Make More Art!

Lyme Academy Commencement
May 12, 2017

Thank you all very much for asking me to speak at great length and in excruciating detail about my experiences at Lyme Academy and in the greater art world.

Congratulations, Graduates!  Artists!

Let me make it clear: it isn’t graduating that makes you artists, it is everything you have done your whole lives, and everything you did to reach THIS POINT in your lives, that makes you artists.

I’m sure you know that people who are NOT artists think artists were born that way.  Talented, but also knowing how to handle a brush, or a chisel.  You know that’s not true.  YOU know it has taken you years of study and practice to become “natural” talents.  And it’s been worth it.  You have excelled at one of the best art colleges in the country.  You have learned from the best teachers.  Now you are going to remember everything they taught you, at exactly the same moment that you forget it.  It’s time to create your own path.

Other people think artists are magicians.  On this I don’t disagree.  We ARE magicians.  We take mud and rags and create happiness and sorrow.  We make thoughts and emotions manifest.  We sway public opinion.  We create joy out of thin air.  We have power.  We work hard.  We are blessed with work.  And sometimes, as we are creating, the magic is in us

As my father might have said, “we are up to our asses in ice cream.”

So, live an artist’s life.  By which I mean, get a day job, plus a night job, and maybe some babysitting on the side – all so that you can make your art.  A successful artist is one who makes art.  That’s it.  A successful artist is one who makes art. Selling art is nice.  Public acclamation is probably lovely.  I don’t know.  But when you get discouraged, think of Vincent van Gogh who made over 900 paintings and sold only one while he was alive.  Think of Emily Dickinson who never published a poem in her lifetime.  A successful artist is one who makes art.  So make art.  Don’t stop.  Ever.

Surround yourself with an artists’ community wherever you are.  You need to create a world in which you can discuss art, and critique art, look at art, think about art, and make art.  Stay in touch with your friends.  Praise their work.  Tip them well if they’re waiting tables.  Then go to galleries and museums and cooperatives and grad school and make MORE friends.  Steal their ideas and share your own.  Collaborate and keep learning.  Don’t worry, only YOU can make YOUR art. 

You will be afraid.  Notice what you’re afraid of and then do that.  Sometimes you will stop making art.  Notice what you’re thinking and feeling and don’t dismiss it.  Use it.  Try it.  Incorporate it.  Don’t just make what you’re already good at.  Fail upward.  Make more art.  The world needs your art, and your opinions.  Don’t be stingy!  Make more art!

And one more thing.  Debt is the enemy of art.  Pay cash.

But most importantly, make art.  And as you do that, you will make and remake yourself and those around you.

Congratulations, Class of 2017.

Stuff I Didn’t Used to Know About Art – part one

  1. 14th century art is all about the plague! And the little Ice Age in Europe. And the ensuing crop failures and famine. The 14th century sucked.
Rottgen Pieta c. 1305

Rottgen Pieta
c. 1300-1325

  1. Classical sculptures have little penises for a reason: in ancient Greece and Rome, a small penis was admired as the sign of a rational, logical man. Large penises were considered gross and an indicator of lewdness and poor impulse control. Odes were written to small penises.
Need I say more?

Need I say more?

  1. David is a sexy guy. No matter what his penis looks like:

  1. In the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, women weren’t allowed to apprentice as painters, or join workshops, or study cadavers, or draw from nude models. So almost all of the women who made a place for themselves as artists were self-taught or taught by family. Portraits and still lifes. But not from Artemisia Gentileschi! (Google her!) She channeled plenty of anger into her narrative paintings.
Artemisia Gentileschi Judith Beheading Holofernes c. 1614-1620

Artemisia Gentileschi
Judith Beheading Holofernes
c. 1614-1620

  1. Michelangelo stood on scaffolding to paint the Sistine Chapel ceiling. He did not lie down. Nonetheless, he suffered bad health for the rest of his life from inhaling and swallowing paint and plaster dust. He tried to get out of doing the ceiling, by telling the Pope that he was a sculptor, but the Pope was influenced by his architect, Bramante, who was jealous of Michelangelo and hoped he would fail. FYI – he didn’t.
Michelangelo's Creation of Adam c. 1508-1512

Creation of Adam
c. 1508-1512

My thanks to Sandra Jeknavorian and Three Rivers Community College for letting me teach Art History Survey II.  I am learning many weird art facts.  Stay tuned for more!

