Abbe Stahl Steinglass: Artist Statement
Once, on a snowy mountaintop, I thought, “If I could ski, really ski, I would no longer need to paint.” Where did I see a connection between these two?
Skiing, as you begin, opens an entire world for you, makes you physically confront a wide-open, white, empty space. You plunge yourself into what you see; you begin to shape a strategy through it. Skiing makes you imagine your path, focus your entire self, plan your approach as you go, taking step-by-step moves to reach your endpoint. And then, there is the exhilaration that comes when you realize what you’ve done.
That’s also painting.
Painting has always been my way to think things through. It lets me—literally—see what I am thinking.
I want to show others how to see what I see. That is why I teach.
Whether in medical, educational or social service settings, I train people in the uses of art for their professional goals. I teach others to think and communicate without the use of words. It is difficult to discuss many situations, but through making art you can still work out problems together and come to solutions.
The art I make and the teaching I do are interrelated, since I am diagramming ideas rather than writing them. That is, I’m showing a thought rather than telling one. Even the realistic landscapes are often chosen for symbolic reasons.
I trained as an artist under talents who were models of teaching artists: the illustrator Peter Vogel, the sculptor Peter Grippe, the painter Mitchell Siporin, the philosopher/historian Leon Bernstein and Hunter College’s sculptor/teacher George Sugarman. And so that’s what I became, an artist teacher.
My parents were teachers, and my teachers made art. My ambition has always been simple: to make things well, to fix things well and to teach well.
On the Third Artist
There have been many partnerships, working groups, school and administrative positions—but not the sharing of thought and technique that happened when Harriet Lesser and I began to work together.
We are often opposites. We found a need to let go of our very different individual approaches to making art and submerge instead into a dual approach that is risky and full of surprises. We invent only what comes from both of us at the canvas at once. We plunge into almost deliberate failures and reach results coming from different directions.
By myself, I show a landscape in deep perspective, or I diagram a peculiar idea. I’m either showing “where we stand” or I’m letting you see this thought. The Third Artist, our collaboration, is a separate conversation.