Sunday, February 7, 2010

Riding the Magic Carpet: Daily Painting on the Internet

“Elizabeth says the internet is like a magic carpet,” our artist-friend Barbara reported.  That took me aback.  I’m on the computer all day, every day, for work.  So when it comes to time behind a screen, magic carpet isn’t the phrase that comes to mind.

I know there’s a bit of cognitive dissonance here:  as part of a collaborative writing blog, I’ve chosen to be on my computer for a large part of my off-hours.  Just the same, I maintain a profound ambivalence about spending so much time in the virtual world.

But I thought back to the tomato I’d found to illustrate a post, and I had to admit I understood what Elizabeth meant.  Reading Anne Carson’s Autobiography of Red led me to the tomato.  The tomato led me to “Postcards from Holland."  From there I found Jos van Riswick's other works.  And who, after all, could possibly resist his painting of a red metal pan of eggs?

All right, some readers might find such a thing utterly resistible (and others might think of William Carlos Williams).  For me, for reasons I can’t explain, I’m repeatedly drawn to artistic renderings of ordinary things:  Gwyn Metz's wire and rubber scow, a depiction of a shard of pottery found on a beach, a drawing of oak leaves, acorns, and a bit of fern.
The three works I've referred to are connected in another way:  I saw the wire and rubber scow at Gwyn Metz's exhibit, about which I wrote.  Megan Barron (Kookaburra), who painted the pottery shard, commented on that post, and I followed her link.  There I found Milly, who drew the oak and fern, and followed her link, too.  Ever since, I've checked eagerly to see what they've put up for display.  

I do so often, as Kookaburra posts a new work every day.  Jos van Riswick used to do that, too.  And that's how I came upon the huge community of daily painters who paint cups, tomatoes, scissors, clam knives, and all manner of ordinary things, and post them on the internet for all to see (and buy).  I had some catching up to do:  how did this happen, and when, and why?

The first such site is credited to Duane Keiser.  From there, the PAD movement, as it's called, spread out across the globe.  It has been remarked on repeatedly:  in the New York Times, the GuardianThe Huffington Post, and, needless to say, all across the blogosphere.

The start of the story was promising, with Keiser quoting Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek:

There are many things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises.  The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside by a generous hand.  But--and this is the point--who gets excited by a mere penny?  If you follow one arrow, if you crouch motionless on a bank to watch a tremulous ripple thrill on the water and are rewarded by the sight of a muskrat paddling from its den, will you count that sight a chip of copper only, and go on your rueful way?  It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won't stoop to pick up a penny.  But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days.  It is that simple.  What you see is what you get.
I traveled from site to site, looking for artists whose daily paintings I liked.  I found some beautiful things, like these:
But there was also a lot that was, well, let’s just say, not for me.  After a time, I got the sinking feeling I often get when I spend time on the internet.  I haven’t got out of my chair since lunch!  The sun is setting!  Where has the day gone, and what do I have to show for it?  What had seemed, at first, the discovery of a treasure trove morphed into the feel of bargain day at Filene’s Basement.  

It’s not that there isn’t appealing work out there:  there is, as I hope my own discoveries show. It’s just that there’s so much, and it’s so unfiltered.  My ambivalence toward the internet returned.  I needed to step outside, breathe fresh air, watch a nuthatch scuttle up a tree, or settle to a book. 

But first I needed to rid myself of the spoiler effect of my cyber-excess.  I stopped hunting for more stuff and returned to van Riswick’s tomato.  Still, and always, a lovely little work of art:

And I revisited the graceful art to be found at Drawings from Nature and wrack line.

I was content.  And I reminded myself:  I’d never have known about these wonderful artists if I hadn’t gone on my own magic carpet ride. 


