Andy Goldsworthy is an artist who creates mostly large scale sculptures from natural materials found out on location. The medium may be boulders or snowballs. The art may last centuries or hours. Most of his work requires physical exertion. The stressful kind, like ditch digging and stone stacking. He doesn’t arrive at his vision with just a good eye and some well placed brush strokes. This is why my friend’s son worked as an assistant to Andy. He collected rocks, picked up sticks, and raked leaves. All so that Mr. Goldsworthy could carefully select what he needed as he created his sculptures.
What would you create if you had an art assistant? Would your work improve? Could you accomplish more? What would change?
In Steven Pressfield’s inspirational book, “The War of Art”, he makes a strong case for doing the work yourself. He says it’s all about committing yourself to your art and working at it every single day. The well known contemporary painter, Chuck Close says his unique style is the direct result of many, many months and years working hard at his art. Mr. Close says, “Dreaming and waiting for inspiration is for amateurs. Pros get to work.”
So if I had an assistant… I suppose my website would be more sales focused. I’d have a ready supply of mats and frames on hand in my studio. I’d be more organized. Perhaps I wouldn’t have to shop for art supplies any more. However, I would have missed a recent conversation with my framer about the merits of wide and narrow wooden frames. His endorsement of a new art supply would have gone unheard. The only benefit I can think of in terms of improved art is an assistant could allow me more time to focus on creating my art. But so could watching less TV. So could getting up an hour earlier all summer long. So could saying no to another volunteer request. If I had an assistant, the flagstones I kept tripping on outside the studio would have likely been moved out of the way. Instead, I stepped over them each day until one day I thought, what would Andy Goldsworthy create with a few square flagstones? I didn’t sketch. I didn’t dream. There was no plan. I just started moving stones around. First the big ones, then the small ones. Then a handful of pebbles… let’s say fifty. What could I create?
I bet my imaginary assistant would have kept me in the studio working that day. That’s what the pros tell us we need. But artists also need to remember to just be… Be creative. Be original. Be simple. Be a maker of things. Even if it vanishes in the wind or melts in the spring. My flagstones are now a patio. But for just a few days they had the title, “Flagstones”.
Have you been invited to one of these yet… “Spend an evening creating your very own painting with friends. Raise money for a good cause. Drink wine. Take home an original.”
These painting nights have become popular. One of my friends recently indulged. Her post painting story… “My painting isn’t very good but I had fun.”
A while ago, I spent a long overdue evening painting a model. I attended a figure drawing/painting class for anyone desiring to sharpen their skills. No instructor, just a live model and a heated room (and no wine). My post painting story? “I didn’t have enough time to finish my painting and the work reminded me of how rusty I am.” Art school and figure drawing are decades in my past.
Should my friend frame her painting? The answer is yes, the sooner the better. She’s going to keep her painting. She likes showing it and telling her story. I think she has a better reason to frame her painting than I have for framing mine. By the way, when I say frame, this means frame AND hang.
My post painting story could be one of frustration and unmet expectations. But it’s more a story of nostalgia. Revisiting the nude after such a long time off brought me face to face with my skills and my limitations as a figure painter. It wasn’t fun, however it did bring me back to a time when I was learning a lot about painting with lots of like-minded students. Sometimes I miss those days. Should I frame my painting? The answer is yes, the sooner the better. I’m going to keep my painting and why not tell the story should someone happen to ask?
The first time I drew the church on the common in Townshend, Vermont, I was maybe in the third grade. That steeple dominated the landscape of my young life. I grew up two houses away in a home my parents still live in today. I spent six years at Townshend Elementary in the shadow of that old gal. She’s the model I looked to when practicing perspective. It was her proportions and lines that first made me think, “Maybe I’ll be an architect.”
Now, I’m always extra interested when I come upon artists’ depictions of the Townshend Church and surrounding buildings. I like to see if they got it right. Occasionally, I’m impressed with the changes the artist made and got away with… “Why didn’t I ever think to paint her like that?”
“Townshend Church and School” by Steven Meyer
If you include all the school kids who have sat on the common and drawn her, the Townshend Church has been drawn and painted thousands of times. But it’s surprising how rarely I come across original art depicting Townshend Common. In my own collection, I have just one piece of the common that was created by an artist other than me.
