Have you read these words: I think I can – I think I can – I think I can? These words “I think I can” are from a popular children’s book, “The Little Engine That Could,” by Watty Piper. Following in the footsteps of last weeks’ writing, I thought I might try to synthesize this weeks learning and readings through the idea found in “The Little Engine That Could.” In this story, the main character is a little blue female train that finds out she has important work to do even though she has never done the work before that is being asked of her. As a child, this story was my favorite.
Why make art? Why paint at all? Do we really need the work? Having written about Daimen Hirst last week, I felt that the only way to truly immerse myself in what I have to learn about his work, and the question of why make what no one really needs, is to go and see Hirst’s work in person – so that’s exactly what I did. I went into The Gagosian Gallery for my very first time. The Spot Paintings are beautiful and exquisitely crafted (except the oldest one in the LA gallery that had little holes in the middle of each spot). Standing in the gallery the colored spots dance, mostly because of the way our eye and brain works, and all of a sudden you are seeing even more spots – the afterimage of colored spots (Itten). I think The Spot Paintings sell because they are easy to understand on a level of brutal simplicity making no need for Art History or Art Appreciation in order to enjoy the paintings. My favorite spot painting has spots that are tiny – 1 millimeter in diameter each – and there are 25,781 spots, but who’s counting? At a certain point my guess is that Hirst kept making this work because they kept selling. Making a living selling art is a cool thing – something I aspire to do! I think I can.
There were a handful of really good reasons for me to walk into The Gagosian Gallery; the primary reason being the “I think I can” attitude that I am working so hard to foster in my creative endeavors. If I can’t walk into The Gagosian Gallery, how can I ever presume to make art that reaches a level beyond the local community cooperative gallery I used to belong to? Larry Gagosian is a dealer of art at a high level. I tend to learn and remember things better when I go in person to learn. On this field trip, I was amazed to learn that many of the works on display are actually borrowed back from their owners for the worldwide Spot Painting event and that the event is short in duration – about a month in most locations. The Gagosian Gallery epitomizes my favorite quote from the readings this week: “It takes balls to open an expensive retail store that sells stuff that nobody actually needs and that nobody may want to buy” (Lindemann). While I was at The Gagosian, I ventured to talk to the “beautiful receptionist” and the lack of conversation was icy at best, but maybe it was my accent? (Insert smile here.)
No matter, I had other plans for the afternoon. Having felt the need to work in encaustic recently I went to go see encaustic work by Helen K. Garber at dnj gallery in Santa Monica. I was under impressed with the encaustic work. The Ruth Bachofner Gallery was nearby so I ventured in because the last time I visited this gallery I was impressed with the quality of the work and wanted to see what was new. Currently, Robert Kingston has his work on display and it reminded me a lot of Cy Twombly’s work so I decided to look at Kingston’s bio at the desk. I was pleased to find out that he attended CGU. To my surprise Ruth, (the owner I presume) treated me with incredible kindness answered my questions and even showed me a few pieces of work in her back room that were done by CGU students. I was shown so much kindness even after telling her that I am a current student that my familiar refrain came to mind – I think I can, I think I can.
Every day I ask myself: Why make objects that really have no value? Yes, harsh for sure! However, I feel as though if I am going to bring more paintings in this world there better be a really truly good reason for them. In this weeks reading, the art dealer Sadie Coles gave me two good reasons: “Art is an investment of money and ideas.” The money part was covered in my visit to The Gagosian Gallery. Art serves capitalism. The ideas part is what I have been spending hours and hours with during my studies at CGU. According to Robert Hughs (an Art Critic), the conditions that produce great art are: patience, internalization, ruthless self-criticism, and an engagement with the past. Marianne Boesky insists that artists must: have a level of skill, a deep knowledge of art history, and a deep commitment – as in being an artist by birth not by choice. The story of the little blue engine that could embodies persistence, believing in oneself, and relying on friends along the way, while embracing the possibility of doing something bigger and better than you initially thought you could do.
Returning to grad school after years as a mother and wife is difficult to say the least. Each day I try to dig up as much persistence, belief, and peer support as I can; thankfully that has been the easier part of this journey. Embracing the possibility of doing something bigger and better than I thought I could do is the much more challenging task ahead of me. I have yet to find a really good reason for making my paintings; I just know I have to. Twyla Tharp calls the reason for making the work “the spine” like a true north or a contract. Hirst kept making the Spot Paintings because for that body of work his “spine” was that they are all about the love of color. So, it’s “off to work I go” to come up with the ideas behind my work – I think I can – I think I can – I think I can. In all honesty, I will keep working until I can get to the end of the story like the little blue engine: I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could. I thought I could.
The Art of Color, Johannes Itten, 1973
“The Little Engine That Could,” Watty Piper