Credits for art displayed on this post:

Joe Brainard, Untitled (Magic Carpet), 1975

Jos Van Riswick, Still Life with Red Saucepan

Milly, Drawings from Nature, Fragile Oak and Fern

Duane Keiser, Three Tea Cups

Julian Merrow-Smith, Clementine

Jos Van Riswick, Tomato Study

Megan Barron (Kookaburra), wrack line:  #243, seed head, drill


Watch Jos van Riswick paint a piece of Chipolata pie:


  1. It's convenient that I'm working on a post that dovetails with my response to this post, but I wonder if that internet-overload experience of having our senses stimulated and then numbed doesn't have to do -- directly -- with the superabundance we necessarily find there. Kant's idea of apperception explains this one way. He says that when we look down fifteen stories and see cars on the street (this is clearly not his example) it's not because we're recognizing the parts of the car -- wheels, fins, spoiler (in my case), etc. -- and then naming what we see. Rather, we're accustomed to seeing cars on the streets and so we skip over the seeing to come to the right conclusion and then move on to more important matters.

    And neuroscience has come to essentially the same conclusion -- which is the subject of my forthcoming entry: the brain seeks out patterns. When it encounters something new, it passes along the information with a jolt of adrenaline. Once it recognizes the pattern - and it doesn't take more than a single encounter to establish the pattern -- the brain begins lumping bits of information together and moves past it.

    Stepping outside, limiting the stimuli, refreshens all those old sensory relationships, and it seems to fine tune the experience -- or the experience-makers in the brain. Maybe because we're not relying so much on one sense, as we do when it comes to the computer screen? Who knows. But I definitely know the experience you describe.

  2. Evening greetings!

    I do not find the red pan of eggs resistible, nor anything by Joe Brainard or (another -ard ending) Annie Dillard.

    Anne Carson's book continues to be a wondrous eye opener.

    Again, great to read what comes to your pen (er, keyboard) & to be included as well. Before starting my p.a.d. I was not aware of how many others engage in the practice, but other people would soon ask me, "So, have you seen the paintings by that guy/woman who...? Nowadays references to "Julie & Julia" abound, too. I have to say it's gratifying that you explored other sites & unearthed some good artists, yet still like those of us who nudged you toward the search! Isn't Milly great?

    Also, if you like, you can use my real name, although it might please you to know that my blogger ID comes from the Mary Oliver poem.
    Back when I began "Auk Wrecks & Ark Larks" I wished to thwart the typical blog sensibility by reducing the "I"-ness of the equation (posts almost never include the pronoun); however, sometimes I sheepishly feel that using alter egos smacks of video-game culture. Do you have an opinion on any of this? I don't fear but know well that I've strayed from the subject at hand.


    Your point about small items accumulating into long-term pleasure is good, & one I believe in every day.

  3. When I get excited at finding a blog that really moves me and inspires, it is a wonderful moment. It is so lovely to read how you felt at discovering my drawings from nature.
    They are everyday objects to me. I draw them and hoped others would see the beauty in them too.

    I read this article with great interest and understanding for it pocesses many truths, the advantages and then the hazards.
    I have found joys and pleasures but equally regrets of wasted time. I have been very strict and just post when I have the spare time.
    It is so nice when people leave comments and appreciate my art work. Thank you for your interest and kind words.

    Kookaburra certainly is hard to resist and I love visiting and anticipating what will be next. I shall now go and see the other artists.

  4. Bill, Megan, Milly: Thank you for these comments, so rich with information and insight, and each from a different perspective.

    There is so much to think about in what you each have written. Bill, I was particularly struck by your observation, “Stepping outside, limiting the stimuli, refreshes all those old sensory relationships, and it seems to fine tune the experience -- or the experience-makers in the brain.” This describes exactly my experience when I stepped back from trolling the internet and stopped to look at van Riswick’s eggs in a pan and the lone tomato, Milly’s elegant array of oak leaves, acorns, and single fern leaf, and Megan’s three lovingly portrayed objects, each in its own space on the rich red ground.

    I see that, in the works of art I’ve chosen, each artist limits the stimuli for us, focuses our attention on the artist’s chosen subject, and engages us in close observation of that subject through the unique lens of the particular artist’s interpretation. We are meant to stop, to look, to savor, and if we do as we are meant to, we will come away renewed, our senses refreshed.

