Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Living with Your Back to the World

Agnes Martin/ Charles R. Rushton/Whitney Museum of Art

Well over a year ago I watched a New Art City DVD that featured an interview with Agnes Martin. Her words had a presence and clarity of thinking that captivated me. I wrote a lot of her statements down in my journal and yesterday I happened on to them again.

"I paint about happiness, innocence and beauty -- beauty is beyond the world."

"Life is built on knowing what you want. If you know, you'll get it."

"To do something creative you have to go slow. You have to be alone with nothing to do but wait and want."

"People that live by inspiration say, 'I have to sleep on it.' In the morning you know the answer. That's the way to live."

"Hold your mind open. I like to look for the truth -- stand with my back to the world."

Agnes' words remind me of the value of separating ourselves from the noise and confusion of contemporary life and finding a stillness within. A meditative quiet fills her works, primarily comprised of tight grids and repetitive linear marks drawn with graphite pencil.

I'm sorry, I just grabbed this image without getting the name and date it was made. You can google her name and find many images of her work.

Many of Agnes' pieces have strong horizontal lines. Horizontal lines suggest calmness and tranquility. To Agnes, these abstracted works were her landscape paintings. She felt that linear marks and geometric order captured the essence of nature better than organic shapes and lines.

Perhaps one of the most fascinating occurrences in Agnes' life is that just at the point she was becoming a successful artist in New York City, she gave away all her paint and canvas rolls, picked up and left and drove around the country for months in a pickup and camper. She stopped making art for seven years. Instead she moved to rural northern New Mexico and with her own hands built a small adobe house. When she finally returned to painting in 1974, she worked steadily until the end of her life.

Agnes also wrote poetry and kept journals of her thoughts. These were published in 1992 in a book called "Writings." Today I reminded myself that it's time to borrow a copy of that book from the library. The New York Times article that eulogized her when she died included a quote from the book. "One thing I like about Zen," she wrote. "It doesn't believe in achievement. I don't think the way to succeed is by doing something aggressive. Aggression is weak-minded."

In many ways, I feel myself retreating from the hustle and bustle of the achievement-oriented world the way that Agnes did. It's not out of disdain but from a powerful pull to tune in to something deeply personal that reveals itself best when I get quiet. Perhaps all artists need periods where we turn our backs to the world and focus on listening to the quiet but truthful images and ideas within us.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this -I've long been an admirer of the work of Agnes Martin, having been introduced to her work via the web.

    I didn't know that was also a writer.