Nicholas Baxter

Blog posts tagged “books”

Daily Rituals & Creative Routines

This year I’ve been picking my way through the book Daily Rituals: How Artists Work in little bits and pieces and being thoroughly entertained by the habits and daily minutiae of some of recent history’s greatest thinkers and creators. I can’t recommend this book enough to any alienated, existential-crisis-prone artist in order to be reassured that:

  1. You’re not crazy
  2. You’re crazy

Here’s a fun infographic that some cool person made to give you a brief glimpse into some of the inspiring and/or wacky daily lives of some of the greats.

creative-routines-edit3

8th International 2011-2012 ARC Salon Catalogue Now Available

Earlier in the year I announced that I was chosen as a finalist in the Art Renewal Center’s annual juried competition, in the still life category, for my painting “What Love Is.”  Though I was not selected for any of the grand prizes, my status as finalist means that my painting is published in the print catalog that the organization produces each year to commemorate the contest.

What Love Is, oil on panel, 2011, 16in x 24in

That catalog for last year’s competition is finally out, and available through the Art Renewal Center’s website.  If you order one, look for my piece on page 92!

The quality of realist and representational art in the catalog is astounding and truly inspirational for anyone who appreciates skill, technique, and humble craftsmanship in the visual arts.  Bucking the postmodern trend of concept over quality, the ARC gives hope that classical knowledge and disciplines are still alive, even when subject matter evolves to incorporate modern elements and motifs (as my own work does).

Being recognized by a group like ARC is an honor for me, as my own work attempts in part to honor the traditions of realism in representational art. In fact, my over-arching artistic goal is to achieve the combination of masterful old world skill with cutting edge commentary on the world I presently inhabit, and where we are headed as a species: the pinnacle of past, present and future.

“The 2011/2012 ARC Salon was our largest turnout yet with over 2,100 entries and over 800 artists participating. There were a large number of high quality works that did not make it into the finals. This was true even after extending the original 300+ expected finalist pieces to over 500. All 500 plus finalists are shown in this catalogue. To have become a finalist and be showcased in this catalogue is even more difficult than before and is a huge accomplishment.”

Escape From Flatland: Apostasy Redux

Last week while reading the work of my newest fascination Ken Wilber, I stumbled quite happily upon an eloquent explanation of one of the central themes of my ongoing series, The Apostasy.

Wilber’s brilliant writings have been a huge influence as of late, on both my life and the conceptual side of my art. His staggeringly comprehensive, “post-postmodern” philosophical synthesis of every major tradition of human knowledge is called Integral Theory.

The Quadrants: insides, outsides, singular, and plural.

One of the central tenets of Integral is the quadrant system, which is a way of describing literally every aspect of reality (which Wilber calls the “Kosmos”), including ourselves and our perception. The usefulness of the quadrant system lies in the user’s ability to critique a person or movement who may be falsely claiming absolute truth based on partial or inadequate knowledge. That is, limited knowledge hailing from only one or some of the 4 quadrants, rather than comprehensively stemming from (and thus integrating) all of them.

“The Kosmos” means everything.

Enter here the postmodern reign of materialism and its hallmark of scientific reductionism, which flattens all of reality to merely what can be perceived, charted, or quantified with the physical senses.  This phenomenon, while leading to remarkable advances in the physical sciences and Western/allopathic medicine, has ironically also led to devastating consequences on human health and happiness, as well as on the Earth and its fragile ecosystem.  Ken Wilber has accurately dubbed this phenomenon–this mental paradigm–Flatland.

This ripe contradiction, and the spotty veil of incomplete truth that the postmodern materialist worldview presents, were the fertile ground for many of the concepts I’ve attempted to portray through this series of paintings.  Reading the words of Ken Wilber, which so succinctly summarized my intentions, inspired another revisitation of my central theme.

Wilber describes the Flatland process as such:

The flattening, the leveling, the collapse of the Kosmos. The universe was pushed through a strainer of objectification, and the result was thin soup indeed. All that was left of a richly multidimensional Kosmos was simply the sensory/empirical exteriors and outlines and flatland forms, much as if a sphere had been projected onto a plane surface, producing only a series of flat circles–all span, no depth–at which point we say, “What sphere?”

