Tuesday, May 19, 2009

ARTQUEST ESSAY FIVE – Beginning Mind Reading

Perhaps one of the reasons we feel compelled to do art is because it allows us to tell our stories – the narratives that play out inside of our head, heart and soul.  Not in the traditional, storyteller mode of relating past cultural and societal fables to the entranced audience, but through a more symbolic type of narrative that is focused upon our own ethos.  It is a story drawn from the myth and mist of our mind and presented by means of abstract symbol and analogy, to suggest insight, hint at awareness and help us to be aware of a higher level of understanding.  Often it is a story more intended for the teller than for the listener.  Of course, one might be able to make the same statement about most works of art.

Perhaps one aspect of our need to communicate what we feel and wonder about is the fantastic proliferation of personal blogs.  There seem to be an endless number of websites where people talk about their day, their spouse, their job, their kids, their hopes and fears, their illness or infirmity and any aspect of themselves that is possible to conjure up.  If you want to include programs like Twitter, we also know that they have just lit a cigarette, filed their nails or had a twinge of indigestion.  While these tell-all-tales are posted on the Internet, and theoretically available to the entire connected word, one suspects that the primary audience is the poster and three or four friends or associates.  Perhaps by revealing myself, I can better understand myself.

While most of these blog posting are quite detailed, they well may be motivated by some of the same needs that compel others of us to want to produce art.  Blogs tend to be linear, specific and detailed (even though many choose to partially conceal their identity), while art is abstract, and symbolic, and usually cannot be “read” in a way that give answers (remember, the function of art is to ask, not answer).

For the artist, it is not a direct narrative with a beginning and end, but much more like the non-linear images of our nighttime dreams.  It may well have an obvious message or conclusion, but the path it follows is circuitous and disconnected, there is no map and the trail is not marked or blazed.

These internal myths, fables and sagas that our mind reveals to us in those illuminating bursts of meaning, causation, wonder and insight we can call creative revelation.  Creativity on its own can mean merely unique or clever, as coming up with a “creative” use for old socks or milk jugs, but artistic creativity, born of our inner being and soul, is always anchored in idea and meaning, and its message and impact is far more powerful.  It is the difference between clever and profound.

Surprisingly to most, the problem the prospective artist faces isn’t learning how to have moments of insight or inspiration.  They are there, in everyone.  The difficulty is in being willing to acknowledge them as valuable, and then allowing them to guide and inspire you in your artistic work. 

The above paragraph contains one of the most important concepts that I feel I have to offer.  What we seek as artists is not hidden, it is not lacking in our psyche and it is not lost.  We already own it, but more often than not, we don’t recognize it, and even if we do, we do not place much value upon it.

The next few essays will be a primer on basic mind reading, not to learn the secrets others are concealing, but to learn to find the inspiration and ideas within our own being.  People always ask artists “Where do you get all of your ideas?”  You don’t have to get them, they are already there.

As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts.




Saturday, May 16, 2009


 Making beautiful things for everyday use is a wonderful thing to do.  Making life flow more easily.. but art confronts life, allowing it to stop and perhaps change direction.. they are completely different.

Juan Gris

Art is Truth, to Hell with Beauty




Wednesday, May 13, 2009


In the previous essay, I equated the creative energy as being very similar to the energy of a child at play.  The kind of uninhibited, spontaneous play that exalts in the passion and freedom of physical, mental and spiritual freedom (lots of yelling and laughter probably doesn’t hurt).  Please note, I have resisted the temptation to try to specifically define creativity (definition is an intellectual process at best), and have satisfied myself with merely illustrating creativity in action.  I have a hunch it is similar to the Supreme Court Justice who once observed that it seemed to be very difficult to precisely define pornography, but most of us can pretty easily recognize it when we see it.  Unfortunately, for the law, precise definitions are important, but as artists, hair splitting will get us nowhere.

I also mentioned that as adults, we attempt to learn to be artists, and we hope to learn the creative process.  Although I taught art for well over thirty years, I would like to suggest that we would accomplish more if we worked at discovering instead of learning.  The two words are quite different.  Discovery is an active process, engaged in inquisitively, while learning is often the result of someone else presenting you with what they feel you should know. 

We should be working upon discovering our former childlike joy at giving sound, form, and substance to our inner dreams, but unfortunately, if you visit the average adult arts class you won’t encounter much joyful, active, noisy creativity.  Behaviorally, the class will probably appear more similar to a tenth grade civics class than to a second grade recess.

Something to consider.  Throughout history, we can observe that there have been two elements present in virtually every culture that the archeologists have uncovered - visual art and spirituality (religion).  Not only are they always present, they are almost always closely linked, and often the bond is unbreakable.  Almost all art from the past has strong ties to a religious/spiritual/divine viewpoint, and conversely, much of what we know about historic religious belief comes from their art.  In all likelihood, it was not just visual art but also dance, song and storytelling, but those arts don’t always pass down through time as well as the visual.

