L'École Marchutz

Couleur - François de Asis

Marchutz Fellow

This weekend was a big one for French art. The Marchutz School hosted, in the IAU's main hall, a reading and book signing by French painter François de Asis and poet Yves Bergeret.  The book, Couleur, is the second in a diptych, which includes it and its predecessor, Dessin. The books are works of art.  Writings by Bergeret accompany illustrations by de Asis.  It is an astonishing mix of two arts, one complimenting, informing the other.

Preparations for the reading started about a week ago.  There were paintings to select and mount, two slideshows, and more.  But there is nothing as satisfying as seeing something this important come together.

I had met François prior to the event, as he makes a point to come to all of the Marchutz School’s shows.  He is an unassuming man with an artist’s eyes.  Dark and piercing, they look ceaselessly out from behind their lids.  All afternoon, he ran back and forth between the Aix-Center, and Gallerie Vincent Brecker, also in Aix, where he would have a Vernissage the next day.

Finally, about two hours before our doors would open to the public, Yves Bergeret arrived.  His presence, like his poetry, is the perfect compliment for François de Asis.  Much larger in stature and with a voice that seems capture the sound of both thunder and a cello, Bergeret absorbs the world through shimmering blue eyes.  Together they are full of life.  Their jovial French sarcasm lights up the faces of those around them.

Once the public had found their seats and introductions had been made, the lights went down and the reading began.  “BAMBOUS!” Yves’ voice boomed out, filling the chapel.  As he read his poetry, images were projected.  It was absolutely breathtaking.




For more information on the books, see: http://www.fatamorgana.fr/noms/francois-de-asis

Mary Hamilton's Vernissage

Marchutz Fellow
Mary's Vernissage
Mary's Vernissage

Last week, alumna and close friend of the Marchutz School, Mary Hamilton hosted a vernissage exhibiting some of her recent work. She included numerous still lives and landscapes from when she joined us on our Venice trip. Check out more of her work at www.maryhamiltonart.com

We're so fortunate that she will be joining us at Marchutz for the summer session. In addition to painting and drawing with us, she will be exhibiting more of her work along side Charley Neff, O'Neill Cushman, and yours truly at the upcoming Marchutz Class of 2009 Alumni Vernissage on June 12th.

Enjoy the photos below of some of Mary's work and the vernissage.

Mary Hamilton Still Life
Mary Hamilton Still Life
Mary Hamilton Still Life
Mary Hamilton Still Life

-Nick Velleman, Alumni Fellow

Photo Exhibit and Creative Writing Presentation

UncategorizedMarchutz Fellow
Photo Exhibition
Photo Exhibition

The IAU makes sure there is no shortage of opportunities for students to explore their creative selves. This weekend we were able to see and hear from some of these students. Students from Robert Pujade and Leslie Ray's photography classes held an exhibition of their work, while students from Cathleen Keenan's Creative Non-Fiction classes read some of their writing.

Checkin' out the photos
Checkin' out the photos

The exhibit featured both black and white and color photos that explored many different types of subject matter including textures, portraits, self-portraits, still-lives, and architecture. The creative non-fiction pieces discussed the ups and downs, struggles and triumphs of life abroad. Through words and images we were granted an insightful glimpse into these students' time abroad.

Cathleen Keenan's Creative Non-Fiction Class
Cathleen Keenan's Creative Non-Fiction Class

-Nick Velleman, Alumni Fellow

Photos from the IAU Closing Ceremony 2012

UncategorizedMarchutz Fellow

As the academic year nears its end, IAU and Marchutz have been hosting all sorts of events to celebrate the hard work of the students. This past Thursday, we had the honor of holding a ceremony in the beautiful Town Hall of Aix to present awards and bring a close to the year. In addition to hearing from IAU President Carl Jubran, Marchutz School Director Alan Roberts, and various IAU instructors and students, O'Neill Cushman and Kate Woestemeyer shared some of their favorite memories from the year and their thoughts on their Marchutz experiences. A big congratulations goes out to Kate Woestemeyer was awarded the Constantine Christofides History of Art Award for her exceptional work this year. Enjoy the photos! -Nick Velleman, Alumni Fellow

Venice (Part 3 of 3): The Return

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“So who’s playing hearts?” Alan asked at the train station, his eyes fixed on me.  We were tied 1-1 on the trip.  The trip home would be his chance to prove to me who was the best at hearts.  By the end of the trip, we were 2-2, and, while I was losing to him when the train pulled into Ventimiglia, the 5th game had not been finished, and we will never know who would have won it.  So we’re still tied.  We considered playing on the bus from Italy back to Aix, but in the end we did not.  I put in my headphones and slept.  When I woke up, we had arrived in the rain in Aix, tired, hesitant to say our goodbyes before spring break, trying to figure out what had happened in Venice. What happened in Venice? I developed a taste for cappuccinos.  I saw a church, every surface of which contains a masterpiece by Tintoretto.  I did a month’s worth of paintings in a week.  I learned that when the sun rises over the Salute, the water burns in blue and pink.  I discovered that a building made of solid stone can take flight, bursting with circles, up into the sky.  I learned that tempo brutto brings gray and that sunset brings orange.  I learned the feeling of sheer exhaustion that comes after pouring out one’s entire being onto a small piece of canvas.  I was simultaneously beaten down and supported by the humbling power of a city built on the water.  Next time I will bring larger canvasses.