Did I Ever Tell You…

Did I ever tell you about the time I stole a Franz Kline?

Maybe it was this one?

Maybe it was this one?

Long ago, my then-husband came home from grad school and said, “There’s a closet full of junk at school and we can take anything we want. I think there’s a painting.”

So I’m like, “let’s go look!”

We drove to school, walked in and opened the closet door he pointed out. It wasn’t even a big closet, just a janitor’s closet, and it was dark. I think it had junk-shaped objects in it: boxes, cleaning supplies, maybe a bucket and mop? In any case, there was the painting, larger than I expected, leaning against one wall.

Or this one?

Or this one?

We pulled it out and it was beautiful. Mostly white, with black shapes and stripes, almost like calligraphy. We carried it out together, right past other students and the guard at the entrance. No one looked. No one cared.

It was so gorgeous, even hanging in our secondhand-furnished dump of a grad-school house. Challenging, enticing, mesmerizing. But I was not yet art-educated, so I didn’t recognize it.

It could have been this one.

It could have been this one.

A couple of weeks later, I found the inventory number tag. It was nailed to the back of the wooden supports. Damn! It belonged to someone. Were they looking for it? Or was it really trash?  We debated, but the longer it hung over our heads, the more it hung over our heads.

I asked him to take it back, and he did so with only a little grousing. Then he told me that he had walked it back into school, right past the guard and the other students, back into the closet that was still unlocked.

I missed it. A lot. But I felt I had done the right thing. It obviously belonged to the school.

A few years later I saw a Franz Kline painting in a museum, and I knew immediately. My painting had been a Kline.   What an idiot I had been!  What if I had consigned that painting to the trash?  What if the school never recovered it?



I could have kept it. I could have lived with it. I would have donated it, probably, eventually. Or given it to a museum that would have traced the real owner. Clearly, I had done the wrong thing.

I have missed that painting for decades now. And I still feel guilty. But for what? Stealing it? Or giving it back?

Excuse Me!

I was at the Metropolitan Museum of Art yesterday for exactly two hours between business meetings.


The Museum was jammed full of people and, quite annoyingly, children.  They were told to use their “museum voices”, but they didn’t.  It was like looking at art with flocks of chirping birds. And they swarmed in front of the Chuck Close so that I couldn’t take a selfie.

Then there were the French speakers.  Do they really need to show off their proficiency in French?  Don’t they know that I have tried to speak French since sixth grade and can still barely manage the present tense?  They need to understand one thing about America: it’s all about me.

Being at the Met is unlike any other museum experience.  One must visit old friends.  Always first for me in my youth were the mummies.  I remember when I was a kid, they were in cases in the hallway.  My brother and I would hang over the cases and nudge each other with our elbows.  But yesterday, I couldn’t find them.  Plenty of mummies in wrappings.  Who wants those?  I like the gruesome unwrapped kind.

Second, the Temple of Dendur.  It sits surrounded by water, overlooked by huge glass panes – it is a wonderful place for contemplation.  As long as you’re there with just a few other like souls.  And I wasn’t.


So – off to see Degas’ The Little Fourteen-Year-Old Dancer.  I had to shove my way to the front.


Then the Impressionists, the rest of the Europeans, the Americans, and the Moderns.  One large group of chickadees immediately recognized a Jackson Pollock, then sat down in front of it to discuss.  I tried to hear their teacher, but she was using her museum voice.  You’re in my way, small people!


I had lunch in one of the Museum’s cafes.  I was at a table for two, facing the window, when I realized that there is too much Mafia in me to stand for that, so I moved around to face the room.  I got to watch as the bar seats filled up with single women and there was a silent power struggle over where to put the purses of the left-handers versus the right-handers.  My grilled asparagus salad was delicious.

Florine Stettheimer The Cathedrals of Art 1942

Florine Stettheimer
The Cathedrals of Art

There were several galleries that were roped off and the woman I spoke to said there weren’t enough guards to protect them given recent budget cuts.  My solution?  Cut the docents for children and bring back more guards.  I want to get closer to that de Kooning!


