Friday Inspiration: Arnold Newman

Stravinsky

I was prompted to look at Arnold Newman’s photographs this week. Arnold Newman is widely thought of as the ‘Father of Environmental Potraiture’, contributing photographs to all major publications from Life to Scientific American and everything in between. He got his start in portraiture by taking photographs of artists. At the time the artists he photographed were neither rich nor famous and Newman himself was an unknown, honing his craft. His approach of using the camera to explore the world of the person he’s photographing, to show something of their character by placing them in their surroundings began with his work with the artists.

He has said that a good portrait must first be a good photograph. For me the most iconic of his photographs is that of Stravinsky shown above. Stravinsky propping his head on his arm neatly echoes the way that the lid of the piano is propped open. It is a strongly graphic, minimal image that appeals to me greatly. Looking at many of his other portraits you start to see how he has stripped away all but the essentials that he needs to tell the story of the artist, celebrity or statesman.

An exhibition of his work ‘Arnold Newman – Masterclass’ is now showing at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Fransisco. If you’re not able to Make it to the show you can watch a gallery tour given by the shows curator William Ewing here. There’s also a catalog to accompany the exhibition that can be had here.

Finally check out the interview with Newman below for insights into how he worked and a behind the scenes look at how some of his most famous images were made.

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Salons, Writer’s Workshops and More

After thinking a little bit more about mastermind groups it dawned on me that artists have been meeting in groups to discuss their work for centuries. Perhaps the most famous, and most written about of these artists groups, or friendship groups as I’ve seen them called, is the Impressionists.

The Impressionists found each other as kindred spirits who were working outside of the traditional French Academy system.  As they worked closely with one another they developed a group sensibility of what they thought art should be.  They experimented with techniques that would allow them to realize their ideas that were then shared with one another, providing support and validation for paths that might have otherwise been abandoned had they been working in isolation.  In regular weekly meetings the artists would discuss successes and failures in the context of the group’s values, work through conflicts and anxieties and share contacts with dealers or masters.  I can only imagine such a regular meeting would have been profoundly energizing.

Of course visual artists are not the only ones that go through a period of intense involvement with this kind of group.  In a recent webinar that Dane Sanders hosted to support his Weavewriter product there was talk of ‘writers workshops’ that sound just like the kind of meeting that the Impressionists were having.  My research into writers workshops lead me first to Pat Schnieder‘s book ‘Writing Alone and with others‘ and then to Peter Elbow’s book ‘Writing Without Teachers‘.  

‘Writing Alone’ appears to build on the work by Peter Elbow which provides a framework for group interactions where there isn’t a ‘master teacher’ in the room. In this model the writer is hearing real world feedback from other members in the group about what’s working and what needs additional clarity.  It is an interesting process for me because I had it in my mind that without a master in the room mediocrity would reign.  Perhaps not.  

Both examples above provide me with support for my ideas about the importance of a small group for artistic development, not necessarily to instruct in a formal way but to provide ‘real world’ feedback, encourage and to share resources that could be of help.  They also make me realize that this is in essence a ‘solved problem’.  There are existing groups that fit this model that you may be able to work with if you look hard enough, the Artist’s Round Table that Ray Ketcham and Sabrina Henry have organized looks like it fits this model almost perfectly.  The resources are also there that could help you to develop one organically yourself if that is a better option for you.  The only question is what’s stopping you?

Friday Inspiration: Jim Denevan

jim-denevan-land-art-3
Jim Denevan is a chef and an artist. As a chef he is the founder and driving force behind the ‘Outstanding in the Field‘ farm dinners. The aim for the meals is to reconnect the diner to the land, to showcase the talents of the farmers who grow the food and the chefs who prepare it. Here’s a link to the companion book. They were in Boston this week visiting Island Creek Oysters but unfortunately I missed them!

As an artist Denevan creates some of the largest drawings on the planet. Working most often with sand on California beaches, but also in other parts of the world including Siberia (!), working quickly to beat the incoming tide he creates geometric patterns that because of their scale are best viewed from the air. Very impressive. Who ever said that crop circles couldn’t be man made has never seen a Denevan drawing. Check out some videos of Jim at work below.

Jim Denevan: Sand Drawings, Spanish Banks from Michael Cox on Vimeo.

