Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I began "Katie and Bogota" at the end of September, after having a wonderful late-afternoon photo session with the two. Katie is an award-winning dressage rider, and Bogota is her beautiful Oldenburg mare. I would have loved to start the painting from life, but when working with animals, I'm usually forced to use photographic reference. After taking over 400 photographs, I took my camera back to my studio and began to narrow down the choices. I used Photoshop to splice images together. For example, Bogota tended to have her ears down in many of the photos, so I was able to swap out her "unhappy" ears for perkier ones in some of the pictures. I eventually narrowed the potential poses down to four or five. Unfortunately, at the start of the project, I was using reason instead of creative thinking. I prepared a very large canvas, 48" x 30", with high-quality stretcher bars and fine-textured portrait linen. The original pose that I chose was full-length, because I thought a formal pose might be dynamic and more impressive, as she was wearing her formal riding gear and boots. However, halfway through, I decided I hated it and made a radical decision to go back to the pose I originally liked - a three-quarter length pose of Katie hugging her horse's head. It's much more emotional and draws the viewer into an intimate moment between horse and rider. I painted over the entire canvas, with the exception of some of the trees in the background. Ah...intuition. If I had only followed my gut instinct from the very beginning, I would have saved myself hours of work!
While on this topic, I might add that we artists need to set goals at the very start of the project as far as what we want to accomplish or what message we want the final product to convey. As a commissioned portrait artist, this "goal" is often given to me by the client, making my job easier in some respects. However, when the artistic license is fully mine, I find that doing a simple gesture drawing at the very start, one for each possible pose, can help. I'll just step back and compare them and decide which one causes me to react the best.
Now, the painting is completely transformed (though you can see some of the painful stages it went through!). I'm extremely happy with the finished portrait of Katie and Bogota - in some respects, the layers of extra paint now hidden beneath the final painting add a great quality and texture to it. There are very thick applications of white and blue, especially in the background and parts of Katie's hair, while detailed areas such as the face and hands are painted with thin glazes and delicate brush strokes. I believe I've captured my focal point in this painting: Katie's expressive face and hands tell all about the emotional connection between horse and rider.
Friday, December 11, 2009
"WITH ALL DUE RESPECT
Edvard Munch had several houses. Coming to one of them in order to paint, he had often forgotten the keys. So he had to find someone who could open the door. The person concerned would receive half a Krone for the job. But every now and then, Munch had forgotten money as well… At one such occasion, he tried giving away a print instead. Of course he meant well, but the reaction was merciless. Accept such things? No thanks let me see the money!
In a similar situation, facing another locked door and without cash, he compensated his helper with an etching. This man, unable to say no, accepted. Finally home, he let his wife take care of the matter. She stapled it onto the wall of the outdoor toilet, in the company of cut-outs from illustrated magazines.
Later, the same man received a big painting as payment. Again he felt there was no choice, and brought the piece of canvas home. His wife, helpful as always, stapled it onto the loft ceiling. As next Christmas approached, she cleaned the house. The painting was carefully burnt and the cutouts thrown along with the print. New magazines had arrived, with new illustrations.
Inger Alver Gløersen describes this in her book The Munch I Met. It is the funniest thing, though. Several times, as I have recounted the story, something strange has occurred: People start laughing. Presumably they regard it as entertainment? Personally, I would be glad to relinquish accounts like these, so we could focus on the works. However, such stories manifest the necessity of respect – and what happens when it is non-existent, or fades. Greek sculptures with heads, arms and legs chopped off. A third of the 17th century painter Georges de la Tour's works eradicated; for centuries he did not have "a name". Consequently, his works could not possibly be of any value...
The Norwegian writer Sigrid Undset once said that the hearts of men remain the same. I believe this is correct and further, that these hearts face a choice between two cultures.
The first culture is based on a single tenet: quality and talent is measured by what you know. This culture always exists, but varies in strength. It is the precondition for an Ilya Repin, who became the most celebrated painter of tsarist Russia. Even though he was of non-noble descent, his skills could not be disregarded.
Repin's work sprang from the European culture, in turn born out of seven centuries of Greek Humanism. This is a mindset which holds a painter to be more skilled the more he can breathe life into what he paints. It is the story of Pygmalion, who created a marble sculpture so vivid that she stepped down as a living woman.
