Sunday, March 28, 2010

Discovering the Secret of Art

There really is a secret of art. In fact there's a bunch of 'em. Trouble is they have a slippery habit of disappearing from your mind like misplaced little gems. All of us have to re-discover them. I just rediscovered one of them the other day and want to tell you about it.

Years ago I came to a crisis in my Freshman year at Oberlin College. I'd been planning to become a sociology major and was hip deep in the middle of writing my first 20 page sociology paper. It hadn't been going well and one evening, in complete disgust, I threw down my pen and stomped off to the movies. I'd never gone to the theater alone before so it felt odd as I walked up to the little one screen theater in the town. As it turned out, they were showing a film where Charlton Heston played Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

As you might guess from that casting choice, it wasn't the most sensitive films on the question of how artists invent their art. At the film's climax, a frustrated Michelangelo gazes up into the clouds. The orchestra soars and before him appears, fully formed from the billowing white vapor, the figure of Adam reaching his hand out to touch the extended index finger of God. This solves all of the artists compositional problems and he hurries home to finish off his greatest masterpiece.

Much as I'd like the same experience, it ain't like that.

What's required is some genuine self awareness. Pay attention and sometimes you'll feel a certain frame of mind steal over you. If you've painted for any length of time you know you're approaching one of those rare moments when you're likely to get some of your best ideas. It's almost like there's some insights that are knocking to come out of some sub-basement workshop in your unconscious. They don't come in with trumpets blaring, but rather tip toe up the steps from the basement and stand quietly in the back of the room, waiting for you to notice them. Honestly they seem shy and loud noises and sudden movements are likely to frighten them away.

Here's my legs holding one of my best secrets- a well used studio sketchbook. When I feel one of these especially receptive moods come over me I stop what I am doing, grab a ball point pen, and sit down and make myself as quiet as possible. Then I just look that the work in progress. Pretty soon a new idea suggests itself to me about how to change a shape or deepen a color. And I draw the idea in simple diagrammatic form, along with a few words to explain to myself what it is I want to do. The advice is kept simple, like "make rocks at right side higher" or "cooler greens."

What almost always happens is I then get another good idea of where to take the painting, and then another, and another... Almost always the insights seem to come to me in a flock or a herd.
I write them all down, carefully drawing pictures in simple silhouetted drawings of the parts of the painting I want to change. There is no attempt whatsoever to make the diagrams look presentable as art as they aren't intended for anyone but me. In fact, I never show the studio sketchbooks to anyone.

I didn't used to do this so religiously, this writing down of the good ideas. But I found that I would forget some of the changes I wanted to add to the paintings. Insights come to us usually with a quiet whisper. Often they're only half formed, and only give us hints of what we should do next. You have to respect the modesty of the process, feeling your way towards what you're most creative side is gradually revealing to you. You can't rush it, and you mustn't take the insights for granted. There are simply times when we are more talented than usual, as if the Muse has chosen for her mysterious reasons to smile on us for a moment. Take her gifts seriously, draw them and write them down as best you can, for she'll be leaving your studio again in a few minutes. I've tried offering tea and cake to encourage her to stay, but she always seems to be running late.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A Peek Behind the Studio Curtain

I've always enjoyed other people. But as the years go by, I seem to be getting more and more private when it comes to working in my studio. Partly I believe this is because I'm realizing how incredibly difficult it is to paint something with any sort of genuine and original vision.

A quiet place free of all distractions helps stack the deck in my favor. Corot, the amazing 19th century French painter once likened the difficulty of painting to that of carrying a soap bubble in one's hand. He was onto something. Before you've given the image solid form it exists only as a whisper or a hope in your imagination. It's fragile. That's the incredible beauty of it when an artist pulls it off successfully.

Here's a peek at some of the things I've been working on this last couple of weeks. Above is the pastel drawing I did from my imagination of the Porcupine Islands up in Acadia National Park in Maine. I've had this image stuck in my memory of the time years ago when I stood in the spot where I first saw these islands. It had been raining and heavy fog covered everything. Late in the morning the breeze changed and this view opened before me. It seemed pure magic to me back then, and the feeling of that moment is what I'm reaching for in the drawing.

It's actually one of several pastels, each only 5 x 10". I like starting out my ideas small and feeling my way in little baby steps as my mental images come more and more into focus. Keep at it and before you know it you've gone a real distance.