-O'Neill Cushman, Alumni Fellow

Venice (Part 2 of 3): Coffee, Paint, Gellato, Paint, Pizza, Sleep, Repeat

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The alarm went off and I woke right up.  Clumsily putting on my painting pants, an old paint-smeared pair of jeans that smells like turpentine, and grabbing my bag and my easel, I tried to formulate a game plan.  I knew which was east was, looking across the water towards San Giorgio Maggiore.  All I had to do was find the right spot to paint it from.  Then I would have fifteen minutes to set up my easel and palette.  It was still dark out, but I had slept enough and the thrill of starting my first painting in Venice was enough to wake me right up.  I found a bridge, the top of which provided me with the view I wanted, and I set up shop.  A sunrise painting is all about timing, and I didn’t want to miss my chance, so I set up extra quickly.  Then I waited.  “I hope this goes well,” I though to myself.  “What a disaster it would be if my first painting here stinks.”  Self doubt is always the enemy of the artist.  But then I saw the sky starting to glow pink and orange and there was no time for that.  The next thing I knew, the day had come, and there was a complete painting in front of my.  I had broken the ice. Dropping my supplies and painting #1 off, I headed to breakfast, where I enjoyed terrible coffee and a large breakfast.  Without wasting too much time, I grabbed my backpack and headed across the Academia Bridge.  Alan had mentioned during my critique the week before that I might enjoy painting the Salute from across the river, and I had copied a couple of Turner’s watercolors of this motif, so off I went to find Turner’s spot.  Having not yet realized that in the history of Venice, not once has a waterbus driver checked his passenger’s tickets, I made my way on foot, through the maze and the hoards of tourists and street vendors and through San Marco.  In broken English I was repeatedly offered sunglasses, useless toys, key chains, belts, even fake designer handbags groups of men selling them along the banks of the Grand Canal.

Once I had finally made my way past all the tour boats and the related commotion, I turned around and instantly found my motif.  I was looking across a large expanse of water, lit up with the colors of the sky, at the Salute.  It was an upward explosion of circles and energy unlike anything I had ever seen.  Was I looking at a cathedral or fireworks?  How could something made out of stone be shooting upwards in every direction like that?  I would struggle here all week, floored by the beauty and life of my motif, desperate to do it justice.

After a nap and some lunch, I went back out, this time turning my attention to the Redentore, across the Giudecca canal.  It would take me several terrible paintings before I gave up on painting that building.  Four paintings in a day is about my limit, I discovered.  That was my goal the first three days.  Fueled by pizza, coffee, and gelato, it was a constant cycle.  Wake up, paint, eat breakfast, paint, eat lunch, get coffee, nap, get more coffee, paint, coffee, dinner, sleep.  Three days of that was about enough.

The second day it rained.  Sunrise was impossible because of the weather, so I started my day with breakfast and then a double session of San Giorgio, in which I wrestled with how to paint more like I draw.  But how do I draw?  That afternoon, I did my very last painting of the Redentore, and was none too pleased to say goodbye to that motif.  Then I headed back out to my spot to paint the sun setting behind clouds over the Salute.  My struggles with drawing continued, although I was fairly convinced by the end of that session that I had created my best painting yet.  This is never a good sign.  The paintings that, immediately upon completion, feel like masterpieces, are never good.

On my way back home I was struck with an idea.  Why don’t I wake up tomorrow morning and paint the sunrise over the Salute from the Academia bridge?  And when my alarm went off at 5 the next morning, that is exactly what I did.  What a beautiful motif.  The morning sky shines in the water, and wraps itself around the backlit domed beauty.  This motif would yield some of my favorite paintings to date.  The timing is trickier here, as I would discover in later sessions, because it is so tempting to start painting before the sunrise actually begins.  So I would finish a painting of what I thought was sunrise, and then watch the most beautiful lightshow of my life, unable to paint because I had already finished.  But these things happen, and are not the end of the world.

The rest of my second painting day was just one bizarre weather occurrence after another.  Thick fog blocked the view from my motifs, so I had to find something to paint up close.  I chose a dramatic motif of the Salute towering above me.  All I can say about this work is that some paintings come out better than others.  This artist needs to try his hardest not to take it too personally when it doesn’t work.  That evening, the fog lifted, leaving bright blue sky.  I went with my compatriots, Eli and Mary, out to my favorite motif to paint the sunset over the Salute, but it was too bright!  The sun was shining right into our eyes.  So we sat, legs dangled over the edge of the Canal, and just relaxed a bit, waiting for the sun to get lower.  Eventually, a thin cloud moved its way from behind us, and seemed like it would provide the perfect screen from the sun.  Waiting, we watched as a team of tugboats navigated a cruise ship around the corner, the sun reflecting off their windows.  All at once, everything was illuminated by a flash.  “What was that?” Eli asked.  I explained to him that the sun must have reflected off the ship’s windshield.  And then, BOOM!  I heard the first thunder I had heard in months.  We turned around to see that the cloud we thought would screen the sun from us was black as night.  Then came the rain.  We grabbed our sketchbooks and our backpacks and took shelter under a hotel awning, watching as the city was enveloped in the hailstorm.  As the storm passed us, we set up our easels, the three of us in a row, and painted the glowing pink sunset shining off the clouds left by the tempest.  That was the last of my four-painting days.

