“Artists are cats, art is a dog”

Apparently this is the Chapter 29 title from a recent book by New York magazine’s art critic, Jerry Saltz, called How to be an artist. I’ll confirm this as soon as my copy arrives… which did lead me to wonder how is freight moving around the globe right now?

Saltz says it’s written for everyone interested in having a life lived in art, and having heard him speak on ABC RN on Wednesday about art, sheltering in place, and tips like “get to work you big baby”, I can’t recommend more highly this interview with Namilla Benson. It’s about 40 minutes spent in a positive bubble about making of all kinds.

The first part of the interview (around the 14:30 minute mark) is about working in your own voice, about becoming “radically vulnerable”. He says “don’t be afraid of becoming embarrassed” about tackling something new. I remember this feeling so distinctly at my first 15 lessons in learning Italian. I was soooooo embarrassed at my inabilities, I tell ya it took so much energy to turn up and face the embarrassment all over again, each week. And slowly that faded.

The interview timing was perfect, I’d spent all of Easter doing something I’ve never done… painting the dog. I even neglected a small deadline to do it. And I felt a bit funny, a bit self conscious, but Jerry Saltz’s words confirmed it was time well spent. Well, that’s how I heard it. 😀

Art is a dog, with neglected deadline in background!

And it was such fun to do. With messy backgrounds already down on some 30×30 canvasses, I spent a day on each piece rediscovering the lush, greasy joys of oil paints, and I worked out that the first and the freshest piece was the most light and spontaneous, the one above is #3 and not yet done (deadline called).

Apparently in Chapter 24, Saltz says there are no wasted days (27:00 minutes in). That there is idleness in creativity, but another side to idleness is fear which can be many things including self harming. As we know, you don’t have to work all day at something, and those down times are good for us, but he states “doing nothing is doing something – to a point“.

On idleness, ABC RN’s Namilla Benson references another interview with Helen Cammock, one of the 2019 Turner Prize winners. And to find out why Jerry Saltz posits that artists are cats and art is a dog, you’ll have to go to the interview at 30 minute mark. It’s a delightful listen.

And I’ll leave with his words from the interview, on art and isolation right now, and a Hockney dachshund drawing, you’re welcome 😀

“… some of the greatest art ever made in the 20th Century was made during the influenza epidemic of 1918 and 1919. That’s what we’re living through, others have lived through it, this is not an extinction event. We will live through this, whatever this is will be embedded in everything we do going forward. The love, the courage, the pleasure. The small, small pleasures and tender mercies of finding a moment of peace even in the chaos of hell that we all know we’re all living collectively.” Jerry Saltz, ABC RN interview, Wednesday 15 April 2020

From the David Hockney Dog Days Sketchbook: David Hockney, Stanley 1993, crayon on paper, 57 x 77 cm, Collection of The David Hockney Foundation

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