Great Women Artists ?

My favorite living female writer, Laurie R. King, is launching her upcoming book in the Mary Russell series, The God of the Hive. She has a twenty week build up planned and at the onset has posed a question on her blog and facebook site… Why are there no great women artists ?

Now, as many of you can imagine, I take great umbrage at this but she is referring in part to one of her first published books, A Grave Talent, in which she builds a character based on the query, “What would Rembrandt look like if he were a woman”.

Since you have recently seen that The Rembrandt Book takes pride of place on my studio kitchen table, I thought it might be interesting to bring her question over here for my readers to ponder. I know all you women of paint will have an opinion…and those of pen and pencils alike.

Here for your purusal …click on the painting here for a link to read her blog entry… and my comments are below.

Now this is a subject that I can sit in front of the fireplace (or perhaps easel ) and really warm up to…and… since the biggest book among those which the muses have currently stacked on my studio kitchen table is Gary Schwartz’, The Rembrandt Book ( see blog entry for details… )… here are some new layers to ponder in respect to your premises. I would suggest that, at the core, it is the drive to create rather than the need to express a particular vision of the world that possesses the artist. Like an athletes’ adrenaline high, the act of creating is an intensely solitary pursuit which might contribute to the egomaniacal aspects. And the pursuit is one of beauty, and when and if that achieves common ground with the viewer…the elusive experience of the sublime. As an artist that is not my goal but a rare and precious byproduct of the journey.

Even as a female artist I might take a bit of offense at the tone of the “pathological” degree of self-importance…but my oh so patient and supportive partner Pat will vouch for the “sucking every scrap of energy in their vicinity” part of your description. Does this not also apply to the art of the writer ? What we focus on expands and if the goal is to constantly raise the bar, paint better, write better, I know for my own self that it is taking more effort and concentration, never less, to dig deeper with each brushstroke. And though the muses make regular appearances, the energy to meet those expectations has to come from within and as I grow older, as in all things, this requires a good deal more umph than it used to. My constant refrain and whining to Pat is how I just want to shut out the rest of the world so I can paint.

Innate talent does separate the cream from the milk but in Rembrandt’s day women were not allowed into the guilds so the formal aspects of training could not even give her the tools to begin to paint let alone rise to the level of “great artist”. A subjective category such as that takes generations to build and, since this last century did offer women the opportunity to be taught the trade, you are beginning to see, as Jacki pointed out with the NMWA, the history books recognizing … us. Even today I meet that boys club wall on a regular basis. Can’t imagine what Frieda and Georgia had to deal with.

And you’re right. To be a “great artist” or writer or musician or cpa is a full time job. The “practical applications of The Feminine” (if by that you mean housework, childrearing and laundry, etc. ) do cramp the creative drive. But I have come to see that this is no longer a gender crisis…just ask the three men in our art group on the vineyard who are parents and desperate to carve out blocks of time in their studios and oh so jealous of my gate keeper Pat.

So now you’ve gotten me going and I will carry this dialogue over to my blog and see what the readers there have to offer, and promote your new book in the wake of the conversation. And, you have made one more sale as I have gone to Audible and downloaded A Grave Talent to listen to again but now with the backstory. And, since this finds me FINALLY listening to the last Russell adventure…while I paint the snowy landscape outside of my studio window…I am going to get right on that Russellscape painting when it’s finished.

Oh the muses… yours in greatness… and humility.

Please feel free to add your own thoughts here and do take a minute to explore her website… the true spirit of Sherlock Holmes lives therein…as well as many others among my most beloved storybook characters.

Winter Reading

As those of you know who have visited the studio, you will always find an empty chair at the kitchen table but you definitely have to work hard to clear a space to rest your elbows. There are always piles of books and stacks of Gazettes in various stages of perusal. Most are newly collected reference materials, art books, bird books, history books, and some are old dog-eared bookmarked standards that I dip back into often depending on what is on the easel or what is on my mind.

Here’s a look at what’s on the table for this winter’s reading…

While on the Vineyard my friend Ted gave me his library copy of Vanity Fair magazine to read. He said there was an article about a new Rockwell book, Norman Rockwell: Behind the Camera by Ron Schick, that Ted thought was sorta fun which shows the photos Rockwell took for some of his paintings. It was the first book ordered when I got home and, as usual, Ted’s right on. I brought out the magnifying glass for this one and keep returning to certain images finding something new each time. It cleverly illustrates the subtle choices that the artist made to go beyond the photograph changing color, expression, positions and backgrounds  to enhance and often change the narrative.

While reading Fine Art Connoisseur Magazine I came across a review of the new Rembrandt book by Gary Schwartz and so that made it to the pile.  As my friend Peter will tell you I’m more interested in the pictures than the scholarly text but I’ve forced myself to read a bit of it and have learned a thing or two.

In keeping with the Dutch theme I picked up a little book on Bruegel, the elder, Bruegel: The Complete Paintings by Rose-Marie Hagen. It has good reproductions and an easy to read bit of background prose and I have spent hours already with the magnifying glass studying the detail.