Philip Koch, The Sea, oil on panel, 6 1/2 x 13", 2010

The pastels are often a first step for me in producing oil paintings. They're faster and I find myself willing to try color mixtures that I are outside my usual comfort zone. Above is an oil version I completed last week. It will be a launching pad for a larger oil version I'll be completing in the coming months.

Below is another vision of that same memory of the Porcupine Islands, a pastel measuring 6 1/2 x 9 3/4". It's mood is quite different than the first image's. Now the foreground plays a bigger role and reaches up to grab more of our attention from the sweeping distant spaces.

And finally below is an oil version that changes once again, adding more diagonal movements to the waters and the sky. It casts more the moody spell I wanted. It too will be the basis for a much larger oil I'll be working on in the next period.

Philip Koch, Ocean, oil on panel, 7 1/2 x 10", 2010

These small pastels and little oil paintings are how I explore new territories. I start out with an only partly defined image in my head and then flesh it out a square centimeter at a time. A small surface can be just the right stage to discover what is it you're trying to say. Paintings are like people- they don't spring into the world full grown. Rather they are born and grow over many months in my maternity ward.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Little Gem

This is the view standing in the old masters gallery at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts in Hagerstown, Maryland. It's just west of the first long string of mountains you hit as you travel in from the coast near Washington, DC and Baltimore. Because of this geography, it was right on the route the Confederate Army took heading to and retreating from Gettysburg during the Civil War. Apparently Lee's army camped on the grounds where the Museum is now located. Dripping with history, the setting is also very beautiful.

I attended the Members Annual Meeting today at the Museum. Had the chance to meet the President of the Board of Trustees, Tom Newcomer. He's an energetic supporter of the Museum and proved an engaging speaker as he chaired the meeting. Here he is framed by the work from the local Valley Art Association now hanging in one of the galleries.

In addition to displaying the work of famous artists, the Museum has a long and commendable history of exhibiting the artists of the region. Some years back I served as one of the jurors for the Museum's annual juried regional art exhibition.

And here is the new Director of the Museum, Rebecca Massie Lane, who came last year to the Museum from Sweet Briar College where she was the Director of that college's Art Gallery.

In a move that is remarkable in the middle of a recession, the Museum is planning a major improvement to its facility by adding an elegant glass roof over the Museum's large interior courtyard. In making that central space available for year-round use, WCMFA emulates the excellent renovation Washington. DC's Smithsonian American Art Museum did recently in glassing over their central courtyard. We wish Newcomer and Lane luck in the last leg of fundraising for this project.

Some years ago, perhaps as a warm up for the Courtyard Project, WCMFA wrapped glass walls around the rounded portico that used to serve as the Museum's front entrance. It opens up the front of the Museum to view the lake in City Park and give a special prominence to the much beloved Anna Hyatt Huntington sculpture Diana of the Chase of 1922 pictured at the beginning of this post.

I remember when I first saw this addition some year ago I was utterly charmed at the new intimately welcoming space it created. In the winter its great to sit on one of the benches and see the snow around the lake. You admire the Diana sculpture from several different angles.

Huntington knew her stuff and created an amazingly energetic yet graceful series of forms rising up through the hound, through the figure and finally up into the bow and beyond. It dances for your eyes. And all this with the lake as a backdrop. As a natural setting for art, nobody else in the region comes close. I suspect the the new Courtyard project will be a lovely addition as well.

After the war Hagerstown built an amazing City Park that reminds me of a small version of New York's Central Park, though Hagerstown's has a view of the mountains New Yorkers would envy. Then in 1930 a wealthy artist built and opened the WCMFA. It is something of a rarity both for its strengths in 19th and early 20 century art and for its remarkable setting. If anyone wants to introduce young children to their first art museum, this is the place to do it. The facility sits on the bank of an enormous winding pond loaded with waterfowl and huge fish. It teams with life. Here's some of the critters within a few steps of the Museum entrance.

The kids will like the museum as it is small enough to see in a half hour. Then take them on a walk around the twisting and bending pathways surrounding the pond and they'll love the birds and fish.