At one point, a crabby guard yelled (not just at me, I’m sure, probably) that if I wanted to get a closer picture I should use my zoom.  My phone camera has a zoom?

And now I feel like painting children.  Flocks of children with their little tiny mouths closed.  Les bouches de Botero.  (Feel free to correct my French.)

NOT at the Met!

NOT at the Met!

Art is Hard

It’s harder than I thought to make art WITHOUT a deadline. Previously, I thought it was hard to make art ON a deadline. Apparently, making art is hard.

Knitting doesn’t count. Baking cookies, no matter how beautifully decorated, doesn’t count. Among other things that don’t count are house cleaning, gardening, reading murder mysteries, going to the movies, grocery shopping, and MY DAY JOB! These are all wonderful things to do, or to have done, but they are not making art.

I was inspired recently when I attended a lecture at Lyme Academy by Professor Emeritus David Dewey, with whom I studied watercolor several years ago. His paintings are glorious, and his book on watercolor technique is a classic, but what really struck me when he spoke was how much preparation work he does for each painting.

David Dewey Marshall Point: Bridge to Light With Compositional Drawing, 2013

David Dewey
Marshall Point: Bridge to Light With Compositional Drawing, 2013

Sometimes he does ten or more color studies. Sometimes it takes weeks to prepare and weeks to paint the final picture. Sometimes he works on something for weeks and then doesn’t like it.

David Dewey Marshall Point: Full Moon, 2014

David Dewey
Marshall Point: Full Moon, 2014

For those of us (me!) who still worry about basic competence and have performance anxiety, David Dewey’s example is wonderful. He doesn’t wait for inspiration to strike, he strikes first. Making art is hard work – emphasis on the “work”.

David Dewey Path to Main, Rockland, 2000

David Dewey
Path to Main, Rockland, 2000

Make sketches, make color studies. Draw with your other hand. Draw with both hands. But keep your hand in so that you don’t let the fear overcome you. (And by you, I mean me.)

David Dewey, Painting

David Dewey, Painting

Because how can you believe you CAN’T when you ARE?

All About Me

I am lucky enough that my MFA classmates from the School of Visual Arts got themselves organized and put together a one-year-later show for all of us at the Sideshow Gallery in Brooklyn last month.  Thanks especially to Art Vidrine, Donna Cleary, and curator Melanie Kress for all of their hard work.  There was only one caveat: we had to show work made SINCE GRADUATION.  Well, I’ve done a lot of things since graduation, but making real work wasn’t one of them.  So I decided to paint.

I decided to paint a self-portrait.  Shocker.  It’s not that I love the way I look.  I don’t.  But I like to paint faces and mine seems to be pretty handy.  I wanted to make a painting that showed how distracted and  fractured I was, between working and teaching and home repairs and family.  Here’s the underpainting:

My mother thought only the chin looked like me, but I was satisfied with my beginning.  I began to paint it in, but I had no idea what to do with the background.  And if you’ve been to art school, you can still hear your teachers in your head telling you that the background is at least as important as the foreground, and must be worked at the same time.  I was panicking a little, having only an idea about me and no idea at all about what was behind me.

But hey, nice wicked witch color scheme, right?  I eventually went back to my original idea about fracture and distraction and thought I would try to “hide” my face among background shapes and colors, losing edges and making shallow space.  I divided the canvas into weird diamond/squares (rhomboids? trapezoids?  You tell me!) and painted them in.  By this time I was facing a real deadline, not wanting to hang a wet painting in our early July show.

This is all by way of saying: do what I say, not what I do.  But also: break the rules sometimes.  I’m grateful for the pressure that made me paint.  That’s one post-grad picture under my belt. Fingers crossed that the next one doesn’t take a year.

And apologies to my classmates, who made beautiful work that I didn’t show you here. Some days it’s all about me.




Is Teaching Art Making Art?

I am almost finished with my first semester as an Adjunct Professor of Art History, and I find myself preparing for class in ALL of my spare time, instead of finishing the drawing that’s laying on my worktable, or planning my next painting, or even organizing my studio. Yes, I am only teaching one class, but I still have a full-time job too, and not a lot of leisure time.