The most profound victory of this culture is that it made the talents of man his safety net.
The other culture assigns grades according to who you know. This path is also present in varying degrees. A couple of years ago, the German magazine art interviewed several prominent curators. Their opinions were unanimous: Skill in handcraft is an outdated litmus test for judging quality in art. In such a situation, the talent becomes dependant on personal sympathy or antipathy. This obviously affects the participants of this exhibition: their skills have become a disadvantage.
Notwithstanding, the contemporary art world experiences as little envy at the sight of their talents, as the Christian iconoclasts envied the Greek sensuality. The iconoclasts simply knew that it was ideologically wrong. Assured by this, they could oust all respect for the ability to transform stone into soft skin.
The comparison might seem exaggerated. Rembrandt's paintings are not thrown onto the fire. Rodin's bronzes are not melted down or drowned at sea. And of course curators do not mind old master works – as long as they are executed by an old master. The art world needs them as forerunners of 21st century art. Contemporary masters would disarrange the official art history. There would be no "improvement" if the development went from “Rembrandt to Rembrandt”. Still, the curator is more cultivated than the traditional iconoclast. The sanctions are more subtle. A curator does not burn a beautiful portrait or crush a marble figure. He laughs; he does not choose it for an exhibition. As a consultant, he gives advice not to buy such things. The curator knows that a sincere, figurative work is wrong ideologically. On the whole, this way of judging a work is signified by how its qualities are never taken into consideration.
The painters and sculptors in this catalogue share certain fundamental values. Their discipline is based on handcraft, the motifs are sincere and the faces are devoid of irony. They are united in a quest for the archetypical, detached from time.
In order to attain this, one studies anatomy, composition, handling of paint and clay, etc. One hears of Michelangelo's forgery of a Greek Cupid figure. Upon his exposure, he received the commission for the famed Bacchus – his "crime" proved his skill! One smiles, thinking of Leonardo. He bragged about a painting of the Madonna. She was so beautiful and vividly painted that the customer implored him to paint over her religious attributes. The man desired her, but was plagued by feelings of guilt. In the end he had to send her away from his house.
And one hears that Michelangelo and Leonardo were great artists.
Yet, "art" shares the fate of many other words, in that its meaning is the exact opposite of what one thinks. Anyone who seeks to know more, may find Larry Shiners The Invention of Art helpful. Originally, there were liberal arts (such as mathematics and logic) and mechanical arts (such as navigation and gardening). Up until then, "art" had been a neutral term for "discipline", "science" or "knowledge". It referred to rational knowledge, which could be learned and taught. But then – in the 1740`s - painting, sculpture, architecture, poetry and music were gathered under the category “fine arts”. In and of itself, this was less grave. However, that all changed as (mostly) German philosophers started discussing what values unified this new group of arts. They were determined to separate them from the other groups, with the result that handcraft had nothing to do with the matter - it seemed to supply the idea with a greater nimbus of spirituality. In fact, it was made clear that the "fine arts" represented the opposite of handcraft. (To separate this new meaning from the older, I will in the following write "Art" when referring to "the fine arts"). The philosopher Kant is unmistakably clear: You are only making Art when you do not know what you are doing. Thus creates a true genius. This is the background for the admiring tone of the phrase, "Oh, no-o – it's more than just handcraft!"
But it did not stop at that. Gripping the audience emotionally was derided as "barbaric". Kant had an idea of the perfect, "objective" judgment, in which there was no room for sentimentality or pathos. Art was to be contemplated with indifference.
Later, the philosopher Hegel said Art should reflect its time, and participate in progress. His addition left little for the talent to rejoice in, as a work without relation to a time was rendered worthless. Hegel identified "progress" with the unwinding of handcraft and sensual representation. These apprehensions fertilize the laughter of the curator.
Yet Leonardo knew nothing of them. He was proud of his ability to fool the viewer. It proved his skills! He tried to get out of time, and advised others to do the same (by not painting contemporary clothing, f. ex.). Despite this, Art historians refer to him as an Artist. What they gain from this is obvious: it makes video Art the climax of a long "tradition" – in the face of the fact that Leonardo represented opposite values.