Seriously, visual art and wildlife have more of a tie in than you might think. We evolved, after all, from some distant ancestors we share with these animals. Artists when they make work for us are reaching deeply back into parts of ourselves that are too often hidden from our view. Art's job is to awaken some of these slumbering spirits. Both art and the natural world vibrate with instinct, emotion, and sensual beauty. I believe that in the presence of animals and when we stand before art, we sense something deeper within ourselves. Museums on the approachable scale offered by the WCMFA are perfect for inviting the growing mind of the child into seeing art as a natural, and very enjoyable part of their lives. And what kid doesn't like ducks?

The Museum's Permanent Collection really surprised me years ago when I first saw it. Hagerstown after all is a small and somewhat remote little city. One I particularly like is a baroque oil by the Dutch painter Gofried Schalcken, Self Portrait of the Artist Holding a Candle from 1694. The rhythm that runs through the figure is great. Note how the artist runs the angle of the upper hand exactly parallel with the tilt of the candle's shaft. And how the artist's highlighted thumb and index finger echo the flourish of the candle's flame. These baroque painters had such a sense of mysterious subtly glowing light.

Below is a beautiful little George Inness oil, Coming Storm, Montclair from 1876. Inness painted several different versions of this same basic composition but each carries a distinctly different mood. This one puts a big emphasis on the white cloud that contrasts both the very blue sky and the beautifully shaped stand of trees. Inness could at the same time suggest great solidity while still describing forms with feathery sensitive textures. How he pulls this off so well and still creates such a palpable atmosphere is a mystery.

And below is a Hudson River School painting by one of my old favorites, John Frederick Kensett's A Mountain Pond from 1863. He's an artist I fell in love with when I first saw his work at Indiana University Art Museum back in 1970 as I entered my MFA program for painting. I did my first copy of a master's painting right from that I.U. Museum Kensett and learned a great deal.

Kensett didn't paint a lot of vertical canvases, so this one is sort of unusual for him. What it does have that is so distinctive is his characteristic crisp and even brittle textures that are then softened by his sensitive touch with atmosphere. The warm colors of the rocky mountain played off against the cool greys of the fog is worth the price of admission. (The Museum, by the way, is free).

Below is one of the Museum's signature pieces, Scene on the Catskill Creek , New York, by the great Hudson River School painter Frederick Church. I first saw this painting in Washington D.C. when the National Gallery of Art borrowed it to include in their monumental Church exhibition some years ago. They were lucky to get it.

Church could be an amazing composer of shapes. Look at the sharp wedge-like white cloud as it stretches across the painting, almost as if it strains to reach out and touch the dark silhouetted trees of the foreground. And note the beautiful simplicity of the flat shapes of the foreground at the right. Church was a master of detail to be sure, but he knew how to plant all that information on an energized abstract composition that gave his paintings an extra breath of life.

And finally here's an oil by a painter I didn't know, Hamilton Wolf, an American artist who lived from 1883- 1967. It's titled simply Annunciation. While not displaying a date, I'd bet it is from the 1930's or so. It has a wonderful sculptural monumentality that reminds me of my favorite American printmaker, Rockwell Kent. I did two blog post on Kent's engravings a few weeks ago. Also, like Kent, Wolf the painter does a masterful job with an abstracted geometry in the background that works both with and against the figure's pose at the same time in a perfect balance. Always a treat to discover new excellent work by a little know artist. And to see their work getting some of its due.

If you've never been to WCMFA and you're in the area, go see it. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Inner Sanctum

Philip Koch's crank-adjustable studio easel.

My studio. It's the place where I do my cooking. Like any cook, I have my favorite implements. I like to think we painters work with a little more vision and imagination than chefs (revealing my bias here, but heck, I'm a painter). The thing is about a painter's imagination- it can only be made visible by working through one's tools and materials. You can't impose your will on the painting. Instead you have to craft it into being. Here are a few tools that have made all the difference to me.

I spend enormous amounts of time, standing at this easel. I got into the habit of standing to paint in an interesting way. Years ago when I first started doing landscape paintings outside, I didn't have an easel. Instead I'd sit on the ground (tough in winter, trust me) and prop my canvas up against the back of my wooden paintbox that opened like a suitcase. It all worked reasonably well for a few years. Then I got a job teaching at the Maryland Institute College of Art. One day I was seated by the side of the road painting away in this fashion when the president of MICA drove by. It was Eugene Leake, himself a painter who did elegant broadly painted landscapes I admired very much. He was famous for his clipped responses. He simply slowed his car, rolled down the window, and yelled out "you'll have to get yourself an easel." Then off he went.

