Obsessions and Philosophical Discussions Feed

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."


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

Keeping the Vision - Why Creativity and Artistic Ability are Not the Same Thing

One of the interesting things I have noticed is that people often lump creativity and artistic ability into the same subject.  They are definitely not the same thing.  Creativity is often measured by how many uses one can conjure within a limited time frame for a single object.  This is often referred to as keeping a child-like frame of mind, ruling nothing out.  How many uses for, say, a can with several holes punched in the bottom?  That creative child might come up with all kinds of answers: an apartment complex for spiders, a way to capture only the largest raindrops, as the smallest ones will fall right through.  Don’t get me wrong: creativity is a wonderful thing.  I do not discount this.  Creativity is not always wasted on youth, but the scientists can tell you that as people age their creativity, as measured by their answers, often declines.

I am not a researcher.  But I read the products of their research.  And I might as well warn you, I often don’t agree with their interpretations.  Oh, I don’t dispute the data or the results of numerous test subjects, but I think they often test for the wrong things.   Perhaps someone past age 60 can’t come up with 25 imaginative uses for a can with holes punched in the bottom, but perhaps, equally, it isn’t because he is losing his creativity but is evaluating the potential usefulness in each invention.  Age does bring with it some economy of effort, whether good or bad depends upon the age of the evaluator.  But this is why I often look at research about age and creativity with a jaded eye; it’s so easy to be clinical about the effects of age when you haven’t attained the honor of being old.

Artistic ability is much harder to define.  Why is this, you might ask?  We all understand when we see it, we know it.  The Mona Lisa.  John Singer Sargent.  Name one example of artistic ability that comes to mind, and as much as you might love them, the drawings that your children did in second grade are not likely to be on that list.  No, artistic ability relates to something much harder to measure or define than keeping a child-like attitude.  There used to be rules, then there were none, and now there are rules again, but no one really agrees on what they might be, which atelier you belong to, or groups you associate with, or magazine you examine cover to cover, or which gallery or corporate entity supports your work.   In this age of self-identified artists -  an outgrowth of Modernism in the legitimacy of the no rules self-expression approach -  everyone’s an artist.  We feel the intense desire, even if we don’t understand the why, or how.  

Something drives us.  I hear from so many artists who say they feel compelled to do this – but become frustrated when they can’t identify what that means.  What happens when we reach the age of 50? Certainly not the kind of identity crisis that used to be the red convertible and a comb-over hair style: no, this is something much deeper, and worthy of our introspection.  You paint.  You create music.  The time when you are immersed in your inner world stops as you seek what you can’t define.  Is it only art if it exists in the commercialized, corporate-controlled version that has established the careers of those who are granted entry?  Is it only art when there is economic benefit?  Does art require some societal value to exist, or has the function and social value of art taken on a new role? 

I am like you.  I am torn between these questions of where to place value and needing to do the work.  So I do the work.  Like the reed in the river, I bend to the need to put paint on canvas and try to find that expression of truth.   Perhaps that is why we feel compelled.  Not out of a desire for self-importance, but a need to identify some truth for ourselves…not narcissism, staring down at our own reflection in the pond, but a quest to capture a moment…to hold it...keep it for someone else. 

“The vision comes and goes, mostly goes, but I live for it, for the moment when the mountains open and a new light roars in spate through the crack, and the mountains slam.”  -- Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

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. 


"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!


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!


Please contribute to this discussion by posting your comments. 

Perseverance of the Everyday

I have been thinking about the last post and the idea of the Blank Review.  A critique traditionally comes from others.  They tell you what they want to see in your work, and sometimes how to get there.  But the blank Review is one you give yourself.  It isn't about what other people want to see, but what you want to communicate.  It's an invitation to explore your own work.  Asking questions is the usual advice.  Comparing, and - borrowing from Sarah Lewis's analogy - identifying the specific parts of a tune that might up the entire song.

I read an interview with graphic Illustrator Yuko Shimizu, where she pointed out the necessity of starting with a certain style, but over the years allowing the work to grow into something uniquely your own.  She said she wanted to “lead and not follow”, and that her “ultimate goal is to be respected by peers and people I respect.”

Developing a vision for your work takes the perseverance of the everyday. Sometimes this comes from others - I have asked artists to look at my work, and at times I didn’t want to hear what was said.  At other times the opinions held no relevance to what I wanted to achieve.  Not all information has value,  but I could not distinguish between the valued and the valueless until I appreciated my own strength and vision. 

So these days I work differently.  Sometimes this looks like I’m doing nothing.  Other times I am trying everything, creating more problems than I know how to solve.  It’s frustrating, and I’m filled with doubt then, and perhaps a fear of the unattainable. 

But an artist works on speculation.  Everything is vulnerable - to rejection, or acceptance, or misinterpretation.  It is a state of tension most artists learn to live with, or they find a differnt job.  The ones who hold out, though, they have developed the skill of perseverance, the ability to validate progress and meaning in the small acts of the everyday. 