Then came Tuesday.  Alan had predicted that by Tuesday, those of us who had been painting like our lives depended on it would spiral into a deep depression, and, while maybe this is a bit of an exaggeration, he was right.  Painting without guidance, experiencing a place of such beauty, and repeatedly, in my own, very critical eyes, failing to capture this beauty is not an easy thing to keep up.  My painting was beginning to change, and I couldn’t explain why.  I still can’t.  Strokes became slightly more obvious.  The canvases would end up reflecting the chaos that was my mental process, and I was beginning to feel crazy.  I pledged to myself that this uncertainty was something I could paint my way out of, and I spent all of Tuesday and Wednesday trying to do that.  To say it worked would be a lie, in that the uncertainty is not gone.  One can never be sure if one is doing good work, at least not with as little experience as I have.  But it was this uncertainty that allowed me to let go of trying to do anything in particular.  I was free to have the experience of painting.  And when I got home, my painting would go under my bed, and I would begin clearing my mind, over coffee, in preparation for the next.  My unsureness took the ego out of the process of painting.

And, on Thursday, no less unsure of myself, I made a discovery.  My beloved motif of the Salute grew to include much more of the sky and the water.  In expanding my vision like that, I lost a bit of the size of the Salute, but gained a relationship between sky above and sky below, reflected in the water.  On Friday, I did my twenty-second painting of the week here.  It was my final one.  I put down my last stroke, and turned around to see what lucky tourist was there, unknowingly watching me finish a long journey, and who was standing behind me, watching me paint from a bridge but Alan Roberts.  Needing a break, I walked with him out to his motif, which he seemed not to mind showing me.  The man has good taste.  From his spot, he looks out on all of Venice.  San Giorgio and the Salute sing to one another, just as the water sings to the sky.  Walking, humbled, back to my spot, I was careful not to bother Francois de Asis, Alan’s former teacher, who was working away in the gardens.  I packed up, had a cappuccino at my favorite café, and the week was over.

Part 3 to come soon.  Who will win at hearts on the train ride back?


-O'Neill Cushman, Alumni Fellow

Venice (Part 1 of 3): The Trip There

UncategorizedMarchutz Fellow

On Friday the thirteenth at four in the morning the Marchutz School assembled at the bottom of the Cours Mirabeau and boarded a bus to Ventimiglia, Italy.  It would be the first leg of our annual journey to Venice.  Eight days later we filed out of the very same bus and into the nighttime rain back in Aix.  It was close to eleven at night, and we were a tired group.  Our shoulders sagged under the weight of backpacks, exhausted from traveling.  But despite our fatigue and the rare rain, we lingered for a few moments, reluctant to say goodbye.  As a school, we had just completed a staggering 300+ paintings in a week. In thinking how to write about our trip, I have decided that the best way to go about illustrating what this trip means is by describing my own experience. I discovered that the trip is deeply personal, and it is different for each student.  The phrase I heard over and over on the trip home was, “Something happened in Venice.”  Nobody, myself included, seemed to be able to articulate what, exactly, that something was, but it was more than just a series of paintings.  There had been a certain type of growth that was contained in the euphoria and the struggles that go along with a marathon of artistic creation.

As long as I’ve been affiliated with the Marchutz School, I have heard about Venice: the legendary trip to the place where students arrive full of plans, are quickly beaten down by the city and its epic majesty, and are reborn as artists, only to be ripped from the canals by the unfortunate timing of the end of the trip.  Alan described it in our pre-Venice meeting.  “Don’t worry.” He said, “You’re going to freak out when you look over at your roommate’s side of the room and she has fourteen paintings done and you only have one and a half, but don’t worry.  Tuesday will come, and she’ll spiral into a deep depression.  And you’ll all have plenty of paintings when the week is over.  In fact, you’ll make a breakthrough on Thursday or Friday, and it’ll be just in time to leave on Saturday.”  So it was this experience for which I was preparing.  My plan was to charge through the week.  If I hit Tuesday and spiraled into a deep artistic depression, I would just paint my way out of it.  I got myself twenty-two surfaces (and two extra sheets of loose canvas, just in case), and loaded up on extra paints and turpentine.  I packed my bags Thursday night, and made myself a nifty case to carry my easel in, so it wouldn’t be swinging around out the top of my backpack on the crowded waterbuses.