Well I went and bought one that week, my first portable French easel. No sooner had I taken it outside and started painting than I noticed something amazing- my paintings just got better. My exact words were "Huh!" Somewhat mystified, I looked at the question from all possible angles to understand what difference the easel made. And I came up with a number of sound ideas about exactly how it was helping me. Now years later, I've added another answer to that question. That is that our intelligence resides not just in our brains, but in ways we little understand, throughout the our body. If you stand up you move your limbs more and breathe more deeply. This stimulates your vision and your imagination. In short you paint better.

Nowadays in my drawing classes at MICA I make all my students stand up all the time. If anyone asks why I just tell them the Muse demands it.

A half dozen years ago I broke down and bought a high quality easel imported from Italy made by Mabef. Its chief selling point is it has a hand crank that raises and lowers the painting you're working on to exactly the height you want. This is a huge advantage. And it keeps me standing up and painting well.

With all that standing you might wonder if I get tired. Here's the view directly in back of my easel. Note the rocking chair pictured above. It is stationed strategically in front of a full length mirror that is aimed at whatever is in progress on the easel. Seeing the painting's image reversed, reduced in size, and a little bit darker all contribute to letting you see it with a fresh eye. Artists have used studio mirrors like this for centuries. I'm always confounded when I visit another artist's studio and they don't have a mirror handy. It is too good a tool to overlook.

I also highly recommend rocking chairs. There is something about that back and forth motion that seems to push one's frame of mind gently in a better direction. Artists have to envision how they can paint something better, and then how to improve it further still. A tall order. I find the rocking chair helps persuade that part of my imagination to simmer more productively. It's a way to rest but to also keep the body, and the mind, moving.

I've always notice that beginning painters get a lot of paint on themselves and all over their surroundings. Probably I did too. But I find that when a painting is going well, the paint tends to end up where it needs to go instead of on your shoes. Anything that helps corral the colors is a good thing.

Here's my brush holder, as you can see a veteran of decades of studio paint splatters and drips. I like to work with lots of brushes simultaneously, basically one for each of the major hues I'm employing for a given passage in the painting. Left to their own devices, loaded paint brushes have the unruly habit of rolling into each other and dirtying up each others colors. There's nothing as demoralizing as reaching for wide brush laden with a silver grey you've spent twenty minutes to mix up from just the right pigments only to have a big streak of offending pink stream out from the side of the brush that collided with its neighbor. So I sawed up pieces of 1/4 round pine stock from the lumber yard and affixed a row of them along a large board. The brushes stay at the ready, held in place by their slots. This device over the years has saved me countless hours of frustration as well as a mountain of precious oil pigments.

Of course, nothing matters for a painter as much as coming up with great ideas about what to paint. Artists need to grapple with images that speak at once to many sides of their personality. It is when you've gotten a firm grasp on developing a real vision for your paintings that you can sense how central well chosen tools are to your trade. Nothing happens without the magic of one's imagination. And nothing happens unless the magician is well practiced with just the right tools.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Why Art Matters

Why do we bother with art?

My short answer: it is tool to make us feel better.

In everyone's life there are a few moments in any given week when experience becomes exceptional. The usual cloud of preoccupations, anxieties, and general confusion are swept away by a new perception. A snatch of music, an unexpected scent, or the glow of sunlight on a courtyard wall reaches deep within us and sounds a new chord. For a brief moment a sensation of well being, excitement and good old fashioned delight takes a hold of us. These moments are the exceptional times in our lives, but they are among the most real things that happen to us. Sometimes we know for a least a moment that our life is deep, real, and utterly worthwhile.

Artists have a dicey job. We try to grab a hold of those extraordinary moments and turn them into something you can hold onto. We create paintings, sculptures, or music that remind people of those times when they have seen and felt most deeply.

One of the reasons I'm such a fanatic about some of the art from the past is that is has been a remarkable boon to me- it teaches me how to see. It isn't that art from the past is automatically better than contemporary art. Some of the old artist stumbled pretty badly. But if people are still looking a paintings done by someone over a hundred years ago, there's a better than average chance there is something genuine going on there.

One of my favorites is the 19th century American painter Winslow Homer. Above is his oil A Light on the Water in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Homer had a knack for seeing the essentials. I imagine he had the habit of walking through life with half-squinted eyes, always studying the simplified silhouettes and color of what he saw. He learned how to say a great deal with an absolute minimum of means.

