My Notebooks

Copyright 1995


In my late teenage years and twenties I began keeping notebooks. They were then, and are now, a way to both keep a record of my thoughts, and to assist my thinking, usually about my life and my life as an artist. I found that these two paths continually cross each other.

I think that these recorded thoughts and feelings have helped me to understand the direction of my life and artwork. When the notes fall short of achieving this, they have at least helped me to process what is happening. While I believe viewers can appreciate and relate to my artwork without much knowledge about the artist, the notebooks can provide another dimension to the experience. Excerpts from my notebooks are included here for that purpose. I have chosen parts of that reflect the essence of my thoughts during a particular period. I consider the editing of notebooks an ongoing project. I find it helpful to refer to this material and I hope it may serve a similar function for the viewer.



Part 1

Each day when I awake, if there are not duties I'm scheduled to perform at work or at home, I consider entering my studio. Often the studio draws me in, or I wake up thinking about a particular painting. Usually, there are several works in process and I wait to see which, if any, will attract my attention. I need to sense what the next step will be.

Sometimes I have no clear ideas or energy for working. Then I am tempted to pass the studio and go on to another activity. From past experience, I've learned that it is useful to work even when I don't feel "creative." Uncertainty is the rule, particularly when I attempt, as I usually do, more than the obvious.

I remember the start of my life as an artist. My aunt married an "artist." This uncle served as a model and helped me acquire my first box of paints. In school I found that I was successful in the art class. My teacher encouraged me. I can still remember some of my first paintings. A painting of a snow scene at night is still clear in my mind.

The studio is not only a place for current work but a repository of the past. In it are older paintings, folios of sketches, slides and photos of paintings. There are files filled with responses to exhibition inquiries. Most are form letters, which became more prevalent in the last ten years as gallery dealers were inundated by requests from artists hoping to interest a gallery in their work. These are the small portion - most inquiries went unanswered.

There are many boxes of slides. These represent another way to see ones work and to show it to others. Slides are very different from paintings. I often think about how many decisions are based on viewing slides rather than original work. This was not the most annoying aspect of sending slides. It is quite common for slides to be kept for several years before they are reviewed or returned by a gallery. Often they are not returned, even when they have been requested.

Suddenly, while in the studio, the left side of a painting, completed several years ago, seems wrong; I feel the need to change it. How could it be that I didn't notice this before? I put the painting on the easel and start making changes. One change leads to another. Finally, the painting seems right. I feel better for having made the necessary adjustment.

My life is not unlike many artists, young or old. A "career," or at least a growing interest in art, in making images to express ideas and feelings, develops. There is an attraction to the "fine arts" rather than the so-called "commercial." At first there is the adventure, discovering what I can do. And, there is schooling, learning the craft and developing new ideas.

Early in my career my work started to gain some recognition. Initially, friends supported my efforts as did my teachers. Then some awards and acceptances in competitions helped to confirm that I had made an appropriate choice. Artists whom I respected encouraged my work and I felt that I was on the right track. But, it soon became clear that I would have to do more to earn a living - painting alone would not do it.

At first artists support each other's work. As the going gets more difficult they tend to draw apart. Dealers who could once be approached personally and offered intelligent comments on my work also withdrew. They no longer wanted to spend time with artists unless they were clearly producing work that they could sell. There was a sense that art had become more a business and less a profession.

The studio setting evokes these thoughts and I question what it has all been about. Luckily, I was able to both earn a livelihood as a teacher of art and continue to pursue the kind of art I was interested in. Not all artists could find a comparable solution.

Though it is quite clear that no two lives can traverse the same route and that it may be impossible to teach anyone how to create art, or how to be an artist, I believe that some things I learned might either be of interest or useful to others. I've benefitted by the help of many "teachers" and I'm very grateful for their assistance.