There is an interesting possibility that our need to express ourselves spiritually as well as artistically may indeed come out of the same human framework or desire - they may well be different aspects or projections of the same primal force in human nature.  Both exist to provide symbolic and broad views of the mysteries and powers that lie all around us, and both attempt to forge links that help us understand the non-understandable.  They provide a bridge between the sacred and profane.  Unlike science which must be based upon a careful examination of the facts and data available, art and faith leap beyond science’s reach, and through the use of imagination and a connection to the spiritual (are they really different?) propel us into and through the unknown. 

The function of science has always been to answer questions.  It collects verifiable data, subjects it to analysis, and then uses that process to explain and quantify our world.  It is not a collection of “maybes”, or “I wonders”, but information and knowledge that we can use in a practical and efficient manner.  Art, on the other hand, has always dealt with the mystical, and specializes in asking questions and pointing in new and perhaps improbable directions.  If my art offers any answers at all, it tells you what I am thinking about, what is fearful or mystical, what puzzles me and what makes my pulse race and my heart pound.  Art’s voice is the sound of the spirit and the soul made audible.

To paraphrase the above paragraph, Science answers questions, Art asks questions.  We will return to this concept several times in later essays.

In the past hundred years, art has moved strongly in the direction of self-expression and self-fulfillment, and towards portraying the artist as a unique individual, and at the same time, shed most of its links with obvious, monotheistic religion.  Personal creativity has become a widely held value in our culture, and the creative artist personifies that value.  It is one of the few opportunities most of us will have to consciously and with full awareness conceive, develop and to present to the world a creative and unique gift.  The production of art allows you to give a small piece of your soul to people who otherwise might not even know you exist.  You have created that which never was, and, unlike your job or your hobbies, that creation could only have come from you, nobody else could have taken your place.  If it weren’t for you, your art would never have been born, and now you have contributed to your posterity.  Life is short, art is long.  What will you give to eternity?

I welcome any comments, suggestions or criticisms you may have about my writing, Feel free to leave comments or e-mail me: bobsouvorin@mindspring.com




Saturday, May 09, 2009


The fine arts once divorcing themselves from truth are quite certain to fall mad, if they do not die.  ~Thomas Carlyle.

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.  ~Aristotle

Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness.  The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.  ~Willa Cather, The Song of the Lark, 1915

Friday, May 08, 2009

ESSAY THREE – Child’s Play

If I were to ask you if you would like to have more fun in your life and to achieve a great deal of spiritual satisfaction, chances are you would say, “Sounds great! Bring it on.”  In this essay, that is the offer – read further.

“Every child is an artist.  The problem is, how to remain an artist, once he grows up.”  Pablo Picasso

OK, if my initial offer sounds enticing, your first assignment is to go out and find a bunch of kids playing.  Not kids directly under the supervision of adults in adult spaces doing adult things, such as at a shopping center, church or visiting Grandma, but kids playing on their own.  Look for them in the backyard, on the neighbor’s porch, in the park’s playground or at recess at school.  You are not required to join them, you certainly are not required to give them suggestion, and probably your main task is to be unobtrusive – you don’t want them to start behaving “properly” because an adult is around.


You are going to discover that children play very differently than do adults.  A child doesn’t play passively but intensely - play is not a relaxing pass time, but a focused, kinetic activity that takes a great deal of energy and emotion.  A child plays hard and does so with object, noise, movement and a great deal of tactile sensation, and quite surprising to most adults, they do it without a rulebook.  Oh, certainly there may well be some generally accepted procedures, but it is not the kind of formalized and structured activity that adults call play. 

When we adults play, our first step is to name the game we are planning on playing.  Then, be it Bridge, Scrabble, Golf or softball, we make sure everyone knows the necessary procedures and rules to insure the game will be done correctly and efficiently.  Kids, on the other hand, invent it as they go.  If what they are doing is enjoyable, exciting, and stimulating, they continue, and if not, they change it all on the fly.  For children, fun is the wonderful by-product  of playing, while for adults,  we yearn for fun, and hope that playing will provide it.  If we state that the primary criterion for successful fun and games is laughter, exultation, joy and satisfaction, would you imagine that the adults or the kids would be more successful in achieving the desired goal?

The point I am making here is that being an artist is a whole lot closer to a child having fun on the playground than it is to an adult playing Scrabble.

If you want to see the creative process in action, give those kids the freedom to create with paint, clay, dance, or musical instruments.  Not as a structured activity with specific procedures to follow and a product to produce, but rather let them know that the goal is joy.  They will pour themselves into the process and delight in the freedom to express what ever pops into their consciousness.  Their skills, techniques, and knowledge may need further development, but their creativity is fully formed.  To a child, there is probably little difference between creating art and having fun.  If there be a lesson here for all of us, it is that a child at play is an artist at work.

Creating art rarely should be an intellectual process – it often loses much of its strength and energy when it is wrapped in planning, design studies, market analysis and a roadmap. The same can be said for play.

