A Body of Work and the Traces of Art

A “body of work…”
copyright 2016, Molly Larson Cook
Multimedia collage

The body here, which I found some now-forgotten place, was the inspiration for my series, “Celestial Bodies.”

I was attending a marketing workshop for artists about how to sell the paintings when I heard the line, “You’ll need a body of work…” At that moment, words from an old tune ran through my head: “I ain’t got no body…” And I did, in fact, have a stack of paintings, but no body. No body of work.

So I set about designing and painting the Celestial Bodies, 20 or so pieces that featured the body (above) in various celestial settings. I especially like that this body is sitting on a stack of books. The piece above is the first serious collage I did, and it was just an art/composition exercise. You can do it, too.

Cut half a dozen pieces of cardboard about 5 or 6 inches square and then fill the square with whatever materials you have at hand or want to create. I did a combination of painting and pasting, stamping and drawing. Once you have the pieces, you put them together in whatever combinations inspire you and voila! (Or “Viola” as a friend likes to say), a small piece of art.

Writers are familiar with the “cut and paste” technique when editing a piece of work. This is a “cut and paste” project for artists. Yes, a four-year-old could do it, but if you are an artist over four, you’ll want to be mindful of design principles like balance and space.

It’s just an exercise like practicing the scales or doing two-minute free writes or barre warmups before Swan Lake. But visual artists are not exempt from ongoing exercises.

And let us not be confused by the “creators” of NFTs which are whipped out in minutes and sell for millions of dollars in the newly born “art racket.”

Since I’ve slipped off into this topic, let me say a few more words about it. As an artist and before that a writer, I have no idea what people who make NFTs want or what pleasure they get from what they’re doing except money. And money, while wonderful to have, cannot be the driving force. You might as well try to be a highly paid NFL quarterback.

I make no apologies about being old-fashioned in how I look at art and accomplishment. Digital technology is a late-comer when it comes to art, and paintings done by AI are as artificial as their intelligence. If others want to live in that world, praise it, buy it, so be it. But I have a different take on the creative process, so I’ll hang back here with Robert Henri.

Henri was a teacher and artist who wrote in his 1923 book of advice to artists, The Art Spirit: “Give your throat a chance to sing its song…Art is, after all only a trace–like a footprint which shows that one has walked bravely and in great happiness.”

And further:
“The object of painting a picture is not to make a picture–however unreasonable this may sound…The object, which is back of every true work of art, is the attainment of a state of being, a state of high functioning, a more than ordinary moment of existence. In such moments activity is inevitable, and whether this activity is with brush, pen, chisel, or tongue, its result is but a by-product of the state, a trace, the footprint of the state.”

Henri continues:
“Contemplative appreciation of a trace; a picture, hearing music, observing a graceful gesture, may cause the spirit to flame up. We care for and treasure the traces of states of greater living, fuller functioning, because we want to live also, and they inspire to living. This is the value of ‘a work of art.’ The traces are inevitable. The living is the thing.”

We are still in the rainy season here, but spring is on the way, and I feel myself itching to be back in the studio, creating more work. New work. Color by color. Trace by trace.

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