One afternoon late last fall, I parked my car on the common because I had to run into the school (I won a 50/50 raffle). I noticed an artist at his easel. He was painting the usual scene in its late autumn splendor… except there was no steeple and no church anywhere in his scene. He was painting the school and neighboring house, keeping the common in the foreground. I recognized the painter, Peter Huntoon, one of my favorite Vermont painters. Peter’s paintings are wonderful compositions full of interesting shapes and subtle colors that draw your eye and hold your interest. He’s on a mission to paint Vermont in as many places as he can. It’s a treat to watch Peter’s creative process. I hovered a while, watching Peter work. We agreed that we both liked the more neutral colors that come after peak foliage. There is something about too much orange and red that throws off a landscape composition. Before leaving, he suggested I support the arts by purchasing the painting with my 50/50 winnings. Hmmm…I had been lucky to hold the winning ticket and I was lucky to have run into Peter on the common. So yes, three weeks later I had my first non-church depiction of Townshend common on my wall.
If you grew up in the West River Valley of Vermont, you ought to be familiar with Arlo Monroe. For older folks, he was the “headmaster” of our local public high school, then called Leland and Gray Seminary. For people of my generation and slightly older, he was the art teacher at what is now Leland and Gray Union High School. To many of us, he was the first landscape painter we knew. Mr. Monroe retired as I entered school. I missed his influence on my young mind by a few months. From what I’m told, I missed a lot.
Arlo was a prolific watercolor painter. He didn’t show in galleries. But his work was exhibited every August at our local Hospital Fair Day, a one day fair whose sole mission is to raise funds for the Valley’s only hospital, Grace Cottage Hospital. Mr. Monroe’s paintings were plentiful and reasonably priced. They were hung at the art show year after year. Most work was new. Year after year, more of Arlo’s paintings hung on display… until they no longer did. Mr. Monroe passed and with him that prolific talent us locals thought would always be there.
I am so happy I visited Arlo Monroe in 1995 when I was turning my new house into a home. He was gracious enough to spend a couple hours with me. We talked about art school and painting. He showed me his two A.T. Hibbard paintings in his home. Mr. Hibbard had been his neighbor for many years. Arlo was getting old. One eye kind of looked away while he kept the other on me. I bought three paintings based on his recommendations. If you’re collecting art from an artist who has created a lot, go for the best pieces you can afford. Years later, you’ll be glad you did. I wish I had bought more pieces. They are tougher to come by today. I recently reframed all three pieces because they deserved upgrades. Two of the paintings depict majestic old barns that are no longer standing. I miss seeing them along the road. Arlo seemed to capture their graceful old age just before it was too late for both the building and the artist. So here’s to Mr. Monroe and his many works. May their stories live on.
You can view a collection of Mr. Monroe’s paintings on the walls at this physical location.: Grace Cottage Hospital
Two nights ago, I had a long visit with a well established artist friend living here in southern Vermont. We chatted in his studio about art, kids, food, and poker. Then he took me through a couple rooms in his house. Hanging on his walls were original paintings by artists he knew nothing about. They were all a complete mystery to him. At first this felt sad. Then he told me he and his wife only collect original art they find at yard sales. This, coming from an artist who receives thousands of dollars for his originals. Yet his own collection consists of art he bought on the ultra cheep. “I love these treasures!” he told me. Each one had a story and each one intrigued him aesthetically. I enjoyed his enthusiasm. Right there, I decided to revisit two paintings in my collection that I had picked up for next to nothing at a local tag sale.
Mystery paintings on my wall.
I love these two little pieces. I too know nothing more than the artist name (J. Field), and they were framed in New York City by Art Associates. That’s all I can tell anyone. My limited research has revealed nothing more.
So now when my friend comes by my home, I can tell him virtually the same story he told me. “And these two little pieces came from nowhere for practically nothing, and I know nothing… aren’t they wonderful?”