The nature of their logic is familiar: 1) Artists follow their time. 2) Leonardo was an Artist. 3) Leonardo would have made video Art today. So saying, his aura is injected into the contemporary Artist. Blood transfusion as an academic principle. It is like publishing a history of the combustion engine – from the Greek horse to the modern trailer.
So how is the standing today for those who want to tell stories through painting and sculpture? I once asked a gallerist what she looked for in a work: originality or quality? "Originality" was her immediate response. If a painter had entered her gallery with a Rembrandt portrait – made today, but at the same level of quality – she would have rejected it.
Did she understand the consequences of what she said? In such a culture, an Ilya Repin does not stand a chance.
As the Art values spread with the advancement of the 19th century, the ability to perceive talent was gradually corroded. A successful composition became a lie; a nude false; a sincere face unmodern and untrue. Kitsch. A difficult word? To the curator it has the same ring as "talent". Words are not neutral. They may help or counteract people's possibilities of seeing the work they are standing in front of.
A word does not improve a work, but may secure its survival.
Basically, it's H. C. Andersen's story of the swan all over again: it was ugly – by duck standards.
Monday, December 7, 2009
Quick update: a local dealership gave us $3000 for a trade-in if we could get it there! Steve was actually able to drive it there safely, even though it stalled four times in transit! We took home a new Lexus suv! It's perfect for my business. I'm pretty sure I can fit a VERY good-sized painting in the back...
Monday, November 23, 2009
Sunday, November 8, 2009
At first, I thought the film would be interesting, but I was going to take it with a grain of salt, because I'm not a feminist! I also assumed that because of my own personal situation, I wouldn't be able to truly relate to some of the women who were featured. However, even though many of them were married (some eventually divorced), with children, and struggling to balance motherhood with their calling as artists, I realized that I could relate in more ways than I thought. The film was really quite eye-opening. Women struggle to stand out in the art world for many reasons, and this film highlighted just a few, while showcasing some beautiful, incredible women artists whose voices are being heard.
Some of the statistics:
- Many people can't name even one woman artist.
- 80% of the students enrolled in art classes are women, but in the real world, 70-80% of the artists in galleries and museums are men.
- It wasn't until 1986 that HW Jansen's History of Art included 19 women artists, out of 2,300 illustrations.
In her review of the film, columnist Kim Nagy writes, "To be fair, female or male, mother or not, the life of an artist can be a tough one. When your heart pounds to an inner drive that most people might not see or hear, at some point or another you may be the beneficiary of some strange looks. The urge to create can be an unbearably powerful one, a drive that requires inner contemplation, the vulnerability or self-expression and solitude. It can also be physically and mentally painful to ignore. People will doubt you. At some point or another you will doubt yourself." (source: http://www.wildriverreview.com/wrratlarge/?m=200903).
I've asked other people their thoughts on why men dominate the art world, and I've also gathered things from my own experience as an artist. Here are some of the things I've found:
1) We have many roles. We are daughters, sisters, wives, mothers, helpers, healers, friends...the list goes on, all without mentioning a specific career path!
2) Women are not taken seriously as full-time artists if they are also full-time mothers. Taking time for art may be considered selfish or neglectful to the family, because art, by nature, is time-consuming.
3) People question the validity of talent when combined with youth and femininity. When potential clients walk into my art booth, the reactions are not always what I'd like to hear. As a young artist (not yet 25, and baby-faced on top of it!), I am continuously being told, "You're just a baby! What are you doing painting these portraits??" Perhaps I am not taken seriously because of my age? Yet people wouldn't question me if I told them that Steve, my husband (who is a year younger than me), was the artist.
4) In the opinion of one male artist I know who has been in the scene for many years, women are not as "bold," artistically, as men. Less risk means fewer creative breakthroughs, and people want to collect work by an artist who does something new or has a very specific style. What's "risky" for the artist is "safe" for the collector.
What are your thoughts on this matter? As the film states, this is not just a "women's issue." This dilemma reaches to the core of our culture. I'd love to hear your opinion!
