Inspiration Feed

How Color Trends Give Emotional Cues

 

January is the month for "Colors of the Year," symbolically defining the trends for the coming months.  As useful as it is to consider new color palettes, emotional cues behind the choices hold the most value.

When Pantone introduced the 2016 colors of the year, they keyed into two themes: persuasive compassion and serene composure. Thematically, the 2017 color marketers are tapping into more energized emotions, and if interpreted right, artists can find new opportunities for work that appeals to the various niches.

Elle Decor uses words such as sophisticated and creative to describe how the consumer sees self identity as defined by personal living spaces.  In the visual examples used, Elle Decor combines furnishings and fine art to define specific moods or emotional cues, from those seeking drama, to atmosphere, or regional identity. 

IMG_1577Elle Decor is not alone in seeing a new trend emerging, based on the consumer's desire for a more optimistic, cozy, comforting, renewing, or elegant new image for 2017.  Pantone, recognized as a standard setter in the design environment, has selected the color Greenery as definitive of the 2017 environment.  Their descriptions of the emotional connections to Greenery include back to nature, spring, renewal, life affirming changes, starting over with a fresh approach. 

Sherwin-Williams has selected "Poised Taupe" as their Color of 2017, calling it a complex neutral intended to communicate the idea of a refuge from the outside world. Ideas such as elegance, graceful patina, earthiness and the authenticity of "a well-lived life" identify the emotions they want associated with this color. 

Benjamin Moore takes it a step further, posting a video showing how their design team drew inspiration from contemporary art events, selecting their deep purple color, called "Shadow," as their entry into the 2017 trend.  Shadow is intended to communicate the combined emotions of nostalgia, morning light filled with optimism, evenings of mystery, romance, magic and "an Old Master palette."

The value here is in the word choices used to sell the colors, and how those define the marketer's view of the 2017 consumer.  Using this analysis, 2017 will see strong enthusiasm for a culture-based environment, where not just colors, or furnishing, but original fine art may play a strong role.  It will be interesting to see if this theory plays out for both galleries and artists alike. 

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IMG_1978 small copyI appreciate the way you have accepted 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. Please leave your recommendations or suggest it to others who might be interested in the content. 

Image: The Sun, The Moon, and The City.  @2017, SFSmith

 

 

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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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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.

 

 


Is Creativity an Entitlement?

I am an observer.  Even as a child I would rather watch than participate.  And my kids will tell you I can be obsessive in my observing.  If asked, they’ll drag out their favorite photographic proof: in sequence - view driving toward the tunnel, view in the tunnel, and view exiting the tunnel.  (I think there was another one called Mom falling down the side of the road in search of the perfect view, that that one mysteriously disappeared twenty years ago.)

I don’t necessarily believe I am obsessive. I’ve realized that before I became a painter, I was recording my observations in other ways.  Whenever we traveled, I would stare out the window, photographing every dip in the landscape that caught my attention, what I secretly called my “drive-by shootings” before that term took on such horrific meaning.  What I’m trying to point out here is that as artists we automatically observe the world, taking in every nuance and experience.  That is a remarkable gift, if you ask me.  We can look at artwork created in the past and participate, vicariously, in another existence.  A continuing thread, thousands of threads, a memory veil if you wish, that shows up in different forms in our own work.  An ongoing conversation.  Lives lived that are each unique and yet filled with common experience.

That might actually be the core mystery behind creativity.  And as Elizabeth Gilbert writes in her book, Big Magic, we don’t need anyone’s permission to express our creativity.  Yet artists often struggle with the belief that they do need permission.  If they don’t get that commission, or a gallery response to their portfolio, or accepted into a prestigious show, the sense of rejection can set the studio work back for months.  I speak from experience.  And it isn’t just the rejections, but the sense that we must do more important things (important to whom?) before we can justify stepping into the studio and paint yet another painting that won’t see the light of day. 

Again, I speak from experience. Due to unexpected circumstances, I returned to work three years ago, spending endless hours doing emotionally draining and exceedingly boring work and leaving my full-time studio dedication behind.  It paid the bills.  But the drip, drip, drip of the mundane did far worse for my sense of creative entitlement than the lack of money ever could.  That, my friends, can feel deadly.  It’s as if you don’t deserve the muse.  Pointlessness again creeps in and logical arguments grow proportionally.  With each step you move further away and it becomes harder to return, because, after all, now you are a full-fledged fraud calling yourself an artist when you can’t even get into the studio more than a few times a month. 