At first I was paying attention mostly to the landscapes. I’ve been watching the winter come onto the farm across the street and as the trees lose their leaves and the field corn dries to a brittle umber, the stone barn, farmhouse and outbuildings are revealed. With the raking december sunlight in the early morning the colors reminded me of the Bruegel palette. Now that the storm has passed and the whole scene is blanketed in a foot of snow it has come alive like so many of his little dutch villages.  I decided a couple days ago to paint the view outside of my easel window while that snow is still here…and now when I dip into this book it’s all about the red that he uses. Like the cardinals at my feeders.

And no table of mine would be complete without a couple of Wyeth references. I picked up a new one on our trip to the Brandywine River Museum last week but it didn’t have enough going to keep it in the top ten stack. Instead I reached for the richer volume of Andy’s work, Andrew Wyeth, Mystery and Magic .

The Muses led me to a previously overlooked little gem of a painting, Baron Philippe. Within a few minutes I had gathered some dusty props and the sketchbook and come up with an answer of sorts…The Baroness. Stay tuned for that one.

The other old favorite that has been moved to the top of the pile (no pun intended) is the museum publication, History and Romance, Works by Howard Pyle. Moonlight on a snowy lane…he’s got it down.

I’ve linked the books and images here to the Amazon site and the BR Museum site, not as a promotion but to make it easier for you to get more information. Of course in doing that I have come across two more books to add to the collection. It is Christmas eve after all …

Merry winter to you all from our studio kitchen table…

Studio Snowstorm

Three years ago when we bought the house next door and turned it into my studio I was worried about the coming winter and 200 more feet of driveway to shovel. We’ve lived in the log cabin home for almost 20 years now and Pat and I, two middle aged and determined women, had shoveled our quarter mile of lane and then some with gusto if not with sore backs.  But now we are older and with the additional footage it seemed time to join the rest of suburbia and buy a loud and dangerous machine that could do the work of two women.

That was the beginning of the curse. We have had no snow since. Ice yes. One or two mighty blows that could be removed with the broom. But nothing that even remotely called for the orange beast that takes up valuable floor space in the garage. Until yesterday that is.

An honest to goodness nor’easter, that most of you probably shared in your home towns, has dumped over a foot of perfect snow blower snow on our little patch of the planet. At 5:55 I was up, yes that number thing is still happening, and shoveled a path to the garage. By 9am most of the neighborhood and all of our driveways had been cleared …and on one tank of gas.

It’s 11am now, one hot shower and one warm meal later I am ready to settle in and paint. That’s IF I can hold a brush in this hand that is still shaking from holding on to that mighty machine.

Here are some pics of the studio snowstorm… from the photo I took the day before of the farm across the street that looked like a Breughal landscape to me…and the progression of snowfall recorded by the bird house Walt made to resemble the studio…to the log cabin evening festivities that included the traditional mushroom soup making and pecan puff cookie orgie (I took a pic of the Joy of Cooking to show just how popular that recipe is…I write some little journal note each time I use a recipe and this one dates back to the 80’s)…to the shots from this morning when I had the whole neighborhood to myself and the birds…and then to my apprentice who has finally had a taste of the real stuff for which she was born to glide through regally .

You all stay safe out there and have a hot toddy or two for us !

Brandywine Valley Visit

Earlier this week Pat and Finnegan and I took a day off and drove over the river and through the woods to visit Robert Jackson in his Kennet Square studio. Bob is a highly accomplished realist painter and a magnificently kind and generous spirited human. I’ve followed his work for a while now and after meeting for the first time earlier this year we’ve started down the road towards a friendship that I hope will endure well after we both can no longer lift our paint brushes.

Here’s a look inside his studio at Bob and his wall of boxes…

To see some of his work and appreciate the skill of this story teller and his wonderfully rich sense of humor… click here.

We traveled a little further on down the pike to the Brandywine River Museum to soak up some of the Wyeth family inspiration.

If you live in the area and have young children their model train display is a must see. And they currently have an exhibit featuring illustrations from Alice in Wonderland throughout the years. But it’s the magic of Snowy River that I go to see.

But with the sun setting earlier each day now we soon headed back home along the country roads…passing Amish farmers getting one more plow in before the coming snow…

Since Kennet Square is also the mushroom capitol of the world we stopped at an organic farm and bought a giant box of freshly picked mushrooms to bring home for our first snow of the season tradition…mushroom soup.

Right on cue the biggest storm of this century is in full blizzard mode outside of the studio today. We’re right in the one to two feet swath and… with the heaviest snow yet to fall…I just may get to use that snow blower that has been sitting in the garage for three years now !

But first… the soup.  I’m too excited to paint.

Duck a la Doug

Outside there is fog and freezing rain and it’s a cold wet muddy mess of a day, but inside it is toasty and bright and still buzzing from the laughter and stories and good food and wine that always accompanies a studio visit from Doug and Scott.

These guests arrive with most of the meal in tow and make themselves right at home in the tiny kitchen …

It’s always a treat to be with them and this time of year it is all the holiday cheer we need to raise a glass or two or three in front of the roaring fire and toast the gift of their dear friendship.

Salut !