Under the influence / Work Study

Hi All,

Sometimes the lessons come easy, sometimes they are hard to coax forth. As with most teachers, considerations are many when developing a class:

  • What should the follow-up be to deepen the experience of the past class/es?
  • Who needs what in terms of levels of understanding in order to progress?
  • How to intensify the connection between our multi-facets?  (right brain/ left brain, analytical/emotional, etc.)
  • How to build confidence in those who need it most?
  • How to magnify a particular class member’s current direction so it can inform future work?
  • How to keep the fire ignited in someone who is on a roll? How to ignite others?
  • When is it time to simply have fun?

And about 100 or so more.

Of course there are the basics to impart like how to mix a color or develop a composition. But my philosophy is to always seriously  consider the former when figuring out the latter.

You may wish I would just stick with how to apply a wash or how to draw an apple.  But that wouldn’t be as much fun. It is the marriage of the emotional, psychological, the self-discovery and spirit with the practical–the formal elements of line, color, perspective, etc., that makes the challenge so interesting.

That is my “teacher” job. Your job described by people smarter than I can be described as follows:

“The job of an artist,” Jonah Lehrer writes for Psychology Today, “is to take mundane forms of reality—whether a facial expression or a bowl of fruit—and make those forms irresistible to the human brain.”

“An artist’s job is to captivate the audience for however long we’ve asked for the viewer’s (sic) attention.” -Aaron Sorkin

“The purpose of the artist… is to take the life which he sees and raise it, raise it up to an elevated position where it has dignity.” -Tennessee Williams

Albert Einstein says “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science.”“The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery.” -Francis bacon

And as has been mentioned a 100 times before, an artist’s job according to Martha Graham is to “Keep the channel open”.

Among these job descriptions and others, I say our job as painters is to 1) keep the “pot” simmering or, better yet, get to a boil. Continue to nourish that part of you that captures your own imagination. And 2) be motivated to explore and experiment. Approach the work as if you have no idea of how the painting should look. You can come to it with an idea but always have a sense of discovery.  Be an explorer. Be ready to ask the question: what happens “if”.

This week and next, take the underlined words: Irresistible; captivate; elevated; mysterious; deepen; open; and discovery and use them to guide you in interpreting the work of a master. You will benefit from their influence.

(See Robert Genn link to his piece on Influence and links to the paintings that influenced Lautrec 2 Degas’ “Girl Brushing Her Hair” and Degas’ “Tub” )

Choose a painter that is considered a “master”. (Either bring in an image, or choose from the many in the studio.) Using your highest powers of observations, ask what makes it a masterpiece?  What makes it______? (Fill in the blank with any derivation of the words above and try to answer the question.) Why did you choose it?

Ask questions of the artist and let the painting give you the answers. For example: Where is the focal point? What is the palette? What does the palette communicate? What is decidedly put in the picture plane and what was left out?  Is there deep space—how was it created?  How does your eye move around the page?  What is the painting about?  If it is a figurative or representational piece, how would you reduce it to lines and shapes?  If it is an abstract piece, how do the lines and shapes create interest, deep space, suggestions of time or place, or an idea etc.  Play with both concepts. When questions arise about technique, ask me. I may or may not be able to answer them, but we” experiment together.

This is the kind of practice that will move your work forward.  Be open to an unexpected result.

Materials and substrate—anything your imagination leads you to.

There may be some planned absences for Wednesday, I forgot to look, but Janet will be joining us.  And on Saturday Sarah’s mother from Tucson, who is a watercolor artist, will be joining us.

See ya soon,


Ps.  The photo above is the Place Massena, Nice France

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5 Responses to Under the influence / Work Study

  1. Lois Montgomery says:

    Great job JoAnn! I feel very humble to be part of this sophisticated group. Boy, don’t you just love Tennessee Williams?

  2. Ann Manion says:


    I got this. I am following along and letting your words of wisdom soak into my being. I took my painting home, painted over it, and now it is painted over again. Once again, I think I forgot the part on letting things soak. When did you write a book and where can I get it? I had no idea.

  3. joanngilles says:

    The book was/is something that I was working on with Sehila and our friend Lucy. It is comprised of my exercises and philosophy backed by art history. Sheila, (very poetic) and Lucy (scientific and philosophical) do the exercises and write of their experience expanding on the instruction. We completed about a a third of the book then sent queries to a few hundred agents. We almost had a bite, but…. Bottom line is , without an agent or a publisher, we got discouraged and stopped the process. As soon as I quit my day job, however, I plan to revive the efforts. The website is linked to the right of the blog–check it out.

  4. Pingback: 2010 in review (blog stats from wordpress) | ArtHouse23

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