As I grow older I realize the actual work in the studio is a meditation.  On theme, on technique, on surface preparation and mediums and paint.  I recently realized I wanted to see more complexity overall, and I began to explore the skills to accomplish this goal.  It's akin to standing at the edge of a field, seeing the distant flag, and plotting the strange path to get there.  First you have to see, and then to plan.  But ultimately you need to take that step into tall grass.

TED co-founder Richard Saul Wurman is quoted as saying that “learning can be defined as the process of remembering what you are interested in.”[i]

Everyday perseverance can be described as the process of remembering what you envision, and to making small steps toward an outcome you cannot clearly see. But then one day the fog lifts. And you make something uniquely your own. 

[i] Laurence G Boldt, Zen and the Art of Making a Living, pg 514

The Summer Doldrums



The summer months of July and August slip into a kind of heated listlessness that mingles with the soft droning of insects.  Major shows have passed or are in progress.  The euphoria or depression that arrived with acceptance or rejection melts into a decided lack of energy.  Thinking of the nautical meaning for the Doldrums, the experience can be transient in nature, hard to predict, but capable of leaving an artist caught in the becalmed water of inertia.

The modern day sailor will tell you the Doldrums are caused by the sun heating the air around the equator and causing it to rise straight up. The result is hot or cold - little or no horizontal wind and ocean current, or the threat of potential hurricanes.  18th century sailors feared the Doldrums because the unpredictability of the weather could prevent all progress for weeks on end.   It was not then, nor is now, a place sailors wish to be when wind is their only means of propulsion.

The artist can relate, when she enters the studio after months of ambitious work only to look around at the stacked paintings and empty calendar.  When the goals so eagerly set feel like distant, teasing clouds at the edge of the weather.   In the heat of August it is easy to feel the disconnect between desire and energy, purpose or meaning, when the lapping of becalmed water lulls you into a listless drifting, fingers trailing, sending ripples of inconsequence across the glassy ocean’s surface. 

Does it feel somewhat empty? And yet seductively comforting? To be letting go of some of the urgency of purpose but not really, not yet, giving up on the need?  Perhaps this listless drifting is the beginning of doubt, out of which we must struggle to find faith.  But struggle we must.  To find and reconnect to what it is we want – when all we have is wind as our propulsion. 

What is it that drives you, breaking your heart when you can’t find it but making up for everything when you do? 

For me it is the memory of standing in a hot stuffy space so completely enthralled by a Titian painting that I still recall the sensation, realizing how art has the power to reach out across centuries and connect with another human experience. 

I hang on to that sensation when I am in the Doldrums. 

It is the source of the wind that slowly, softly, begins to lift the sails. 

What do you hang on to?

Strategies and Outcomes

“Using strategies to force outcomes”, author unknown, is one of those random collections of words that hit home.

I plan out my artistic goals, and I know others do as well.  We each have a vision of success, and it becomes about the “doing” coupled with the “expecting.”  A way of thinking that not only frustrates us but magnifies our fears.  Because all this planning and strategizing and goals met or missed doesn’t help strengthen creativity.  In fact it might accomplish the opposite.

What if we could disengage long enough to put art back into its original form?  If each painting, carving, bit of clay became an object of devotion or entreaty?  The way the shamans in the caves at Lascaux used red, yellow and black to mirror reality and validate their experience?

Because until we tap into honest human experience, we cannot communicate that to others.  And until we understand we hold unique experience, we cannot let go of the expectation of universal acceptance.  We cannot force that outcome. 

It is not the result that holds importance, but the act of creativity itself.  The showing up, the participating in a visual conversation that has gone on for thousands of years and validating a part of human existence that would be lost were it not for you. 

We cannot use strategies and outcomes as the measurement for creative work.

But we can show up.  We can begin each day with a search for our inner truth.  The struggle is not easy but it might just be the only one with meaning.  

IMG_0709 sm copy

Tide Pool, 11 x 14, oil

A re-emerging theme in my work is water, in part because it is ever changing, yet there is power, energy, and peace in its movement. With each surge something new holds possibility.  With each withdrawal there is reflection.  And the cycle begins again.

Like life. Like art. 


Feeling like you need to reconnect with your art? 

Technique..or Artistry?

There is an intellectual richness to be found in the creative life.  As well as a lot of paint. I had an opportunity to see the one man show of an artist I have long admired.  Lovely paintings when viewed in the magazines, or online.  They were landscapes, a subject I enjoy painting, so I was one of those patrons who stand back, then close up, then back again - the artist "tire kicker."

In another section of the gallery I found some Russian Impressionists.  Also landscapes.  Painted perhaps in the early 20th century.  Visually I was impressed.  Far more impressed than I felt when viewing the other work.  It wasn't any difference between subject matter or color or size.  It was something about the physical surface of the canvas, the energy in the paint.  The difference between technique, and artistry.

