Snow, the studio and a lifetime burning

It snowed all day yesterday and we have a lovely, thick blanket of white. The sky behind the trees this morning was a liquid and fierce pale gold. Now everything is a cool blue against the dark evergreens.

I found myself in two Etsy treasuries this week. A treasury means you choose other artisans’ work to highlight. I’m finding some very unique painters there, good abstract expressionists and one prolific Belgian artist, Sylvie Van Hulle, highlighted my site on her own blog.


 I’m reading Alexander Liberman’s, ‘The Artist in his Studio’, originally published in 1960.  Liberman‘s step-daughter is the writer Francine du Plessix Gray. He spent 40 years getting the book published and met many of the artists who are now icons; Matisse, Chagall, Rouault, Picasso. It’s thrilling to read about his lunch with Pablo or his tea with Chagall and his obvious repulsion by Utrillo’s ‘incessantly chatty’ wife. There are superb photographs of artists at the height of their powers in these studio settings.

He offers a personal and intimate portrait of these artists that I haven’t found in many other writings on artists. Anthony Haden-Guest comes to mind, but Liberman’s book is more of a tender tribute to the giants of the past.

Here’s what Jacques Villon at 86 said about artists: ‘Before starting to paint one should follow Cennini’s advice and say a prayer.’ Liberman notes that he was impressed most by the artists’ ‘obsessive, unswerving dedication to creation. In the words of the poet, they are ‘a lifetime burning’. Their dedication to art, like that of men to religious orders, is a self-imposed vow. These artists are the priests of a new religion – Art.’

 Duchamp said that ‘the artist should have no social obligations…an artist must be an egotist, completely blind to other human beings – egocentric in the grand manner. It is unavoidable, one cannot create great things if he is only half involved and in doubt.’ Well, there you have it, the politically incorrect artist speaking what we often suspect.

We may also forget how long it takes to build a life based on this devotion. Rouault, Kupka, Villon all had to wait until they were over 70 for recognition. 

Braque’s studio.

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3 Responses to Snow, the studio and a lifetime burning

  1. Arnold Levine says:

    I guess I never could fit Duchamps portrait of an Artist. My problem
    has always been that I care what people think. My father used to say its great to be an Artist but what will you do for a “real job”.

    I guess I’ve always taken mixed messages to heart. I wish I could be that mean SOB that Picasso or Degas were. Maybe I am just not strong
    enough. Well its a little late in the game to try a new career, so I had
    better toughen up a bit. I have to get this book.


  2. Victoria says:


    I think he was probably exaggerating–as we know happens when artists talk to the press… but art is a real job and it takes just as much effort or more to make it a career.

    You’ve done it despite what your dad said. Money doesn’t define us.


  3. Victoria,
    There was a great show on PBS about the impressionists. It was a
    dramatic intrepretation narrated in flash back by Monet. See if you
    can find a copy in the PBS library. It really went into what it took
    for them to paint.

    I really like this blog stuff. Gotta get one going.


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