People who cry in front of paintings

I’m making soup and reading this book: “Pictures & Tears” by James Elkins.  His theory is that “Most of us, I think, have never cried in front of paintings, or even felt anything very strong.” (page ix) so he then examines the ‘unusual’ cases of those who do find artwork moving.

Right off the bat, this book interested me: because I strongly disagree.  I have definitely found paintings moving and that has included tears.  Anecdotally, I find my friends tend to be moved, also, by art – although admittedly many of my friends share my interest in art.  I was intrigued to see what his findings were (he invited fellow art historians and put general inquiries in newspapers and journals – he had 400 replies).

Who is the author?  James Elkins is an art historian and critic – he wrote this book in 2001, but has published many art history books and continues to tour and give lectures, worldwide.  He’s refreshingly readable and understandable.

When the book arrived, it was a gift – part of a range of books all given to me at the same time.  So, of course, it was difficult to settle on one.  In the end, I have read the book in parts, but not totally and not from page one to page 272.  So – here I go.  I’ll let you know the book review, once completed.

Creative Takeaways

In the meantime, Dr Elkins has given some tips to encourage deeper experiences with paintings:

  1. Visit galleries alone
  2. Don’t be overwhelmed by trying to see everything, pick one or two rooms and then pick ONE painting/artwork to concentrate on
  3. Minimise distractions.  Pick an artwork in a space where fewer people are passing e.g. in a corner
  4. Take your time.  Look at it.  Stand back. Look again.  Sit down and relax.  Walk away, come back and see it afresh.
  5. Pay full attention, until you are almost absorbed into the picture.
  6. Do your own thinking.  You can read up a bit, take an audio tour – but still think for yourself about the artwork.
  7. Look for people who are really looking.  If they spend time with the same artwork, and will talk to you later, they often have an interesting story to connect with it
  8. Be faithful.  Keep coming back, to look at the same artwork.


Having written all that, it strikes me that this could be interesting dating advice, in moderation.  The other person/artwork could certainly not complain of lack of attention….





A sight for the ears – exhibition tie-in

Edinburgh, Scotland: Last night, I was at the book launch of a pamphlet book of poetry “Seen/Unseen” written in response to the artworks in an exhibition “Hidden Gems” at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh.

There was a brilliant turnout, in part due to the fact that there were 30 poets involved and most of them were there to read their poems.  Kate Hastie mc-ed the event, having curated the book and the writers – all like herself drawn from the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities.  Or, to put it another way, many doing Masters and PhDs in Literature or Writing.  And to put it another way, rather likely to be our next generation of published professional writers.

The poets were responding to artworks such as the picture and sculpture shown (photos from City Art Centre website)


David Bomberg (1890-1957) current Exhibition

David Bomberg currently has an exhibition at Pallant House, Chichester until 4 February 2018.  It then reopens at Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne  (17 February -27 May) before going on to the Ben Uri Gallery and Museum, London NW8 in the summer of 2018.  Bomberg drew and painted in a variety of styles throughout his life:

It’s difficult to believe that these pictures were all made by the same man.  But David Bomberg (1890-1957) is a vital artist, who didn’t stay in the same painting style – or indeed the same place – travelling from poverty in London to the First World War, to Jerusalem, to Spain, to London then Spain again.  Once again, we are looking at that period through and just after World War One, a hundred years ago, when so many writers and painter’s lives changes forever.

There’s a very clear and interesting brief 3 minutes video introduction to David Bomberg’s life and work by the curator of the current show, Rachel Dickson and Sarah MacDougall:

And for those who are seriously interested in finding out more, art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon has made a compelling one-hour documentary on the artist.  We learn of his connection with Sir John Singer Sargent, Sickert, The Slade School of Art and how Bomberg himself became an art tutor and affected the thinking and practice of the next generation of art-makers.  This programme is currently available to view if you live in Britain (and pay a TV licence fee) on BBC i-player here.  The title for the programme is: “David Bomberg: prophet in No Man’s Land”.  If outside the UK, sometimes you may find copies of BBC arts programmes uploaded to Youtube.


