“Smith’s innovations may have ended up high-concept, but they got their start as many big ideas do: emerging from the skills or resources most readily at hand.”
From “Her Operating Theater” by Susan Dominus in the October 4, 2009 issue of The New York Times Magazine (profiling actress/playwright/professor Anna Deavere Smith).
I want to give tribute to my friend Murai and her dedication to the idea of a daily art practice.
All creatives value and need daily practice, which is usually a solitary occupation. But it seems that displaying the daily practice, or doing it in a community setting, is becoming more and more common. Like many other things, what was once personal has now become public. People can join blog sites devoted to writing one-a-day haiku — individual artists’ blogs track the day-by-day evolution of their paintings and their progress in cleaning up their studios — a woman in Connecticut was profiled in The New York Times for reading and reviewing one book per day for a year — how-to-write books prescribe turning out a set number of pages every day — a young woman in Brooklyn prepared (and blogged about it) 524 Julia Child recipes within 365 days.
A while back, Murai committed to the idea of posting an image a day on her website, for a year. Friends like me subscribed to her feed, with e-mails every morning of a new collage, digital drawing, digital photo and so on, always with some words of explanation. The images and words turned into a journal by which we could keep track of Murai’s local and international travel, the ups-and-downs of her occupation as a San Francisco taxi driver, the health of her children and grandchildren, her musings on the state of the world.
As the days ticked on towards #365, Murai seemed to be flagging a lttle bit, then a little more, but I knew she would meet her goal. And then on day #366, another image came through. Days #367, #368 … #380 … #401 — Murai’s energy was obvious, her practice now natural and necessary, not just a goal to be met.
Today, the date of this post, Murai is at day #693. What started out as a self-challenge and could have become a gimmick is now truly an expression of Murai’s generous self. And I do say a silent thank-you when I see my daily mail from Murai.
Sometimes it’s not the ideas that are the problem — you’ve got them. Instead, it’s how to express them. Until that problem is solved, the ideas can remain unrealized.
That’s what I thought about when I read the obituary of Frank McCourt in The New York Times on July 20, 2009, which of course included the story of how he came to write his memoir “Angela’s Ashes.” The ideas — the Irish childhood experiences and memories — were all there. After all, they were stories that he had been telling for years to his students in the NYC public school system. Eventually, it seemed right that they be written down — but how?
According to William Grimes in the Times, “‘After 20 pages of standard omniscient author, I wrote something that I thought was just a note to myself, about sitting on a seesaw in a playground, and I found my voice, the voice of a child,’ (McCourt) told The Providence Journal in 1997. ‘That was it. It carried me through to the end of the book.’”
And well beyond, as readers of “Angela’s Ashes” will attest.
How does the same idea land, independently, in two different people?
That was my question when I saw Imogen Cunningham’s 1925 photograph “Magnolia Blossom” at the deYoung Museum for the first time recently. Though the photograph is black-and-white, its intimacy immediately made my mind flash to Georgia O’Keeffe and any number of her intensely colored, but equally intimate, floral paintings that I am well acquainted with. ”Petunias” for example, from 1926, which lives on another floor of the same museum.
In the two works, no real liberties are taken with the flowers — they are quite recognizable. Their value lies not in their individual botany but in the excuse they give their artists to turn natural forms into compositional elements, observation into design.
Imogen and Georgia were not known to have met until sometime in the ’30s and there is no indication that they knew of each other’s work any earlier. And it also doesn’t seem that they had any sustained relationship — did their equally long and prolific lives and careers make them competitive rather than compatible? Still working almost to the end, Imogen died in 1976 at age 93 and Georgia in 1986 at 98.
The spirit of inspiration does not limit herself.
“So, I told Larry Rivers about my idea … I spoke to him about my idea that an artist and a writer should collaborate on stone to make a book … That is how things have happened to me in my life. They just work out.”
From “Mother Figure and Muse” by Deidre Stein Greben in the September 2009 issue of ARTnews (describing Tatyana Grosman, her “storied Universal Limited Art Editions print workshop” and the Larry Rivers/Frank O’Hara book of poetry/images “Stones”).