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Don't do the right thing. Do something.

Tuesday Night Painting #17

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The artist and quilt-maker Mary Lee Bendolph

Hello painters, 

Recently I had a couple of applications due for various art proposals, so I took the opportunity to test out a productivity method that has been around for years but was new to me.

It's called the Pomodoro Technique and it involves breaking up your day into 30 minute chunks: 25 minutes for work, with a 5 minute break. This worked out really well for me, since I got to reward myself for 25 minutes of artist statement and project proposal writing by scrolling through Twitter for 5 minutes. For unknown reasons this is something I like to do.

This technique was helpful for doing computer work. Any time the internet is involved, the temptation to distract myself is just a quick click away, but 25 minutes didn't seem like a lot of time to have to get through until the next break.

However, I haven't applied this technique to making actual artwork yet. When working on art, I actually don't think having a series of 5-minute breaks is really what you want. Artists make a lot of really good work when they can get into the flow state and popping in and out isn't necessarily ideal.

But there are other productivity tricks that I use to keep myself on track artistically. One of them is so very simple but it's so cliched that I hesitate to write even more about it. It's been covered widely by business gurus, creative types, etc, but it is possible you haven't come across it before. I'm talking about the piece of advice Jerry Seinfeld gave to a young comedian asking for help. You can read the long version of the story here on this blog post.

The short version of the Seinfeld technique is very easy to explain. Pick something you want to do, then check a box when you've done that thing. Do you want to paint for one hour each day? Just do whatever you can so that box is checked before you go to bed.
Your goal is not to finish one painting each day. Your goal is not to make a good painting each day. Your goal is just to paint (or read a book, or learn Spanish, or...), and then you get to check the box.

I've talked before about my hesitance to work on something if I don't think that it's going to turn out great. The Seinfeld technique doesn't care about quality, only that you're doing the thing. You're not trying to do the right thing, just do something.
During the week I'm thinking a lot about how to motivate myself to do art. And I like doing art a lot! But these days especially, I'm always wondering if what I'm doing is the right thing for this moment both conceptually and formally. 

Luckily, there's nothing and nobody saying you have to worry about these things. You can just keep checking the box and after a while, once those boxes become an sea of checks, you can take a look back at your work and figure out what it is you learned from it, and what it all amounted to. But don't worry about it while you're in the middle of it, just keep doing things.
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The work you've seen so far in this newsletter is all by the quilter and artist Mary Lee Bendolph. Last week I shared a recent Times article about the radical quilting of artist Rosie Lee Tompkins. It just so happens that, right now, there's another impressive quilting show being held at a gallery in Beacon, NY.

Bendolph is part of a group of quilters from the rural Alabaman community called Gee's Bend. The Gee's Bend quilters create improvised, abstract, geometric artworks from scraps of fabric and other materials. 

The quilts and quilters have achieved some degree of fame despite the relative isolation of their village, including shows at major galleries and the Whitney Museum.

A New York Times review of the Whitney exhibit called the quilts "so eye-poppingly gorgeous that it’s hard to know how to begin to account for them. But then, good art can never be fully accounted for, just described."
Above quilt by Mary Margaret Pettway

The quilters of Gee's Bend almost all used to be farmers, but the government's construction of a nearby dam flooded their farmlands and rendered them unusable. Bendolph was more than pleased to have an excuse to stop farming and turned all her attention to quilt-making.

In 1965, an Episcopalian pastor named Francis. X Walter began buying the quilts and selling them on to raise money for the community. He also served as a kind of ambassador for the quilters to the NYC art world. Lee Krasner visited Gee's Bend and returned to NYC with glowing descriptions of the quilts.
Above quilt by Marlene Bennett Jones
In 1998, a collector named William Arnett found a photograph of a quilt by Gee's Bend resident Annie Mae Young. After a lot of research, he tracked her down and offered her a few thousand dollars for it (after she had offered it to him for free). Soon word got around that a crazy white man was buying raggedy old quilts for good money. 

William Arnett took images of the quilts to an associate at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the Museum agreed to host an exhibition of quilts there in 2002. The exhibition helped revive the tradition, which had been flagging due the increased age and arthritic fingers of the passionate quilters.
Above quilt by Marlene Bennett Jones
Mary Lee Bendolph says about her working process, "Most of my ideas come from looking at things. I can walk outside in the yard and see ideas all around. Then, sitting down looking at a quilt, I get another idea."

I love this quote, and you can think about when it comes to making your own work, especially when you're working abstractly. A lot of art-making is paying attention to your surroundings and finding some new way to appreciate them.

This can provide an interesting challenge and prompt for you: create a painting using your immediate surroundings as inspiration. Then take that new painting, and ignoring everything else (to the point of completely blocking out your surroundings), make a painting that's about that painting.
Above quilt by Essie Pettway
Read more about the Gee's Bend quilters at these links:
Links
 
One:
The Pursuit of Aesthetics during Quarantine: featured in the Brooklyn Rail. "The inclination to identify something concrete that abstract paintings may be referencing is hard to avoid, and painters either embrace this train of thought or move heaven and earth to avoid it." Article by William Corvin.

Two:
Also in the Brooklyn Rail, coverage of Alice Trumbull Mason's monograph. "A daughter mines her mother's archive to create the first monograph of this abstract painter." Article by Karen Chernick

Three:
From the Washington Post: Entertainers promised to see us through the quarantine. Even they are running out of steam.
And now, here is your weekly reminder that this newsletter is free but not cheap. 
 
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I've been spending more and more hours each week researching and writing about new artists for me and you to lovingly gaze at. So if you can chip in a few dollars, I would very much appreciate it. 
And so we reach the end of another Tuesday Night letter. Some more chilled out vibes for you this week. Enjoy!

Buscabulla - NTE
Nick Hakim - Cuffed
TOPS - Colder and Closer
Mr Twin Sister - Jaipur

See you next time!
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