19 January '87

I have a passion for making images - drawing and painting in particular. I love the mental and manual activity. There is a great pleasure in forming some- thing. It is akin to the experience of planting and watching fruits and vegetables grow. But, making a painting is more challenging. -- I left the library today, after having spent several pleasant hours looking at art magazines, again thinking that I very much like the activity - the craft? - of making an image. I seem almost ill fitted to be a professional artist. I am much more suited to either working for myself (avocation), less so for doing something that is needed or required by someone else. Many so called fine artists are not good at making things that please the public - these are called "not very successful artists", or, if they aren't trying to do that, "amateurs." This situation is a luxury that few people in the world can entertain. -- I am not attracted to the "crafts" per se, but I can appreciate the pleasure in making something very well. What I miss in most crafts is some dimension that is difficult to define. I suppose an image - a painting - is an object and more than an object - it is a "statement" - or attempt at a certain kind of communication. -- If just making fine workmanlike images were enough for me, I could be content in doing descriptive (realistic) paintings of subjects that please people - that would satisfy the need to make images.

When there is little response to my work, or communication, the cycle is not complete. It feels good when I can reach people via my images. That is not enitrely true for creating the image does provide a great deal of intrinsic satisfaction -a feeling of momentary completion, union with oneself or something larger.

I must assume that I need the "struggle" to create images that are not so easily admired. By continuing to pursue "difficult" images, I make the situation more problemmatical. It is a stance that provides me with some protection, that is, I have a convenient rational for my limited success.

21 January '87

John Cage, quoted in INQUIRING MIND, said he was told that the traditional reason for making music in India was "to quiet the mind and thus make it susceptible to divine influences." I understand this, and perhaps this is my primary motivation and reward - practising art can be a meditation, and it often feels good and right. 5 July '87

Making paintings - even great ones - will not SAVE me. I really believed, uncon- sciously, that it would. Although one often hears talk of immortality in relation to art it is a figure of speech, not the reality. -- However, on a primal level I expect that making a great image (one widely honored) would be a great asset, like hording money or power - the same futile attempt to deal with our vulnerability. While it is true that money, power, and fame might provide a small edge it doesn't take care of "the whole thing." Death, illness, loss and taxes have their ways. -- I recognize my own self deceit in the process. Even awareness does not fully eradicate the falsely held belief that one can gain CERTAINTY AND PROTECTION. I suppose to some degree we all need to believe and have faith in some thing and so we set up and build comforting illusions. The point is not to take them too seriously - since they are all probably seriously flawed. -- I am aware as I start a new large painting and experience the difficulty in gaining control of it how this mirrors the life situation. I will work and struggle to achieve this limited objective I've set for myself. At times I will feel confident and other times defeated. Even if I bring the painting to a satisfactory completion it will provide no guarantee - and, as noted above, a part of me would like that very much. The more I can let go of this notion the better off I'll feel. -- The social aspect of achieving "success" in art crops up as a reminder of how important this relationship is. I realize how ineffective and disinterested I am in doing this. Yet, I have to admit the conflict I experience too, because it is nice to receive recognition and to have opportunities to exhibit and sell my work. Even though one doesn't always get it based solely on the quality of one's work - what an unrealistic idea! It still feels OK. -- At this time I have plenty of work to exhibit and if I want to show it I will need to go out and "socialize" to help this along; networking is critical.

16 July '87

I wanted people to like me solely because of my work as an artist. -- If the goal is to be liked, cared for, respected, loved, then the emphasis should be on the person, not what they do. What one does is always evaluated, based on many factors, including how people feel about the "author" of the work.

4 August '87

It's amazing how tenacious the idea of earning money from the sale of my art efforts is. Although, I realize that I have always chosen - and continue to do so - work that meets my standards and goals and not to pursue monetary ends. While it is true I'd like my goals and monetary rewards to coincide - and this year they have, modestly, it is foolish to expect a repeat of that. Usually, the goal needs to be clear in order to hope to achieve the end. Since my goal is not towards monetary ends, I'm not entitled to hold out hope in this direction.

