Friday, August 27, 2010

About Appearances

Of our senses, I believe we are most impressed by how things look. It’s certainly true for me but I’m bracing myself for argument in favor of our other sensations.

We can see farther then we can smell, taste, touch and usually, hear. The biggest sight my eyes have taken in is of the Grand Canyon. I have seen mountains which might have been greater in some dimension but that canyon was more impressive in its proportions than any— possibly because more could be encompassed by one’s vision closer up.

I grew up hearing about how beauty is skin deep and that appearances are deceptive. And yet how much poetry has been written lamenting the temporal and fleeting nature of beautiful youth? And to the glory of flowers that artists have sought to keep from fading by painting still lifes, some more beautiful even than their subjects. Painting is about appearances and about illusion. It occurs to me that it is the arrogant artist who instead of trying to paint from nature and maybe improve upon it as many have done, she invents beauty from scratch. Or maybe not. Richard Diebenkorn took abstractions from views of Ocean Park, California. And Sean Scully seems fond of the facades of small buildings. There are also those whose intent is other than beauty but that is not my realm. No, I’ll stay with Oscar Wilde who said: “Beauty is the wonder of wonders … It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”

The image above is Marigold ©2005, 12” x 48”, Acrylic & Mixed Media Collage on Archival Board

Friday, August 20, 2010

About Obsessive Behavior

Jonathan Franzen, the novelist, was quoted in the Time magazine, August 23 cover article: “There were a couple of years when I could enjoy blowing off a workday and going bird-watching,” he says, “followed by some years in which I came to realize that because my purpose on earth is to write novels, I am actually freer when I am chained to a project; freer from guilt, anxiety, boredom, anger, purposelessness.”

He describes it simply and well; it hit home. I am embarrassed sometimes by my reluctance, often inability, to take time off. I would rather work. I suspect it will appear that I want to seem virtuous. Not at all, quite the contrary. It is a completely selfish dedication to doing what gives me peace. I learned about how it feels to be totally delivered unto the task at hand when I was seventeen years old and I was carving an unborn child from marble. See About the Bliss of Art for that story. Now in my waning years this compelling focus delivers me from the slings and arrows of the day. I read the newspaper in the morning and am endlessly amazed by the constant reports of misery and tragedy. It is difficult to ignore the lives of others. Of course, there is too, always the threat of disaster striking close. And in a not terribly eventful and blessed life as mine there are lists of things to do, calls to make, obligations one is remiss in dealing with.

But, oh the joy of submerging into the struggle of a painting! This blue here? That line more prominent? More space between these elements? Decisions requiring attention, problems that have a solution because they are about choices I can make. I am in charge. It matters little that I often grapple to weariness to get it all right. It is not about life or death. It is about just my life.

The image above is Yellow-Green ©2010,  Giclée Print,  size varies. For information or to purchase any of the paintings on this site, please email Joan.

Friday, August 13, 2010

About the Rewards of Art

What does anyone want from a painting? Why do large numbers of people stare at them in museums and galleries? I make them so I owe it to myself to answer the question and to look into my own reasons for looking at paintings. Now in addition to seeing them in buildings, I search them out on the web. Of course the immediate answer is that I learn by looking at how someone else did it.

The question came up for me yesterday when I saw this at Alyson Stanfield’s web site: Matisse said art should be “something like a good armchair in which to rest from physical fatigue.” I find that respite in some paintings, an oasis of serenity to sink into. Monet and Bonnard come to mind. Sometimes a painted work brings a smile, not of humor perceived, but rather of pleasure felt. I think Howard Hodgkins or Sean Scully, both makers of beautiful paintings. Some works are disturbing and bring pain as do Picasso’s Guernica and Goya’s Tres de Mayo. Richard Diebenkorn provides the thrill of seeing what a sharp intelligence can do to turn paint and canvas into an object of splendor. The greatest reward for me is an immediate feeling of recognition, as in: “Ah, yes, I know”. That is the moment that the artist and I have met.

I like to visit museums alone. I need to keep the dialogue between my self and the artist. I have a dear friend who knows far more about art and art history than I can hold in my brain and who often accompanies me to museums. I am happiest when he refrains from explaining symbolisms and references. What care I if the message I get was not intended? It is for myself that I visit the art, not for the artist.

Friday, August 6, 2010

About the Rules

Thinking about rules today, I would like to think I make my own. I guess I do, some of them anyway. About when and how often to brush my teeth, do my laundry, do the exercise video. We learn in childhood to say please and thank you, knock before entering, stand up straight. There weren’t many rules in my home so I found them elsewhere. I took them from the novels for girls that I read and almost memorized all of Emily Post’s rules of etiquette. Rules save you from getting into trouble and keep things running smoothly. It helps to know which ones you can break with impunity.

We learned some rules when I studied painting which I try to forget. There was the one about if you use a color somewhere in a painting, you must repeat it elsewhere in the same painting. A composition must, absolutely must, have a “center of interest”. No tangential lines or shapes allowed. Negative spaces must be as important as positive spaces. (What if you have neither?)

Here are some we learned that we have now been given permission to ignore: 8 Rules of Painting You SHOULDN’T Live By (and Why). For those we are told NOT to ignore (basically the same as the previous group), see The main rules of composition.

After years of straining to shed these rules in order to approach my work with a clean mind and eye, the rule that I keep with me is the one that serves me well. It is “Trust your process”. I heard that from a psychologist who wasn’t talking about painting. Still, to stay safe, it’s good to know what the rules are before flouting them.

I think I have broken several rules of grammar here.

Mark Twain: It is a good idea to obey all the rules when you're young just so you'll have the strength to break them when you're old.

The Image above is Poise ©2010, Giclée Print, size varies. For information or to purchase any of the paintings on this site, please email Joan.