« On Painting

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

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?

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Elegance and its relevance to the painter

August 24th, 2009

Okay, I admit to being evasive in my post “Artistic Awakening”. I believe that painters learn this so well that traditionally they have been considered well, a little slow at the switch.

There are some ideas that we just need to get our mental teeth into and chew just like a dog does on a bone with a great deal of patience and diligence. At the end of the day no other way will be found when it comes to these subtle issues. There is no free lunch. Patience, persistence and so until the bigger piece begin to click into place.

I heard some interesting monologue on a movie the other day. It was a speech about success and competition. The character was saying that there is something about competition that is ferocious and carnal. He then made his principle point; the importance of finding the balance between human intelligence and animal diligence. Bingo. In the author’s view finding the balance was the key. Defining the term was also important. Absolutely nothing was said about understanding the relationship between our intellect and our passionate self.

We see clearly when we get the relationship in correct perspective. A painter does not paint things. The painter paints relationships, even if he is a non-representational painter. There is no other way short of following someone else with their formula. And, as Picasso pointed out, if we plagiarise ourselves that is the worse form of plagiarism.

The idea of elegance that Galileo spoke of, as I understand it, was a quality arrived as a consequence of understanding the relationship between the natural world and our experience of it. Order and simplicity are found there. The understanding of painting or any area of creativity is closely connected to all this.

Enjoy chewing on big ideas before you “twitter” it all away.

Published in french as Élégance

Artistic Awakening

August 18th, 2009

Each individual artistic path is not a linear affair, likewise with humanity. In the bigger scheme of things, our collective intellectual awakening was like a snap of the finger ago. Previous to this, “Truth” dictated all creative pursuit, likewise with scientific thought. Law and religious authority were the controlling factors in every facet of our lives. It is not even 400 years since Galileo dared question Earth’s role at the center of the universe. His argument for the theory of Copernicus earned him house arrest for the last 10 years of his life. He had said of the current doctrine: “Yes, but it is not elegant.” In the defence of elegance he paid a high price.

I believe that our creative and intellectual efforts have today reached a similar crossroad. Collectively, humanity has a choice to make. It is quite similar to conditions in Europe 400 years ago but in a very subtle way. Once again it is a question of elegance of thought.

A man before Galileo, William of Occam, succinctly put it this way: “The best model is the simplest one – the one requiring the fewest assumptions and modifications in order to fit the observations”. Do we still need today pundits who write and argue convoluted ideas about art and science? Why is it that so many of us are unable to tell the difference between a common criminal and a potential Nobel prize winner? Such questions beg for answers.

Published in french as Èveil artistique

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