But I don’t think creativity cares.  Let me tell you a story.  Back when I was living the Real Artist Life I met a fellow artist who became a role model for me.  She was my age now when I met her over a decade ago, and during the 1970’s, while I was busy with young children and photographing tunnels, she was discovering her unique personal voice. In the 1990’s, while I was merely feeling restless, she was living in Mexico and Guatemala, creating works on handcrafted paper made of corn, perfecting her unique style reminiscent of Marc Chagall, and creating highly acclaimed work in her teaching studio. When we finally met, I idolized her while I was sure she hardly recognized me.  But one day I opened a wonderful email from her expressing admiration for my work.  Now, I am not attempting to connect myself to a famous person here, because this story does have an important lesson.  Perhaps a year ago, now, I was back visiting with my old gallery director, and I asked about this artist.  She was fine, my friend explained, leading me back into her shop and pulling out several canvases.  They were in various stages of the initial drawing or first few bits of paint.  My role model, she explained, was very happy, but she had forgotten how to paint.  She could not remember enough to finish the work.  I left that day with two of her sable brushes and several canvases, in various stages of development, which to this day and into the future will remain just as they are.  And that’s ok.

We do not have time to worry about whether we are entitled to or have earned the right to be in our studios creating pointless works of art.   Nothing is pointless, just as nothing is so earth shatteringly important that if it isn’t perfect or accepted by the world than it shouldn’t be done. It takes courage to resist the voices so eager to tell you no, not yet, this isn’t your time, me first.  But for many of us, we don’t get brave enough until we actually see the finish line of our own lives, and realize if not now, then probably never.

But late-blooming bravery is ok too. Because the way I see it, when I paint, I am doing it for myself, recording, exploring, analyzing my experiences as I work my way through life.

Which is really the only way I want to live my life.

 


Missing Inspiration? Why 400 Sketchbooks Are Not Enough

Standing in the cookie aisle, I suddenly realized if I told the truth about where my inspiration comes from,  she wouldn’t believe me.

I could have said 18 years with over 400 sketch books and I still don’t have a handle on it, but I opted for the short answer. You know the cliché about 99% perspiration. Because, like many creative misunderstandings, people want to believe in the idea that their artist toiled away in seclusion before the epoch discovery that became their painting, and who am I to disavow them? Besides, the artist’s struggle is more like a selfie-battle that gets all tangled up in lofty ideals than it is a search for inspired perfection. But since this woman held emotional ownership in the painting, and recognized me between the Twinkies and Oreos, I did my best to maintain my artistic mystique.

So why is Inspiration so elusive?

Perhaps because we are really, really good about making it complicated. Take the idea that hard work and hours of effort go into that genius moment. Hard work is necessary - to learn and perfect skills, explore techniques, all that craft related stuff. But hard work has little to do with the real blocks to inspiration, which reside in our brains, in our addictions, and the fears growing out of misconceptions.

Why is it that we don’t believe in our own work?

When we let our brain take short cuts, we forget what we’re trying to do. Every day we are inundated with thousands of images, are constantly reevaluating our own ideas, and stressed out with the idea that a disinterested public isn’t going to give our work even the 27.2 seconds of looking at art that research says most people spend. It’s exhausting, and our brains go into auto pilot, making assumptions in an effort to function more efficiently.

Take Pinterest as an example. As an idea for honing creative skills, I have a love-hate relationship with my boards, neatly classified by genre. As a pre-screening tool, my brain loves the ease of scanning images and selecting those that grab my attention without any real effort. I can pin for twenty minutes and feel as if I’ve spent hours exploring the world of art. When people re-pin I get an idea of which artists are growing in popularity, and how many other pinners have boards similar to my own choices. It’s a reassuring form of crowd sourcing, proof of the evolutionary aesthetic choices that have become so popular in our culture.

But while Pinterest tells us we are in the mainstream with our visual preferences, it also kills the idea of originality. More often than not, after an hour of studying your boards you come away not inspired by the way other artists solve problems, but discouraged. When everything looks the same and it’s all been done before, might as well just kick back with a good book or the game. This could be a symptom of visual overload, since the brain can only absorb so much before it switches to something more interesting, or maybe it’s the playoff game or a really good book. But either way, visual overload is an inspiration kill.

And speaking of the brain

Our brain is basically a computer that entertains itself by solving problems. Some problems are boring, and others become boring when that auto pilot part of the brain informs the problem solving part that, oh, yeah, I’ve got all I need out of this painting. It’s one of the theories behind the ability of artists to engage the human imagination through deconstruction or a minimal amount of detail. Patrick Cavanagh says “Artistic license taps into the simplified physics used by our brain to recognize everyday scenes,” and this idea may be the reason why you can feel excited about a concept one moment and bored the next. Take the experiment by Niko Tinbergens with the chick and the “super beak,” or the distortions of Van Gogh.  Super exaggerated aspects in art can be disorienting to the eye, but trigger pleasure centers within the brain that humans find emotionally addicting. Without appreciating this battle behind the artist’s purpose of creating mystery and the viewer’s addiction to solving it, we end up solving our own mysteries. And mysteries solved are yesterday’s news.

