May 25, 2001
In Knockins Pub in Galway Town I met up with Brigit Ward. I bought her a pint and then another. Shes a mother times ten, a grandmother times seventy-eight, a great grandmother times thirty-seven, and a great great grandmother times two, she thinks.
"And what would you want with art, then? Theres no future in art. Nothing steady in art," she says.
"I know," I tell her. Theres no point in arguing with this kind of authority.
"My first husband, bless him, wanted to be one, but he went into funereal carpentry instead."
"You mean building coffins?" I ask.
"Right you are there," she says. "But he was oh so troubled to be an artist, right troubled he was--he drowned himself in the Liffey. After church one day too. Left me with four babes. I never touched any artists after that. No sir. Not after that. Wouldnt."
This pub has private stalls that fill with smoke from smoldering peat. When my bounce flash goes off the atmosphere electrifies and patrons look around corners to see whats happening. "What type of art do you prefer?" I ask.
"The finest. Id say the finest I ever saw was an oil in the priests house at Ballymeena. An oil it was of Our Lord Jesus with his chest open and folded back to show his bleeding heart. But it was the eyes, oh the eyes, so much compassion and feeling in those eyes that made it a great work of art, the art of oil it was, and to think that the artist, whoever he was, could get all of that compassion and feeling into one single oil painting. It was like a bit of heaven. And to think the artist was only a mere mortal man. A mortal man he was, that artist."
I buy her another round.
PS: "Tread softly because you tread on my dreams." (W B Yeats)
Esoterica: Ive asked her. She is willing, even proud that I take candid photos of her. After a while she ceases to notice. I use a wide angle and shoot from here and there without looking through the finder. She is herself-- natural and beautiful. The photos are transparencies, a permanent and valuable reference.
The following are selected responses to this and other letters. Thank you for writing firstname.lastname@example.org
Brigit's first husband might have been a perfectionist. Researchers have recently discovered a link between perfectionism and suicide. Perfectionists can be of three types: self-oriented (requiring themselves to be perfect), other-oriented (needing others to be perfect), or socially prescribed (believing others expect them to be perfect). There are probably more perfectionists among artists than the general population because, as Brigit noted, "It was like a bit of heaven. And to think the artist was only a mere mortal man."
H Peter Baumgartner, Berlin (Free copy of "The Painters Keys" to Peter for this letter)
Bridgit Wards opinion is just as valid as any expert critic or pontificator on art. The subject of Jesus with his chest flapped open and his heart showing moves her emotionally and reinforces her belief system. No wonder she thought it the "finest." That, of course, is whats good about art, and by observing and reporting on this ordinary woman you have subtly put your finger on the heart of the matter and the uselessness of so-called sophisticated art criticism.
Ted Lacey, Eire (Free copy of TPK to Ted for this letter)
+Multiple-nude art contrast
Brigits human values of compassion and feeling contrast vividly with the recent exploits of New York artist-photographer Spencer Tunick who managed to get 2000 people to take off all their clothes for a group-nude photo or two in Montreal, Canada. The latter is exploitative no matter which way you look at it, and the participants dupes to the tastelessness and irreverence that is now widespread. Though I am not a Catholic or even a Christian I can see genuine value in Brigits honest approach to art.
Martine Martin, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Your latest letter came at a very appropriate moment. I am working on an introductory essay that describes and defines art in terms of 19th century art critiquing methods. This essay is directed at artists and is meant to provide a structure within which artists may evaluate their own art and the art of others. This essay grew out of my involvement in an artists news group where both sides (the abstractionists and the realists) had entrenched themselves into front line positions as in WW1. My objective is to bring discussion-structure to the debate. In the process I am clarifying my own aesthetic thoughts. Your letter gives an excellent example of sentiment in art.
Keith OConnor, Ottawa, Ontario, email@example.com
+Miracle of photography
Talk about being blessed with the gift of expediency. Artists of old would have to ply potential subjects with more than a few draughts of ale in order to win a model. And then there was the time involved. Nowadays we can (with diplomacy) grab a variety of excellent reference in the wink of an eye. Your honesty and straight-forwardness is a relief, Robert. Artists should stop being wishy-washy about admitting to getting this kind of reference and recognize that we are a generation that has been blessed with the miracle of photography.
