Michael Divine

Writings : On Art Making


These ‘art’ writings are specifically about the process of being an artist. There’s advice and discussion about the process as well as some musings on the business of art.

Politic Awareness

In order for me to write poetry that isn’t political
I must listen to the birds
& in order to hear the birds
the airplane must be silent

Marwan Makhoul (trans. Zeina Hashem Beck)
Gaza Poets Society

I am fortunate to live in a time and place that, for me and my station in life, is in relative peace but it is not without being aware of the state of the world - from the localized environs to the bigger sways of peoples and governments.

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Emily Dickinson

even if i can’t change the world
i’m still going to write
and even if no one ever cares
even if it makes absolutely no difference
that there was a person
named emily dickinson
who sat in this little room
day after day
and wrote things down
just because she felt them

- Dickinson Season 3 Episode 10
Available on Apple TV+

That part, at the end of the 3 season series of Apple TV's show Dickinson, struck me because that is, to the artist, the primary thing and it summed it up so beautifully and succinctly. We are just there, day after day, writing or painting or making music - doing our arts - because we feel them. I look around at my studio, lovely space that it is, where I return to every day. My easel and the door to the garden, the computer and phone offering windows to the world at large. So I return every day and paint and, really, that's the whole goal - to make the art of what it feels like, for me, right now in this now.

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The Art of Seeing

People forget how to "see" as they get older.

We develop very narrowly focused ways of seeing with lenses of dollar value, costs and exchanges, styles, judgements, like, don't like, matches, doesn't match, and so on. Most of these ways of seeing are only valye judgements and ways of deciphering the parts which are useful to us in this moment or as a possible worthy investment for the future.

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'In a recent interview, Marc Andreessen [an investor who made all his money in tech and then VC investing] was asked what his best advice would be to a smart 23-year-old American today. "Don't follow your passion," he said. "Your passion is likely more dumb and useless than anything else. Your passion should be your hobby, not your work. Do it in your spare time."'

Business Insider - Jun 22, 2021

Don't follow your passions. Don't do that which brings you joy. At best, it's a frivolity. At worse, it's just taking up your spare time when you could be consuming more.

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The Future of Art Making

I think a lot about what the future holds for us. Like you, I am concerned (to say the least) for the ever changing climate. I worry about the divisive and tense politics of our times. Wealth disparity, economic catastrophes, and the kind of indentured servitude many of us find ourselves in: the list goes on.

I sometimes imagine these post apocalyptic futures where the trappings of my own life are stripped away and, like so many others, we scrape the earth for sustenance, banding together in our little tribes, trying to fight our way through an inhospitable landscape. It's unlikely to come to that in my lifetime although that isn't to say it's not possible.

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On Painting

Sometimes, I'm painting and I'm just putting globs of paint onto the canvas, working it out as I go along blending it there rather than on my palate. I think to myself, "How could I really even begin to teach this? Who the hell wants to learn a process that can be so... messy!" It looks like a haphazard approach at times. The dollop of paint gets smeared onto the canvas along with several invisible dollops of faith in the process. All things considered, it usually works out, even when it doesn't. So how does one teach that? Well, I look at my whole approach then not just the smearing of the glob of paint on the canvas. I have a clear idea of what I'm doing from the start usually. In the exact instance that I'm speaking of, I was working on the kid's book that has been consuming all of my creative time. The kid's book has a certain style and approach that I've used from the very beginning. Regardless of new ideas I've had in the past three and a half years about layering or glazing, I can't apply them here because it would be inconsistent with the previous panels. I have to stick with the approach I've taken thus far in order to see it through. In some respects, this is a good bit of discipline. In the midst of this book that I've been working on for over three years, I've painted two great paintings and a handful of smaller but still important pieces. Those paintings have allowed me to express for a bit those thoughts and understandings about process - especially The Glass Onion with all of it's underpainting and layering and such.

And then I come back to this image and right now there is a blue sky backdrop to grandly rolling clouds, a floating cliff topped with a buzz cut of green grass, and two people. I paint a field of blue. I throw on the green. I do this, I do that. But what is the approach, really?

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How To Be a Painter Part Something or Other

1. Sleep when you are tired. Naps are perfectly acceptable.

2. Eat when you are hungry. Eat good food, just not too much.

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The Days Between

Near. Far. High. Low. Sunrise. Sunset. All's relative. The sense of perspective and point of reference. Most of all: the limits that define us: the breadth of our breath and the width of our brow. All our stories and all our beliefs. Our laws, our traditions, our ideas of love, of economics, of mine, of yours. We create systems and structures that define us and tell us how to live in community with others. All of those systems: imagined ideas, dependent on each other and, most of all, on the belief in the solidity and actuality of this 'I'. I am this. I am not that. I have this. I do not have that. Where am I in this picture? Where do I fit? And does it translate to YOU?

Every image has a perspective and offers a glimpse of what-i-see-from-here. There can be so much to a little sky scape on a little canvas. And, then again, nothing at all. Paint, arranged in a specific array, that evokes a sensation. And a flurry of ideas.

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Monet, His Waterlilies, and the Creative Drive

“Yesterday I resumed work. It’s the best way to avoid thinking of these sad times. All the same, I feel ashamed to think about my little researches into form and colour while so many people are suffering and dying...”

- Claude Monet - 1914 (While working on his water lilies paintings during World War I.)
From: Wartime water lilies: how Monet created his garden at Giverny

I feel like this sometimes. There's so much going on. There's this endless stream of chaos beating down my door. Who am I to turn my back on this issue or that issue and "resume my little researches into form and colour" while so much pain and suffering exists. Maybe it's the fact that joy CAN exist side by side with the pain.

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Dear Artist

Dear Artist,
Often, when asked what advice I might give to you, I say something like, “Practice!” Or, “Do it every day!” Or some such thing. Everyone says it and it's true. But the deeper truth is - all of that is meaningless if not for one thing. There is only one real insight I can offer you:


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