Still not convinced?

Then why does your initial rough in with gestural marks and beautifully simplified values turn in to such a boring painting? Why the expectation of something wonderful that thrilled your artist’s brain fizzled when the messages got to your logic-controlled dominate hand?

And speaking of those fears and expectations

There is no denying it. On some level, everyone who has identified as an artist has also identified with the Big Experience. It’s all tied in with the flow, with artistic callings, with producing meaningful work. Art History does a good job of indoctrinating the culture and you have to admit, the romanticized version of creating some visual image in your basement with the power to change the world has kept more than one person up at night. So if you still harbor the idea that art is a form of a higher calling (which it still might be, but the idea and the goal can be crippling to your inspiration) here is a  quote from an entertaining, anonymous Art Handler when talking about the type of artwork he hangs: 

“I often deal with wealthy women. They usually fall into one of two categories: plastic surgery housewives or power suit business types…The first type doesn’t really know much about art at all and is … like, “Where do you think this should go? Does this look good with this?” The second type knows more about art but…I was hanging it in the living room as they observed from the couch. Their conversation for the entire hour was 40% plastic surgery and 60% cosmetics, with the occasional praise of the artwork purchased.”

So a quick answer about inspiration is impossible.

It is true that artists report feeling like the act of creating is essential to their identities. And the fear of not living up to that reality insures the safe zone, ignoring brain short cuts and allowing distractions and excuses to take away the blame. Believe me, you don’t need to hang in the Met. I’m relieved when someone tells me my work hangs on their wall and not still under the bed after fifteen years because they haven’t “gotten around to framing it yet.” (True story).

Realize that your brain tells you the painting is boring because you’ve solved all the mysteries. Don’t cripple yourself with unfounded fears of not measuring up, or meeting the expectations of others who don’t exactly count. Inspiration comes when you set a challenge for yourself, not from painting to the common denominator of crowd sourcing. Be mindful. Make friends with the addictions you feel and know that the emotions are real. They are yours. Use them to bring inspiration into your art.

For more inspiring ideas, stories, links and videos, please visit my Facebook page,  Ancient Artist: Developing at Art Career After 50


How Paint Quality Impacts Emotional Content - Lessons from Rembrandt's Blood Stain

Lucretia_1666Rembrandt - 1666 version of the Death of Lucretia


Every student of art encounters Art History at some point, and finds himself either overwhelmed or trapped by the tenants of one style compared to another. Perhaps it is inevitable, in that picture making is always influenced by what has been previously produced. But in this modern world, the visual image as a form of communication has been dissected, manipulated, and used to the point where we are eye blind, much like the student on a museum tour who goes in star struck and comes out with a nonchalant shrug saying, “Oh, another Michelangelo.”  Sometimes a work of art translates into a powerful emotional experience, but more often than not, there is a five second glance of disinterest and lack of connection.

So how, then, is the artist to overcome that five second glance? Many competing concepts must be put together to create a successful painting, extending beyond just understanding how to achieve certain results. Throughout my art development I have been guided by a quote attributed to Lee Krasner: “I like a canvas to breathe and be alive. Be alive is the point. And, as the limitations are something called pigment and canvas, let’s see if I can do it.”

Great artists from the past achieved high levels of this sense of “aliveness”, and one of the ways they did it is through paint quality. The temptation to use Rembrandt’s self-portrait as an example of paint quality is a persistent one. With the artist’s thick swirls of paint that appear sculptural, you see basic concepts of thick impasto contrasted with thin layers of delicate color. But using this painting as an example traps the artist in a sweeping generalization. It isn’t only about the contrast in paint thickness, or the differences in the brush stroke.

I recently came across an article by Simon Schama, exploring the idea behind How Rembrandt Dressed Women for Death, which directed me to Rembrandt’s 1666 painting, The Suicide of Lucretia.  The paint quality in this painting jolts the viewer between the sumptuous depictions of fabric and textures in Lucretia’s dress, to the visceral impact of the blood stain on her bodice: edges of the stain, where the plasma has separated with a lighter tinge, highlighting the weave of the delicate fabric that could not protect her body, as the deepening red depression sinks visually into the flesh, turning a dark crimson in a ragged knife blade shape. That, for me, is visual impact achieved by a master of paint quality

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If painting is more than a flat visual perception, then the artist must find some understanding of what that means. I believe that art should not be limited to what the eye sees but how to depict through the senses what the eye sees. And while I might be a toddler in terms of art, having just learned to walk and now exploring my environment on uncertain legs, I understand that artists mistake generalizations for fact and rework ideas that are worn out. Avoiding generalizations might require the artist to assess his core intentions, what is meaningful to his work, and how his subject and technique addresses both his personal freedom and the impact the work has upon the viewing public. And as a consequence, an artist’s personal style will evolve and change over time as realizations and concepts become internalized and expressed effectively.  We should expect it. Reach for it.

