Exquisite Detail: Getting Lost in the Repetition


Detail of Indra's Net II, in progress|  © Beth Ortman Studio

What exquisite place do we touch when we disappear into our work? I love and am completely inspired by reading and learning about other artists' spaces and work habits. What is it that made them who they are? What are their fears, their doubts, their losses and wins, and break-through moments? I look into the lives of other creatives to look at what shaped them to find some correlation to my own work. Not only from an aesthetic place but more from an acknowledgement that choosing the path to make art is difficult and worth it. Are artists the voices of their generation or maybe the flag holders of a compassionate connection to the self? Making art is all about stripping the layers of the self to zero and then building it back up with a slightly different version, vision and way of seeing. In this scenario, are artists a channel? Is there something working through the artist? When one is compelled to make things that no-one needs for survival, what is behind that drive?

The artwork that I create demands that I am constantly moving into and out from repetition and practice. I read a lot. I look for an idea that stands out or causes me to sketch something. I am always taking notes and sketching little visual connections to whatever series I am exploring. I am always behind what I want to accomplish because the work is tedious and time consuming and the ideas roll faster than I can create - a perfectly awesome state to be in.

"The difference in men does not lie in the size of their hands nor in the perfection of their bodies, but in this one sublime ability of concentration: to throw the weight in one blow, to live eternity in an hour." ~ Elbert Hubbard

I ramble on in this post as I ramble through my artwork. Weaving myths, legends, media and symbolism into new things. What I think this does, or at the very least, what it has done for me is open the conversation of the spiritual. Are we the ones making the art? What is the muse? When a writer, a musician or an artist talk about a great achievement, many will narrate their part of the story and leave a part for something else to weave itself into it. There always seems to linger a legend of not being completely present. It opens a discussion that there is faith that they are a channel. If you show up and do the work, the muse will work through you. Time disappears and when you start bringing yourself back to "the moment" things feel surreal. When you are in intense creation you are in the mode. It is you and your art, your music, words, whatever your medium. So the question gets stripped down a little more to become "What is it to truly come back to the moment?". If time speeds up and slows down all at once, the human moves out of the way, what third mixture comes into play? What is that energy that comes forth?

There is something magical that happens when two things come together to make a third, Hegel refers to it as The Calculus of Fresh Thinking. He described it as the dialectic process whereby one idea - a thesis- truly engaged with another - an antithesis- can yield a third, a new idea - a synthesis - that is born from both but which is wholly neither. This sums up something that I have long ago explored, and even altered some to my own thoughts about the muse and the artwork created. I love the open question "Who really creates a piece of art/music/writing/mathematical formula, etc...?" and I love that it is like a koan that is unanswerable.






Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles: humans caring for art


from the book: Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles  |  National Gallery of Australia

from the book: Jackson Pollock's Blue Poles  |  National Gallery of Australia

I was struck by the flurry of care in this image during the receipt of Jackson Pollock's pivotal painting, "Blue Poles" to the Brisbane Town Hall in 1974 - taken in the above photograph by an unseen person monitoring the scene from above the action.

Just to the inside of the door there are 7 men moving the painting inside the main area. One can think there are an equal number, if not more, on the other side of the door. Everywhere reporters and photographers are capturing the moment. I think about the creation of the wooden crate - the care that went into it to make sure this piece was not torn or ripped, dented or broken. The sheer weight of the crate. The amount of wood necessary to build a shell of protection. The amount of money, men assets it took to get it from the US to Australia. It had to cross in a plane? A boat? Was the temperature maintained to a perfect degree? How did the paint breath as it moved from climate to climate? How was this piece suspended in the wooden crate to ensure the canvas held?

Why do humans care so much for art? Art in itself is not going to provide shelter, food, water or sex - referencing Maslow's hierarchy here. Art is an opinion, a subjective statement - a way of life for some and a commodity to others. Though this painting is a historical look into a shifting of the way we perceived art at the time, it is still a mystery to some and a disgrace to others. It is something that has and always will cause controversy. The man who created it was plagued with depression and alcoholism, yet he had the grit to pursue his authentic vision.

What is it that as a collective consciousness we would take the care of such a thing that physically adds no value to our bodies?

How does art affect the human soul? What is it about a soul - this unnameable, intangible, untouchable thing that surges with emotion when coming in to contact with something so esoteric as a painting that we may intellectually never understand? At the time, his particular art represented a shift in a way of traditional painting and it was symbolic at the time to a pretty seismic shift in what was considered to be art. It became a captured image of energy and emotion caught in a jazz-like reference. There was little at the time to prepare for this explosion of energy, angst, color and splatter.

I go back now to why the above black and white photograph struck me. It made me proud and feel good about the inherent care that was provided to a dead man's vision. A relic that caused questions, controversy and open hatred. It meant that there was a select mindset that values art. Art that that elevated our human condition from a physical realm to a spiritual one. By taking care of art, it says that we value what we create. We support co-creation, the bringing into the world something that did not exist before. We value culture. As an artist, this made me content.


~ b


detail from Blue Poles

detail from Blue Poles