In short, depths that required interpretation were largely ignored in favor of the interlocking surfaces that can simply be seen (empiric-analytic)–valueless surfaces that could be patiently, persistently, accurately mapped: on the other side of the objective strainer, the world appeared only as a great interlocking order of sensory surfaces, empirical forms.

This…”view from nowhere”…could not prove itself–but rather was taken, literally, on blind faith, a faith blind to the entire Left half of the Kosmos.

(Wilber, Ken. Sex, Ecology, Spirituality. Boston. Shambhala, 2000)

This excerpt, when considered in relation to my artist statement which equates modern science with religion, sheds further light on these concepts:

 Surgeons and scientists alike have become the new priests of a material-industrial age, in which living organisms seem to be regarded as no more than an assemblage of mechanical parts…Science is the new religion, Big Pharma is the church, the doctors are priests, pills our Holy Communion, and sickness is our only hope of salvation when diseases are dollar signs that fortify the edifice.

And lastly–moving from theory to reality (I think I can hear snoring already…)–here’s a progress shot of the latest and largest yet, at 48 inches square:

Influences 2

Light Shines Through was a painting I completed in 2010 for a group exhibition memorializing artist and tattooer Monica Henk, whose life was tragically cut short in a still-unsolved NYC hit and run incident. Featuring a surreal depiction of one of Monica’s favorite pieces of jewelry, this piece is about the persistence of hope, and a belief in the triumph of mankind despite the potential for monumental sadness and suffering inherent in the human condition.

Light Shines Through, oil on panel, 2010, 12in x 12in

One of the original inspirations for my choice of theme and symbolism in this commemorative painting was the writing of pioneering logotherapy psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. A Jewish holocaust surviver, whose harrowing memoir of life and death in a Nazi concentration camp is a moving description of the unbreakable human spirit, Frankl’s work has been an ongoing influence in my art. Throughout Man’s Search For Meaning he describes his observations, and concludes:

We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.  For what then matters is to bear witness to the uniquely human potential at its best, which is to transform a personal tragedy into a triumph, to turn one’s predicament into a human achievement.  When we are no longer able to change a situation—just think of an incurable disease such as inoperable cancer—we are challenged to change ourselves.

Reiterating his powerful analysis, Frankl again poses the question and answers:

How…can life retain its potential meaning in spite of its tragic aspects?  After all, ‘saying yes to life in spite of everything’…presupposes that life is potentially meaningful under any conditions, even those which are most miserable.  And this in turn presupposes the human capacity to creatively turn life’s negative aspects into something positive or constructive.  In other words, what matters is to make the best of any given situation. … That is, an optimism in the face of tragedy and in view of the human potential which at its best always allows for: (1) turning suffering into a human achievement and accomplishment; (2) deriving from guilt the opportunity to change oneself for the better; and (3) deriving from life’s transitoriness an incentive to take responsible action.

Though the hardships I’ve faced pale in comparison to his plight, my paintings have always been part of an over-arching narrative searching for meaning in suffering, and the process of finding hope through often difficult personal transformation. As such, I believe Frankl’s work appeared in my life quite auspiciously via energetic resonance rather than random coincidence (this, of course, in observance of the universal “law of attraction”).

To my delight, this quantum phenomenon reared its head again when my recent foray into the Integral work of Ken Wilber revealed an unexpected connection to the symbolism of this painting, inspiring me to revisit and feature it here. Specifically, it was Wilber’s use of a poignant Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, which features the title of the painting and summarizes it perfectly:

From within or from behind, a light shines through us upon things, and makes us aware that we are nothing, but the light is all.

Then, And Now

The dawning of 2012 brought me to my parents’ house, an eclectic vortex of saved childhood possessions and weird emotional frequencies densely packed into a many-acred patch of wilderness falling off the eastern edge of the North American continent.

Visiting this environment never fails to bring back a flock of the old ghosts that made me into the artist I am now, as I walk past the dusty shelves of my childhood picture books haphazardly assembled into stacks and rows.  Many fond moments have been spent revisiting the sense of awe and wonder these books created in me—indelible impressions that formed the foundations of my artistic sensibilities, despite the difference in my current chosen subject matter.

childhood inspirations

Childhood inspirations.

childhood inspirations

These books went missing from the shelves, but were just as important.