Passing Fancy

Screen shot 2014-01-01 at 9.39.53 PM

“Fads are the kiss of death. When the fad goes away, you go with it.” Conway Twitty (from Brainyquote)

Who or what will be in the spotlight of art for 2014? What does it take to make it into the spotlight, the center stage? An idea, a painting, a poem, a sentence, a photograph that goes viral. There is no question that rocketing into superstardom overnight can make an artist a bunch of money, prestige, and more. Is that a place that can be planned for and what if it doesn’t happen?

The answer would necessarily depend on the artist. I confess to not knowing the exact percentage of those who make it to the viral stage but my guess is the number is rather small, probably closer to those who win the lottery. That is one of those wonderful things that is great if it happens but not something to take to the bank. Building a success that stands the test of time rather than the flash in the pan of being a current fad is a realistic goal. Sure it would be great and few would turn away the chance to be that fad but what about tomorrow?

Tiernan Morgan of Hyperallergic writes of the fading of the Banksy craze. Banksy was all the rage of the London art scene but is now becoming a thing of the past. Banksy became a huge success story and the darling of the art world for a time. As Morgan writes, “The art world, with its unforgiving addiction to novelty, always sneers at commercial success.” Banksy’s success has become his downfall. As he fades, the so-called art world will be looking for the next “novelty” to latch onto.

Before Banksy became the trend there was Damien Hirst and his dot paintings. The travails of Hirst have been much in the news lately. One wonders if Hirst’s troubles are due to the “novelty” having worn off for his dot paintings. Modern Edition speculates that perhaps Hirst’s downfall in popularity can be attributed to “overproduction.” An overproduction of dots may have led to the art worlds taste for the “novelty,” of Banksy’s stencils on the street. Now stencils are in overproduction.

Plantiebee asks the question, “Do you feel like you, yourself, are influenced or molded by the current trends in the art world?” Are artists creating art that is in the soul or creating for what the art world might want? Predicting how the two converge is an unknown. A commercial success is a great thing for any artist however fleeting it may be. The more fulfilling goal may be to gain the success that lasts. That success takes time, planning and following the heart not the trends. The long -term plan may also make a successful career and one that stands the test of time. Plan for the long term but grab the spotlight if it comes your way! A passing fancy is still a fancy.

Plantiebee has a great discussion of the subject of trends in art and what it means to artists at the link:

http://plantiebee.com/art-styles-fads-themes-and-feelings/

The Middle Ground

Screen shot 2013-12-09 at 9.46.38 PM

“A great artist is always before his time or behind it.” George Edward Moore (from Brainyquote)

Are most artists before the times or behind the times? Many art schools push students to explore new avenues, try new and different ways of creating art. Or they push students to seek new and different ways to say what’s been said before. Artists are striving to keep moving either backwards or forwards. No matter which way an artist is moving, the point is to keep moving.

Suppose an artist is fascinated with a particular time or place in history but currently most other artists are working to break new ground, make new history. Going backwards is one way of separating from the pack. The artist going backwards may break new ground, as well. A subject may be explored in ways it hasn’t been explored before. An artist may choose to paint in the style of previous artists but with a modern twist. Or perhaps, an artist is drawn to paint today exactly as it was done in past eras, recreating that style for the modern audience.

Artists seeking to break new ground can be moving fast toward new goals, doing new things. Artists behind the times are moving fast in the other direction. Art lovers of both directions are close on the heels of the artists. What of the people in the middle? They are standing still, not moving in either direction, stuck in their ways.

Whether an artist is ahead of the times, or behind the times, is a good thing. To live in the middle is to stagnate. Celebrate either direction. Just stay out of the middle ground mud or you may get stuck.

Photo by Sacha Goldberger. See more of his Rembrandt inspired photography here and here.

Colorful Fridays–Incredible Inedible Yellow Reds

Screen shot 2013-11-29 at 10.31.50 AM

There is no blue without yellow and orange.”  Vincent Van Gogh (from Brainyquote)

Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters preferred heavy applications of opaque paints.  Among the favored paints of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists were the cadmium family of yellows, reds and oranges.  The cadmiums make rich, strong dominant colors in any painting.  Fears of toxicity with the cadmiums have limited their use for many artists.  However, some minor precautions will prevent the harmful effects of the cadmiums allowing artists to make use of these paints without concern.

The cadmiums are toxic only if you eat them or inhale them.  Chances of toxicity through the skin are limited but you probably wouldn’t want to paint yourself with them either.  One source says a potential point of toxicity is smoking with cadmium paint on your fingers.  The paint absorbs into the cigarette facilitating inhaling the paint into the lungs where it becomes carcinogenic.  Best not smoke and paint at the same time.  (Well, best not smoke at all but who’s lecturing!)  If mixing dry paint pigments, wear an appropriate mask.  If you are concerned with the toxicity, paint with colors labeled “hue” as in cadmium yellow hue.  These are entirely free of the cadmium toxins.  Listed below are links to safety sites with more information.