Friday, October 30, 2009
6" x 8"
oil on linen glued to board
Thursday, October 22, 2009
FineArtViews writer Keith Bonds tells of "Six Destructive Ds": doubt, discouragement, distraction, lack of diligence, disobedience, and disbelief. Another artist, commenting on this article, added a seventh word, "despair," to the list. I must admit that as an artist, I've struggled with all of the above, especially this year. It's been tough for everyone, especially those of us who create items of luxury, such as oil paintings.
Another artist blogger, Lori Woodward, says in her article, "When Circumstances Control Emotions," "...It's important that I not let circumstances (either positive or negative) determine how I feel about making my artwork. In fact, I need to learn to base my feelings on reality and know what my strengths and weaknesses are no matter what the art market is doing."
Lori's article has hit home for me. I find that I'm constantly trying to figure out what people want, find a niche market, and paint the right subject, and then the business will start coming in a steady stream. That's not reality. The truth is, even the most famous artists are struggling, just like me. Don't get me wrong - I'm still getting commissions and selling paintings, but for being just 24, perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself to think that I should be as successful as Richard Schmid by now! Many people love and support my painting style and what I do... I love what I do. I spend so much time comparing myself to other artists that I forget that my work has merit and that it can stand on its own. The point is, I need to keep painting what I love, because my passion for my subject matter is what shows in each painting. Once that passion is gone, the art loses all sense of purpose or vivacity, and no one wants to buy a portrait, still life or landscape that hasn't been done with plenty of TLC!
If anything, the economy has forced me to spend more time in front of the easel, improving my technique and becoming a better artist. It has caused me to be grateful for what I have. I'm thankful to have a loving husband who continues to encourage me to keep on painting. Sometimes he has more faith in me than I do. I can only hope that every artist has such a person in their life. Also, today's culture puts so much focus on the artist and how the artist views the world. I feel like that is a lot of unnecessary pressure on the artist to be creative, original, and extraordinary. Really, the art isn't about the artist, the subject, or the buyer. God has given me the desire to paint and represent His creation in such a way that He is glorified, so everything I do should be about Him first, and me last. I find this encouraging because while I know that nothing I create will be radically new or original, God's glory will still be manifested in each of my works through His instrument, the humble artist.
Sunday, September 6, 2009
I know this is a far cry, but if you happen to stumble across this blog, and recognize this painting from somewhere, please contact me at 608-853-0582. Kelsey would love to have her painting back!
Next scheduled art festival: Arlington Front Street Festival.
Next on my to-do list: more painting!
Friday, September 4, 2009
I'll be going into more depth about the progress of this painting in my next newsletter, as well as adding this to my website. Stay tuned!
Finished (below): "Dale" - 10"x 8" - oil on linen glued to board
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Monday, August 10, 2009
"Bing Different" - 6" x 6" - oil on linen glued to board
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Monday, July 20, 2009
"Plum Line" - 6"x8" - oil on linen glued to board
I'm hoping to turn out many, many more of these fun little images in the near future.
Saturday, July 18, 2009
1) Improve technical skills so you can make anything with paint. Painting is vocabulary. Don't mistake technique for expression...expression is what you have to say with technique (the vocabulary).
2) Know yourself. Know what it is that you want to paint. Know what you want to say with paint. If you have trouple with this, write out a list of the 5 senses, and underneath, make a list of all the things that wow you. These will help lead you to all the things you're made up of.
3) Persevere. Learning to do anything well requires sacrifice and time. Know how to budget your time and ask how important it is to you. Expect rejections - but then again, every painting only needs one buyer.
4) Simplify your ideas and compositions. One idea, one focal point. Don't try and paint everything. Do thumbnail sketches - get the idea tightened down.
5) Set aside time for painting. You have to make an appointment with yourself.
6) Paint from your heart.
7) Keep a journal or sketchbook for ideas. Keep yourself "on" at all times.
8) Visit museums, galleries and bookstores. Look for the best in the best places. Fill your eyes with beauty.
9) Study with the very best instructors. Stay away from anyone who wants you to paint like them.
10) Experiment with ideas, techniques and mediums. If you repeat yourself too often, it's the kiss of death. Painting is a discovery and you want the viewer to learn what you've discovered. If you want to paint something, but don't know how, find a way!
11) Get quality feedback on all your works. Go to your peers and instructors.
12) Think positive. Aim high. Be confident. As Winston Churchill once said, "Painting requires audacity."