Artists’ world is usually a mystery for other people. Why did they choose to be artists? How do they live? What is their main search? This Wednesday, in Michael Bell weekly section on Yareah Magazine, MBELLART, we are going to try to understand a little more of the mysterious art world.
Interview by Isabel del Rio
I.R.- Hi Michael. How are you? In your point of view and since you are an artist: Is your life so bohemian, so full of freedom as people could imagine? Have times changed or they never were so unconventional as Impressionist paintings reflected?
M.B.- Hi Isabel. Always a pleasure to speak with you. Yes, at times life is exactly that highly romanticized bohemian, freedom-filled world people imagine my life to be. The packed shows, the star-studded celebrity fueled painting auctions, the nude models, the traveling to exotic and sometimes dangerous places with my unique clientele and my wife at my side. The all-night painting sessions fueled by creative collaborations and late night conversations about art, life and meaning. At other times it’s about taking care of that ‘business-side’ of being an artist, from cutting deals and creating new ways to promote yourself and your work that we spoke of in last week’s interview (http://yareah.com/1600-museums-galleries-and-different-shows-interview-with-michael-bell/). And, for the past six years, it’s also been about being the best father I can be to my young son, who often works alongside me in my studio on his own easel.
I.R.- How about the training of an artist? Do you need many years of education or inspiration and creativity are enough? Can you tell us a little about your training?
M.B.- I have a mantra. It’s painted on the walls of my studio, and I wear it as a reminder on a wristband on my arm. It reads: IMAGINATION * DEDICATION * HARD WORK
I think it’s important to be a “student of the game.” Whatever your game is, strive to be the best “you” you can be. I don’t think it has anything to do with needing many years of education, although it can help, but I also don’t think just having inspiration and creativity are enough either. You need a “why.” Why are you painting what you paint, why are you photographing what you’re photographing, what’s your “why?” It’s a combination of having something to say and using your talents to say it in an unmistakable voice that’s uniquely your own. For me it’s forming that perfect blend of technical and intellectual/ conceptual approaches.
I learned a lot from my Grandmother Violet (http://yareah.com/1219-look-homeward-angel-michael-bells-tribute-to-violet-vallery/). She was a totally self-taught artist from Lyndhurst, New Jersey who was laid to rest this weekend at a very emotional memorial service after her passing at the age of 95. I learned from her it’s never too late to start pursuing your dreams and you can teach yourself practically anything you really want to learn.
As artists we have no place to hide. We cannot just set the work down for a while or do a half-hearted job and assume no one will notice because deep down we know that most of us can. If you need to improve “technically,” practice drawing from life as much as possible. If it’s “presentation” you need help with visit museums and galleries for current art trends.
Studio time is when the real hard work begins and we’re all alone with it. We all suffer setbacks; endure criticism from within and without. As artists we often build invisible walls that sometimes even those closest to us can’t scale. When we work, we are all alone – at our easels, behind our cameras, seeking to give what’s in our mind’s eye meaningful form and expression. But it’s because we can dream it that we can create it and can become it. It’s our contribution to humanity. Our legacy. As Edvard Munch put it, “Art is our heart’s blood.” It deserves our dedication, and for me, that means putting in ten times more hard work than the next guy is willing to. No one can outwork me. That’s part of what it takes to succeed at this level.
I.R.- Of course, if we are talking about artists and legends, we must talk about MONEY! From Van Gogh and his tragic life, it seems that being a young artist and dying by starvation is the same thing. Do artists suffer so many needs, at least in the beginning and while they are bohemian and rebel?
M.B.- Of course they do. I used to hustle in New York City, and I don’t just mean paintings. You do what you have to do as a young artist to get by. I also bartended, waited tables, taught classes, whatever I had to do at that particular time in my life in order to make ends meet so that I could DO WHAT I LOVE – PAINT.
I have found that once you drop one thing, another thing quickly takes its place. Like sand on the shore. Once I was waiting tables for a while in my mid 20’s and my wife said to me “Why don’t you quit waiting tables and just focus on just your art?” I was scared. My money was steady. I had no gallery shows lined up and no commissions hanging in the balance. But I did it. I quit my job, threw caution to the wind, and low and behold – I quickly received a commission to do a public mural, then a large portrait. Before I knew it I made more money in a few weeks than I would have made waiting tables in a year! I guess it just goes to show, you’ve gotta make room for what you really want in your life by getting rid of what you don’t want anymore, and be FEARLESS about it! Get totally focused and discard all that distracts you and gets in your way.
I.R.- Finally, in few words, is an artist an ordinary person?
M.B.- Ordinary – NEVER! An artist is a creator. We see things others don’t see. I think my Grandmother put it best, “I see things. Nature’s work is always there, but most people just don’t look,” Violet explained. An artist IS THAT EXTRAORDINARY, highly romanticized, bohemian, freedom-filled person that squeezes every last ounce of juice from life in order to use it as fuel to do something constructive — as opposed to destructive — with what life throws their way.
Enjoy your week, Michael