Taking proper precautions with the cadmiums will enable their use in myriad ways.  Gary Bolyer on his website lists two important points to success with the cadmiums.  First use only Cadmium Yellow Light and Cadmium Red Light.  Secondly, refrain from mixing the cadmiums with white.  Mixing with white will result in chalky, diluted colors.  (Follow the link to Boyler’s site for more success with the cadmiums).  Gamblin says cadmium yellow was preferred by Claude Monet because of its higher chroma and its greater purity of color.  There is more at Gamblin’s site, as well.

Rumor has it that Vincent Van Gogh’s problems were the result of the use of the cadmiums.  According to the rumor, Vincent had a habit of holding his cadmium paint saturated brushes in his mouth.  So if you don’t want to go off the deep end and cut your ear off, keep the cadmiums out of your mouth.  Don’t smoke them either.  Otherwise, you can enjoy the regular use of these beautifully rich opaque reds, yellows and oranges profusely in all your paintings.

Safety links:

Princeton Artists Safety

OSHA

Draw Mix Paint Forum

Vincent Van Gogh’s painting “Les Alyscamps” with lots of yellows, reds and oranges!

Entitled Vision

Screen shot 2013-11-20 at 9.01.03 PM

An artist is not paid for his labor but for his vision.” James Abbot McNeill Whistler(from Brainyquote)

The main question most artists are asked is “What is your vision?” Artists are expected to come up with some lofty description of a complicated concept spoken in a manner intended to deliberately confuse, hopefully with a snobby accent. The more confusing the description means the greater the artist’s vision must be. Some artists agonize over an artist’s statement hoping for just the right definition of the perfect artistic vision. But do artists set out to develop a vision that fits within some high- minded description? Or do they simply take what’s inside and bring it outside for others to see.

Alain Briot, writing for Luminous-Landscape states of artistic vision, “It is something you see in your mind’s eye.” Artists can’t always verbalize what is in their “mind’s eye.” That’s why they paint. Articulating what is inside through painting, is how artists communicate. If they could verbalize this vision, they would be writers. Some artists are both writer and painter. Even then, it can still be difficult to verbalize what is an inner feeling or motivation that can only be expressed in paint.

Whistler solved this issue by naming his paintings with musical terminology. The painting shown is titled, Nocturne in Black and Gold—The Falling Rocket. Perhaps Whistler’s musical title was meant to inform the viewer of the painting as a dreamy night vision. The title directs the viewer with more intrigue than a simple title of The Falling Rocket. As a nocturne, the viewer associates music with the painting. Now the rocket is dancing rather than simply falling. The painting has more drama in the mind of the viewer.

Artists are paid for the vision over the labor. How that vision is or is not articulated can make the difference. People often don’t read a long artist’s statement. They will, however, read the title of a painting. So much more vision can be expressed through a title than through a statement. Concentrating on visionary titles over visionary statements may be a much more effective expression of artistic energy. And it will likely reach more people.

Here is Mr. Bean as an art historian describing Whistler’s vision in his most famous painting, Arrangement in Grey and Black—The Artist’s Mother more commonly known as Whistler’s Mother. I doubt this is what Whistler had in mind but you never know!

Colorful Fridays–Disgustingly Beautiful Yellow

Screen shot 2013-11-08 at 8.43.12 AM

Yellow-colored objects appear to be gold.”  Aristotle (from Thinkexist.com)

Discussions of the origins of Indian Yellow vary though most authorities believe it to have arrived in Europe from Asia in the Fifteenth Century.  Conflicting accounts exist as to the truth of a 19th century investigation into the process of creating Indian Yellow.  The disgusting smell of the hard brown balls imported from India to make the paint gave credence to the story of how it was made.

According to a late nineteenth century investigation by The Journal of the Society of Arts in London, the hard brown balls of pigment were made from the urine of cows fed only a diet of mango leaves and water.  The urine was collected and dried to form the hard brown balls that were imported intact and later ground down to create the paint.  The paint was banned when news of the treatment of the cows became known.  The cows fed the mango leaf diet exclusively were severely undernourished to the point of starvation.  Synthetic forms of the paint began appearing shortly afterward.  Winsor Newton has some of the original imported brown balls on display in the Winsor Newton Museum.  However, they are quick to point out that the balls are in a sealed glass case to prevent the smell from escaping.

Screen shot 2013-11-08 at 8.39.16 AM

Indian Yellow is a rich, beautiful color making its origins hard to fathom.  Frequently used in glazes and for tinting, Indian Yellow makes jewel-toned greens when mixed with ultramarine blue.  Alizarin crimson, zinc white and Indian Yellow make a nice warm orange.  The Dutch Masters used Indian Yellow to create the luminescent glazes so characteristic of Dutch painting.  It was also a favorite with the Scottish Colourists of the early Twentieth Century.  The picture at top by Scottish painter, Lesley Hunter, is a perfect example of the beauty of the warm, glowing gold the liberal use of Indian Yellow can produce.

Fortunately, today’s painters don’t have to deal with the disgusting smell of the original Indian Yellow.  In both oil and watercolor, Indian yellow is highly transparent and lightfast.   As a tint, Indian Yellow gives depth and richness to the paint.  On its own, it is beautifully golden.