So I wonder: if I have effectively stopped making art in order to teach art, can I consider teaching an art form?

Harriet Powers' Story Quilts

Harriet Powers’ Story Quilts

Teaching has brought home to me how hard my own teachers were working all of those years while I took them for granted.  And it reminds me how amazing all art is, and how wonderful my dedicated students are when they bravely speak up in class to give their newly-formed opinions about the art at which we’re looking.

During this semester, while I’ve been teaching the History of Women in the Arts, I have been delighted to be able to show Jackie Winsor’s work (lovely, caring, and ground-breaking teacher of mine from SVA), and Yayoi Kusama’s installations (like the Fireflies on the Water which enthralled me at the Whitney).

Yayoi Kusama in the Fireflies

Yayoi Kusama in the Fireflies

In addition, I learned so much while teaching: about Renaissance artists Artemisia Gentileschi and Sofonisba Anguissola; about Harriet Powers, who started her life as a slave and ended as an acclaimed quilt artist, and Faith Ringgold, who continues quilt story-telling to this day.  I learned about Ana Mendieta, who made beautiful and poignant ephemeral art before her untimely death.  I learned that Louise Bourgeois is always good for a chuckle AND a serious discussion.

Sofonisba Anguissola

Sofonisba Anguissola

I learned a lot about teaching, too:  If my students miss a class, it’s not personal to me.  If they don’t laugh at my jokes, it is.  I know it is impossible to cover everything I want to talk about. It is difficult to end right on time when I am lecturing and encouraging discussion. When in doubt, ask a question.  When in personal crisis, show the PBS Art21 video about Janine Antoni, Kara Walker, or Cindy Sherman.

I am grateful to be able to say that Three Rivers Community College has offered me the same class for next spring.  I’m also hoping for a new class to teach this fall.  It’s rewarding and addicting.  I will miss my students when the term is over.

And I’m planning on making art this summer.  Really.

I Love School

I like my job.  I like filling out paperwork.  I like balancing bank accounts to the penny – every day.   I like paying bills, and chatting with my co-workers, and taking a walk after lunch.  I really like writing stock market analysis and company newsletters.  I even like long-term business strategery.

But I LOVE school.  I always have.  And that is no doubt why I continued to go to school long after everyone else stopped.  And why I still take online classes and study French with Rosetta Stone. 

And yet, it could be time for me to stop being a student.  Why?  Because I’m going to be a teacher!  Yay me!  The newest Adjunct Professor at Three Rivers Community College!  History of Women in the Arts, thank you very much.  And you still have time to enroll for the Spring Semester.

One of the reasons I’m excited to teach is that I had the amazing good fortune to work as Richard Mehl’s TA last year in his Visual Languages class for undergraduates.  Richard’s presentations and assignments were creative and difficult, and his students rose to every challenge.  The longer I attended the class, the more I wanted to do the homework.  I didn’t have time to do the homework, and I was supposed to be helping the actual students, but there is no doubt that my work changed due to the exposure I had to Richard’s graphic design/advertising/color theory approach.

I found myself doing more collage, more mixed media, using patterned papers and layering drawing on pattern on pattern.  And every week I thought about what I would have created for class if I had been a student and not the TA.

Richard makes a real difference in the lives of his students.  When we had class critiques, there was excitement in the air.  I hope someday I can be half as good a teacher.  If you want to see what I mean, now you can, because Richard has created an online presentation of his class, which is available through CreativeLive at

I cannot recommend this course enough.  I have already told you about Richard’s book Playing With Color (Rockport Publishers, ISBN 978-1-59253-808-9) and I still think it belongs in your art library, but nothing can take the place of hearing him explain the concepts and show examples himself.

Happy New Year!  May you enjoy an inspired 2015!

Luscious Paintings

Yellow Wallpaper by Jennifer Wheeler

Yellow Wallpaper by Jennifer Wheeler

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that I love painting.  I also love drawing and sculpture and video and assemblage and collage and….  But I love painting in a visceral way that also makes me love to paint.  I love paintings that use vibrant colors and mixed textures.  I love abstractions that create space.  And I especially love how painters make decisions.  Thick or thin?  Big or small?  Square or rectangular or round or other?  Orange or pink?

