“Beauty is whatever gives joy.” Hugh Nibley (from The Painter’s Keys)
Suppose your goal is to create “beautiful” art. The first thing you might set out to do is define, “beautiful.” Good luck with that! Volumes have been written about what is and isn’t beautiful. The subject was examined in a movie documentary starring Mathew Collings, titled “What is Beauty?” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy has a mind bogglingly in-depth article on the definition of Beauty. Even the dictionary has multiple definitions of beauty. What’s an artist to do?
The first step may be to go back to the beginning and take a look at why you create art in the first place. Was the original purpose to create something “beautiful” or something that will be enjoyed by others. There is a big difference. As the exact definition of beauty is likely near impossible to pin down, while giving pleasure to others is not. Therefore, a better goal might be to define how art gives pleasure to others and set out to pursue that direction.
Now that the goal is in mind to determine how to make pleasurable art, you take a look at what you have and discover one person finds pleasure in one style and another person prefers a different style. Uh Oh! What now?? You could just throw in the towel and give up. Or you could follow your own heart, create what you find pleasurable and let the chips fall where they may. Some of those chips just may fall on a few likeminded folks.
“I shut my eyes in order to see.” Paul Gauguin (from Skinnyartist.com)
How can one create with eyes shut? Gauguin’s statement would seem to not make any sense. Does he mean painting with a blindfold on? Many paintings out there look as though they have been painted with a blindfold on. Many more look like they need to have been painted with a blindfold on. But is this to be taken literally?
Gauguin, in my opinion, is talking about the heart. Let the heart see with the heart’s eyes. That is a difficult thing to do when the brain’s eyes want to remain in control. There is the natural inclination to recreate in exact detail what is physically present. It may be necessary to actually close the eyes to get the right visual. It may take practice. It may take concentration to let go of one set of eyes to allow the others to open.
The art of opening the heart’s eyes and allowing them to take over does not necessarily mean losing realism. The heart’s eyes are eyes of feeling, eyes of emotion. Emotion is the spark that lifts realism out of simple recreation and gives it life. Emotion is the spark of any form of art that lifts it out of boredom and lights a fire.
A blindfold is not required to paint with the eyes shut. It just takes getting in touch with the heart’s eyes. Of course, painting with a blindfold may make for new and interesting art. It could even start a new movement in “blindfold painting.” Who knows, it may become all the rage. Anything can happen when the physical eyes are closed and the heart’s eyes are open.
“I like the fact that there is challenge.” Keren Ann (from The Painter’s Keys)
The latest sales figures, in an article by Melanie Gerlis, for The Art Newspaper, reveal the online art market to have reached the one billion dollar mark. While the online art market continues to grow, as the same article discusses, it remains only a very tiny percentage of the overall art market. However, two key points from the article could change that percentage. Artists and art dealers are in a position to increase online sales, if an effort is made to focus on these two key issues.
First, the article states that the greatest hurdle to online sales is, “not seeing the actual physical object.” If that is the biggest obstacle, a little artistic creativity can be applied to lower this barrier. Artists might consider better ways to display art online. Focusing on better image quality and other ways to give depictions greater clarity may affect some degree of increased trust for buyers. People seeking to purchase quality art want to be sure they are getting what they pay for.
The second point made by Gerlis is about the age of the current online art buyers. It seems the majority of the online buyers are under age 30. One reason for this is possibly the comfort under 30’s feel with making online purchases in general. They have come of age in the internet generation. Expanding an online sales market to over 30’s is, again, a likely trust issue. Online sellers are more removed from the buyers making it more difficult to build trusting professional relationships.
As online sales continue to grow, the two points made by Gerlis will become less and less of an issue. Artists who work to overcome these two hurdles will expand their markets of online sales faster. Neither hurdle appears insurmountable. All it will take is a bit of applied creativity. Creativity is in the artistic DNA so look for disappearing hurdles on the horizon.
“Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” Coco Chanel (from The Painter’s Keys)
One writer sees the culture of creative people as “crashing” leading him to lament about the state of the current art world. He believes artists are seen as “cultural elites” “idle dreamers” or “self-indulgent parasites.” Perhaps he should get out more and take a look at where the productive artists are. His descriptions may fit artists in the places that think of themselves as centers of the art world among people who decide what is and isn’t art. Most of today’s working artists are outside of that world and too busy making art to care.