Waking up a little early to say my last goodbyes to friends stateside before the weeklong Internet communication blackout, I grabbed my bags and we headed to the bus.  The bus trip from Aix to Ventimiglia would be the first of a three-part voyage.  Once in Ventimiglia we had a little while to hang out before our train to Milan, where we had fifteen minutes to make our train to Venice.  During our Ventimiglia layover we got our first taste of what was to become our fuel for the week: Italian coffee.  Over a cappuccino, Alan assigned the seats according to who was daring enough to challenge him to a game of Hearts to 100.  I took the bait.  I had a score to settle with him after he mopped the floor with me and my fellow students back in 2009.  I hadn’t exactly been practicing, but I talked a big game.  On the way to Milan I was reminded what losing to Alan at hearts feels like.  You’ll be neck and neck for a couple of rounds, and then you experience an absolute loss of any control whatsoever.  I wasn’t the first to reach 100, but I sure didn’t win.  “Wanna play again?” he asked me, grinning.  Of course I did.  The first round I shot the moon, and for the first time in as long as he cares to remember, Alan lost at hearts.  I got lucky, too, because he would have demanded a re-match but we were ten minutes from Milan, and needed to get ready for our dead sprint across the giant station.  We made it to our train to Venice, everyone was accounted for, and we settled in to nap and wait for the food cart.

Stepping out of the train station in Venice, the tempo of the trip changed.  We were no longer in travel mode; we were on Venice time.  On a painting trip like this one, one must find the rhythm most conducive both to productivity and to one’s own sanity, a balance that is not always easy.  This often means taking things slow, building in time for rest, and for this reason we paused for about twenty minutes outside the train station to allow people time to get a coffee, take a few photos, or just sit on the stairs and observe the canal sitting unassumingly where one expects to find a street.   It was this unselfconscious quality that gave Venice its real character.  Beneath all of the tourism, the immigrants selling sunglasses and useless trinkets, the high end clothing stores, there lay a masterpiece of a city made of stone and bricks and water; a city that does not feel the need to defend its canals to those of us more used to asphalt and cobblestone.

We boarded the vaporetto waterbus and headed up the grand canal towards the Academia, where we would establish our home base in the Hotel Bella Arti.  The trip offered our first look at our artistic opponent: the overwhelming amount of pattern and detail that covers every lavish building.  Palaces rise out of the water, sitting on their own reflections in the milky cool-blue water. The eye is greeted first by the dock poles painted blue or red and white like barbershop poles, “Hey! Look at me!”  Then the columns on the windows chime in “Hey! Check us out!” And the moulding, and the brick and stone patterns of the facades, all calling out on their own.  And yet all this shouting, like the screams of children at recess, unite and form a kind of music, ordered in its chaos.  An ode to the creative power of the human imagination.

Reaching our rooms, we agreed to meet as a class out in front of the hotel in an hour for a tour before a gigantic dinner of pasta and some well-deserved wine after a long day of travel.  This gave me just enough time to unpack and prepare the next day’s canvasses before grabbing my first gelato (chocolate, of course) and meeting the group.  The tour was fun.  Alan and John’s joy at being in the city they had come to annually for decades was rubbing off on anyone (not that we needed any extra excitement).  They told stories of back in the day as we walked by their favorite café, over a bridge or two, stopping for maps, and past the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.  Continuing down towards the Dogana, where ships used to stop and pay taxes on their way into the trade town, we passed the Salute.  This cathedral, a tribute to the Virgin would end up being a motif for me.  I would begin my days watching the sun rise over it, only to labor over its circles and domes and vibrancy all day.  But I didn’t know that yet; for the time being it was simply yet another jaw-dropping building among many.  We finished our tour of the neighborhood and ate dinner.  Exhausted, I went to bed early that night.  I had a sunrise to catch the next morning.

Stay Tuned for Part 2!

O'Neill Cushman, Alumni Fellow

PVSD: Post-Venezia Student Delight

UncategorizedMarchutz Fellow

Even though we've been back from Venice for nearly a week now, I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out everything that happened.

Going into it, I was looking forward to all of the freedom I was being granted. Besides having to return to Aix with between fifteen and twenty paintings (a goal that proved lofty, but not entirely daunting), no other directions were given. It was a weeklong free-for-all in Venice; an artist's dream come true.

Soon after arriving at our hotel behind the Accademia Bridge, the entire class took an evening paseo along the Grand Canal and the Giudecca Canal, followed by a few courses of delicious Italian cuisine for dinner (I promise I'm not embellishing any details).

However, after eating I was still hungry for something else. I was eager to start painting. So eager that I got up at 4:30am the next morning to catch the sunrise and start drawing potential motifs in the dawn light. This is how most of my days would begin for the rest of that week. I would get up to paint during sunrise, then eat some breakfast, head back out to work until a late lunch, take a short nap, and then go out again to paint some more before dinner if I was feeling up to it.

With such momentum, it wasn't long before I noticed something changing in the way I painted. I was concerned at first because I was unfamiliar with my new approach. I felt less self-assured in the way I was painting, but Alan told us before we left to not judge our paintings while we were in Venice. So with that, I crushed the anxious voice inside of me and took the artistic growth spurt as something exhilarating. Hell, what am I talking about...the entire trip was exhilarating.