Notice how Homer adjusts the tones of dark and light in his figure so that she's always darker than the light on the water. He's gone to great pains to express her lively personality through her elegantly powerful silhouette, and because he knows what he's doing, he adjusts the tones to highlight this special expressiveness of her shape. He makes it hard to miss what he liked best about her.

Here's a more modest Homer, a watercolor titled Woman Sewing, also at the Corcoran. Homer is extremely selective about which details to emphasize. Look at the restraint on the folds on the sitter's torso. They are barely indicated so that instead the woman's gesture with her hands and the shape of what she's sewing will seem important. Compared to her top, the rhythms of the silky trim at the bottom of her skirt is accented. The shape of the bottom hems is echoed in the cloudy grey swirls in the background at the lower right. The woman looks up from her contemplative task, but the amazingly animated abstract background suggests she's emotionally far away in a very charged personal reverie.

This is another Homer watercolor, Picking Apples, a picture that wrote the book about celebrating brilliant sunlight, Look for a moment at the heavy wall of dark green Homer creates to summarize the orchard in back of the little girls. A bird would break its neck if it tried to land on one of those trees. The little bits of sky that show have likewise been darkened and greyed down to make Homer's foreground spots of sunlight seem all the brighter. Notice how much fun Homer has positioning the two girls so close together, squeezing the empty space between them into a series of sharp, unexpected shapes. And those bonnets or hoods the kids are wearing are fabulous. I have a birthday coming up, if any of you are wondering what to get me...

And here's a final Homer watercolor, Key West, Hauling Anchor. It's an elegant dance between darks, greys and lights. Look at how Homer holds the tones in the water and sky down to a middle grey level so the white sails and boat's hull shout out their whiteness. The ship's crew
is pushed together into a large dark accent to push the beautiful abstract shapes of the sails forward into the viewer's eyes.

Homer was a man who spent a lifetime using his eyes and loving the best of what he saw. Inventive and patient, he crafted paintings that select out for us the very best of what he discovered. Look closely at what he shows us. He's an unrivaled teacher of how to see more clearly and feel more deeply. Winslow Homer- a thoughtful, generous man. I know he's been an invaluable guide to me in making sense of my experiences and my learning to enjoy the world more fully. Thanks Winslow.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Drawings at the Academy Art Museum in Maryland

Took a trip to visit one of my favorite regional art museums yesterday, the Academy Art Museum, on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the town of Easton. I've watched the Museum grow since the early 1970's when two of its earliest directors were my friends the painters Henry Coe and Rob Seyfert. But much has changed since those days when it was really more of a community art center. It has undergone a couple of significant renovations and expansions from its original schoolhouse (or was it perhaps a church?) beginnings. And it went about acquiring a significant Permanent Collection. A lot of that growth happened during the long tenure of Chris Brownawell as Director. Chris just moved to Maine to head up the Farnsworth Art Museum, another real gem of an East Coast art museum. We hope he took his mittens along with him.

If you're anywhere near Easton, MD the Academy Museum is a worth a detour to visit. It is perhaps my all time favorite conversion on an old building to house a spankingly new-looking facility. While retaining the charm of its original setting, the lobby gallery space and courtyard that greet the visitor as they enter are intimate, welcoming, and very beautifully done. For a modest facility it makes a big impact.

The Museum's Curator, Brian Young, has put together a first class survey show (up through April 2, 2010) Modern Drawing: Tracing 100 Years. I had the opportunity to hear a gallery talk last evening on the show. Picured below is an new acquisition Young made for the Museum that opens the exhibition, a graphite pencil drawing by the eminent French artist Pierre Bonnard. View of the Seine from Bonnard's Garden in Vernon, 1912-13.

Young commented the drawing showed Bonnard flattening out of forms in a way typical of French post impressionist artists. I always get the feeling in Bonnard that he wants your eye to wash over the whole canvas like a gentle wave sweeping over the beach sands. And he does that here, letting the foreground grasses merge easily into his taller trees at the right. One thing Bonnard usually gets right is the overall feeling for colored light that surrounds one when they're out in the landscape. Even in this graphite pencil drawing you can feel the artist trying to wrap the light all around the viewer.