Hammond Nye firstname.lastname@example.org
What is your thinking on taking candid photos of unknowing human subjectsperhaps with a telephotoand then using them for referenceperhaps with a likeness? (Joel Andrews, and others)
(RG note) Historically, Ive been a predator. Ive rationalized this by thinking Im making a cultural contribution and broadening peoples understanding of ethnicity and the family of mankind. In the past few years Ive been a bit more careful, and have often asked permission first. Sometimes Ive been rejected and this makes me sad. I guess I have always felt that there is enough creativity in the resulting works and that my intrusion in the lives of strangers has been justified.
About 20 years ago I drove round the Ring of Kerry and met a young man who had a donkey beside him with panniers of white heather and a dog on it's back. Very photogenic - but to do so you had to buy some white heather. He asked us to send him a print of the photo and then we discovered that if you didn't have a camera he would sell you one of the prints! I guess he is now a big business man!
Susan Keane, Arbutus Ridge, Vancouver Island, BC email@example.com
+Science of Mind
I formerly wrote for the Miami News, a public relations company (Hank Myer, Inc., in Florida), won a journalism award and wrote a book "A Matter Of Conscience" with a subplot that caused American publishers concern twelve years ago (they felt Right to Life would not be around long as an issue) even though I had a commitment from a British house for secondary rights. It was then I began to paint. Ironically, some of my earlier poetry is coming out on a CD-ROM. For me, words are creative vehicles within themselves. Earnest Holmes ("Science of the Mind" - 1926) gives an insight into the utterly awesome power of words.
Michaela Akers, Atlanta, Georgia, USA firstname.lastname@example.org
+Gel medium as canvas adhesive
In answer to Mary Smarts question in the last collection of responses about the proper glue to use when gluing canvas to hardboard or plywood panels--Acrylic gel medium is excellent for use as an adhesive, and has the added benefit of being archival. It can be thinned with water -- preferably distilled, in order to maintain its archival qualities.
Cindy Schave, Platteville, Wisconsin, USA. email@example.com
+Fabric glue as canvas adhesive
The best adhesive to use is a fabric glue. This glue was designed for this purpose. It remains pliable and is easy to work with. The problem with wood glue it; gets too brittle. Rubber Cement needs both surfaces coated to be permanent and is almost impossible to bray the air bubbles out. Museums use fabric adhesive to remount old masterpieces on linen. It is inexpensive. I think we pay about $15.00 US dollars a gallon. We purchase ours from M&M Tennent, NJ 800-526-2302 . TPI Professional Adhesive. If M&M won't sell to individuals, the company that makes the product is Technologies Products International, PO Box 427, Tennent NJ, 07763. I have successfully used this for twenty plus years. When I am doing a major portrait I mount linen canvas to 1/4" Masonite using this product. Linen sags on traditional stretcher bars. I use a portrait grade linen (double primed) because it is smooth and mount it to my Masonite. I like to wrap the canvas over the edge and about 2" around the back. This seals the edge from moisture.
Jack White, Florida firstname.lastname@example.org
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This book is just off the press. "Design and Composition Secrets of Professional Artists." The 128 page, large format book is published by International Artist Magazine and is just now being sold on Amazon for $19.99 US. The artists whose work and methodology are included are Donna Baspaly, Robert Bateman, Alessandra Bitelli, Alan Bruce, Don Farrell, Peter Folkes, Britton Francis, Robert Genn, Kiff Holland, Tom Huntley, Brian Johnson, Neil Patterson, Myfanwy Pavelic, Nancy Slaght, Mike Svob, and Ann Zielinski. It has hundreds of color illustrations and lots of text explaining each artists approach to the vital subject of composition.
In order to help increase the number of artists receiving the twice-weekly letter we are going to put your name in a hat for every five new subscribers you send in. The lottery will be held on June 14 and the first twenty pulled will receive a free copy of this new book. You can send your list directly to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and Ill make sure youre entered. Dont forget to include your mailing address so we can mail your free copy. The last time we did something like this there were about thirty subscribers who responded with five or more so you stand a pretty good chance of getting the book. If you send fifteen new subscribers well put your name in the hat three times. Thanks for joining in.
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