15 September '87

As I start to send out slides again - primarily because showing at S_______ seems a dead end, and I have a lot of new work I'd like to have seen - I hesitate, because I am not confident of achieving my goal. Two factors seem clearly to stand in my way. One is that I am not very good at promoting my work; I never have been and I continue to lack the interest, energy, and social skills to do this. Secondly, while I think I do work of very high quality, I realize that it is not very exciting, trend setting, hip, newsworthy, etc., nor is it easily salable or identified with. My work is difficult although that is not its main limitation. These factors mitigate against the possibility of gaining exposure in New York or elsewhere. I don't feel that I can really change this situation. Other forces will need to be the agent, if this is to be the case. Even when I consider changing the imagery, I know beforehand that it won't make a difference. For example, as I look at what I am working on now, I find that some of my work has a tendency to be geometrical and have fairly defined edges. Furthermore, while the images allude to the human figure, at times they become very abstract - this is particularly true of the paintstick/paper work. Less so in working with oil paint because the medium is more fluid. When this tendency develops in my work - geo/abstract - I step back and wonder about my direction - not so much if it is exhibitable as if "it is me?" Also, I feel it may become so abstract that it will be impossible for the small audience for my work to continue to relate to it. Then I think of artists whose work I greatly admire -Van Gogh, Schiele, Soutine, Beckman, Freud, Rothenberg, and think I need to pull back from abstraction, although generally if I back off too far it does not feel right. Yet, no doubt I will probably again explore working more directly from life/nature but bring what I've learned from my recent work - painting approach - to bear on more representational painting. I don't know if this will be right, but I'll try it. Usually, I become too dominated by what is before me (the model) and I'm too "intimidated" to do what will satisfy me. At other times what feels most right or appropriate for me is to create images that include both abstract and representational elements - combinations that suggest or create symbolic images, charged with feeling, with the power to evoke memories. Louise Bourgeois and Redon come to mind as artists with similar impulses. Perhaps it is best to accept the various impulses I harbor and give each some time and space as required. In the end though, I realize there is no point in changing or trying to re- direct my work in the hope of making it more acceptable, popular, marketable, etc. because it is impossible to predict or control. If I am to modify my images, I must do so to meet my artistic not career goals. M______ just called me in to see a news spot on T.V. which featured Mark Kostabi - a master of marketing.

12 October '87

I pursue fame and recognition. Maybe achieve it for a while, loose it, possibly regain it, only to see its transient quality. Not wise to put too much store in such a goal, nor to pursue it. More sensible is the person who works to earn a livlihood, to satisfy their own passions or interests, or for the sake of some higher purpose. Then, when the time comes to leave all such working behind there is no fame to abandon - it isn't an issue. Nor does one need to earn a livlihood or satisfy more personal goals. And, if one has met the needs of the moment there is no more to be done - it is all accomplished.

22 October '87

Christopher Parkening says that his reason for making music is for the glory of God. I think he is right.

28 October '87

One doesn't create for an unknown future, yet it is interesting to remember with gratitude what has been left behind by others and has served us well. There is no way to predict or plan for such an outcome. All one can do is do one's best and not focus on a possible future. We need to work in and for the present.

1 November '87

While I may feel a need to be, or do, something special in order to assure my place in the world - a never ending compensation for a childhood experience, the reality is that I need not do this, and cannot. The real need is to work, because I enjoy the challenge. Perhaps it will serve others and something that is greater than us that we can only assume exists.

4 January '88

I am reminded of how powerful the works of Van Gogh are - paintings based on observation of a landscape, a shoe, a person, etc. plus his response to them. So much is told and expressed in a very direct fashion. The same is accomplished by Redon; however, he looks inward, as well as outward. Or, Kandinsky, who invents the elements of his images and achieves similar ends. It seems that any road will do; the quality of the journey matters.

16 January '88

My original need as a person was to astound others with my artwork - for positive recognition. What a cross to bear! What a relief to put it down, even for a while. Of course, as an artist one is often involved in trying to make something that will affect others. It is dangerous to try too hard - for the goal to become too dear. Better to do ones best and let it go. And, if necessary to accept the fact that one may not do astounding work or even get the recognition if one does.

