Monday, March 19, 2012

Art: Conscious or Unconscious?

Jason Horejs, owner of Xanadu Gallery and great mentor to all artists, is hosting a book club focused on "de Kooning, an American Master" by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan. I don't particularly appreciate or understand de Kooning's art, but I wouldn't miss one of Jason's book clubs so I dove into this 700+ page book.  The writing is superb and the story is engaging.   A young Dutch boy from a poor and dysfunctional family finds art and follows its trail to America when he drops into the New York budding modern art scene of the 1930s. De Kooning seems to be the poster boy for the "starving artist" image so it's interesting to read about his journey.

One part of the story made me read with envy ... the community of friendship, conversation, and support of artists who are struggling to find a new way to express themselves and being largely unappreciated and unsold.  Unrecognized by the official art world, small groups of artists encouraged and supported each other and their vision.  Even though de Kooning was classically trained and depended on his commercial art for his meagre support, he destroyed almost everything he painted for years, trying to find a way into a new way of expressing himself.  The book offers many stories about artists who would start works, get stuck, come back later, get stuck again ... and again.  It was like they were trying to dig out nuggets out of their unconsciousness and find a way to put them on canvas.

In the midst of this thinking about de Kooning and the early modern art years, my quilter friend Vivian Helena loaned me a DVD copy of "Stitched, the film ... behind every stitch, there is a story."  The film follows three quilters as they enter three of the biggest quilt shows.  The quilting industry is huge ... over $4B in sales, 21 million quilters, and the Houston show draws over 50,000 people!  Beyond the size of the industry, however, I've noticed that in many ways it is far more progressive than the rest of the art world.  When I want to think about art marketing, I wonder what the quilters are doing.

What struck me while watching this film, though, was the messages the quilters choose and how carefully and beautifully they craft that message into the medium.  My own process tends to be an unconscious groping.  I seldom know where I'm going when I start and it is only as I'm groping, trying things, rejecting things, making adjustments, putting it aside and coming back later, does the message emerge. I would love to find the means to be more purposeful when I enter into a new piece of art but so far it hasn't happened.

It makes me wonder how you view this dance of conscious and unconscious in your own art?  I would love to hear your take on this ... just leave a comment below.

About this image:  Shining Star

I'm getting ready for my show at the Gallery at Marina Square in May and this is one of the pieces I've just finished.  This morning glory was crawling across a sidewalk in Oakland and shouted, "Look at me!"  It is available on dye-infused metal and its size is 10"x20."


  1. I read the bio of de Kooning and liked it very much. Your point about the community is astute. One of the things we've discussed at Art Salon is artists working in isolation or community. What made the time de Kooning was active so extraordinary was the group he was involved with, some amazing artists were all working in NYC at the same time and their disciplines (dance, writing, visual arts) all crossed and cross-inspired.

    Lovely piece you've created, Joyce. Good luck with the show!

  2. Maureen ... the breadth and depth of your knowledge and wisdom always take my breath away. The 30s in NYC was an amazing time for artists ... poverty was the norm but they almost had a communal style of life ... freely sharing and buying each other's art when money was available.

    The only thing that seems remotely similar is the communities that develop here on the blogosphere. The rest of life is too dispersed and busy but we come together here and give and receive that joyous support.

    Tomorrow my post is on Stanza Stones ... what a find!

  3. Joyce I have not read deKooning but now I find myself saying "Maybe I should".
    I share your same desire to be more purposeful when I start an image. It seems with that in mind that I go from point A to Z taking the scenic route. I find this frustrating at time as I just want to get to my destination. Then at other times I just enjoy the ride, taking in the scenery.

    On the sharing freely aspect I find that the only time I get this in our community is during our annual "Art Hop". Every artist I've visited shares totally and completely. No worries about secret techniques or lost of power. As nice as this is I would love to have that joyous support for more than just three days a year.

    I am blessed that I do not have to create to survive, more that I must survive to create.

  4. Kathy ... Sierra Art Trails was one of the things that made me fall in love with the foothills ... the generosity of all the artists was incredible and inspiring. Thanks for sharing.

  5. The unconscious mind is everything we are not consciously aware of at any given moment. Habits, behaviors, emotions, even the people and events we attract into our lives, are all the fruits of unconscious activity. To be in tune with you unconscious is to be in tune with your life.

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