, and also at Temple B'nai Shalom in Fairfax, Virginia. Now, it is on view at the Smithsonian S. Dillon Ripley Center in Washington, D.C. with other art in the exhibition entitled "Artists At Work." I have included images of "Treatise" as it looks at the Smithsonian, and other art that is also on view until May 1, 2015 in the same show.
Sherry Winkelman's quilt entitled "Interchange" is described here:"I am the technical lead for the data archive for Nasa's Chandra x-ray telescope. The primary function of the Chandra Data Archive is data recovery and dissemination, making Chandra data available to astronomers around the world. In this quilt, I began with an image of a highway interchange, replacing cars with computer chips and other components to represent data and science flowing between the archive and researchers."
Danny Robbins' lovely wooden stool was made using magnolia wood from a tree in the front yard of his first home, while the persimmon foot rest was from a tree in his grandmother's backyard. He states that working at the Museum of American History has inspired him to look at his own past.
As you can see, the artists were free to submit any medium of their choosing. Our inspirations were as varied as the media incorporated in the work. So, when looking for inspiration, you can look no further than your own office or backyard, and for fun, you can find inspiration far from home!
In 2011, I posted an article on my blog expressing my enjoyment with being a volunteer docent at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery (NPG) for the past 17 years. I am inspired by the art that I see there, and enjoy sharing what I have learned with visitors from all over the world. A funny thing happens when you share your passion with others. You are often rewarded with wonderful surprises. Read on to see what I mean.
I have been especially interested in the work that has been on displayed since March of last year in the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition. This exhibition holds a special place in my heart for several reasons. First, the work that is selected represents the art of the portrait as it is envisioned today by a wide variety of artists and media. Secondly, the pieces are all about the art. The National Portrait Gallery is an art and history museum; therefore, the work on view is often more about the biography of the person being portrayed rather than the artwork itself. I am fascinated by the past, but riveted by visual imagery. Third, the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition was made possible by the vision and generosity of Virginia Outwin Boochever, a fellow docent at NPG, who I had the great fortune to meet in my early days there.
Yesterday marked the final day that the Portrait Competition was going to be on view, so I made sure to include that exhibition in my tour. I was fortunate to have a terrific, and interested group of visitors, and was happily sharing the technical aspects of the art from an artist's perspective. Drawing has always been a great passion of mine, so I was discussing work that was produced in charcoal, a medium that I have enjoyed for years. After a short discussion of the self-portrait by the Ohio artist, Leslie Adams, I was stopped mid-sentence by a woman speaking to me. She told me that what I had said was one of the best descriptions of her work that she had ever heard. I quickly thanked her before realizing exactly what she had said. Then it hit me. "It's YOU," I exclaimed! Indeed it was. The artist of the piece, Leslie Adams, was standing in front of me. Made my day. Leslie is a phenomenal portrait painter from Toledo, Ohio. I am including the drawing that I was discussing here for you to see