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Slave to Paint Part I

September 30th, 2009

A good many years ago I read Estelle Jussim’s excellent book about F. Holland Day: « Slave to Beauty ». I recommend it if you can manage to get your hands on a copy. (It has evidently been reprinted link). It is an excellent account of a prevalent frame of mind that is divisive in the world of art. Most artists, I think, would deny this influence, but it is implicit in the “decadence dialog” that dominates most contemporary commentary on art. More will be said about this in a future article.

I believe we need to get past it and move on to more important issues. Otherwise, art has the risk of becoming irrelevant. It clearly already is for all but a very small number of people. And I’m not at all sure this is a healthy sustainable situation. But, then again, progress in art is not a straight line. It has often moved in reverse.

Published in french as Esclave de la peinture Partie I

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The Day to Day Life of Painters

September 6th, 2009

Much, if not almost all of my writing in this blog has focused on the large issues. While they are important I’m always reminded how removed they are from the actual life of the artist. The daily toiles, the comfort of the workplace, the economic situation, the interaction with patrons and society as a whole, freedom of expression exercised, the quality of training received, many such questions go begging. By far however, these are the parts which make up the whole with philosophical, theoretical and historical considerations playing a small role.

The World Wide Web has expanded in some sense the horizons for many of us. This conflict directly, however with the social interactions from which we drew our substance a few years ago. One way in which it has done this is the explosion of self professed authorities and experts. Consequently, the process of connecting with an audience has become actually much more complex overnight so to speak. A rule of thumb for the working artist (i.e. professional artist) was that it was necessary to spend around one-half of the time devoted to the business side of things. Boy; has that changed. I don’t know about you, but for me the time left over for painting has dropped dramatically. Where is this leading us?

Read the rest of "The Day to Day Life of Painters"

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Rules for Painters

Originally posted on April, 17, 2009

"Ventoux Spring", oil on canvas, 30cm x 24cm, 2009
"Ventoux Spring", oil on canvas, 30cm x 24cm, 2009

The rule that there are no rules is the appeal of what some understand as the Zen approach: the anytime anything goes ethic, or non-ethic as it were. We get into difficulty, it seems to me as painters by applying this “beat? philosophy (i.e. this is not classic Zen) in a rigid manner. Properly understood the Zen perspective gives the latitude to “think? in terms of right and wrong in a limited domain such as painting; This, even though the world at large is seen to be beyond right and wrong when it is not put into a frame. But without some form of intellectualizing each painting’s outcome is as precarious as a throw of the dice.

“The superior man understands what is right, the inferior man understands what sells.? (Confucius)

In the changing conditions of today, there are certainly no silver bullets. Things have been difficult for painters for some time and will continue for the foreseeable future. All is not doom and gloom however. Think back to the adverse conditions which the impressionists faced: having to flee France for safety, the destruction of paintings, extreme financial conditions and so on.

Galleries in France seem to be threatened by the internet. I have not had this expressed directly by gallery owners. It is simply an observation of their reactions when I bang up the subject. As difficult survival has been for most of them recently this reaction is easy enough to understand.

I hold out hope that I’ll find that one gallery that I want to associate with. I believe it is best to work only with a single gallery. Also, it is important that the relationship is a good fit. It will not work otherwise.

Published in french as Règles pour les peintres

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On the face of things

Originally posted on April, 17, 2007

Historically speaking, artists have not have a lot to say about their art. They have been more absorbed in the doing of it. Needless to say they gave a lot of thought to this doing. But for the most part they let the art speak for itself. After all, it is a visual language. Up to a certain point this worked out fine. However, when the impressionist came under attack by the “new generation” of the 1880’s things dramatically changed. The modern era required that everything be rationalized and justified. This became problematic for the artist. It is not as if he had nothing to do but to be concerned with what people where saying.

Add to this complication the fact that the artist is obliged to become a businessman or businesswoman. For the professional painter or artist today they are obliged to spend at least one-half of their time taking care of the business and promotional side of things. All of this is to say that being an artist today is a very complex issue. And there is nowhere to run and hide from the complexity. The paramount task in the mist of all of this activity is to create art that speaks to people. It is not enough, and not even relevant, to simply do something considered new. The very long dialogue about which art is the most decadent or who is on the avant-garde cutting edge has now to my ear a hollow ring. There are many more important issues which urgently need attention. Being an artist today has something to do with identifying and addressing these issues. The pundents are not going to do it for us. Not easy. How are we to do all of this and pay the bills at the same time?

We need to walk our talk. Not easy. But where are we to hide? All of the good hiding places are gone.

Have fun,
Denis

Published in french as À première vue

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