27 February '88

Reading B. Edward's book - THE ARTIST WITHIN. Her major thesis is that learning how to see and therefore drawing better and being more creative, is erroneous. There are numerous examples of artists who drew what we might consider very well - or competently - who, nevertheless are not very creative. If we accept the general notion of creativity as being able to be fluent, flexible, inventive - solving problems in unique ways that society values then the merely competent artist is not very creative. The correlation between drawing ability (seeing, and, I suppose the manual skill to draw what one sees) and creativity cannot be established. While Edwards talks about drawing in general, her emphasis is on observed (realistic) rendering. ----I wonder if she realizes the weak correlation between drawing and intelligence? -- She has also tried to draw a parallel between writing and creativity, that is, those who can write (as well as speak) are more likely to be creative and intelligent.

8 June '88

Transition time. The sabbatical is complete, the report written. Four large paintings and one portrait completed in addition to monotypes and numerous smaller works. Also, work on my book idea -- being an artist --was also developed. What next? Exhibition at Greenville over. No clear message except that there were no sales, no reviews. All in all a time to take stock before moving on. --- I find my interest in painting, the work of other artists, lessening. So much contemporary art seems frivolous. I suppose this could be said for many of the other arts. I do find that I am more interested in literature and drama since they seem to be able to deal more directly with life issues. Most painting seems irrelevant and self serving. And, when attempts are made to make relevant art - social or political - it is often ineffective as communication and as art. I conclude that painting is not generally an effective way to deal with specific social issues. I tend to believe that it is in the aesthetic dimension that painting seems to function best - as in music. This is not to say that important human issues are not dealt with - it is, however, not explicit but implied. No doubt this is a modernist notion and no longer in favor. I am not convinced that there is a better reason for being than the artist's need to express ideas/feelings and the potential for doing that, although the impact/affect will vary from viewer to viewer. -- I see myself removed from the New York (and even Philadelphia) art scene; there are no opportunities for me to exhibit my work now, nor do I foresee any in the future. Thus, I feel that I have, essentially, the choice to work primarily to meet my own goals. This is at once attractive and isolating. I'll need to see what emerges - what I will do and what happens.

I do not function well in the gallery environment, probably because the work I do is not geared towards this setting and market. There is no reason to expect this to change. I'd like to by-pass or avoid having to present my work in a commercial gallery. Clearly, the work I choose to do is not appropriate for street sales. It is the non commercial spaces that are a possible option. Of course there are also artist's studio sales. Another format - the book - is an idea I've often thought of and noted. It requires a time dimension.

11 June '88

The so called "bottom line" for an artist must be the affirmation of the inventive and creative capabilities of humankind - the exercise of imagination, expression, communication, and decoration. These are the reasons for people practicing art. -- Usually, such activities (artistic) have not only been useful to the originator of the work but to others. Art is related to people's lives and their experi- ences.

In our time art forms, other than drawing, painting, sculpting, etc. have taken over the exclusive domain of the latter. Today, photography, film, illustration, and graphic design provide arts related to peoples lives as well as the artists. They allow the artist (photographer, film maker, etc.) to affirm artistic being and meet the needs of others. This can be said to a lesser degree for the "fine arts". These tend to serve very limited groups (at least in their time) with a heavier emphasis on meeting personal needs.

30 September'90


The model of the adult (parent) in relation to the child became clear to me his morning. By visualizing or imagining my adult self in relation to my Child (that may remain part of the psyche) I found that it was possible to review this relationship. In a healthy adult-child relationship the adult has a great deal of knowledge and understanding, particularly about the child. They know it's nature, strengths and weaknesses. And, they know a good deal about the world. In this sort of situation, for example, the adult would not recommend or encourage an action that was not in accord with the child's nature or capabilities. Nor would they be overly protective, discouraging where there is no need to be. This later situation would only originate from the parent's fears. By way of further example, it would be unwise, knowing my limited sociability, or, put more positively, my need for more quiet and solitude, to have encouraged me to accept more admisistrative responsibilities in my employment. Not having had the parenting I needed as a child, it is I who have had to provide this for myself, and I still do. The choice is to be a wise parent when I guide myself, that is, encourage realistic goals and means, taking into consideration both my strengths and limitations.