It seems strange then, that we started our life as artists (remember, we were children once) and now, in our adult years, we spend so much time and energy wondering how to make it happen again.  We buy books, we go to galleries and museums and we attend classes, hoping all of that will help.  Granted, the learning process will teach us some vocabulary, and give us skills and knowledge, but it never supplies that wonderful, unselfconscious intensity of the child at play.  We assume that lessons will show us what we need to know and learn but the reality is that most of us have much that we need to unlearn.  We need to free ourselves from the strictures of propriety, procedures and proscribed methodology and to relearn the joy of spontaneous exploration.

I am not implying that we shouldn’t be adults – as adults we have many strengths and awareness’s that will stand us in good stead as we progress towards artistic creativity.  Indeed, while those objects children create spontaneously we often find delightful, exciting and rewarding they are not, in truth, producing art.  There is more to this than play, but that is an excellent starting point.

We will certainly take this much further, and as always, I welcome your input, through comments or by e-mail  bobsouvorin@mindspring.com


Tuesday, May 05, 2009


Creativity is allowing your self to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.       Scott Adams

"The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself." - Anna Quindlen

Life beats down and crushes the soul and art reminds you that you have one.  ~Stella Adler

Sunday, May 03, 2009




We all know that Art is not truth.  Art is a lie that makes us realize truth, at least the truth that is given us to understand.  The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.  ~Pablo Picasso

No great artist ever sees things as they really are.  If he did, he would cease to be an artist.  ~Oscar Wilde

The artist does not see things as they are, but as he is.  ~Alfred Tonnelle

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.  ~Aristotle




Saturday, May 02, 2009


When I was a kid there was a pastry and coffee shop called Mayfair Doughnuts, and on the roof of that restaurant was a large sign that read:

As you wander on through life, brother,

Whatever be your goal

Keep your eye upon the doughnut

And not upon the hole.

That may work if you are on a quest to locate a donut shop, which of course was Mayfair’s goal.  However, many years ago, before the first do-nut was invented, any pastry chef who merely shaped and fried lumps of dough was not destined to make the great discovery, because as far as donuts are concerned, the hole is everything.  Without it, there are no doughnuts, just sweet pastry blobs.  Focusing upon what you already know, may help you achieve what you already know, but it isn’t always a good way to access and play with what you don’t know.

To invent the doughnut (as well as to creatively engage in art) one must sometimes not just look at what is, but at what is not, or maybe what might be, could be, or never will be.  Art deals with possibilities, not probabilities, and does not provide safe answers, but asks provocative questions.  An artist does not look carefully to confirm an already known truth, but casts his eye widely to discover overlooked possibilities.

In life, keeping your eye upon the doughnut tells you lots about what doughnuts are.  You can study doughnuts, analyze their texture, surface, glazes and chemical composition.  You can measure them, weigh them, and calculate their mass and their specific gravity.  If you are successful, really successful, in your analysis and inspection, you will be ready to do one thing very well - you will be ready to make your own doughnut.  This will have nothing to do with being an artist, and everything to do with being a successful pastry chef. 

Mastering skills, techniques and procedures, teaches proficiency, not creativity.

You see, art is not about duplicating or reproducing reality, but rather it is about alluding to and interpreting reality.  An artist has no need to be an expert about her subject; she needs to have access to her sense of wonder and whimsy.  Agnes De Ville said, “Life is a form of not being sure, not knowing what (is) next or how.  The moment you know how, you begin to die a little.  The artist never entirely knows.  We guess.  We may be wrong, but we take leap after leap in the dark.”  I don’t think Ms De Ville spent much time analyzing how art or doughnuts are made.

An artist does not study the object to become an expert, but the artist observes and wonders about the object, not with the intent to know it as an expert, but to relate to it as a friend.  The artist is is more involved with intimate relationships, than with knowledge.  Whether the object is a landscape, a person, a still life or an abstraction (and yes, even a doughnut), the artist tries to understand how that object exists.  How it exists on its own, with its environment, and also its relationship to the artist.  The artist tries to understand more than what the object is, this is also about what the object isn’t, what the objects has to show us, and what the object is concealing.  Art is always involved in mystery, and it simultaneously attempts to solve the mystery and create more mystery. 

Art doesn’t look at subjects, it looks through them.  To do that, the artist would much rather keep his eye upon the hole - that is the way of artists.

I will have another essay posted in a week or so, but in the meantime, please leave comments or reactions – I will try to always respond.  If you don’t want to respond by posting, feel free to e-mail:



Friday, May 01, 2009


Artists can color the sky red because they know it's blue.  Those of us who aren't artists must color things the way they really are or people might think we're stupid.  ~Jules Feiffer

When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work.  I told her I worked at the college - that my job was to teach people how to draw.  She stared at me, incredulous, and said, "You mean they forget?"  ~Howard Ikemoto

The question of common sense is always what is it good for? - a question which would abolish the rose and be answered triumphantly by the cabbage.  ~James Russell Lowell