Art, the Studio, and the Intimate Presence


Many arts articles I’m reading these days are not so much about the art itself but about where it’s created.  Perhaps the pandemic has made us all more conscious of how an artist works, but my guess is that with galleries closed and artists unable to freely invite the public to visit their studios, the studios themselves have become more interesting or appealing, the way the hard-to-get man or woman is the most provocative.  I am stabbing in the dark here and really haven’t a clue about what’s happening.

But I was inspired after viewing a few of those studios to take a closer look at my own space.  This is somewhat akin to looking at the highest priced cars after you’ve purchased your used Dodge Neon.  But let’s be honest here – I’m not famous.  I don’t have a gallery rep or an agent.  I’m a modest painter of modest means, doing things a lot of people have let me know they enjoy, but I’m basically in the peanut gallery when it comes to showing my work or affording a big barn-like studio.  Square footage costs more than you ever think it will.  And in the pandemic, most of us have stayed small anyway. 

Art is not your usual commodity.  And the market for it is not your usual market.  No one I know, including me, is selling through an auction house where the prices have a lot of zeroes.  That’s for the big kids.  Even the small shows have been cancelled in my part of the world, and I have no voice out there handing out my name or phone number to the art-buying public. 

Photos of OPS  (Other People’s Studios) can be both invigorating and discouraging.  One studio I noted was huge, big enough to hold not only easels, stacks of wall-size finished canvasses and work in progress, but also large and comfortable furniture.  I have my art table, a table to hold paints and tools, a small bookcase and one small, uncomfortable chair from Goodwill.  But I do have big bright windows and wall space.  They matter, and I’ve just arranged a space for a larger canvas than I’ve tried before.  A couple of artists in the article are painting from home studios, much like the one I had in my 300 sq. ft. apartment in California.  And the one I improvised at home when the pandemic closed the studio building for about a month.


I still hope to and plan to invite people to my studio when it’s safe.  I still hope to and plan to get some of the work into at least a few nearby galleries that I admire and would like to have associated with my work.  As for agents or handlers, probably not.  At least not in the near future.  I’m a serial entrepreneur and have a good idea what’s required.  If I can just manage that side of it and still paint, I’ll be happy.  I also know how the pandemic has changed the market and that I live in a quiet corner of the country where the millionaires who buy art do not ordinarily flock. 

Most of all, I know that abstract expressionism (ABEX – a term I just learned) is not for everyone’s taste and that I might be pounding my head against a wall, creating it and hoping it sells.  But it has sold and I am grateful for every buyer who now has a piece of my work hanging in their homes. 

We might end the pandemic next year, but I don’t expect the art world to open up in the same way again.  The creation of art is still – for artists like me – a personal, one-off endeavor.  And the selling of that art is about the same. 

I’m encouraged to keep working, as always, by the words of artist and teacher and writer, Robert Henri whose book The Art Spirit, published in the early part of the last century, offers inspiration through thoughts like this that I find applicable to abstract work as well as portraiture and landscapes:

“I think it is safe to say that the kind of seeing and the kind of thinking done by one who works with the model always before him is entirely different from the kind of seeing and thinking done by one who is about to lose the presence of the model and will have to continue the work from knowledge gained in the intimate presence. The latter type of worker generally manifests a mental activity of much higher order than his apparently safe and secure confrère. He must know and he must know that he knows before the model is snatched away from him.” 

In the studio or out, it is memory of the intimate presence that matters.  And a recognition that we must know and must know that we know what we are trying to achieve. Poets learn that poetry is “Emotion recollected in tranquility.”  The other arts are very much the same and when done with the knowledge of that intimate presence, will in turn evoke emotion in the viewer or listener. 

I wrote about and now paint about jazz.  Listen carefully and you might hear something familiar coming from those paintings.


8 thoughts on “Art, the Studio, and the Intimate Presence

  1. This is a wonderful image and explanation of what Robert Henri and I were trying to say. Thank you for sending it. Yes, soon —Moll

  2. Diana…thank you for this lovely note. Your friend Corrine is indeed lucky to have you as a friend and benefactor. The quote from the Steichen book is wonderful. You are a gift, dear friend.

  3. Hi Molly, I have a friend here, Corrine, who is an artist and photographer. She has been working at this since she retired and lost her beloved companion. I have volumes of art history and collection of books on known artists and have given them to her as I clean out my library. Many were books acquired when I was studying art in college and were all well read. I was happy to know they are in a new home with someone who appreciates this gift. I have a volume of “The Artist in His Studio” by Alexander Liberman. Here is a quote about this book by Edward Steichen; “Here the art of photography serves to represent and preserve a visualization of a group of artists whose work collectively represents a major contribution to the art of our time.” Seeing the photo of your studio reminded me of this treasure. lovingly, Diana

  4. Yes, dear Molly, your comments are not unlike the situation a performer finds himself in — when playing from memory. I LOVE playing from memory — I’ve committed to the piece, have it in my brain, my should, and my fingers, and am willing to share it — ONLY with people who will understand and love it.

    Soon—– MJB

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