It was a full week, complete with gelato, Peroni, hailstorms, acqua alta, and fortuitiously-timed cruise ships passing between you and your motif. Some students went on painting binges throughout the week, punctuated by bouts of "deep depression" as Alan calls it; while others adopted a slower and steadier pace. Some students set up in Piazza San Marco, unfazed by the hordes of tourists; while others embarked on missions to find just the right intimate canal to spend an afternoon with. Either way, each student was able to find a rhythm that best suited him or her.

I think it's safe to say that the Venice trip this year had a profound artistic impact on all of the students. When it was time to leave we shared heavy hearts, complete visual satiation, and a hefty collection of 300 paintings!

Already looking forward to next year!

-Nick Velleman, Alumni Fellow

The Road...um, I mean Canal...to Venice

UncategorizedMarchutz Fellow

Image Monet, The Grand Canal


Kokoschka, Boats on the Dogana


Guardi, Vedute der Isola di San Pietro di Castello


Turner, S. Giorgio Maggiore

Every spring, the Marchutz School takes a painting trip to Venice. Being one of the most painted, photographed, and filmed cities in the world, Venice is a fitting environment for our artists.

When I attended Marchutz in 2009, it was only for the fall semester. As a result, I was bereft of the opportunity to join the school and paint in the alluring City of Canals. Every account I heard from friends who did attend Marchutz in the spring, maintained that the Venice trip was possibly the highest point in their semester.

Luckily, this time around I get to go. However, it's hard to pinpoint exactly what I am most excited about. Is it the beautiful architecture? The highly acclaimed sunrises? The element of water flowing through the city like life-giving blood?  The freedom to paint on my own time, at my own rhythm and pace? The Peroni?

John arranged a presentation for us this morning, showing us pictures of Venice and paintings by artists who have worked in Venice. I could hardly contain my excitement during it. I just wanted to shout, "John! Enough already! My heart is nearly bursting at the seams!"

Now, it's the night of our departure. Our bus leaves in three and a half hours. As sleepiness descends on me, my swelling excitement keeps me going as I finish preparing some surfaces, cut wine corks, and do some last minute packing. See you on the other side!  Arrivederci!

-Nick Velleman, Alumni Fellow

Seminar Notes: Motif

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[gallery columns="1"] Motif: motive; a theme.

Fr. motif; LL. motivum: a moving cause; motivus: moving

1) That which incites to action; that which determines the choice or moves the will; reason; cause.

2) In design, a unit; a recurring theme.

3) The controlling idea in the mind of the artist as embodied in the work.

"But there is another kind of seeing that involves a letting go.  When I see this way I sway transfixed and emptied.  The difference between the two ways of seeing is the difference between walking with and without a camera.  When I walk with a camera I walk from shot to shot, reading the light on a calibrated meter.  When I walk without a camera, my own shutter opens, and the moment's light prints on my own silver gut.  When I see this second way I am above all an unscrupulous observer."

Can artistic inspiration come purely within; without influence from other minds or motifs?

Stone and Holt Weeks

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Last night, in anticipation of Venice, we at the Marchutz School paused to remember Stone and Holt Weeks, the only sons of Linton Weeks, a Washington DC journalist, and Alumna Jan Taylor Weeks, a former teacher at the school.  These two passionate and giving boys were tragically taken from us in 2009, but their legacy and hard work lives on.  We encourage everyone to take a few minutes to check out the website of the foundation dedicated to these wonderful young men, at www.stoneandholtweeksfoundation.org and to reflect on what it means to “Do good, have fun, and make the world a better place for all.” Congratulations to Stone and Holt Weeks Scholarship recipients: Conan Zhao, Kate Woestemeyer, O'Neill Cushman, and Nick Velleman.

Art History Cezanne Trip

UncategorizedMarchutz Fellow

The Saturday Cezanne excursion started at 9:00 AM at the bottom of the Cours Mirabeau.  We piled onto the bus that was waiting for us, and headed across town.  Once the bus was rolling, John Gasparach, the professor for the Cezanne and Van Gogh art history class, got up and started handing out papers.  After some introductory remarks we arrived at Cezanne’s studio where he worked late in life. After chatting in the garden, we made our way upstairs.  John was able to get us in before it officially opened, so we had the studio room to ourselves.  After spending some time looking around, we gathered together in front of a still life.  Because we had the space to ourselves, we were able to observe the configuration of apples, cloth and other items from every angle, as well as with the south-facing windows open and shuttered, to see what the different effects were.  Interacting with a space designed by Cezanne allowed us to see into the mind of the artist, and begin to understand how he designed the space to best suit his artistic needs.

From Cezanne’s studio we went clear across Aix to the Chateau Noir, a property kept by a family friendly to the Marchutz School, who has owned it since the days when Cezanne would work there.  Here, we were able to have our first chance to sit for an hour or two with one or two reproductions of paintings by Cezanne in front of the physical landscape he was painting.  By doing this we were able to see exactly what he was up to when he made certain decisions, playing up one element of the motif, sacrificing another.  After some hard work looking, we hiked up behind the Chateau Noir to the plateau that runs all the way out to Mont Sainte Victoire.  From here we could look across the valley, from the mountain out to the next mountain range.  We ate lunch and enjoyed the view before hiking back down and boarding the bus.