Scott Timberg has written two articles, one for Salon and one for Arts Journal Blogs, and now a book on the demise of the creative class. He mourns the downfall of the “creatives” and discusses possible causes of what he sees as the current creative crisis. While Timberg may have valid points, he is, quite possibly, missing the bigger picture. In my opinion, only one area of the creative class is dropping. And that area may be one of “idle dreamers,” “cultural elites” and “self-indulgent parasites.” It seems likely, the art world Timberg writes of has created this gang of dreamers, elites and parasites and is now reaping the consequences.
If there truly is a “crashing” of the creative culture, is it not the natural order of things? When a group no longer serves a purpose, it ceases to exist. Many of today’s working artists are entrepreneurs. They don’t have time or inclination to engage in elitism or idle dreaming. And they wouldn’t survive long as parasites. Timberg’s creative culture may be crashing but the rest of the creative world has too much to do to pay attention. They are focused on making art and that’s all that matters.
“Mauve is just pink trying to be purple.” James McNeil Whistler
In the nineteenth century, the color mauve became all the rage in more than one country, so much so that the 1890’s were called The Mauve Decade, in a book by Thomas Beer. The rage started with two royal ladies, Queen Victoria of England and Empress Eugenie of France. Queen Victoria wore a dress in Mauve to her daughter’s wedding setting off one rage. Empress Eugenie declared Mauve was the color of her eyes setting off another rage. But Mauve’s beginning came about in a scientific experiment gone wrong.
A young chemist named William Henry Perkin in 1856 was experimenting with chemicals working to produce artificial quinine. He was unsuccessful at the quinine but his experiments produced a residue with an unexpected tint. That tint later became known as Perkin’s Mauve and was the first synthetic dye. Perkins left his chemistry studies to initiate the development of the synthetic dye industry. Perkins Mauve was derived from coal tar. Some sources give the origin of the name as from the French word for the mallow plant, malva. The mallow flowers are a color similar to what is now known as mauve.
Mauve rages come and go. Mauve goes into favor and out again. Sometimes mauve returns disguised as a “new” color. Pantone’s color of the year, Radiant Orchid, looks more than a bit like a dressed up version of Mauve. Another Mauve will eventually replace the current Radiant Orchid and Mauve will be recycled again. Mauve as an artist’s paint color lives mainly with botanical painters.
I can’t help thinking of Mauve as a popular color for dresses worn by my grandmother and her friends. Its difficult to get excited about a color that brings up pictures of old ladies in dusty pinkish purple dresses, white gloves and dainty hats, sipping tea and eating cucumber sandwiches. Unfair maybe, but shutting down that visual is just impossible.
“The only way to say what abstract art is, is to say what it is not.” Ad Reinhardt (from The Painter’s Keys)
The work of two very different blog posts jumped out this week for what each represented. Bloggers Elena Caravela and JF of Close to Eighty unintentionally demonstrated the past and the future of today’s art. One told the story of where art in the Twentieth Century has come from. The other is the representation of where art is going.
Where art has come from was not the actual purpose of the post by blogger JF of Close to Eighty.com. JF posted links to two fun art quizzes. One was asking the question of whether viewers could tell if an artwork was by a famous artist or by an ape. The other was art by a famous artist or a toddler? It was surprisingly difficult to tell which was which. Follow JF’s link to see if you can tell which is which. Both quizzes are very good examples of the art of the twentieth century. And the art world wonders where their followers went. Why pay top dollar for art that can just as easily be made by your neighbor’s toddler. There may be more to the art of the last century but does it matter if the viewers can’t tell what’s made in the studio and what’s made at the zoo?
Elena Caravela posted a painting. The Crossing, from a series she has been working on, exploring the theme of Blood and Vapor. What struck me so profoundly was the depth of emotion so evident in the painting. Two children are in a boat on what looks to be a terrifying journey. The painting immediately brought to mind the stories I had heard of Cuban refugees risking all to get to the shores of freedom. The painting could have multiple levels of meaning to different people. The important point is the depth of feeling and meaning communicated. No one will doubt it was painted by a living breathing adult human with emotional depth.
Art of the twentieth century didn’t care if people felt anything or not. The artists likely didn’t care either. There is very little there to connect with deeper human emotions. Art appears now headed toward connecting with people again. It delves into different layers of the experience of living. When we look at art we want to feel something on some level. We want to look at a piece of art and say, “Yes!” that makes me feel X, Y, or Z. We don’t want to say, “Did your toddler do that?
I would love to hear what others think of The Crossing. And how well you did on the quizzes!