Here's Brian Young speaking about one of the two Arthur Davies drawings in the show- this one a watercolor and crayon drawing titled simply Venice. Though I'm no Davies scholar, I'd guess this is an earlier piece and it seems to owe a great deal to the tradition of Venetian images from Whistler's etchings and earlier still Turner's watercolors. A handsome little piece.

On the opposing wall of the same gallery is another Arthur Davies, this one the wonderfully mysterious gouache drawing Children at Dusk. Davies was friends with the artists of the American Ashcan School like Robert Henri and John Sloan and was active in their exhibitions. But while the others of this group were trying for a more clear-eyed realism, Davies had a deeply romantic and even mystical streak in him. In this moody little piece it is night and we might be looking at a secret sacred ceremony. I love it.

And here below is a graphite pencil drawing by the Easton artist James Plumb of a rabbit that is heartbreakingly tender. It holds its own against any of the other pieces in the show. There's a famous drawing by Albrecht Durer, the German renaissance artist, of a rabbit in the same pose that must have inspired this contemporary homage.

In the second gallery space are more contemporary pieces. Here's a terrific figure study by the American sculptor Philip Grausman. While I am a landscape painter myself, I learned to draw by doing thousands of studies from the nude model and have enormous appreciation for that tradition (and I teach figure drawing at the Maryland Institute College of Art). This Grausman guy knows his stuff. One of the things artists are supposed to do is notice important things others have overlooked. In this drawing Grausman does exactly that with the sensitive transitions of the muscles of the thigh attaching themselves to the pelvis. There is a poetry to the lines of our body Grausman tells us.

Here's Brian with a Franz Kline at the far left and a William Baziotes in the middle.

And here's a close up of the Kline, H. Daum: Black and White Abstract, 1950, watercolor and guouche on heavy brown paper laid down on cardboard. Kline at his best could milk a few shapes for all they're worth to express a drama of movement and of personalities. This is one of his stronger pieces of this type in my opinion.

In concluding his talk, the Curator said something I liked very much. In his view, many museums segregate their exhibitions into major shows for big name artists and a few little offerings for lesser known regional artists. Young explained that as long as the work was strong, he likes to mix both sorts of artists together in the same exhibition. He's done that here. Partly it is a way for museums to live within their hard pressed budgets, especially in these recession driven times.

But it also chips away at the official sanction of who is important and who isn't. Established hierarchies probably always should be questioned a little. A survey show like Modern Drawings: Tracing 100 Years invite's viewers to draw their own conclusions about what's of lasting quality. I wish more museum people would adopt his idea.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Avatar Film and Landscape Painting

I finally got around to seeing the film Avataor, mostly because my son-in-law Mike Hughes liked it so much. So much of what Hollywood produces seems to achieve the sensitivity of a McDonld's commercial. This time though, I think some poetry must have slipped in the backdoor of the movie studios. For anyone who takes pleasure in the look and feel of the world, I think this is a hard movie not to like. For landscape painters like myself, I found it extremely engaging.

All of us have our emotions and our senses stimulated by our surroundings. Here's a fable about a fictional planet where all the flora and fauna are linked together into an all encompassing awareness. The Na'avi, who "people" the planet connect to their environment in a way we can only dream about.

Philip Koch, The Violet Whisper, oil on canvas, 30 x 40"

For me when a painting is truly good, it has a transparency to its feeling. There is an intensity to its surfaces, its light and its depths that has a powerfully emotional quality. And when I have been at my best out painting in the landscape I've been able, at least for a little while, to feel the wall of separation between me and my subject come down.

Now I'm not going to run off and start painting other planets. But the image of the world of the Na'avi is sticking with me. It is a modern myth about overcoming our own alienation and isoltion from the natural world.

I've often thought about why I paint landscapes. For one thing, I grew up in the middle of nowhere in northern New York state. There were very few other children to play with so I had to spend an extraordinary amount of time playing by myself in the deep forests that surrounded my home. Its changes were dramatic through all four season. I can remember feeling delighted by it, awed sometimes and even frightened by the darkness of the forest. You can't come away from a long immersion in nature without apprehending a sense of its living personality. It is something very hard to put into words. I can't yet I want to relate some of my experience to others, so I paint.

Here's two photos from the film. I think the artists who conceived of the animation achieved something pretty remarkable. And theirs is an artistry in service of an ideal we all need more of in our lives.

Particularly well done in my opinion is the imagining and animation of the Na'avi people themselves.