Exploring the mind and habits of an artist in twenty-five questions
by Stephanie Cassidy | January 6, 2020
At what age did you decide to become an artist?
As a child I was always holding a book, either a fairytale I was reading or a sketchbook I was drawing in. At least that’s what I’ve been told by various family members and friends. I guess a sketchbook was my stuffed animal or security blanket. The actual year I put a name to being an artist was sometime in my preteens, twelve, maybe.
How did your parents react when you told them you wanted to be an artist?
My parents were relatively supportive. I think by the time I announced that I was an artist, they knew. And they probably felt they had no choice. My father was truly disappointed. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor.
Who are your favorite artists?
Depending on the week, day, and hour my choice will change. At this moment I am studying the work of Balthasaar van der Ast. My ongoing inspirations are Hieronymus Bosch, Maria Sibylla Merian, Jan van Eyck, Mary Cassatt, and Wayne Thiebaud.
Who is your favorite artist whose work is unlike your own?
Even though, I am a representational illusionist painter steeped in the Northern Renaissance, I am in awe of Mark Rothko. He was able to create pure emotion through scale and color. His achievement was impressive.
Art book you cannot live without?
I love art books. In my studio I have a large bookcase filled with art books and catalogues. Whenever I go to an exhibition that I am impressed with and want to remember, I buy the catalogue. But a book I cannot live without is a Jane Austen novel preferably enjoyed in a hot bath.
What is the quality you most admire in an artist?
Do you keep a sketchbook?
I keep several kinds of sketchbooks and books I call drawing books in several sizes. I design my own drawing books. I chose the size, paper, and format and have a bookbinder put them together. One book is small for ideas and thoughts on the spot. I carry that book with me. In the larger books I do more complicated studies and drawings. I experiment and play with ideas and objects I am interested in but do not want to make into a larger piece. I like to think of these drawings as essays or poems as compared to the novel that is a painting or a major drawing.
What’s your favorite museum in all the world?
In general, The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In particular, The Prado in Madrid for The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch.
What’s your go-to NY museum?
When I was old enough to get on the subway myself in Brooklyn, my go-to place in all of New York City was The Frick Collection. It still is. And just a note, when I was a kid the museums were all free and empty, so I grew up wandering the halls of the Brooklyn Museum.
What’s the best exhibition you have ever attended?
One December I was in Paris and fell into a small exhibition at the Louvre of Leonardo Da Vinci’s drapery studies from the Louvre’s collection. During that trip I went back to that show several times, bought the catalogue, and still refer to that catalogue for information and inspiration. Unfortunately, the catalogue is beginning to yellow with age.
If you were not an artist, what would you be?
A doctor, for my father.
What is one thing you didn’t learn in art school that you wish you had?
I would still like to take an écorché class.
What work of art have you looked at most and why?
The Garden of Earthly Delights by Bosch. When I saw this masterpiece in person, I was transfixed. I stayed in front of the piece for an hour, at least. The imagination is extraordinary. It is timeless. The imagery is beautiful and joyous as well as monstrous. Bosch seems to have a true vision of the nature of a human being and society. Not much has changed since the fifteenth century.
What is your secret visual pleasure outside of art?
Dance, especially the ballet.
Do you listen to music in your studio?
No, music is too complicated, too emotional. I like being read to and told a story. So I listen to unabridged audio books, the longer the better.
What is the last gallery you visited?
Acquavella Gallery on 79th St. for the Wayne Thiebaud exhibition of mountains.
Who is an underrated artist people should be looking at?
Me … Lisa Dinhofer
What art materials can you not live without?
Pencils, paper, and a kneaded eraser
Do you paint/sculpt/create art every day?
Creating is not necessarily putting a mark on a page. So yes, I create art every day. Observing and dreaming are all part of the creative process.
What is the longest time you went without creating art?
Without creating an object, a product? Perhaps a month.
What do you do when you are feeling uninspired?
I like to take long walks around the city. And sometimes I go to the movies.
What are the questions that drive your work?
Can I do it? Can I produce what my mind’s eye sees; sometimes yes, sometimes no, but I am always surprised.
What is the most important quality in an artist?
Drive: The need, desire, and ability to do the work. Critical insight: To question what can be done. Humility: To be open to all possibilities. I don’t believe that there are mistakes in the creation of a work of art, only surprises.
What is something you haven’t yet achieved in art?
My next painting or drawing is something I haven’t achieved yet. It is always the next white page, so beautiful, so terrifying, so intriguing. Does a retrospective at the Whitney count? Or is that the art world which has very little to do with creating art. Although it would be nice….
What is the best thing about art in the era of social media?
The best thing about social media is— access to imagery and the ability to share imagery with the rest of the planet. Social media is changing the art world especially the market. We are in a profound period of transition, very interesting, indeed. Will galleries survive? What will happen to bricks and mortar institutions? I have not a clue as to what will happen.
Lisa Dinhofer is currently teaching “The Art of Color in Theory & Practice” at the Art Students League. She is the author of Mastering Colored Pencil published by Monacelli Press.