I love how viewers can be convinced by a door handle that is only a swipe of paint, or a face that isn’t quite there, or edges that are lost in shadow.  I love how the best painters leave their pictures unfinished so that the viewer can complete the work for himself.

The subject of a painting might be a table with a vase, but the emotional content might be loneliness.  Or someone else could see it as freedom.  Is the paint standing in for something else?  If it hugs an object on the picture plane, do you feel warmer?

From Jennifer Wheeler's Circus series

From Jennifer Wheeler’s Circus series

Jennifer Wheeler is a talented painter (and friend) whose complex compositions reflect her subject matter of childhood, childish colors, and toys.  But her content is all about intimate chaos and childhood dangers, including early sexualization.  Her current solo show (through October 31) is at Three Rivers Community College Gallery in Norwich Connecticut. ( You can see more of her delightful and frightening work at

Another painter friend, Morgan Wilcox Beckwith has a solo show through September 30 at Studio M in Mystic, CT, which highlights her luscious paintings of food.  ( Like Wheeler, Beckwith often dispenses with the horizon line in order to immerse the viewer in the world she creates.  Her use of paint combined with subject matter makes my mouth water.  She comments on the ubiquity of food in our society and how images of food create a demand for it.  In her paintings, what is making us hungry is toxic paint, not anything nutritious.  Are we learning that what we crave might be fatal to us?

Morgan Beckwith

Morgan Beckwith

We are all surrounded by artists, and it is worth listening to them as well as looking at their work.

In Connecticut

Isabella Brandt by Rubens

Isabella Brandt by Rubens

What I miss most about the city is the ability, even the necessity, of walking to everything. The movies!  The drugstore!  The bank!  Now when I take a walk I don’t get anywhere.  I miss my studio, and my studio apartment, both emblematic of my freedom to make art, day or night.  I miss my art-school classmates and teachers, although I don’t miss critiques or criticism.  One of the really great things about finishing my degree is knowing I can make my own art.  Not that I am, exactly.

What I don’t miss about the city are the dogs and the dirt, the subways, and feeling nervous walking at night.  In Connecticut I have a house which is enormous compared to my place in New York.  There are rooms with nothing in them.  I have a basement and my own washing machine and dryer.  There is grass.  There are trees.  Life is good.

It is my choice to be here, yet I am occasionally nostalgic for the crowds and the street noises and the lights that shone in my windows all night long.  Living in exurbia (beyond the suburbs, but not quite the country), I have learned to be wary of sounds again.  Two nights ago, I could have sworn there was a bear in my house about midnight, given the scuffling that I heard.  Sadly I could not blame it on neighbors or elevators.  It was just me and a random grizzly that had broken in somehow.  I slept with the lights on because otherwise it is DARK.  In the morning I tried to convince myself that it might have been the plumbing (no signs of bear).  But I’m still not sure….

Vincent van Gogh

Vincent van Gogh

For the past three months I’ve been decompressing about school, and spending a lot of time at work, but now I’m starting to get the itch to paint.  Bright colors and thick globs of oil paint – yes.  Or thin gouaches on pen and ink drawings.  Maybe I’ll make Barbie pictures again.  Some people in art school hated those!  I’m setting up my new studio, and I’ve started to dream about art. I’ve been looking at some favorites: Rubens’ portrait of Isabella Brandt, van Gogh landscapes, and Wayne Thiebaud, always.

Here are the first two drawings I’ve done since I graduated.  I should have been working, but instead I grabbed a brown sketch book.  I drew the plastic pig that sits on my desk (it poops jelly beans – never not funny), and my Diet Coke can.  Wite-Out, although not covered in my methods and materials classes, proved to be a delightful medium.

two brown drawings 14 07 2

two brown drawings 14 07 1

There is a lot of very good art here, some of it being made by friends.  And rather than being torn between two very different places, I’ve decided to “bloom where I’m planted”. The next time I go to New York, I’ll be a visitor, not a New Yorker.  That’s a little bit sad, but I am quite happy in the evenings in my quiet house on my quiet street, climbing the stairs to bed.