The afternoon was devoted to paintings of Mont Sainte Vicotire.  First we went to the Bellevue farm, where Cezanne did some work in the 1880s and 90s.  Here we studied his motif and the paintings that resulted, and talked about his belief that the more he looked and studied nature through art, the more his eye became concentric.  We tried to figure out what this concentricity meant in terms of his paintings.  We also examined what he meant by saying that his aim was to redo Poussin after nature.  After a wonderful discussion and some careful looking, we moved to the Chemin des Lauves, where Cezanne painted his late mountain paintings.  After a brief coffee and ice cream break on the way there, we split up into groups of 5 or 6.  With our peers we spent some time looking at the mountain from this new side view.  After studying the mountain we turned to his paintings from the early 1900s.  Each group chose a painting and had a lengthy discussion of it, then presented the meat of their discussion to the group at the end.  This was the most enriching part of the day.  The students really had a feel for Cezanne’s development as an artist.  They were seeing things in his work, as well as in the mountain, that they had never seen before.

It was a wonderful way to end the Art History unit on Cezanne, and on the bus ride home we all agreed that we were looking forward to turning our attention to Van Gogh.



Seminar: Landscape and Nature

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"I think of two landscapes - one outside the self, the other within. The external landscape is the one we see - not only the line and color of the land and its shading at different times of the day, but also its plants and animals in season, its weather, its geology, the record of its climate and evolution...The second landscape I think of is an interior one, a kind of projection within a person of a part of the exterior landscape...the speculations, intuitions, and formal ideas we refer to as 'mind' are a set of relationships...with purpose and order; some of these are obvious, many impenetrably subtle. The shape and character of these relationships in a person's thinking, I believe, are deeply influenced by where on this earth one goes, what one touches, the patterns one observes in nature - the intricate nature of one's life in the land...The interior landscape responds to the character and subtlety of an exterior landscape; the shape of the individual mind is affected by land as it is by genes...A story draws on relationships in the exterior landscape and projects them onto the interior landscape. The purpose of storytelling is to achieve harmony between the two landscapes, to use all the elements of story - syntax, mood, figures of speech - in a harmonious way to reproduce the harmony of the land in the individual's interior."    -Barry Lopez

Can one who is not harmonious with nature produce a landscape with imagination?

Seminar Notes: Zen

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For our seminar on Zen we read Eugen Herrigel's Zen in the Art of Archery, a story about a German professor that travels to Japan to learn the Japanese Zen art of archery. Ariel Osif, Colette Aboussouan, and Lindsey Beetem were the students who led the seminar. They began with these three quotes. "No less decisive, on the other hand, is the fact that his experiences, his conquests and spiritual transformation, so long as they still remain 'his,' must be conquered and transformed again and again until everything 'his' is annihilated. Only in this way can he attain a basis for experiences which, as the 'all-embracing Truth' rouse him to a life that is no longer his everyday, personal life. He Lives, but what lives is no longer himself."

"Thus, between these two states of bodily relaxedness on the one hand and spiritual freedom on the other there is a difference of level which cannot be overcome by breath control alone, but only by withdrawing from all attachments whatsoever, by becoming utterly egoless: so that the soul, sunk within itself, stands in the plenitude of its nameless origin."

"Every Master who practices an art moulded by Zen is like a flash of lightning from the cloud of all-encompassing Truth. This Truth is present in the free movement of his spirit, and he meets it again, in 'It', as his own original and nameless essence. He meets this essence over and over again as his own being's utmost possibilities, so that the Truth assumes for him - and for others through him - a thousand shapes and forms."

There is a part in the story where Herrigel has learned how to draw the bowstring correctly, but is struggling with loosing the arrow. The Master continues to tell him to be egoless and to be without purpose. Eugen asks the Master, "How can the shot be loosed if 'I' do not do it?" To which the Master replies " 'It' shoots."

The question posed to the class was (hardly) simple: what is "It"?

I'll try my best to offer an explanation of what I think "It" is. In the beginning of the story, Herrigel tries to explain a way of understanding Zen archery. He writes, "the contest consists in the archer aiming at himself - and yet not at himself, in hitting himself - and yet not himself, and thus becoming simultaneously the aimer and the aim, the hitter and the hit." At the end of the book, once he has learned the way of Zen archery, he writes a similar passage, "Bow, arrow, goal and ego, all melt into one another, so that I can no longer separate them. And even the need to separate them has gone." Together all of the components of the act of archery are united into one.

Herrigel learns to attain a primordial state of mind in order to become egoless and free to connect with all of these other components. He describes this freedom of mind and how it applies to painting, "...mastery in ink-painting is only attained when the hand, exercising perfect control over technique, executes what hovers before the mind's eye at the same moment as the mind begins to form it, without there being a hair's breadth between." The ability to create a seamless transfer of conception to execution is essential in the Zen art forms.