Enjoy your Indian Yellow with gratitude for the synthetic process we have today. Thankfully, we don’t have to deal with the smell or the knowledge of the disgusting origins of the paint, true or not.  Aren’t scientists wonderful!

For more on Indian Yellow, Winsor Newton has a “spotlight on color” feature on the website with a detailed description of the history of Indian Yellow.http://www.winsornewton.com/resource-cente/product-articles/indian-yellow

More information on the Scottish Colorists can be found at the Scottish Colorist website.  A wonderful group of painters!  http://www.scottishcolourists.co.uk/history-of-the-movement/

Brush Speak

Screen shot 2013-11-04 at 11.08.03 PM

Red Calla Lilly-Georgia O’Keeffe

“I found that I could say things with color and shape that I couldn’t say any other way—things I had no words for” Georgia O’Keeffe (from Brainyquote)

Art is an inner language that must be expressed outwardly.  For the visual artist, there is an urge to put sights or thoughts into some form of visual medium.  If visual artists could put them into words, they would be writers or poets.  If they could put them into movement, they would be dancers.  It is a language that the visual artist speaks and is as unique as a writer’s word or a dancer’s movements..   The difficulty may be in projecting the language so that it is as understandable as the written word or the dance performance.

Researchers are finding visual art is a means of expression for those who are non-verbal.  Visual art takes on a structure and meaning as clear to the non-verbal as the spoken language is to others.  Paula K. Eubanks (Eubanks, 1997) writes, ““Accepting art as a language means that art can be useful in developing language skills.”  For those with difficulties learning verbal language, art can become a primary means of communication.  To the non-verbal, visual art is speech.

For the visual artist, also, art speech is a need to communicate from an inner place that has no words. “I was facing a quagmire regarding the insight that if we could ‘say’ art we would have no need to make art,” states Frikkie Potgeiter in a research paper for the University of South Africa entitled, Critical Language and Visual Art: a post structural analysis. The visual artist does not express through poetry or writing but by placing paint on paper or canvas.  The language is one of color and form as O’Keeffe said.

The visual artist’s brush is the main instrument of communication, as is the writer’s pen.  For the visual artist, the goal is to adequately direct the brush to speak what is inside demanding to be spoken.  Brush speech must be mastered as any other tool of communication.   The artist has to maintain control so the brush doesn’t get carried away and say something offensive.  It is usually best to allow the brush to say only those things that are safe to be said in polite company.  However, some brushes will run on.

References

1. Eubanks, P.K., (1997). Art is a Visual Language. Visual Arts Research. Vol. 23, No. 1(45) (Spring 1997), pp. 31-35

2.  Potgeiter, F. Critical Language and Visual art: a post- structural analysis. De Arte. The University of South Africa

Colorful Friday’s–Rich Man’s Blue

Screen shot 2013-11-01 at 9.15.03 AMWhen the color achieves richness, the form attains its fullness, also.” Paul Cezanne (from The Painter’s Keys)

From King Tut’s tomb to 14th century illuminated manuscripts to the luxurious robes of the Byzantine Madonnas, ultramarine blue has been used illustrate the importance of the person or object depicted. Ultramarine blue earned this place in art from the high cost of its chief ingredient, lapis lazuli.  The introduction of the semi-precious mineral into Europe likely came from Marco Polo through Venice, say some accounts.

According to the website of The University of Hull (UK), Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) painted only with true ultramarine.  Vermeer’s pure whites were achieved by the mixing of ultramarine with lead white.  Hull reports that due to the high cost of ultramarine blue most artists had chosen to use a less expensive blue made with azurite.  However, this did not have the brilliance of the true ultramarine.  Vermeer chose only the pure form.  And his “Woman with a Water Pitcher” beautifully exemplifies this choice in the woman’s white head covering and her rich blue gown.  Hull’s in-depth description of ultramarine is a fascinating read.

Another website, EssentialVermeer.com has a more in-depth description of the process Vermeer utilized in the painting, “Woman with a Water Pitcher” and others.  Essential Vermeer has detailed and enlarged portions of Vermeer’s paintings where the artist has used ultramarine in the shadows of pure white objects to maintain the luminosity of object.  The more famous Vermeer painting, “Woman with a Pearl Earring,” also had the characteristic use of ultramarine.

Gamblin states ultramarine is a great glazing color and calls it one of the few mineral colors to be “completely transparent.”  Golden Paints gives ultramarine blue an excellent permanency rating and a lightfastness of one (very lightfast). Synthetic ultramarine is what is now produced by both companies, as well as most other art suppliers.

Synthetic versions of ultramarine didn’t arrive until the early 1900’s when the cost came down markedly.  If you want to make your own ultramarine blue, the pure pigment can be purchased from the Dutch company, Kremer Pigmente.  Kremer specializes in reproducing, as close to exact as possible, pigments of the original Old Master’s paint formulas.  Kremer’s pigments are widely used in the restoration process of Old Master’s paintings.  A word of warning though, if you are planning to purchase original formula Ultramarine Blue pigment, you will quickly see why it is the rich man’s blue.

Purchase Kremer pigments here

The painting “Woman with a Water Pitcher” is in the original collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.