16 May '94

There is only a momentary "reality." Each moment is wonderful in its own way. Careers. How absurd it now seems. Of course we need a way to earn a living - sometimes called a "career." But to build and live (and die?) for such an abstraction - an idea - seems incredibly false. A career is a set of expectations, hopes for success and recognition, constantly dependent on renewal from external sources. The idea goes against reality and nature. It implies a fixed state. THERE ARE NO FIXED STATES! This is the great illusion. Life is a constant state of flux - moment to moment of unmeasurable time. We injure ourselves trying to make it something otherwise. Life's flux is constantly amazing - what we label "good" and "bad."

I am not sure how I will proceed as an artist. Maybe this is the wrong term. Why limit my view to only being an artist, or focus just on that. Let it unfold. If it happens to include things like making paintings, that's fine, and if not, that's OK too. I believe that I still feel right about expressing my ideas and feelings - though I don't feel they are especially important or absolutely right - they are just part of my way of being in the world. I no longer feel the need to prove my value by making things that will please others, or garner me special security or status. At least this is not my primary motivation. Thus, exhibiting or selling my work is not important in so far that I am not desperate for the income or recognition. What is relatively important is to do what I can that feels right. And, if possible and I am able, to do something - whatever that might be -that enriches my life and hopefully others. I think I have already done this in some modest ways. Certainly, I do not plan to set it as a goal that I must succeed at. Recently seeing the film on Chaplin's life, and the television adaption of George Eliot's Middlemarch, reminded me of the wonderful contributions these artists made to enriching my life. I don't think Van Gogh, Chaplin or Eliot were thinking about enriching peoples lives as they worked. More likely they were trying to enrich their own lives and doing what they believed they needed to do. That's fine. Sometimes it is only after a lifetime - I think of Van Gogh and other artists whose work was not appreciated during their lives, and so called ordinary people - that others reap the rewards. Although many a daily act is both recognized and appreciated immediately. Who is to know?

Previously my personal needs may have played an overriding motivation and objective in my work. The important part in all this for me is the realization that I am able to clearly let go of the illusions related to careers and the chase that often entails. It is all so ephemeral. I used to think how strange and dreamlike life is. Now I realize it is exactly like that - not strange at all. What is strange are the illusions we create and struggle to maintain.

2 May'95


I wake myself up from my dreaming state. I don't want to continue and it is starting to feel very warm. The time is about 3AM.

In the dream I am making several purchases in Bloomingdale's department store. At the cash register, where I must pay for my purchases, there is also a cage-like gate. If one hasn't paid you can not leave.

It's not clear why I am having a problem, but somehow my method of payment is unacceptable and there is an implication that I have stolen the items I selected. I search my wallet for credit cards. At on time I think I had a Bloominda- le's card but now I cannot find it. I go through the wallet again, checking each section and still find no card. It seems absurd to me. I demand to see a supervisor.

A new person appears and he seems that he will be more reasonable. He looks normal and I believe he will understand and allow me to pay for my purchas- es and pass through the gate. I suggest that we sit at a table so that I can review and discuss the situation in an amicable way. He insists that I sit at a low table and he goes to a higher place, like a high judges seat that looks like a scene in a Kafka story, including the ominous lighting. I feel so far removed and below him that I begin to think that I will not be heard and that even if I am, my voice will be so feeble that it will not be convincing. I see a street to the left that is open and believe that I can just start walking in this direction and escape because I see no way to convince this person of my innocence. But then I think this will make me a fugitive and I will be on the run the rest of my life. Then I realize that there is no solution to this irrational punishment. And, I decide to wake up.