I believe this entity where archer, bow, arrow, and target, (or painter, motif, paintbrush, and canvas) become united through one's control over technique and seamless execution is "it."

I think this is a very important concept for us as artists. Being able to keep a clear mind allows our senses to engage the motif, respond to it, and transfer our conception to canvas clearly without being hindered by thoughts, expectations,  preconceived notions, or insecurities. Informed by the teachings of Zen, our artistic expression can realize a very pure form.

-Nick Velleman, Alumni Fellow

A Unity of its Own

UncategorizedMarchutz Fellow

I was recently talking with a student about how one might judge a work of art.  What is good art?  What are the different perspectives from which one might judge the value of a work of art?  Is an unknown masterpiece less valuable than a famous one?  Can art be judged according to things that do not exist within the constraints of the canvas?  The conversation inspired me to go back to an excerpt of a lecture by Etienne Gilson I read a couple of years ago. The lecture starts off by discussing Delacroix’s view of the mainstream in academic art.  “Cold accuracy,” he says, “is not art.”  Gilson quotes Delacroix as calling the hyper-realistic academic works as being “nothing but perfection in the art of boring.”  What, according to Delacroix, about this careful pursuit of detail is so boring?  Gilson finds Delacroix’s response. “It is that most painters conceive pictures as means of conveying knowledge; so they never tire of explaining, whereas, on the contrary, the privilege of pictures is to enable mind to speak to mind ‘and not knowledge to knowledge.’ In short a picture is a bridge precisely because it does not teach; it does not explain; it does not talk; it is just one more thing among other things…  In the presence of a picture, the onlooker has the thing itself before him, including that in it which is not expressible by words.”

This is where many people, in Delacroix’s view, go wrong.  They attempt to use a painting to explain or illustrate some concept.  In his time, detailed renderings of classical subject matters were meant to illustrate the majesty of classical ideals.  Later on, urinals hanging on walls were meant to illustrate something about the nature of art (or the artist, or whatever it was).  And the tradition of art as mere illustration continues today.  Delacroix and Gilson find fault in this approach.  “Since the painter creates a form,” writes Gilson, “by means of which he gives existence to a new being, all his obligations are to the very form that he creates and to the new being to which his art aims to impart existence, not to any external object, being, or landscape that he might try to imitate.”  It is also important to ponder whether a philosophical idea might fall into this category as well, given where conventions in academic art have come since the time of Delacroix.   Tucked away in a footnote is an important idea.  Instead or representing some object or idea, the fundamental practice “that all painters have to observe is the necessity arbitrarily to construct a self-contained whole endowed with a unity of its own.”

This idea of self-contained, united wholeness will become very important to both Delacroix and Gilson.  Delacroix, responding to the academic traditions of his time, frames the idea as a rejection of mere reproduction.  “If it is a question of duplicating reality, no sculpture done by an artist will ever equal a plaster cast done from nature.”  Art exists as something separate, “and all the elements of reality that do not agree with the creature imagined by the painter have to be ruthlessly eliminated… It is imperative that [the artist] should reject… all the elements that are not at least compatible with the plastic form of the work of art to be made.”  It is in this spirit that Delacroix says time and again “The first of all principles is the need to make sacrifices.”

At this point, Gilson establishes what he calls the “first corollary of what Delacroix said,” explaining that it “is that the final cause of all the operations performed by the painter is to cause the existence of a self subsisting and autonomous being.”  A painting (or drawing, sculpture etc.), in other words is a living being, separate from but parallel to nature.  This first corollary has, Gilson writes, some rather important consequences “concerning what can be called the ultimate foundation for aesthetic judgments.  This foundation must be sought in the very essence of the works of art under discussion and in nothing else.”  Not in the motif, not in the context, not in the belief system of the artist, and not in the work’s monetary value.  There are, of course, other ways to evaluate a work but “if it is a question of judging a painting precisely qua work of art,” this is the approach one must take.  If the painting is judged in any other way it is being judged according to something that is not actually a part of it.  Gilson sums up his opinion by saying, “There is no other criterion of success or failure in the art of painting than this golden rule: a painting is good when it actually exists as the fully constituted being that art can make it; inversely a painting is bad when it fails to achieve actual existence as a fully constituted being.”

-O'Neill Cushman, Alumni Fellow

The Group Critique

UncategorizedMarchutz Fellow

A critique at most art schools, I’ve been told, is a painstaking process, in which students and professors alike spend time criticizing, very bluntly, the work of each student.  Such is not the case at the Marchutz School.  We had our first group critique on Wednesday, which, although serious, was by no means an opportunity for competitive art students to fling mud at one another.  We at the Marchutz School are what a philosophy professor at my College once called “friends in learning,” and the critique was a perfect example of this.  It not once did it turn nasty, although weaknesses were respectfully pointed out in some works.  And on the flip side, we maintained a positive tone, admiring strengths in paintings without the whole event turning into an unproductive praise-fest. We started the day with cupcakes in the garden, prepared and brought by some students.  They were delicious.  After a few minutes of relaxation in the sun while the last of the selected works were being arranged on the wall (Alan is careful to create the best possible groupings of paintings), we made our way into the studio to have a look.  Sitting us down in the chairs that had been spread along the room, facing the wall covered in work, Alan explained how things would proceed.  We would begin, as we do with most things, by simply looking.  We were encouraged to walk along the wall, carefully examining the works that struck us, and seeing everything from a few different distances.  Alan would then pose some questions, and students would talk about some issues they had been dealing with, which would bring us into the work.  The point was not to discuss every painting, or even paintings by every student, but more to gauge where we are as a class, and talk about what could make the work stronger.