Creative Takeaways

If you are a visual artist, look at Bomberg’s pictures, and pick one style very different from your own – try it!


The art of writing about art – a cure for writer’s block

This weekend past, I was shown a beautiful and enjoyable way to start new writing – with a beneficial side effect of getting rid of writer’s block: begin by responding to a picture. The technical term for this is Ekphrasis – see previous blog post a year ago, here.  And for me, it is hugely enjoyable, and a promising way forward.

This weekend’s workshop was called “Hidden Gems Open Masterclass: Ekphrasis: the art of writing about art”, held in City Art Centre, Edinburgh and tutored by Kate Hastie.  We met to receive some practical guidelines on Ekphrasis – and then simply took the lift down, to select an artwork in the new exhibition in the basement, “Hidden Gems”, and write poem or prose lines about it.

“Every painting is a library of information”  – Kate Hastie


Mondrian in neo-Calvinist view

There’s been a lot of looking back over 100 years, to the just-post World War 1 in this blog – Paul Nash, Russian Revolutionary Art, and although I haven’t written it up yet, I’ve been pondering on 1917 poetry with Wilfred Owen meeting Siegfried Sassoon).

The painter Piet Mondrian, key to development of abstract art – also goes through changes in his artwork around the same time.  Recently, I went to a lecture by Edinburgh University on “Classic Mondrian in Neo-Calvinist View” by Joseph Masheck, art historian.  (If I began describing his titles, publications and positions held, it would take too long – google him).


Cooking with Georgia O’Keeffe

The artist Georgia O’Keeffe took a keen interest in health foods – believing that what you ate was important to creativity.  Delightfully, she lived to be 99, producing brilliant paintings to the end, her mind sharp as a tack.  So here are recipes for her wholemeal bread, a health shake, and Green Chillies with garlic, oil and a fried egg.


The recipes come from two books: “A Painter’s kitchen” edited by Margaret Wood, who worked as Georgia O’Keeffe’s companion and cook for 5 years – and “Dinner with Georgia O’Keeffe: Recipes, art and landscape” by Robyn Lea, a well-researched book on the artist’s foods.  The latter book features 50 recipes drawn from Georgia’s own handwritten notes on recipes books, and her instructions to caterers.

Georgia O’Keeffe chose to live very much in her own style, settling in New Mexico, and organising the kitchen and garden so that there were organic vegetables to eat.  Her paintings show an awareness of the land, nature, living close to the earth and the beauty of simplicity.

The cooking is re-enacted for the video in a light, easty-to-follow humorous style.  In between the cooking, there is a time for a short but well-done overview of O’Keeffe’s life and works – with pictures!  A rather brilliant introduction to her work, if you’re not already in the know.

Spoiler alert: there are a few minutes of advertising for financial support at the end.

There’s no actual thematic link – but I don’t suppose it would hurt to listen to the song “Georgia on my mind” by Ray Charles while you’re cooking.  As a little amuse-le-chef.

Artist in Crisis – advice

“Crisis is a sieve which separates out the wheat from the chaff – It will play a decisive role in who keeps working and who falls by the wayside.”

Chuck Close, painter and photographer


In this 3 minutes video, Chuck Close here speaks about crisis on a global scale, and what artists do at such times.


His own life has had its share of struggles:

As a child:

  • he was born during World War 2 (1940)
  • his father died when Chuck was 11
  • he suffered from nueromuscular condition which made it hard to lift his feet
  • he missed most of 6th grade due to nephritis
  • he had undiagnosed dyslexia
  • he suffers from a condition which means he can’t recognise faces (he feel this actually drew him to portrait work, for which he is best known)

As an adult, in 1988 he experienced severe spinal artery collapse, which left him paralyzed from the neck down.  Through several months in rehab, with physical exercise, he recovered some movement in his arms, and can take a few steps, but essentially lives and works from a wheelchair, aged 77.