Monday, November 14, 2022

a lesson


Artist Louise Nevelson and her work.

Dear Studying,

You might recall that I resigned from my job trying to make a place where people felt like they could make something.  It's okay, I like the hours of my loafing life better, and I don't need to commute via automobile anymore either.

I am left, though, with a lot of papers to sort through, and piles and piles of what might be inspirational instructional materials.  I am not sure what to do with these things, and so I thought I'd put one here, because this has always been a place for mélange.

Anyway, file it under "art lesson" if you like, and if you don't feel like a lesson, listen to this instead.

How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare.

The title of today's chalk talk is taken from the name of a performance given by artist Joseph Beuys in 1965.  I use it here to acknowledge both the difficulty and the ambiguity of my two topics, and, hopefully, to encourage you to check out Joseph Beuys' other artworks and performances.  I want to address the related questions of how to know when is an artwork "finished," and how can a person go about becoming less rigid, more open, more loose, in their art making?

Like so many things in art, there are no fixed answers, no definitive answers for either of these questions.  But, let me give a few suggestions for how to expand your thinking on these two topics!  

You can always work longer, harder, on a piece.  You might keep on changing a painting for years!  Most artists come to the 'end' by either reaching a level of satisfaction with the piece, or by becoming so frustrated that they 'set it aside.'  Both of those feelings constitute 'done' in an artwork.  One thing to keep in mind, is that the work you do on a piece does not need to be continuous.  Many artists set a thing aside for months, even years, before working further on it.  It is helpful to set aside a piece for some time (How long? it varies!) and then look at it again, to see if it seems to be asking you for more.  Many artists will turn a painting to the wall for a while, and then come back to it with 'fresh eyes.'  Other artists choose to live with a piece for a while before pronouncing it finished.  I kind of fall into the latter category, but not always:  with some pieces you really know, it feels very certain, that it is done.  As an example of an artist who worked for a very long time on individual paintings, take a look at the work of artist Jay DeFeo. 

Now, how to approach your process with a broader acceptance of 'how' it can be done and 'what' it must look like?  This is even more difficult to answer in a direct way.  For some people, little tricks can help:  Use your non-dominant hand, use awkward tools, try to make a deliberately 'bad' painting that breaks all your personal rules.  This last one is a really useful experiment; to begin it, you must examine first the rules you have accumulated.  I say 'accumulated' because I think the rules we make for ourselves as artists are like barnacles growing on a boat below the waterline- you might not even know that you have adopted rules for making your art.  Here is an example of some rules that one might go about breaking:

Things must be representational.

Compositions should not be centered.

There should not be too many strong diagonals.

Things should not be 'ugly.'

This is the top, this is the bottom.

There should not be too much dark, or black.

There should not be too much light, or white.

The space should be illusionistic.

The painting MUST look like THIS!  (What 'this' is varies).

The materials used should be archival, so you painting of a hamburger or Pikachu will last 500 years (wait, why do I want that to last 500 years?).

Stylizations or abstractions should not be allowed to 'mix' with representational or realistic looking objects on the picture plane.

If you go about inventorying your own list of rules, you will find some very funny little ones.  Maybe you always begin your work a certain way; with a drawing, or maybe you always treat your picture plane a bit like a coloring book- filling in colors after you have established a totally resolved underpainting.  Should you try to break all your rules intentionally, don't worry about whether you like the work; the goal is to look for new ways of seeing and working.  You can always return to your trusty old methods on the next piece.

Lastly, a painting is its own world, with its own light, and creating it can be a very intuitive, flowing experience.  Imagine this:  A blank space.  Add a mark.  Respond to the mark, with another mark.  What would those two marks like next?  And then, now that these three marks are interacting with the picture plane and the four edges (lines) that define it, what is next suggested?  A painting is not just a window, or a picture plane, it is also a record of movement over time.  It need not be choreographed ahead of time, it may feel organic, like a conversation with a friend.

That's all!