Why would I have this dream? Last night we watched a dramatization of a Charles Dicken's story: Hard Times. In this, Steven the poor mill worker is wrongly accused of robbing the bank. Oh, I think, that's why I had this dream, and, in a sense this is true - it laid the ground. Yet, I think why this issue and not others that the drama could have suggested. What does this mean to me? Who would have done this to me? My mother? I know so little about her although I have some memory of her attempting to harm me, physically. Could I have done something and she severely threatened or actually punished me? I have no clear memory of such an event. I think of others who might have treated me this way. It certainly couldn't have been my father. He had his faults but there was never any indication of something like this, except I knew I didn't have his full love. He felt that I judged him (moral altitude) and therefore he withheld a part of himself because I may have unknowingly hurt him. Not my maternal or paternal grandmothers. No possibility here. And, certainly not my maternal grandfather who clearly loved me. Then it might have been my paternal grandfather who resented the love and care my grandmother showed me and felt himself a failure in an unhappy marriage and life.

The truth is, in the dream and in life I suppose, I was innocent. The reality was that I was guilty; that's what others believed to be the case.

There was no way out for me from an irrational situation except escape. I could choose not to play by the RULES. By waking up I took myself out of the game, because if I stayed in I would always be guilty. I chose another road (the one less travelled).

This mirrors my life to some degree. Because I was poorly enculturated, only at the edge of a family, I choose to be somewhat different as a way to protect myself. If I said I didn't want to belong then it wouldn't hurt as much if I wasn't asked to be part of the regular family, group, faculty, art movement etc. The other edge to such a decision is that by protecting myself, perhaps too much and unnecessarily, I cut myself off in a way and then experienced exactly what I wanted to avoid: isolation and loneliness. By "belonging" one can enjoy the feeling of comfort and being part of and supported by a larger unit. Although probably it is in the nature of human experience to belong and yet still feel alone.

In reality, I am not such an outsider or oddball. I relate quite well to others, but I am always sensitive to my provisional position. So long as I "behave" myself I can have a small place. It is true in the world. You can not go too far afield and not be abandoned.



Part 2

In the fifty years I have practiced art I've mastered many lessons. The sources varied. I've consulted teachers and books. I learned much while doing the work. Trial and error are very useful teachers. Oddly, learning the art and craft of being an artist often relates to the lessons of living and there are surprising cross- overs. With it all, there are always unanswered questions and much remaining to be learned.

Often I wonder why I continue working. It seems that there are more than enough works of art and surely enough artists doing work. Clearly, there are multitudes of pressing life and death issues calling out for attention in the world. Is it merely habit? Is it totally self serving? I know that I don't have to continue. No one will fault me for this. It is not necessary at this time in my life, if it ever was, to provide a livelihood, at least not directly. People will still care for me even if I don't paint any more. I go to my studio because I am drawn to the work, and I am ready to surrender when this magnet is no longer there.

It is clear by now that my professional "career" as an artist will remain limited. The galleries where I have exhibited and sold works are inactive. It's true the art market has taken a slide, but my small hill was already in decline. It seems that the world that I geared my efforts to is changing. Newer art forms attract the attention of the public and whatever intelligent audience that existed for the kind of work I am interested in is constantly shifting.

At first this all seemed like a great loss, the death of my world and my goals. And I grieved over it. My investment was great. If not the sole focus of my life, certainly a large part. I wonder if these changes are just my perception, based on my age, but find this difficult to accept. Anyhow it no longer seems so significant a factor.

I think of "officially" withdrawing from the art world, removing the remaining work held by galleries, but this seems irrelevant. I stop making or sending out slides and inquires. There no longer seems any good reason to do this.

When I find myself in the studio in the morning I wonder what brought me here. The only thing that seems to make any sense is that this is part of my life. I enjoy the process itself: taking my feelings and ideas, turning them over and finding a way to represent them in some evocative way. I do this for myself and anyone else that might find meaning and purpose in the work. While I have this kind of energy I will continue..

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