Have fun collecting art! Steven
Very old sign as you get close to the treehouse
When I was a young teenager, a husband and wife built a tree house up on the mountain above our village of Townshend. Southern Vermont had it’s share of hippies and this house in the trees was host to a couple of them. The man was an elementary school teacher and his wife was… I don’t know. I do know now that she is the sister of Vermont artist Charlie Hunter. They lived in the trees for several years.
The tree house always intrigued me. I was one of six kids and this abode in the sky seemed like a great place to escape to. Upon returning to the place during my college years, I found it abandoned, dilapidated, and not quite as glorious as I had remembered. I took pictures that snowy day, did some sketches later, and never really paid much attention to it again.
It’s always been a fun story and a bit of a landmark because it’s just off a hiking/snowmobile trail.
Some evidence of life back then
Recently, I pulled out an old drawing of the place that I drew back in art school. I recreated the piece in the India ink washes I work in now. It’s 9” x 12”, mounted on wood panel and really looks nice. Something I’d typically exhibit.
So here’s the thing… I just hiked up to the old tree house (not much there but some metal scraps) and hung the art in a nearby ash tree. The art is there for whoever wants to go get it. Lots of locals know the spot.
The art is protected from the weather and faces north, away from direct sunlight. And, if you do bring it down, please give it a good home. Original art is an important part of a home and a family. Like all originals, this one has a story to tell.
Good Luck. Steven CONGRATULATIONS! ARTWORK WAS FOUND & CLAIMED 3-29-18!
In the fall of 1995, I bought a house on a hill here in Southern Vermont. It was my first home. I was a bachelor. I was excited as I looked forward to turning my house into a home.
On that bright October afternoon, I unlocked the old wooden door and stepped inside. The sun was low and streamed in through the west facing windows. The house was completely empty. There wasn’t a shade, a dish, or even a light bulb in the fridge. I couldn’t wait to make this place my own.
The bare rooms and the absence of any noise overtook me for a few minutes. It suddenly felt like I had just stepped inside the empty shell of a life. The life had gone away and there was no way to ever know the stories that took place between these walls.
That’s when I noticed it. Hanging above the fireplace, nicely framed, was an oil painting. A landscape. A winter scene. A house on a hill. I was charmed. It wasn’t painted by a particularly accomplished artist but it was most definitely my house.
It was not a mistake. Nobody accidently leaves one painting hanging while every other object has been packed up and moved or discarded. This painting came with the house. Judging from the size of the young maple depicted in the front yard, the painting was about twenty years old.
I love original art. The story behind each work adds much to the piece. And together, the art and the story contribute much to turning a house into a home.
My wife and I have a growing art collection that we enjoy everyday. My “House on a Hill” circulates to various walls around our home and sometimes spends a season in storage. That’s okay. That painting doesn’t belong in our collection. It belongs to the house.
One day, when we move on, I’ll leave it hanging above the fireplace. I’ll add a bit of our story too. On the mantel will be an original landscape painted by me. It will be smaller and nicely framed. Perhaps the story will go something like, “And years later, a slightly more accomplished artist painted the house on a hill when the peach trees were young and children had built a snowman in the backyard.”
Anyone can buy a French Impressionist poster, and many people do. But nobody comments, “Where did you discover that artist, his work is amazing.” Or “Hey, did you know Monet?”
Reproductions are fine but the story ends right where it began. “I bought it at the mall.” just doesn’t captivate anyone.
On the other hand, original art can be expensive. And often, there is good reason for this. But don’t be fooled, one of a kind art can be found on the cheep too. There may be some secrets to getting great deals but I think it’s more about just loving the art you choose.
So, do you choose the art because you love it or do you love the art because you chose it?
Which makes a better story for your curious guests? In our home, paintings from accomplished landscape artists live alongside art from street vendors found in Budapest and Peru. Which story is better? You decide.
Painting 1: This old farm is at the base of Mount Mansfield. It’s on the way to my favorite hike here in Vermont. The artist, Mark Boedges, told me about the challenges of creating this piece.
Painting 2: This painting is done on dried llama hide. The two figures represent the river and mountains just to the north of Machu Picchu. You should have seen my mother in law haggling over the price.
The stories of purchasing (or trading, finding, uncovering) art cheep can be just as interesting as the tales of acquiring the pricy pieces. In the end, art is not just a possession, it’s a story.