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Being a Painter/Photographer

February 2nd, 2012

For 50 years I’ve split my efforts between painting and photography. Looking at the history of photography we could argue that it ushered in the impressionists. They were much aware of photography. Degas took photographs. Their first exhibition was in Nadar’s Studio. And so on … Almost all of these painters had a direct involvement with photography. Going back in history a little, we know that Courbet on occasion worked from photographs. So the questions of questions:

Why, today, do we continue to insist that they remain separated?

In our supposedly advanced civilization can we not have a recognition of a visual artist who does it all?

I vividly remember, a few years after I was in France, a encounter with a woman. I was on a stroll with my camera. This woman wanted to know if I was not the painter. Upon acknowledgement that I was she verbally attacked me for taking photographs. Duh. I mention France, but this mode of thinking had already been presented to me in the U.S. Yet, today, we are being led into an appreciation of photo-realistic painting. To me, this is a banal form of painting that sacrifices the visual presentation of light as we see it. Not photographically. As we SEE it. Not as a mechanical analogue/digital tool record it. And here is where we fail to appreciate the difference. It is not particularly subtle.

Photography and painting are two sides of the same coin. Bottom line, they are both direct links to understanding perception.

On a lighter note, we are experiencing change at an unprecedented speed. All roads lead to Rome. And of course, the Greeks. As we evolve as a social group, human beings are perched on the edge of their next stage of evolution. Bring it on.

French version: Être peintre et photographe


Painting & Photography Part II

November 28th, 2011

Some time ago I wrote about whether a person could be both a painter as well as a photographer. Since then, house hunting all over France, moving, remodelling, organizing and so forth. It was a long break from my normal contemplative routine. After some months of being back to my path I had a big insight. Somewhere along the line I had fundamentally and radically changed my work, art, and my physical health.

I am of the opinion that today art is the point where our most pressing issues and questions converge. This suggests something other than business as usual. Needless to say, not only are a large number of painters, photographers, graphic artists and so on struggling and suffering. This is also the case with a large number of fellow human beings on the planet.

We all come to our work with a mind that has been formed over millennia. That this mind is leading us in a dangerous direction is now beyond dispute. We have a glitch in the software. You are certainly entitled to think otherwise. And if the case I can only suggest that you open your mind to that possibility. What follows is speculation as to how a mind freed from the shackles of the past would approach creative work.

This is complicated by what Wyndham Lewis termed “The Demon of Progress in the Arts” published in 1955. Wyndham Lewis may be a bit strident for some. However, if you can manage to find a copy it is an interesting take by a person who was in the thick of the art world for more than half of a century.

I’ve read much of what Wyndham wrote during his long prolific life. Having been in the trenches of World War I he was passionately concerned with humanity. For those of you familiar with Saul Bellow, he was a staunch follower of Lewis.

In any case here is the thing, it seems logical to read what the experts have had to say. And some of it is interesting to read. There are a lot of good ideas to be found. At the end of the day, however, they remain just that — ideas. A long time ago it occurred to me that if ideas and good intentions could lead to the solutions for our problems we would already have arrived. The same scenario has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years. It seems that we took a wrong turn early on in our evolution. It seems neither economically feasible nor rational to continue in our same old rut.

I was a member of the Beat Generation of the 5O’s. Watching and participating in the flowering of the ideas of Peace and Love which followed left me following a personal path. The hope of communicating insights gleaned has sustained me since. It deeply saddens me to think about the world we are leaving to our young. All with the best of intentions, right? Those of us who have had the good fortune to avoid the 8 to 5 grind and engage our minds freely and fully have a special obligation. To remain fixed in old fixed patterns is not an option. Many of us are intelligent, well educated, well read, and clever enough to have stepped outside of the zeitgeist. It hasn’t been enough. We only moved slightly, maybe a few feet. All of our old solutions have not worked. They are all based on a mind that at its core can only generate thoughts, ideas, and so on based on the dead past and an imagined future. If we stop doing that something miraculous happens. It is really quite simple but far from easy. Most would say it is not possible. Well, I for one say that it is. Think about this, if it were not possible then Life on planet Earth is a very cruel joke.

What has all this to do with painting and photography you ask? Well, what I’m hinting at is closely connected with perception. I am an old bird and if I can profoundly change my health and my mind I am sure others are doing the same.

Published in french as Peinture et photographie : Deuxième partie


The Hidden Order of Painting

May 27th, 2011

On this blog I’ve been beating the bushes. The approach to the muse, however, is not a path which can be marked with words nor delineated with sign posts. And yet I continue to write articles as if it were not the case.

Rex Brandt said: “We do not paint things, we paint relationships.” True as far as it goes. If only it were so simple. Statements like this seem to entrench in the mind and we can easily lose the context. Rex was very much concerned with his medium of watercolor paint. I point this out as an example of how easily the message is compromised with a sign such expressed in blunt terms.

Delacroix said something that addresses what I’m trying to get at. He said the problem with many painters was they used coloration rather than color. He implies that they are not completely devoted to color and their medium.

If we say we do not paint things, we paint relationship in terms of a colored medium I believe we get closer to the crux of our problem as artists. I might add that to paint relationships we must become deeply involved in the initial experience. That very first impression which strikes strongly and ignites the process needs much nurturing. Carrying this around in our heads for a good period of time the muse may visit as we paint. That is the primary relationship.

Published in french as L’ordre caché en peinture


Comment and Answer : The Truth of the Painter

December 9th, 2010

Anne says :

The truth, where is it? The truth what is it ?
Large question indeed.
Is not the truth subjective ?
Physically, it depends upon the point of view.
For exemple, Is a photography a true representation of reality? It is rather the vision of it that the photographer has wanted to give by not putting into it the garbage which is just outside the shot. The notion of in the field of vision / outside the field is already an interpretation witting or unwitting of the “Truth”.
Psychologically, the truth is even more subjective ?
Two persons will live a given situation in two very different ways. And however this experience is one (in the meaning unique) and therefore it has a priori only one truth. This makes me think about factual truth. After all a fact is a fact, unquestionable, confirmed.
But though, in history, the historical thought based upon real facts is in constant evolution. In science, the verity of to day will not be the truth of to morrow.! The discovery of a new “scientifical truth” will shake the truth.
I think we need to ask ourselves the question of the truth that we accept: our own truth, the one of our family, of our kin, of our colleague, of our culture, of our time. And for art, with my poor knowledge in this area, I think that the essential is that the artist respects hi truth, his own truth in the instant he is creating ( so “be true towards yourself”).
I agree with Corot about the truth of the first impression.
We finally come back most of the time to our first impression about people, about the landscape, about the content of our plate (here visual), about our future housing, about our work, about the work what we are looking at.

Denis responds :

Thank you Anne for your thoughtful remarks.

Here is the bottom line for me, I believe that what we see and what we think about that experience is important. We arrive at an understanding of what the words we use to describe and explain things represent. When they arrive at the point of becoming abstractions we can then get those words into perspective. In this context, it is not the things we know that create problems for us … it is the things we know that are not so. A poor grasp of abstract thought or abstract words compounds those problems. (I’ll write more about this probblem in a future article.) Art is largely about a good grasp of the tradition of painting and problem solving, not the pursuit of abstractions such as our common understanding of the word truth.

As you see, Anne, I am short on answers, long on questions. I trust that my studies and intuition lead me to good ones. This, I believe is the path of a painter.

Ciao, Denis,

Published in french as Commentaire et réponse sur “La vérité du peintre”


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