Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



July 2007

"All art is a magic operation, or, if you prefer, a prayer for a new image."
Charles Simic, Dime-Store Alchemy: The Art of Joseph Cornell.



Do You Work Alone or with Others? Discuss.

Dear Reader,

When I read the question above on an application for a spot on a local access TV Artist's Showcase, I knew that "working alone" would become this journal's focus. WCCA Channel 13 Executive Director, Mauro DePasquale's question concerned collaboration between/among artists, but I saw it as a way to continue looking at the similarities and differences between making paintings and poems.

In answer to "Do you work alone or with others?" I wrote: "Alone would be my first response." Under "Discuss," I continued: "It's much the same with respect to writing and art. If you watched me, you wouldn't see anyone else in the studio or at the computer. So I would seem to be alone. I don't collaborate with others to produce a piece of artwork or a poem. However, I value the fact that I do what I do because of the influence of other artists and poets who have taught me either directly in classes and response groups or indirectly through their work."

Granted, the solitary artist or writer is a more romantic image, hand reaching into a clutch of brushes or head bowed at the writing table. Add in a flickering candle and the starving part. And the threadbare clothes. If Charles Simic is right, and "All art is a magic operation, or, if you prefer, a prayer for a new image," then it probably should be a close and solitary relationship between artist/poet and muse.

As I stand at my easel or sit at my computer, I am not alone.

Who made me a wild woman with colors? Hans Hofmann. Marc Chagall. Vincent van Gogh. Pierre Bonnard. Frida Kahlo. Joan Mitchell. Joan Snyder. Georges Rouault. And hundreds more whose names would fill pages. I was able to get close to their work at museums or galleries and to look at art books just to luxuriate in the way they used color. All the stops are pulled out when I arrange approximately 100 colors to begin a piece (and that's before I mix any of them). Other artists gave me the gift of color.

Who gave me permission to take risks, make mistakes, and learn from them?
Donald M. Murray, the master of the personal essay and a master teacher. He died recently, but left a legacy to all writers and artists. Read his books. You need not have met him, although if you had, you'd be twice as lucky.

Who made me love language and poetry enough to sit down and fail at writing a poem, but not give up? All the poets whose work left me puzzled, depressed, elated or vindicated. It is their language that I dive into, the same way I might pick up a sketchbook just to get my hand moving. Jane Kenyon. Wislawa Szymborska. C.K. Williams. Seamus Heaney. Marie Ponsot. And hundreds more.

It's a good thing that the artists and writers to whom I have given credit are more of the spirit than the flesh. There would be no room in my studio or at my computer if they insisted on occupying more than my memory. I know I am not alone when I squeeze a tube, and too much of one color accidentally takes me in another direction. Writers whisper and turn my words upside down and inside out. Thanks to all of them, I don't work alone.

I leave you with someone else's take on the solitary life of an artist. Take heed if you are in a drawing or writing group!


Whether it is better to draw in company or alone. I say and insist that it is
better to draw in the company of others than alone, for several reasons:
the first is that you will be ashamed to show yourself inferior to the
other draftsmen, and this shame will lead you to study well; in the second
place, rivalry will make you attempt to equal those who are more highly
esteemed than you, and the praise given to others will be a spur to you.
Another reason is that you can learn the methods of those who do better
than you, and if you do better than the others, you will profit by their
mistakes, and the praise others will accord you will increase your strength.
This competitive edge was hewn by none other than Leonardo da Vinci [Leonardo on Art and the Artist. Dover Publications].

Next month, I will continue to explore the similarities and differences between creating art and poetry. Contact me if you would like to get in on the discussion: