Collective Wisdom Feed

Your Unconscious Contract With The Art World: Balancing Disappointment with Creativity

How do you balance your creativity while working in an entirely different field? Or stay connected to your own art practice, and yet succeed in an art world that often feels too opaque and impenetrable, operating by secret rules?

Over the holidays I learned about a young artist who was self-destructing, because the door to her creative path had slammed closed.  “I consider myself an artist,” she said, “trained to be an art teacher. But the only door left open to me is toward a corporate job I hate and which drains me of all creativity.”  Another artist, connecting through email to explain his disappointment after pursuing an academic art degree in his 40’s, struggled with a loss of faith in the art world. “It seems almost too challenging to maintain the heart of creative art making while entering the art market.”

IMG_1929 portfolio copyWhen we commit to a lifetime of art making, we rarely consider what is actually required – little institutional security, the need for both independence and collaboration, success, failure, hot and cold, critics and feeling invisible.  Often, when confronted with that reality, we struggle with disappointment.  But disappointment comes to us for a reason: the message is not about impossible dreams, but how to pursue them.

I have always maintained that it’s important to have a philosophical understanding of your art: the why, what, and how of it.  Identifying meaningful connections to art history provides a reason for creating despite the down times, the fears and loss of confidence.   There are more long-standing artists who sustain the idea of Fine Art through a dedication to their work, than those who fly to the top of the visibility scale, so building a strong foundation from a very personal perspective is worth the effort.

Keeping roles separate is equally important.  Real life can be filled with demands, and often a few obligations (such as work and family) will overrule all others (such as the need to make art).  Since we often have unwritten contracts with world, we feel intense disappointment and anger when those contracts don’t work out. Most of the time, we don't even realize the subconscious contracts we construct, we just behave in ways that assume outcomes that fit comfortably with our image of what we should be. This is actually a larger impediment to creativity than we acknowledge - the reality that life might not always allow you to spend the time, under the conditions you need, to do the work that you intended and trained and expected to do.  Or that the work you produce will not even be acknowledged, or allow you to make a living doing what you love. 

Keeping it real is so much bland, generic advice, I'm rolling my eyes even using it.  A better suggestion is to constantly reevaluate what is real and possible, and adjusting accordingly.  I have been painting and selling art for over 18 years, and I work harder at it and find it more challenging in today’s environment than ever before.  So realistic is important to me, as well as risk taking and believing in what I produce, and how I choose to market it.  I admit to going down rabbit holes, searching for solutions to make my "contracts" come true. There are moments when the "why bother to be an artist when there are so many struggles" question is overwhelming, especially when there are so many deserving artists who are under exposed, and always will be. Directions change, new styles emerge that take attention away from your work, you grow cynical from rejection and disinterest.  So the real question - the real contract -  is how to evolve when the current path is not working, how to keep painting when you can't imagine doing anything else. 

Leonard Cohen talks about writing all the time, doing nothing but writing in order to find out what the song is.  Stuart Shills talks about affirming the immediacy of a moment, finding the residue of memory. 

So what feelings are you chasing when you make art?  What needs are you feeding?

What are your contracts?

 

 

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How To Get Unstuck in August

 

In 1984 Suzi Gablik made this observation about the effect that Modernism, and Post-Modernism, had upon art and culture: that the “values of the marketplace” had replaced or undermined any sense of a “meaning-giving function” in the art being created. Artists found themselves in a cultural and economic system that rewarded those who created commodities that met the needs of the Art Market.  As Andy Warhol stated, “why do people think artists are special? It’s just another job.”

Warhol has been described as “the art market’s one-man Dow Jones.”  And while Gablik did not foresee the influence of the internet she did address the slip into Pluralism, where there are so many ideas about the value and purpose in art, we have no real “pattern of meaning” any more.

In all this chatter, have we forgotten to value – or are we merely ignoring - the C words?

No, not commodity.   Considering the social environment that exists, an artist cannot realistically ignore the forces of the marketplace unless he is willing to withdraw completely.

I am thinking more about these C words:

Creativity

Courage

Compassion

Compulsion

Culture

Creativity is the conceptual opposite of commodity. Courage is necessary to resist the status-quo, living in harmony with one’s inner creative values. Compassion allows the artist to find his path between the competing interests of the market, and his authentic, artistic voice.  Compulsion drives the artist’s need to reflect his image of the world in his art, and culture is the carrier of all that we value. 

August is always one of those transition months: an ending space before the next rounds of painting, submitting, and marketing activities.  It's easy to get stuck in August, worrying about what didn't work over the past several months and struggling to figure out what will.  If you are feeling stuck, wishing you could stay in August for the next several months, you are not alone.  Here are just a few ways I have come across to help get unstuck:

Dig out old journals.  Discover ideas that have hung around and are now finding their way back into your consciousness.

Rearrange your studio.  Sometimes just doing that gets you out of old patterns and thinking about new.

Don't stress about rejections.  One recent show that rejected me pointed out that there were over 1400 applications for approximately 140 slots. 

Read books like Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young  Poet, Eric Maisel's Coaching the Artist Within. 

Yes, it's a crowded, noisy world out there, but the journey is more solitary than you realize, and from that well you will find your strength.

 

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It means a lot to me that you have taken my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day.

 


Grids: The difference between dynamic symmetry and perspective as a means of organizing space

In all styles of painting and photography grids are part of the discussion.  The big three are the Rule of Thirds, Linear Perspective, and the Golden Mean or Dynamic Symmetry.  All of them function as a means to organize pictorial space, and the more experience you gain with composition, the more you might become curious about the reasons why artists rely on these concepts.

Since composition can be discussed in terms of finding a satisfying solution to visual challenges, it’s useful to study the differences between common concepts.

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  The Rule of Thirds, and a similar division of space using a 5:3 ratio (above), are often used as quick placement guides for major lines, horizon lines, or center of interest. It divides the space unequally and avoids static placement of elements, but does little for emotional content or eye movement.

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The easily understood concept of Linear Perspective draws eye movement up, across, and "into" the canvas by creating the illusion of three dimensional space, then back out and down again.  This is true regardless of subject matter, unless you are working in a style that embraces the flat, 2-demensional aspect of canvas with the express purpose of eliminating all idea of space. I would argue that even the most vocal advocates for eliminating the window into space idea could not completely avoid the visual sense of space without eliminating overlapping form or color contrasts.  We are hard wired to place our bodies within our environment, and the brain will always translate visual sensory as dimensional space. 

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Dynamic Symmetry is about spatial relationships, the distance between things, balance, and as a means of directing eye movement through space that emphasizes what the artist feels is most important.  It is about mathematical proportion, not limited to realistic painting, the nautilus shell,  or ancient Greek ideals: Abstract artists were also concerned with the role of mathematical proportion, most notable Agnus Martin, who was obsessive about it in her goal to create abstract line relationships that were aesthetically pleasing. There have always been artists working with proportion, and those seeking to obliterate it as a response.  Dynamic Symmetry is a tool that can be used beyond simple placement or illusion, and is important enough that artists should consider adding it to their accumulation of skills. 

Here is a list of books for further study in the area of grids in composition.  Some are easier reads than others, but I have them all in my resource library and I can recommend them:

Elements of Dynamic Symmetry by Jay Hambidge

Mastering Composition by Ian Roberts

Abstraction in Art and Nature by Nathan Cabot Hale

Classical Painting Atelier by Juliette Aristides

Classical Drawing Atelier by Juliette Aristides

Pictorial Composition An Introduction by Henry Rankin Poore

The Power of the Center by Rudolf Arnheim

Composition of Outdoor Painting by Edgar Payne (deals more with composition than grids, but valuable)

Composition by Arthur Wesley Dow (deals more with notan, line, and basic design principles)

 

Resources on the Web that provide quick visual concepts:

LeicaCameraMonkey.com

Photography Composition Articles:Golden Mean

Google Golden Ratio Calculator and you will find on line tools that will calculate proportions for you.

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It means a lot to me that you have taken my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day.

 


“Unless it kills you…”

There is a quote from Alice Neel that I have in one of my journals:

“You should keep on painting no matter how difficult it is, because this is all part of the experience, and the more experience you have, the better it is…unless it kills you, and then you know you have gone too far.”

I’ve always felt a darkly humorous reaction to this sentiment, because yeah, this gig can certainly kill your motivation.  I find optimism in her sentiments, too, though, and it’s more valuable to explore the positive, rather than indulging in self-limiting humor.

The longer an artist creates the harder it gets, because of knowledge gained, mistakes seen, and a tendency toward intense self-criticism.  The counter argument says artists must learn to reach “good enough,” and realize when to accept a painting as finished. Both views are correct, and recognizing when one serves you better than the other is a skill worth cultivating. 

In studying today’s great artists, there are two areas that are most important to the success of their work.  The first is the concept, the idea or what the painting is about, and the second is the total design, a far more technical idea.  Too often, paintings that fail do so because of weakness in one or both of these areas. 

I believe that women are generally more intuitive about the concept, while men are more intuitive about the design, but any artist focused on craft understands both concepts.  If I were to generalize further, technical mistakes benefit from scrutiny and criticism, while concept is more subjective and best left to the “good enough” category once a single idea takes dominance.

So what do artists mean when they talk about concept and design? 

Concept is the emotional idea: what specifically is the painting about, what single area, or object, do you want the viewer to focus on to “get the idea”?  Too many competing ideas weaken the overall message, but the sensitive use of color and value can correct this during the painting process.

Design is closer to the idea of Notan: there is design underlying everything. It relates to the way our eyes see, and the way our brains interpret meaning.  A strong abstract design is critical, so critical, in fact, that if it isn’t clear from the beginning it is very easy to lose, and once you spot a design failure, it’s better to start the painting over than to try to “fix” it. 

Design works with words like underlying structure, value range, interesting shapes, grids, placement, while concept works with words like color harmony, pleasing brush work, and subject matter. Concept is also subjective, open to interpretation by the viewer as they decide what the painting communicates to them.  Design is not subjective: it is either strong and pleasing or weak and ineffective. 

My favorite tool to keep me on track with both design and idea concepts is my resource binder.  Whenever I come across an interesting example of either idea, or articles written by artists on these subjects, I put them in a large notebook. Over the years I have used this resource to identify areas of weakness, as well as strengths, when critiquing my own work.  This is empowering, especially when I lose my design pattern half way through a painting and waste precious hours trying to fix something that is really a fatal flaw.  Because, as Alice Neel warns, I would rather not have this gig kill me. 

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It means a lot to me that you have taken my words, and my art, into your lives.  So I would like to thank and welcome the new subscribers to this blog, and those who have also subscribed to my newsletter.  In my newsletter I write more about art technique, my motivations behind specific paintings, and occasionally offer paintings for sale at special prices.  Here is a convenient link to subscribe to my newsletter .

I would also like to thank those of you who have purchased my book, Ancient Wisdom: Emerging Artist: the business plan (not just) for the mature artist, over the past month.  I hope this book helps you with the intrinsic motivation, as well as offering practical ideas and a bit of humor at the end of the day.

 

 


Three Sources of Inspiration

August is Artist Appreciation Month. 

Most of the artists I know list their inspiration sources as either subject matter or style.  We often don't consider the other influences available. There are artists who inspire us through their life experiences.  Others inspire through their innovation.  The primary inspiration for me, though,  comes from the originality and depth of artistic thinking. One significant influence in my present work is Hans Hofmann

Hofmann was a visionary artist and teacher, often described as the leader of the New York School of Abstract-Expressionist Painting: some of his most notable students were Helen Frankenthaler, Larry Rivers, and Louise Nevelson.  Those who know my work may be surprised by this.  But I see it as an example of how an artistic philosophy is not limited to a specific style of painting. 

On Movement, by Hofmann

Movement develops from depth sensation.  There are movements into space and movements forward, out of space, both in form and in color.  The product of movement and counter movement is tension.  When tension - working strength - is expressed, it endows the work of art with the living effect of coordinated, though opposing, forces.

~ excerpt from Search for the Real -Hans Hofmann, edited by Sara T. Weeks and Bartlett H. Hayes, Jr.  The M.I.T. Press

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Over There, 12 x 16, Sue Favinger Smith

The Power of Artistic Diversity

Here are some inspiring artists that have recently crossed my path.

Brandon Kidwell.  This Florida photographer describes himself simply as "a husband, father, son brother, friend, part time philosopher and freelance photographer," but his art reaches right to the heart of life. 

Jacob Collins: Seceding From The Photographic Sensibility. This  fascinating 9-part series from At the Confluence Where Painting & Photography Meet is one of the best discussions I've come across in years regarding the interplay between imagery, philosophy, and the intent of art.

Take Five - LINEA, Lessons from five paintings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection, by

As well as these inspiring artists:

Ann Lofquist, with her evocative landscapes.

Pan Yu-laing,with a truly inspiring life story.

And  the artist Patience Brewer, who took her inspiration from a lifetime, followed her passion and developed a thriving business. 

So What About You?

So what about you?  Who inspired you in areas of philosophy, resilience, determination, courage, individuality or innovation?  Write a blog post about it.  Send your links to me and I will post them.  Lets get that conversation going!

 

 

 


Pretty Pictures or Something More?

I attended an event where one of the speakers remarked, “I live in a town of 4000, of which 8000 are artists.” The laughter soon faded as the meaning began to sink in: “There are too many who think they are artists.”  And here we were, aspiring artists, listening to that message from a Master.

Perhaps that’s not a bad idea to consider by those who venture on the artistic path.  By acknowledging that creativity abounds, that each of us brings desire to the table, there are important questions that begged to be asked. 

Does innate talent play a larger role in one's success as an artist than practice, passion, determination and resiliency? I have wondered about this question throughout the more than a decade and a half that I have been writing about art, and I haven’t yet come up with a solid answer.  But what I have done is look to those who have been recognized as “artists” to try to identify what might be unique about them.  And patterns begin to emerge.

They see clearly the end result they want to achieve, and they follow their own direction to get there.  Whether this relates to style, to starting or finishing, to subject matter, what they value most is clarifying their own vision of what it “will look like” when it is finished. 

They have a master's understanding of the tools they use, the historical foundations behind their approach, the mechanics in producing a finished appearance that is both uniquely theirs and uniquely beautiful.

They bring elements that are both personal and universal into the visual message. They know what they are in an intangible way, and it is the underlying support of their painting.

They approach the canvas, paper, clay with a confidence and ease that reveals the level of understanding they have achieved. 

Is this talent? Or a combination of various factors? I found this interview with Daniel Sprick extremely interesting: in it, he said, "One of the things I like to do as an artist is to challenge my own preconceptions."  Between believing in the 10,000 hours concept and grinding out a painting a day - both ideas which may or may not have merit - when do we ever talk about what constitutes substance, authenticity, poetic sensitivity or contemporary relevance except in the vaguest terms?  However you want to articulate it, there is something that some people do that the majority of us have not considered doing.  We can label it as talent, or knowledge and experience, but they are able to produce paintings year after year that impress us.  Call it gravitas, call it courage to produce work that speaks with your own voice, call it an ability to bring life into a flat surface and colored oil - these are conversations more artists should have, something we ought to start amongst ourselves as we search for our own answers. 

An artist needs the craft.  She needs an thorough awareness of art history to better understand the influences that appeal to her.  Seeking out and sharing the sources of information and inspiration, such as the "Liminal Spaces: A Conversation with Daniel Sprick" post by Elana Hagler, and posted on the Painting Perceptions: commentary on perceptual painting blog, can help contribute to the important connections we artists need to make to further our personal understanding of the work we have chosen to do. 

Please share your favorite resources in the comments section below. 

And Thank You for reading today.

"Fall, oil on canvas, SFSmith 2015  IMG_0874 sm copy

 


The Difference Technique Makes

George Inness, in the book Writings and Reflections on Art and Philosophy, is quoted as saying, “While looking at the Claude which hangs next to one of the Turners in the National Gallery – and which knocks the Turner all to pieces –I seemed to be in the presence of a great, earnest mind.” It was a quote that came to mind while I was sitting in the dentist chair, waiting to get numb.  There was a print hanging on the wall.  I stared at it, a group of five workmen, maybe miners given their lace-up work boots, or maybe farmers given their western style hats, sitting on a log and leaning against an adobe wall.  Maybe you’ve seen this particular print. But since I wasn’t “numbing” fast enough, I decided to study it some more.  Had I been a casual patient I might not have noticed some of the details.  That the men all had a similarity, not just in the facial features, but in the exact same tilt and shape and size of the head.  Or the shadows, connecting the forms, which did not read true.  Ahhh… I thought.  Had the artist used a photograph of one man, and projected it against his canvas five times?  A rendering by hand would have not produced such exact smiling replicas, lined up in a row. 

I overheard something similar in a gallery last year.  The gallery director had just opened the shipping box and set out the paintings from an artist.  As he examined them, he took out his phone.  “No,” he was saying, “I don’t care if it’s part of your process, I can see the black ink lines through the paint and my customers will not buy your paintings. I’m going to ship them back.” 

We can become slaves to technique.  It is the primary thing we think about.  We put a mark on canvas and fall prey to the obsession.  Over the centuries, when artists would grow too dissatisfied with their results, they would go to the museums and study the Old Masters.  How did they do that, they wonder?  What brush, what mixture of paint?  Is it any wonder the lure of short cuts becomes so strong?  David Hockney even wrote a book on the subject.  Called the Hockney-Falco thesis, Hockney argued that the accuracy of the work of the Old Masters was impossible to do by eye-balling it, so they must have used optical aids like the camera obscura.  Falco, a physicist, calculated the type of distortion such devices would create, and Hockney pointed out the “errors” in the work of Old Masters.  The book sparked intense debate: you can read about it here if you are interested, but it really boils down to a single argument -- is success based upon the artist’s unique, rare skill, or his ability to use technology?  Because if it ends up in the technology realm then anyone with a slide projector can create a passable image. 

It is a philosophical question best dissected at the end of a day.  I think about all the art I have viewed over the decades, the images, those few, that still haunt me: you are a child again, on your back in the summer grass, watching the stars spring to life in an ink black sky and it dawns on you with chills down your back that life, existence, the entire mystery is just about to reveal itself.  Just beyond those twinkling points of light, if only you could touch them.  The realization that there is something powerful and violent, awesome and beautiful all at the same time is mind boggling. Unimaginable, until you just imagined it.  That the artist, in one extravagant stroke of paint upon canvas can come close to recreating it.  Why would you ever want to fake that? 

Albert Einstein said, "Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better." It seems to me the whole idea behind being an artist is fairly straightforward.  But then this is a dialogue that has been going on for a long, long time. We see the paintings that gain the applause and everything looks the same.  Yet we are told the importance of finding our voice, what makes us different.  I don't suppose we will solve it anytime soon. 

Here is another quote from the Inness book:  "We cannot be impressed by that which does not  touch us."

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George Inness: Writings and Reflections on Art and Philosophy, Edited by Adrienne Baxter Bell, published in 2006 by George Braziller, Inc., New York.

quoted passages:

1. pg 15

2. pg 173

Einstein quote from BrainyQuote


Color In Your Life Television Show Expanding to include US Artists

 

I don’t usually write posts that sound like a PR campaign, but one mission of this blog is to promote collaboration and artistic support, and occasionally I come across information that is worth sharing. 

In December, I received the following email: "Hi my name is Graeme Stevenson.  I am an Artist and the producer of the TV series: Put some Colour in your life… a series that showcases Artists in their studios…their abilities and also their art…and story as a creator."

I responded with, "Hi  Graeme, I just spent some enjoyable time clicking through your website and watching the videos…I am always interested in quality, and it was a joy to watch the Three Amigos Painting!"

Color In Your Life is a site that delivers, educating artists through instructional videos and promoting their work through a free account.The show is the brainchild of Master Artist Graeme Stevenson.  Originating in the small Australian  town of Murwillumbah, the show has expanded to America, New Zealand, Canada, India and South Africa. Recently, Stevenson  partnered with FW publications in Ohio to distribute shows through their global networks.  From the website and You Tube channels you can access free instructional videos, and there are 74 US television stations airing the series, including PBS.  Colour In Your Life was “designed to foster creativity and interest in art, and generally highlights one artist in each episode." The show was nominated for a LOGIE Award in 2012. 

According to this media announcement, Stevenson is coming to The United States and planning to "film as many American artists as possible for the series. We know there is a plethora of incredible talent across the pond, and as we go to new heights with the show, we want to go greater distances for artistic skills to share with the world."  Just one more example of artists supporting and promoting other artists.

From the main website , I decided to set up an account as a test, and found it easy to do.  CIYL offers something very much like Facebook dedicated to artists, where you can promote your upcoming workshops, post art images, get feedback, and connect to other artists. Artwork is easy to upload, and although I have not explored the section for artwork for sale, the site offers a nice presentation. 

If you are interested, check out the TV Episodes link.  At the bottom, there are instructions for “Be On The Show.”  No Guarantees, but worth investigation, since the show has plans to come to the States. 

Here are some useful links:

Graeme Stevenson - YouTube videos which include free watercolor painting lessons from Alvaro Castagnet, Plein Air from John Crump, Acrylic from Carole Foster, and many more.

Find out about Color In Your Life here.

Testimonials from artists who have been featured on the show.

Home Page for Color In Your Life, where you can set up a free account.

 

*****

Just off the Easel

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Stormy Weather, 12 x 18, oil on mounted linen

 

Art should be viewed as a gift.  Knowledge was passed on to me, and I try to pass it on to others.

 To find out more about my book, Ancient Wisdom, Emerging Artist, please click here

And thank you for reading this blog!

~Sue

Please contribute to this discussion by posting your comments. 


How Theme Can Move Your Work From a Depiction of Objects to a Visual Communication of Meaning

I recently received a question from Nicholas Wilson, asking:  “I've been an aspiring artist since childhood. That being said, I was wondering what your take on theme is. I've been primarily working on honing my technique more than anything else, so I haven't concerned myself with theme too much. I live in the southeast part of the U.S., so I do not frequently use landscapes as a theme. I'm really wondering if your theme was more intuitive, or did you consciously choose to focus on something in particular?” Since this struck me as a good topic for a conversation,  I wanted to share it more broadly through this blog.

 Theme is a foundation in Art Historical analysis. In Robert Hirsch’s book Seizing the Light, A History of Photography, he gives this example: “The sublime, like a storm on the ocean, can track its origins to awe, terror, and vastness, while the beautiful, a calm harbor sunset, situates its lineage within the organization of society, making them opposite concepts that cannot commingle.” Pg. 51

 Alvin Langdon Coburn The Temple of OhmSo what exactly does this mean?  

 Alvin Langdon Coburn (1882-1966) was part of an American Artistic movement influenced by the themes of mood, the mysterious, and the natural landscape.  In his 1911 photograph The Temple of Ohm ( at the left), Coburn used chiaroscuro to dramatically emphasize the vastness and abstract qualities in the landscape and establish a sense of the Sublime.

 

  Edward Steichen The Pond - MoonlightIn contrast, Edward Steichen (1879-1973), in his photograph Moonlight: The Pond (1906), was interested in aesthetic sensitivity. Evoking the mystery of the beautiful, Steichen’s theme could be described as the sensuality in the atmosphere, and turning a subject into an experience.   

These are a few examples of theme that artists can employ.  Exploring more deeply, we could think of theme as storytelling – not just the synopsis, but the richness of character development, and the undertones of subplots.  Theme can examine the effects of light, or unravel the social narrative.  It can be an investigation of form (Coburn) or an emotional experience (Steichen). Theme, to some extent, is employed in every piece of art, and whether the artist thinks of it as intuitive, or conscious, it is unique to that individual.  In the early stages of learning the craft, we are more conscious of skill building aspects such as composition, or color harmony, rather than theme.  But eventually the artist realizes that in order to move his or her work away from a mere depiction of objects into an impactful communication of meaning, then a conscious consideration of theme must be at work.

Jade and ancient glass emil carlsenBut for me, the most important aspect of theme is this:  If art is a way of capturing something of visual importance, then theme can be thought of as a multi-faceted collaboration between artist and viewer: the viewer looks at the visual information and develops his or her own interpretations of theme.  The more opportunities the viewer has to do this the more interesting the art.

  Looking at Emile Carlson's still life, Jade and Ancient Glass (image at left),  his theme could be interpreted as an Impressionist approach to light, or the more sublime idea of tension and contrast through the placement of large to small, or an exploration of the beautiful, in the mysterious environment containing his objects.  Compared to a painting based upon illustrating specific pieces of fruit, I find this image more interesting long term.

Certainly some aspects of theme attempt to deconstruct the idea of art - Damien Hurst, who uses death as a central theme in his work, wanted to shock viewers as a way to create a commercial commodity.  And at the opposite end of the spectrum, Thomas Kinkade depicted images of nostalgia in a formulaic way.  But theme exists whether we put it there or not - because the theme comes as much from the viewer as it does from the artist. 

How do you use theme in your work? What insights have you discovered? Please share your ideas with your comments. 

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"When I started my blog in 2007, there were few resources available, so I started writing in response to my own sense of isolation.  As a mature artist who was newly entering the field, I was competing with people either half my age, or who had been painting successfully for decades. I had come across a research project that profiled artists in New York City, people who were both unknown and at the end of their creative lives. I realized that the hardest part of being an artist was carrying on the face of rejection – and this was particularly true for those entering the field after the age of fifty, who are often dismissed as hobbyists and not serious artists. I felt that my readers were more interested in the ideas and not in a catalog of my own work, so I tried to keep the two separate.  What I wanted to offer was the example of my own struggles, failures, and perseverance."

     ~from a blog interview I gave in 2014

 Art should be viewed as a gift.  Knowledge was passed on to me, and I try to pass it on to others.

 To find out more about my book, Ancient Wisdom, Emerging Artist, please click here

And thank you for reading this blog!

~Sue

Please contribute to this discussion by posting your comments. 


The Art of Metamorphosis: Finding Talent

Less than one hundred years ago artists were excited about the growing democratization of the arts.  Artists bypassed the exclusionary establishments by coming together, briefly mounting their own exhibitions before moving on.  Regional movements rose, along with a sense of limitless possibilities, and an explosion of innovation and style consumed the remaining three quarters of the century.

This, according to James Elkins, is proof that “painting is the art of metamorphosis.”  Tradition, arguing with innovation, generated ideas that grew wildly, while materials in combat with methods ruled the day.  And then, the experiment reached a conclusion with nowhere else to go, like a wave that sweeps up onto the sloped beach and then recedes.

Today the viewing public has unprecedented access to art of every type at any time and any place.  It is the ultimate democratization.  And a subtle loss of meaning.  A thousand images of trees can make your landscape seem pointless.  Up against the art of five hundred years, the desire to be an artist leaves us embarrassed.  With democratization, we cannot quite find our place.  Everything has become homogenized:  there is no right way to apply the paint, or select subject matter that will convey the complex reactions of our eyes and our minds and emotions when we experience that sense of awe. 

With democratization we have, in a significant sense, lost our boundaries. Everything has become nothing.  And we are rootless.

Visual art is a fundamental human desire, to both create and interpret, dependent as much upon the viewer’s receptiveness as the artist’s sensitivity.  There is a philosophy proposing this: at the moment of creativity, the act is everything.  What is interpreted out of the result is simply an artifact. Yet this idea conflicts with the modern concept of art as a commodity, to be created specifically for the viewer, admired, and sold.  The selling is proof.  The viewer’s money becomes the only validation of the artist’s talent. 

Years ago, I remember reading a blog post about talent, and writing a naively indignant response.  Talent, I stated, was not some blessing endowed at birth to a selected few but available to everyone if they developed skill.  But now I realize that skill – or talent – in fine art is not an end result but an ongoing process of learning and progressing.  We do not know what we do not know until one morning what we heard a few years ago suddenly solves a problem as we manipulate the paint.  It is both a mystery – the talent bestowed – and an understanding – the skill developed:  A metamorphosis which assigns equal importance to the quality of the finished work as to the moment of creation.

The struggle for today’s aspiring artist is to maintain the boundary that makes this metamorphosis possible.  This is not a boundary that specifies method, for as German Expressionist painter Max Libermann said “there are as many techniques as there are painters.”  It is a boundary that excludes what it cannot refine, that seeks the “qualities” that exist in the art that sinks in, stays with you.  And while there is a universe of artistic approaches, there will be only a few that can pull you in with the force of gravity.  These are the ones you follow.  Despite the voice we try to silence, that art might be a sham, that there is no real meaning left other than the ultimate “selfie” of expression – there is gravity there, a mystery.

 Let it pull you in. 

 

One significant challenge most artists face is maintianing perseverence.  Whether it's weathering the disappointments that come with failed aspirations, or the increasing demands of simply getting through the day, creative activities are inherently isolating. 

What is most gratifying are the emails I receive from artists reading Ancient Wisdom, Emerging Artist, and a frequent comment is "Thank you for your accessible...inspirational words."   Art should be viewed as a gift.  Knowledge was passed on to me, and I try to pass it on to others.

 To find out more about my book, Ancient Wisdom, Emerging Artist, please click here

And thank you for reading this blog!

~Sue

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