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“The bold adventurer succeeds the best.” Ovid (from The Painter’s Keys)
Suddenly the realization dawns that things have gone stagnant. The same direction is going on and on, endlessly. Everything is feeling redundant. It’s a circle going round and round. What can be done to stop this looming boredom? Maybe its time to go for some bold adventuring. How about trying a bit of whitewater rafting, at least on paper. On paper, there’s no danger of falling out of the boat and cracking a head or other various bones on a rock.
White water rafting involves skill and good equipment. It requires knowledge and common sense. Most of all white water rafting requires the willingness to go for adventure. Merriam-Webster defines adventure as, “the encountering of risks.” The risk begins by strapping on a helmet and life jacket. Next get into the boat. Then push the boat out into the current. A battle to hang on ensues. The fast water picks up the craft and begins to toss it around as it moves swiftly down the river. The task of steering the boat away from rocks and other obstacles will take over all focus. The adrenalin starts to flow. An adventure is in progress.
How does adventure happen on paper or canvas? It starts with the willingness to try something new, beginning with fresh equipment. Choose a bold new direction and get caught up in a swift moving river of adventure. See where the fast moving water leads. It could land in an entirely new place. Or it could end up back at the beginning but with a fresh new infusion of energy producing adrenalin. You never know where a white water river will take you. Strap on a brush and go with the flow.
“What is once well done, is done forever.” Henry David Thoreau (from Brainyquote.com)
Is there a little bird who says when its time to stop tweaking a work or a subject? When is enough, enough? Many creative people have a difficult time knowing when to stop. A tweaky little tweaker flitting in to let out a bit of tweak when the time has come to stop all tweaking would relieve a lot of the guess work. The little tweaker would pop out the tweak just as the temptation to add just one more bit, one more word, one more shot is about to takeover. The tweaker would bring freedom from the urge to tweak.
ArtNews has an article by Ann Landi posted about this subject. Landi talks to several noted artists about when they know the work is complete. Landi says, “for some artists, the work is done when it leaves the studio. Others keep tinkering in the galleries. One waits for the piece to “cry uncle.” The responses Landi got were as varied as the artists themselves. Artists are as creative in when to stop as they are in where to begin.
Artist Sandy Guthrie of Createx.com addresses the problem by identifying a “gut” reaction to the work in progress. Guthrie says, “what to do with the ones that are good, possibly very good—but just not grabbing you in the gut in the same way, is very difficult.” Guthrie “read about an artist who says she always hangs her new work in her house after she has finished. If after a few weeks she feels she loves it, then it can be sold. If not, it goes back to the studio for more work.”
When to stop tweaking is apparently one of those little oddities that only an artist can answer for him/her self. It’s a dilemma to be worked out on an individual basis. The problem could quickly be solved if the tweaker would just show up and tweak a little tune at the precise moment the work is complete. Harnessing the cheeky, tweaky tweaker is a difficult process. Just be careful not to mix up the tweaker for the twerker. You definitely wouldn’t want to go there
“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” William Shakespeare (Hamlet)
Sometimes the force of changing directions jumps up and plants a big ole slap across the face. After the stinging subsides a bit, a little need to check on the “true to self” state of things is in order. If the directional changing slap stirs up some major dust then the only possible answer is to sit out the storm. The eye of the storm is the perfect place for a reexamination of the current situation. There is no way to see which way the wind is blowing when caught up in the center of the whirling.
With no avenue of escape visible, the only other option is to contemplate a new direction. The process could be painful. Storms are known for that. But there is always something to be gained by hanging on to see where the storm is heading. After all, Dorothy wound up off to see a Wizard on the Yellow Brick Road when the storm died. The difficulty is in finding the reason for the storm. It usually involves the willingness to change.
While caught up in the storm, some serious time spent “true-ing to self “ will likely bring the needed opening of escape. The storm can bring on a wonderful new insight. When you can’t see out through a storm the only other place to look is inside. That is where the power to stop a storm is found. Once the power is in hand the storm can be slapped back down again. After the dust settles, the new direction appears. And who doesn’t enjoy the chance to slap a storm down. Maybe that storm wasn’t really as bad as it first appeared. It might even be possible to like that whole storm thing. The outcome just may be worth it.
The bare limbs of the trees twist and turn as they spiral toward a blue winter sky. The blue sky defies the bitter cold on a cold blustery day. These trees are on the grounds of the Ellington Agricultural Center in Nashville, Tennessee.