Previous month:
October 2013
Next month:
December 2013

November 2013

A Critical Eye

The Critical Eye is a convenient catch word for a lot of stuff.  Usually it means that you can't see your own mistakes (you have no critical eye), or, you always see your own mistakes magnified (now your critical eye is mal-functioning).  Some of us fall into the habit of not looking at our own work, not until it's time to clean out the studio, at which time we are either amazed or embarrassed, depending upon our mood or the weather or our belief that we have no real functioning critical eye.  

I speak of these things through personal experience.  It is often compounded by the fact that I really enjoy the act of painting.  Sometimes I continue working on a canvas well past it's freshness.  I put it down to the side benefits such continued relaxation does for my over all health, to the need to not waste the paint on my palette, to the subversive idea that I have no idea for the next painting so just continue to work on this one.

IMG_0353 sm copySometimes it is because what I see in real paint does not match the conceptual idea in my inspiration.  And, being more of a Conceptual Experimenter, I will attempt to discover what it is that isn't working through a kind of leap of faith perspective.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn't.  But every time, looking at the before and after photos of this process, there is something valuable to be learned for the next work.

To the left (above) is a Before image of The Elephant Vase.  I recall that my issue was paint quality (which means sloppy brush marks) and edges (the one leaf in particular on the right side).

IMG_0380 sm copyNext is the After image.  Somehow in the process of fixing paint quality and edges, I changed the color harmony and the shape of the vase.  And my efforts to soften edges actually reduced the contrast and visual interest, especially in the leaves. 

Both versions have merit, both have flaws, each expresses a different mood that teaches a lot about what really matters - it isn't what you paint, but how you paint it.

You have heard this before.  You think you understand it a little bit better with each incarnation of your painting until the Critical Eye reminds you there is still something off. Something not right here. 

And you go back to the easel and try to fix it.

But what you are really fixing is you.  You are deepening your understanding.  Feeling more comfortable with the way you handle the materials.  Settle in with a point of view and learn how to express it.

Because what you paint remains the same.

It's how you paint it that changes. 

Finding a Constructive Approach

After reading the book Old Masters and Young Geniuses: The Two Life Cycles of Artistic Creativity, discussed in my previous post, I realized that, like many artists, I tend to be predominantly experimental.  There may be many reasons for this.  The legacy of Modernism supports intuitive approaches over carefully planned execution.  Traditional approaches have only recently come back into fashion. Regardless, the experimental artist often finds himself questioning what it is that he really wants to achieve, and how best to express it.

Oddly enough, in seeking answers to these questions, I found Pinterest. At first it was a diversion to stay out of the studio.  But as I noticed my pins following a visual trend, I began to pin more intuitively - in that I looked at images for a few seconds and either responded or didn't.  Those responses ended up on my Board.  And that Board began to visually illustrate exactly what it was that I was seeking as an artist. 

To see a commonality with a style of brushwork and subject matter, repeated by artists spanning centuries, and all in one place instead of spread out over magazines and sketch books - this helped illustrate the source of dissatisfaction with my own work.  It involved a powerful, visual communication, and with that shift, a renewed sense of control. - over my ability to create, to control the medium, and to produce work that could satisfy my own judgements. 

It isn't that Pinterest is the key.  It is that we, as experimental artists, can often find ourselves terribly discouraged when things "don't work right."  We frustrate ourselves mentally with constant revisions, jumping from one visual approach to another, often looking for outside approval, then going around again when the validation isn't there. 

It is equally frustrating for an artist to not actually know what she is after.  Is it composition that is important? Is it color? Or brush work? Should I be more Realistic?  Maybe more Impressionistic?  If I add this element will it make the painting better? Worse?  Should I take this workshop?  Start doing that technique?  This is a familiar mental dialogue for Experimentals, and one taken to an extreme compared to the Conceptuals.  Who - without arguing the merits of Galenson's theories - work through the appraisal process in the early stages of creating.  Think about Andy Warhol, showing us his idea of what art was by selecting iconic images and reproducing them in a mechanized way, not by dithering over which color or process to use to achieve the end result.    

 Of course, we are not restricted by one approach.  We are more conceptual at some points, more experimental at others. Our education, natural talents, and art view all contribute the the artist we will eventually be.  Some will establish early on a preference for a specific style or historical approach, and find answers in the work of predecessors.  But some could also be wondering why they see some element in the art of others that is not visible in their own.  And the reasonableness of these questions, the insecurity in our own judgements, can be magnified by a slowing market, a declining interest on the part of the public, and the pressures of every day life. 

Most of the artists who comment on this blog are seriously interested in improving their own work.  They may question a theory discussed here, or support an approach that works for them.  But they are all interested in the answers to questions most important to them.  They half-sense that the answers are out there, and the fact that they can't easily find those answers is distressing.  So maybe something as innocuous as Pinterest can help point the way.