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Alan opened with three questions.  What is a “whole?”  What is the relationship between drawing and color?  What is a portrait?  After flooring us with three questions, each of which might take hours of discussion to even begin answering, he asked the students to start by talking about what questions they might have, or issues they feel like they are facing when they work.  We heard from one student, who felt like he was struggling with color. Some were unsure of when to stop a painting, others were worried there was not enough “imagination” in their work, that it was too bound in reality, lacking their unique vision.

We entered into the paintings, spending time on a few comparisons, looking at paintings by the same artist, figuring out which ones come to life more than others, and why.  As we talked more and more we came to realize that some pieces were stronger as whole paintings; the surfaces worked, each stroke together, to create something living. We also discovered that these paintings were not always the paintings in which the student had painstakingly created an exact likeness of his or her subject.  In fact, frequently, we found that the more energy a student spent in trying to replicate the exact features of the person sitting, the less we sensed of the artist and the “whole.”  We also found that, in portraiture, while the face can act as a sign saying, “This is a portrait of Nick (for example),” the key to capturing Nick’s essence lies in the relationship of head to neck to shoulders to torso.  The way our teachers put it, when you see Nick walking down the beach, you understand it as him well before you can distinguish his eyes from his nose or mouth.  You can see it in the way he carries himself.  And when an artist lets go of the necessity of creating a photographic reproduction of each detail in the face and, instead, focuses on capturing the essence of his or her subject, the painting is alive with it.  From the strokes emerges a portrait.

After almost four and a half hours of looking, Alan concluded with a little pep talk.  He said not to worry if we don’t make a perfect painting.  He told the story of Michael Jordan and his coach.  After a 60 point game, the coach came up to MJ and asked, “Mike!  How did you do that?”  Mr. Jordan couldn’t give an answer.  He wasn’t thinking about scoring a 60 point game.  He just saw the basket, threw the ball, and for some reason it went in a lot of the time.  His coach tried to get him to do it again, and, when he was thinking about scoring 60 points, he failed, and had one of the lousiest games he could remember.  All this, Alan explained, is to say that it is important not to come away from this critique thinking about all our better paintings and try to replicate them.  The only way to paint a 60 point painting is to be in the zone.  It was a perfect segue into this week’s seminar, for which we read Eugene Herrigel’s book, Zen in the Art of Archery, but that is the subject of a different blog post.

-O'Neill Cushman, Alumni Fellow

Seminar Notes: Imagination

UncategorizedMarchutz Fellow

For our seminar on Imagination we read an excerpt from Baudelaire's Salon Review, a journal entry by Delacroix, and a description of the imagination by Herbert Read. I teamed up with current students Ciara Ruddock and Kelly Miller to form a question to pose to the class during our seminar discussion. In the Baudelaire reading, he introduces a couple of concepts that we agreed needed to be revisited. One is his metaphorical use of the dictionary. He writes, "you look for the meaning of words, their genealogy and their etymology...all the elements that compose a sentence of a narrative: but no one has ever thought of his dictionary as a composition, in the poetic sense of the word." He takes these different approaches to the dictionary to describe a painter using (or not using) their imagination. He writes, "Painters who are obedient to the imagination seek in their dictionary for the elements which suit with their conception; in adjusting those elements, however, with more or less of art, they confer upon them a totally new physiognomy. But those who have no imagination just copy the dictionary." When he says "his dictionary," it becomes apparent that we're not talking about Webster's, but rather a more personal inventory.

Baudelaire also discusses the mysterious nature of imagination. He writes, "How mysterious is Imagination, that Queen of the Faculties! It touches all the others; it rouses them and sends them into combat. At times it resembles them to the point of confusion, and yet it is always itself...It is both analysis and synthesis; and yet men who are clever at analysis and sufficiently quick at summing up, can be devoid of imagination...It is sensitivity, and yet there are people who are very sensitive, too sensitive perhaps, who have none of it." Though he describes it from many angles, he never pins down exactly what Imagination is.

At this point, Ciara, Kelly, and I grasped that Imagination was very personal and mysterious. We understood the power that it could grant to an artist, but we still weren't quite sure what it was specifically. We began talking about how some people have it and others don't, and began to question how we know when someone has it or not. As if perked up by sudden insight, Ciara said, "I could have met someone who doesn't have Imagination and I wouldn't be able to tell!"

We were on to something. With a little tweaking and re-reading we had found our question: "How do you measure an artist's imagination?"

So...how do you measure an artist's imagination? What do you think?

-Nick Velleman, Alumni Fellow