    Megan is exactly right: Milly is great. And Milly is exactly right: Megan is hard (I might say impossible!) to resist. To Milly and Megan (and to you, Jos, should you happen by and see this post and comments), thank you again, for giving us the gift of your art.

  5. Megan/kookaburra: A postscript to you on the subject of "I" and blog-names: my posts do use a lot of "I," so I'm probably in no position to weigh in against that. As for the blog-names, my thought at the time was to separate this world from my workaday world, and that was one way to do it. I'm unacquainted with video-games (if that's imaginable); I suppose I think of RA as my nom de plume. Some, as you now know, and perhaps have seen, call me Sue, and that's fine, too.

    I didn't know the Mary Oliver poem that gave rise to your nom de plume. Flying off on the magic carpet, I have retrieved it. It is a wonderful poem, so I am going to share it here (though I apologize in advance for what the blog format may do to the line breaks):

    The Kookaburras

    In every heart there is a coward and a procrastinator.
    In every heart there is a god of flowers, just waiting
    to stride out of a cloud and lift its wings.
    The kookaburras, pressed against the edge of their cage,
    asked me to open the door.
    Years later I remember how I didn't do it,
    how instead I walked away.
    They had the brown eyes of soft-hearted dogs.
    They didn't want to do anything so extraordinary, only to fly
    home to their river.
    By now I suppose the great darkness has covered them.
    As for myself, I am not yet a god of even the palest flowers.
    Nothing else has changed either.
    Someone tosses their white bones to the dung-heap.
    The sun shines on the latch of their cage.
    I lie in the dark, my heart pounding.

  6. What a heart-rending poem that is.

    " have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days." I love those words, and the principle that you espouse in that line.

    Jean Anouilh said:

    "Life is very nice, but it lacks form. It's the aim of art to give it some"

    I believe you have managed to give it some with your words.

  7. The Anouilh quote is perfect. Thank you for reminding us of it. As for "you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days," those are indeed marvelous words, though all credit must go to Annie Dillard for them and the paragraph in which they appear. (And I have just learned how to do a better job of showing that on blogger!)

  8. Ah, that is clear now, though I should have paid more attention in the first place!

  9. Simplicity has a strong draw alerting us to the beauty of that we may overlook in the cacophony of our complex lives with its myriad choices.If we are surrounded by stimulus, possessions, demands, choice, no wonder we love the art you select or the quiet stillness by a lake in the mountains, a simple holiday in a Yurt, cabin or tent.Meanwhile many in the materially lees wealthy countries strive for our material wealth. Without doubt, we are very fortunate to have the choice. Yet it brings with it the opportunity cost of that forgone and thus a greater need to ensure we select wisely and achieve balance. Whilst that can seem hard at times, your body will usually tell you when you need to quit the pc and take in the air. The internet brings us so much of value,including your blog, which helps us to share thoughts and connect with others that physical distance would otherwise make impossible.How much harder it can be to find people locally whose interests and ideas reasonant with ours. But also enjoy "reality" -a run, the open air, even visit Wales (for example). I used to rail against the unreality of the internet but now see its value as part of a balanced, wider life. And, when we meet, let us share person the joys and thoughts we also share here.Today i enjoyed a lovely walk to the shops though the parkland outside, then your blog and now I'm off to do my share of housework which I am reconfiguring as appreciating my home and making it a pleasanter place to be.

  10. J: Thank you for this lovely comment--worthy of its own post (and I look forward to that--hope you will tell us about the Wildlife Photog exhibit). As for stepping outside, this morning I was out in the open air, surrounded by pristine snow and woods. I stopped for a moment from shoveling the sidewalk, as I heard what I am sure was a pileated woodpecker in our woods. (My birdsongs book helped me to be alert to the call.) Caught only a glimpse of that exotic bird, but a nice way to start the day. And yes, may we gather in Wales--and perhaps the Lake District, where Milly and her art can be found!


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