“In the beginning was the Word” is a short description of why I became aware of Daniel Maidman’s work and artistic career. His writing compelled me to follow him in his endeavours for a decade — and what an inspiring journey it was.
Stephen Fry — the master of language — once commented that people seem to be able to find sensuous pleasure in almost anything but words these days. If that is true — and I believe that it is — then Daniel’s writing is the exception that proves the rule.
There is a beauty in the way he uses the language; it’s the way how words flow together with meaning and how precise they convey a certain feeling. Although it was a quality of his prose that attracted my attention, it was the content of his blog that made me stay.
He documented his personal journey as well as his reflections on a variety of visual art topics. I started to read his blog close to the beginning when he was grappling with the challenges of life drawing and painting. However, the difference that separated his disclosures from other blogs was the utmost transparency and almost sore honesty about his growing pains as a developing artist. He attended life drawing workshops 2–3 times a week for ten years, walking his audience through the development of his skill.
The slow and unforgiving process of mastering the craft, the doubt, the frustration of setbacks along with the rewards of perseverance and diligent studies were all there. The whole long journey was described in investigative, often entertaining — and always eloquent manner.
It created a vivid picture of him: a hard working, honest and dignified individual; and just like his art, with no meretricious effects. He connected to a community of like-minded individuals who followed him as he started to gain the momentum of success — first when he was published in International Artist, and then when he had one of his paintings displayed at Saatchi Gallery’s in London. Consequently, his painting ‘Hands #1’ went viral.
However, it all started much earlier, when Daniel attended a visual arts high school. He didn’t feel he learned much there, except for how to give and take a critique. He flirted with a physics-film double major for a while, but when he realised how much work physics required, he scaled back to film. This way, he could also fill out his schedule with literature, science, and theatre.
“It was a lot of fun, and I’ve tried to go on rotating what I think about and learning new things, with mixed success, in my life since then.”
After college, Daniel devoted a good ten years to making movies. That was a time well spent because during these years he learned something important that helped him to change his course later.
“It turned out I’m one of these guys that has to practice a really long time before getting good at anything, and film is so difficult to make that it has a heavy bias toward people who come out of the gate fully formed. So I catastrophically failed at that, and when I finished picking up the pieces, I realized I’d already been training myself to draw and paint for eight years, and I enjoyed it, and found the art world a more congenial social scene than the film world, so I focused on that, and it went from a private vocation to a public career.”
I wanted to know the driving force behind his decision to make art, and he described it as a mix of few things:
“First and foremost a mere delight in seeing. After that, a virtual worship of the human figure. And also, a sheer horror at the notion of time, which takes all things away.”
Creating the human form is alpha and omega to Daniel. Seeing it emerging from surface is the part of the process that he enjoys the most.
“Drawing or painting, it is about getting the lines right. When it first begins to compel as an actual image of a person, I am so excited. I can still hardly bring myself to colour in the background.”
I was interested in what kind of environment does he prefer in his studio and whether he has a favourite tool he cannot live without.
“I wish my studio were bigger, but that’s New York rent for you. I like my studio to be full of art, but sometimes I need it to be empty so that I can think about new things. I do enjoy working with models, but I think the most important tool I want is solitude. I couldn’t share a studio. I need to be alone.”
I wanted to know about whether he has a clear concept about what he wants his work to convey.
“I don’t really have a goal. that I start with and then go backwards to synthesise work around it. I just really like making pictures. If they have a doctrinal component, I hope to convey who exactly my model was, or I was, when I was drawing or painting. And I hope that the beauty of light, air, anatomy, and consciousness come through and remind the viewer that they are surrounded by miracles all the time.”
As the conversation turned to the source of inspiration and choice of subject matter, I asked if he ever felt compelled to reflect social or political issues in his art. When it come to the latter, he doesn’t believe in setting out to mix art and politics.
“This is because that’s where propaganda comes from. Propaganda is just part of that species of art that starts from an idea or a “moral of the story” and works backward to the actual art. In other words, not art at all.