If you think of it in terms of art history, this could be described as the difference between the craftsman and the artist.  That is, an artist who becomes too dependent upon the technique produces work that begins to look automated.  Was this the case with the artist I so admired? Painting after painting was finished with the same brush marks, but the result of this repetition across several walls was the sense of automation, as if the artist had decided to go with what worked.  What was easy.  What the people liked. Look how well I can do this - a modern day version of a Cennini student.

In the 15th century, Florence master Cennino d'Andrea Cennini wrote The Craftsman's Handbook. It was the way they passed along information, from master to student.  A recipe book for things like a violet color in fresco, or how to paint the flesh of a corpse by adding a tint of green.  As a result we were blessed with Renaissance art.  We might say that the idea of art began to change, as it certainly had changed by the time of the Russian paintings I viewed.  Each canvas offered unique energies - same artist, same subject. But to my eye, the problem solving relied on artistic interpretation, and not a repetitious finish. 

What was I seeing?  With the first artist, was it a case of manipulating the paint to achieve an end? With the second artist, was it artistry without letting the technique dominate? I began to ask myself - at what point does technique get in the way?  Was I only noticing the technique because I was looking at painting after painting, seeing the sameness? And I became curious as to the opinions and experiences of other artists, whether they have ever considered such a question. 

So I decided to write about it, wondering if I am too critical.  I think not.  But I am voicing my questions, right or wrong.  Are there artists who achieve success by repeating something that patrons love - but other artists see with disdain?  Because it speaks of laziness,  or worse?  Is there a real difference between technique and artistry?  And if so, how is it defined? We may paint in isolation, but we are not isolationists by design.  Artists have always formed groups where they felt safe discussing controversial ideas. Competition is necessary.  I am one who sees it as a path to growth.  And without having someone to challenge your assumptions then you create within a bubble - and of course, we know how bubbles end.  Not kindly. 

At least if we share ideas, we have a chance.




Can We Create Art That Matters?

Agnes Martin is quoted as saying “painters can’t give anything to the observer.  People get what they need from a painting…when you have inspiration and represent inspiration, the observer makes the painting…”*

Think about this.  It removes a tremendous amount of responsibility from the painter’s shoulders.  Your work, what you choose to paint and how you respond to color and composition – it only needs to have meaning to you.  No point in trying to please the observer – how many people will see what you create and “not get it?” How could you possibly anticipate and paint to that expectation? 

And don’t say that you’ve never stood in front of a blank canvas and asked, “What will I paint today?” And then immediately followed with, “What will they want today?”  Because so much of the artist’s life becomes focused on that responsibility we want to have – that we can create something profound, something beautiful, a work of ART.  Don’t say that you’ve never, in that quiet part of the night, hoped for that, hoped for recognition, hoped to have mattered.

Most of us have, because most of us want our work to matter even in a small way.  But the painter’s job – according to Agnes Martin – isn’t to take on the responsibility of being significant.  “Art,” she says, “restimulates inspirations and awakens sensibilities.  That’s the function of art.” 

Yes, it is true that Agnes Martin suffered from schizophrenia throughout her adult life, and her state of mind is reflected in much of her writing.  But if you are trying to understand – as I am - how to make art that matters, that influences, then consider this:

Agnes Martin found her own inspiration in how she interpreted straight lines as representing planes.  How those planes – driven by memory - provided stability, quiet, a resting place, happiness.  She painted her inspiration.

So the question becomes how to create?  Do we create in ways that we hope will matter to other people?  Or do we consider this idea that it matters more to have found a personal inspiration and to allow the observer to find in that what he will?


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Opal Springs, 16 x 20, oil

sfsmith 2014


* Quotes from Agnes Martin come from the book Agnes Martin Paintings, Writings, Remembrances, by Arne Glimcher

Walmart at Sunrise

I have been thinking about doing a painting called Walmart at Sunrise. 

Sitting in my car, watching the sun rise while waiting for my shift to begin at a neighboring big box store, I keep seeing this painting unfold.  The sky turns from violets to pinks, the clouds drifting across the sky. The bare branches of the trees are counterpoint to the staggered verticals of the light posts.  In a glittering abstract of sunlight reflecting off metal, light dances across the parked cars of the night crew.  There is anticipation in the moment.  Like watching the sun rise across a distant lake, when everything is soft and quiet and mystical.  Like standing at Stonehenge watching the rising sun on the mid winter solstice. 

In an hour it will look like an urban parking lot, over burdened with cars and discarded plastic bags and lopsided shopping carts.

But for those few moments, it is beautiful.

In a world where our lives are interconnected with technology, where we think in 142 characters, cannot function without smart phones or GPS or using an App to discover what is around us - as humans, we will always have a hunger for something real. 

And if there is anything meaningful in painting, then I think the work has to be in response to some  human feeling or pathos or empathy.  For this, the artist has to make himself venerable.   He has to develop a point of view.  And even if that point of view is ignored by the majority, it is the thing that will make the work relevant to the few. 

Perhaps this is the only important question the artist needs to ask when examining his own work.