Reach for the understanding and ability to come as close as we can to the perfection of Rembrandt's blood stain.

 


River Road and Aesthetic Conviction

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River Road, oil, 18 x 24, 2015

 

In my last post we were talking about aesthetic conviction.  While I find this concept easier to understand when discussing figure or portrait painting, my passion is landscape.  I wanted to share some of the thinking that goes into a painting such as River Road. 

Why did I paint this:  In 1908, two competing railroad companies began laying track on opposite sides of the Deschutes River on a route that ran from the Columbia River to Bend.  One was the Oregon Trunk Road, on the west side of the river, the other was the Deschutes Railroad.  At several points along the way both needed the same land.  Conflicts erupted, including blowing up of supply lines, skirmishes and gun battles, injuries and death.   There is currently one working rail track in use today, but the remains of abandoned rail beds are still present and used for recreation.   It's a little known element of Oregon's wild west history.

 

What this painting is about: While I was attracted to the story, this is not a historical painting. The warm winter light, the red and ocher and sage, the reflections on the river are a metaphor for optimism and a sense of adventure in the face of uncertainty.  The landscape is the message.  It speaks of endurance, and the transience of  human experience. 

Thank you to Oil Painters of America, for awarding River Road an Honorable Mention in the 2015 Fall On-Line Showcase. 


Creating a Nurturing Environment: Tips for the Self-Mentoring Artist

Years ago I went to the Impressionist Exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum, where I discovered the artist Marie Bracquemond.  The reclusive Marie had great talent, but her career was brief.  She was married to the famous conservative engraver, Felix Bracquemond, who, according to historical records, was resentful of Marie's friendship with Impressionist greats such as Monet, Degas, and Gauguin. Over the years Marie endured intense artistic criticism from her husband, and became discouraged over the constant strife.  Her painting, Portrait (Lady in White),  was exhibited, along with On the Terrace at Sevres, in the fifth Impressionist exhibition in 1880, but she exhibited only one more time with the Impressionists, in 1886, before she ceased painting altogether in 1890.  According to the art critic Gustove Geffroy, Marie was "one of the three great ladies of Impressionism," but she eventually succumbed to her husband's disapproval.  Consequently, there are few Bracquemond paintings in public collections.

Life as an aspiring artist is complicated.  With all the misconceptions about an art career, or success, or authenticity, it's impossible to navigate the pitfalls without some kind of comfort and support. Partners can be our staunchest supporters, but they also present our biggest challenges.  Emotional conflict is uncomfortable, requiring us to be our own best mentors, navigating between a passion for art and a passion for family.

  • Painting is an extension of who you are.   While the drip drip drip of disapproval from others can be demoralizing, unless we acknowledge that art is not a priority for everyone, we will never be able to escape the need for approval.  The work you do in the studio isn't about impressing your partner.  It's about your humanity and your ability to express that in a visual form.  Focus on the value in what you do: prioritize it the same way others value traditional wage-paid work.
  • Honor your partner's needs, but ask for honor in return.  It's not easy for those who don't understand the intense drive that keeps the artist at the easel.  Art can be consuming.  But it's also beneficial to break from the work and enjoy the company of those around you.  Keeping your life in balance will help you keep your successes and failures in balance, and give you the resiliency to carry on. 
  • Work toward a simple form of financial security.  Take small steps to set aside the financial reserves you need to cover the cost of the materials that will allow you to create for a six month period.  If this means working and saving more, the pay-off is the lack of worry over money, as well as the independence of not needing permission to use joint resources if your partner is not supportive.
  • You define the value in your work.   By it's very definition, competition is a comparison of your work to that of others, and it can be exhausting.  Altering your mindset away from running after the successful artists and paying more attention to understanding your own intention will allow for greater growth.  Get feedback from those you admire, enter competitions, but for heaven's sake don't use it as a negative judgement of your own work.  Tell your insecurities to find someplace else to live, you have work to do. 

There is a seductive romance to the story of being an artist.  Life, though, is as real as it's going to get right now.  It is the daily effort, the small steps you take that matter, the personal relationships you honor and develop along the way.  Making art is part of what makes you human.  All the successes, support, discouragement and failures make up the steps in your journey from here to there.  It's at the heart of being an artist, the act of paying attention to what matters in the world, then showing it to others. There will always be mediocre work that gets attention, and great work that passes by unacknowledged.   But while it is about the work, it also isn't. It's about the purpose of life that isn't easily explained. 


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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