As for the source of inspiration, obviously I am crazy about women and love to draw and paint them. And lately, I am also finally following up on my interest in multi-frame narrative composition in early Renaissance painting.”
Returning to the development of his artistic career and some important turning points, Daniel had a story to tell:
“When I was busy failing at film, a friend of mine who also wanted to be involved in film said, ‘You’re putting 100% of your energy into the work, but you need to put 50% of your energy into marketing yourself.’ I ignored him. Now he’s a vice president at Disney, and I don’t make movies.
When I started over, I took his wise advice to heart and took responsibility for the career aspect of a life in art. I would brainstorm some publicity or career thing every day and follow up with applications and cold calls and so on. Most of it didn’t work, but it never does; if any of it works, you win.”
Over time, this aspect of his career became much more organic part of his life as an artist, and also extending to other areas. Since he didn’t receive much help when he started, Daniel made a vow to help as many people as he could. He did it by writing about art that he believed in, or connecting people with show opportunities, or introducing people he thought would like each other and benefit from that.
“I undertook this simply because I wanted to help, but I’ve found over time that creating that network of opportunities has bounced back on me, and people help me out too, and I don’t ever have to push too hard to get anything. If I have to push, I usually won’t get it; and also, if I have to push, maybe it’s not the best thing for me. Saying yes to all kinds of things has wound up leading me to career stuff I couldn’t have anticipated but which has been very rewarding and has helped my work along. So knowing your general goal and being very flexible about the road has come to define my approach to career.”
A few other turning points he mentioned included his first publication with International Artist; his first solo show in Manhattan, with Dacia Gallery; his ongoing relationship with PoetsArtists; his representation by Jenn Singer Gallery; and his books, with Griffith Moon Publishing.
The book ‘Nudes’ is a collection of drawings on toned paper with graphite and white pencil. It includes studies and portraits as well as close details of studies of limbs where he displays his eminent skill. He uses simple means to achieve the effect of light interacting with flesh.
“I think the most challenging part of being an artist is keeping yourself at the beginning of things, overturning what you know, humbling yourself and making new kinds of work, even if it doesn’t look awesome and polished like the stuff people you know are doing. It can be difficult, after struggling to get good at something, to recognize that going on using it invites complacency, and it’s time to walk away.
If I need perspective or have a rough patch, I’ll often take a break. I go off and do other things, I also read and write a lot.”
When it comes to seeking out new opportunities, Daniel mainly uses social media — and good old method of talking to people face to face. He considers navigation the world of social media as both a necessity and a burden on his time.
“I like the people but keeping up with the network can be a drag.”
Talking about one work that represents the artist can be a challenge; fortunately, Daniel has a surprisingly simple and refreshing approach.
“One way I’ve been fortunate is that I think every little thing I do is amazing. This leads to poor editing and curation skills, but a lot of optimism and drive. Only in hindsight does my work sort itself into better and worse. But I still wind up with a lot of favourites.”
“My most recent favourite is “Manou at Life Size.” It represents the culmination and integration of a lot of years spent developing different elements of the depiction of a human being — form, flow, psychology, personality. I think I finally got it right. It was so good it triggered a crisis because I knew I couldn’t go on doing the same sort of thing much longer. So I hardly painted for a year after that.”
Today, Daniel Maidman is considered as one of the foremost masters of figure drawing in America. His drawings and paintings are included in the permanent collections of the Library of Congress, the New Britain Museum of American Art, and the Long Beach Museum of Art. His writing on art has been published in ARTnews, Forbes, Juxtapoz, Hyperallergic, American Art Collector, International Artist, PoetsArtists, and Manifest magazines. Until recently, he also blogged for The Huffington Post.
By all parameters, he is a successful artist. With many of his goals achieved and new pathways opening, Daniel’s comment on the change in his circumstances is yet another unambiguous observation.
“This continually registers as a surprise, because I do not feel particularly successful. I am as prone to envy, anxiety, doubt, and despair as I was before. I rarely feel the asphyxiating panic I did at the beginning, but I am a long way from comfort. This is probably good. Comfort, I think, is a career outcome which begins to interfere with the work. One must stay hungry.”