Friday Inspiration: Lisa Congdon

Lisa Congdon Birch Trees

In many ways I feel as though Lisa Congdon is the heir apparent to Maira Kalman‘s throne. I’ve followed Lisa’s development as an artist for the last few years. I was late coming to the two projects that have fueled her career momentum, the first of which was ‘a collection a day‘ and then more recently ‘365 days of hand lettering‘. Lisa has a new book out ‘Art, Inc.‘ which describes the practical aspects of making a living from your art. Peppered with examples from her own transition from teacher to working artist as well as interviews with a number of other artists this is a great resource for any visual artist thinking about making the leap. What I realized from working through Art Inc. is that Lisa Congdon’s success hasn’t been a matter of luck but rather a result of showing up and doing the work everyday and most importantly sharing what she’s been doing with the world.

Check out the recent interview that Lisa had with Dane Sanders here, discussing her new book on creative live here and some additional videos of her describing her work below.

On Being Minimalist, Or Not

I’ve been using Chris Brogan’s system of three words this year instead of goals or intentions or what have you. I would argue that I’ve actually been quite successful for the most part using this approach to direct my focus for the year.

My three words are healthy, minimalist & creative.

For healthy, I altered my diet, have daily mobility exercises that I do, I go to the gym a few times a week and as a result I’ve lost 50lbs and feel a whole lot better. As an aside if you want to know exactly what I’m doing send me an email. I’d be more than happy to help you guide you through the first month or so.

While it can be difficult to measure creativity I’ve been tracking the number of images in my lightroom catalog, the number of images finished and imags submitted to exhibitions. By these measures I’m on track to easily surpass the equivalent numbers for last year. All good there.

Minimalist? No so much. I knew this would be a tough one for me but something that I needed to get a handle on. I’ve revamped my financial accounting systems, so that I actually have them now, and would at least say that my spending is intentional and aligned with the things that are important to me but I’m still accumulating stuff.

I was reminded about this when I was thinking about the basics of the GTD system last week. While we dealt largely with how to sort and process collected items there are five steps that provide the foundation for GTD.

Capture – the collection phase, corral everything both physical and electronic that has your attention
Clarify – preliminary processing, what does each collected item mean? Is there an action associated with it?
Organize – parse out the actions onto the appropriate lists
Review – don’t let your lists become stale. Check in with them as often as needed to ensure that they are remaining current.
Engage – work the system to do the work.

What I’ve been finding is that having become healthier I have more energy and that funnels into being more creative and generally curious. What about this and what if that, questions that usually result in reading and the accumulation of more reference material. I’ve taken over the largest room in the house for my reference material and support materials for image making. Not exactly the behavior of a confirmed minimalist.

I’m almost ready to give up on the idea of being minimalist and instead ready to settle for being intentional and aligned with my larger goals. What about you? How are you doing with progress towards annual goals? Any that you’re ready to throw in the towel on? How are you dealing with that?

How to Develop a Bias for Action

Having used the GTD methodology for a number of years now, one of the things that I’ve come to realise is that, for me at least, I need something else in addition to the the well curated lists to keep my projects moving forward.

Starting very simply I asked the question what three things need to happen this week for it to be a good week?

It turns out that this time horizon is a good one for me. Asking a variant of this question daily leads me to struggling to fill the three slots – there’s usually one thing that I really need to do on any given day, other things are nice to get finished. Longer time horizons are easier since many of the projects that I’m involved with I have goals, gannt charts, and discrete milestones. Well crafted project plans make life very easy indeed.

What I’ve found to be crucial to make this system work is that I review my lists on a weekly basis, usually a Friday. This weekly review is an essential component of the GTD methodology and also provides an opportunity to see what of my three things I actually got done. For those things that I didn’t get done this is a good time to answer why not and take those lessons on board for future weeks.

How about you? What three things do you need to complete in the coming week to be able to consider it successful?

Friday Inspiration: Moby – ‘Creativity and Freedom to Fail’

Today for a change of pace I thought that I’d share Moby‘s recent presentation to the LA Creative Mornings group. His topic was ‘Creativity and Freedom to Fail’. Lots of good nuggets here for everyone involved in the creative process.