Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Monkey See, Monkey Do

These paintings are in the gallery right now. The center one is 24"30" if that helps form a sense of general bigness / smallness.

When people go to art school they must come away from it with a different set of monkeys on their back than the people who don't go to art school.  I don't think there are many artists walking around who don't have a monkey on their back about something or other. 

 You don't have to go to an art college to learn perspective, but a self taught artist might forget to bother learning it---until they need it. Then it informs their work from then on.  You don't have to be self taught to have enthusiasm for wanting to paint, say a sunflower, but someone who went to art school would definitately have to overcome the whole "Sunflowers have been done to death, Van Gogh did it better than anyone," schtick that people are so fond of saying, which is hardly encouraging. 

 At a time when I was getting really bothered by my landscapes, I thought I should take a giant step backwards, re-evaluate my process, and hopefully find out where it was that I had hit a wall. So I focused on painting still life, which I hadn't done much of. Flowers were handy (and free) so they became my choice of  props. It helped me. It clarified my work processes in a more condensed way than the landscapes had done, helping me to see what worked well for me and what didn't. For a few weeks I became throughly absorbed in flowers. 

Flowers were interesting to experiment with. I absolutely loved working on floral paintings, but I never was very thrilled with how the finished paintings turned out even though I felt myself learning a lot. 

 The gallery said, "But where are the landscapes?" The people I knew said, "Why are you wasting your time with flowers?" It became fascinating to me that my friends who did NOT go to art school, usually summed up these efforts with comments such as: "I like flowers / I hate flowers" and let the matter drop. My  friends who DID go to art school tended to say, "Yah, we did flowers in art school," as if it were a rite of childhood, firmly in some distant past not to be revisited. Both groups of friends poo-pooed flowers as a subject matter---because it had all been done before. I put this example here because its one of the few things that were similar about my friends  from art school and friends who were (more or less) self-taught. I thought that was interesting, and kind of funny. Because it wasn't about the flowers, to me---it was about the simplification of my work process, to get myself on track so that I understood more about what I was doing when paintings went right or wrong. Anyway, to me it was an interesting experience. I was glad I had an open mind about flowers, especially since I got so much out of them!!  Back to the monkeys on an artist's back: 

A self taught person might say, "I'm going to try to get my work into that gallery." The art graduate might say, "That's the smallest gallery in town. I've got to hold out for a better one." I think there is a retroactive pressure on those with an art education to do great things with that privilige, and end up in hanging in a museum----pressure that can be greater than the urge to explore different work processes, and spend lots of time practicing on things no one will ever see.  

One priceless advantage art students would likely have is a variety of blood-and-guts professional artists in front of them,  day in day out. Lots of real live role models. A self taught person can suffer from a shortage of people showing them the reality of such a life. A good thing a self taught person might hopefully have is an open mind about the processes of personal growth, because they haven't been told that creative learning happens in such-and-such a way, or in a certain order, or from a particular person; they might have an easier time accepting that no matter how much you know, you're always a beginner basically. 

I think the best thing is to have the freedom to go off into one's own creative world with a feeling of  confidence about it, not thinking too much about what anyone else thinks, or what anyone's judgement will be later, saving the self editing and critique for after the fact. Sometimes people who are more self taught or who come from the world of academia have a special feeling that their way is the only way. I think something good happens from all the methods of learning, and being receptive to it all is the healthiest thing, since the learning doesn't stop anyway. 

Friday, May 5, 2017

Still Life

This painting came from this drawing: 

Painting from a drawing offers freedom and complexity at the same time. Painting from a photograph offers  more detail, but a photo doesn't teach anyone when to say 'no', quite the opposite---it seems to say "Paint all of me", whereas a drawing has almost nothing in it, relatively speaking---a few lines.   As the photo shows you a realized image just asking to be replicated, the drawing mutely asks you, "Why am I here?" 

I wonder if photographs tend to reinforce 'subject' throughout the process, whereas drawings introduce and reinforce  'idea'. Anyway,  it takes a strict person who can work with photographs and keep them as a tool, not rely on them as THE mainstay of their process. Creating a drawing to paint from is something everyone should try and practice. Like skiing or rowing, it exercises muscles you didn't know you had. The dearth of detail keeps taking you back to the original idea. 

Since photographs are easier to come up with than a drawing, their use is ubiquitous, but the drawback is that the unfeeling eye of the camera captures everything with equanimity, the interesting parts and dull parts alike, and this very often slips the artist into straight replication.  This is where a drawing----like a shopping cart with a stubborn wheel---veers  to the other side of creativity, willy nilly, and takes you with it. Unless your drawing is photographic in its detail, your emotional eye and hand will have drawn things with an imbalance, capturing those details and gesture which mean something to you and  ignoring---or disguising---those parts that leave you cold. This off-beat focus is going be unpredictable with everyone because it is the eye of the individual that gets to have the final word in a drawing. 

Painting from a photograph does offer you the opportunity to invent parts of your painting and insert your personal self into the final product, the same as a drawing does---but it's just so very easy NOT to, that it is a simple matter to forget that part and copy the photograph.  The photo has so much, that you often feel you must put it all in there--- or at least 1/2.   Painting from your drawing, on the other hand,  means you are being sparked from the very beginning by something that remains nearly ephemeral ; The dearth of detail becomes a blessing in disguise as you are forced to invent certain parts, so without really intending it your own free will is the deciding factor throughout the process----your own free will has become, in fact, the 'subject' of the finished work. You have become an interpreter, not a human camera. You are putting imagery through the filter of yourself. 

In essence, while I don't see anything wrong with working from photographs  it is something to lament when the same artists who paint from photos see no sense in painting from their own drawings. That is all I'm saying here. I know how much it's helped me. On the other hand, the process has it's ups and downs and it can be scary. It's quite humbling.  And exciting. When you do it, you do feel that you are a chef with all your burners on and you have a fervent hope things turn out ok----you have to be a Pollyanna and talk yourself through it with a high hope, because without confidence it's a hard way to work. You have to believe it will all be just fine. Of course it isn't, it hardly ever ends up very well, but that's ok. It's about the process.  

  Regarding the painting above, some changes from the drawing were made, and I'm about to do it again with the addition of a bowl of figs. 

I'll post the painting when it's done. 

 The weather today was cool and gray, then sunny in the afternoon. Now as the sun is going down it has gotten incredibly warm, it's strange how that happens just because of the angle of the sun. All day it was pleasant, then at late afternoon it gets so hot.