Sunday, February 26, 2017

Studio Sunday-Art Reading List

I am slowly going through my website and blog and updating it. One of my recent tasks was turning the Art Reading List into a pdf. This list is by no means comprehensive, just the books that have had a deep impact on my development as an artist. There is a link to the pdf at the bottom.


Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
Shunryu Suzuki

In 1982, I took a workshop with Jaki Svaren, author of Written Letters, at a calligraphy conference in Philadelphia. What I learned about letters paled in comparison to the effect of my first introduction to Zen. I bought the book immediately and it opened up my thinking about my art and my life greatly.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.

The Art Spirit
Robert Henri
In a calligraphy workshop in New York with Welsh calligrapher Ieuan Rees in 1983, I was introduced to The Art Spirit by the early twentieth century painter and teacher Robert Henri. It has offered inspiration and nourishment ever since.

An artist’s job is to surprise himself. Use all means possible.

The Shape of Content
Ben Shahn
I discovered The Shape of Content when I was teaching calligraphy at Rivier College and still feeling uncomfortable calling myself an artist. The book contains the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures that Shahn delivered at Harvard in 1956-57. I found the thoughtful analysis of what it takes to be an artist very helpful.

Art is one of the few media of expression that still remains unedited, unprocessed, and undictated. If its hazards are great, so are its potentialities magnificent.

Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
David Bayles & Ted Orland
I come back often to Art & Fear, sometimes for myself and sometimes for others, for just the right words of encouragement and perspective. They have a lot to say both about the work itself and the process of getting it out into the world.

Making art is a common and intimately human activity, filled with all the perils (and rewards) that accompany any worthwhile effort. The difficulties artmakers face are not remote and heroic, but universal and familiar.

Letters to a Young Poet
Rainer Maria Rilke
I first read Letters to a Young Poet when I was commissioned to do a quote from it in calligraphy many years ago. When I reread it in the early 2000s, this quote about patience spoke to me and has been a source of strength ever since.

In this there is no measuring with time. 
A year doesn’t matter; 
ten years are nothing. 
To be an artist means not to compute or count... 

This quote, which ends with "Patience is all!" is the one that has been my rock. You can download a pdf to make a small scroll of it here.

The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
Twyla Tharp
I found The Creative Habit when I thought I had completed the Spirit Book Series (turned out to be a hiatus rather than an ending) and was feeling adrift. Twyla Tharp draws on her experience as a dancer, choreographer, and creativity workshop leader to present ways to bring the creative habit into the reader’s lives. She bring in stories from music, movies, books, and more. Each chapter also has exercises. The Creative Habit really helped me move on.

Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it. Without the time and effort invested in getting ready to create, you can be hit by the thunderbolt and it’ll just leave you stunned.

The Gift
Lewis Hyde
The Gift was, and continues to be, most helpful as I try to understand the intersection of my work and the larger world. Hyde draws distinctions between gift and commodity economies and addresses the difficult place of art, which is fundamentally a gift, in the world of commerce. He draws on fairy tales, anthropology, and literature in an enlightening but sometimes dense exposition.

The process is always a bit mysterious. You work at a task, you work and work and still it won’t come out right. Then, when you’re not even thinking about it, while spading the garden, or stepping into the bus, the whole thing pops into your head, the missing grace is bestowed.

Art Lessons: Reflections From An Artist’s Life
Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord
Being an English Lit major and a writer of sorts, I couldn’t help but add my own two cents to the conversation. Part personal story and part reflection, this small book contains 7 essays. Each begins with a hand-lettered quote and contains hard-won truths about self-confidence and the lack thereof, patience, commitment, and the importance of learning from your own work and letting it be your guide.

We need to acknowledge that no time spent in creative activity is ever wasted. Sometimes we see it in specific ways. Bits and pieces of the past have a way of creeping into the work of the present. What was left behind as a tangent can become the basis of new work five years later. Sometimes the value is purely in the time spent with intention. Every time we become deeply immersed in our work, we break through the barrier of time into a sacred space where we lose ourselves in the creative process and gain strength, resilience, and patience. 

Art Lessons is now available at the Loom Press website.

Reading List in pdf form

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