Pygmalion and Galatea, Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1824-1904,
Oil on canvas, 35 x 27
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, USA
In my previous blog, I discussed Jumping the Gun. This caused me to consider time in the studio prior to the work going to the exhibition and that dialogue occurring between the artist and the work made. The living breathing interaction between the creator and the work created. The subject of today’s blog will inevitably be of compromise for I lament in my decision to return to a job. I am reticent, as the dialogue in any studio requires dedication, patience, consistence, and due diligence which also requires time.
Dialogue is the relationship one creates with their own work, primarily when choosing a subject matter to pursue. In the myth of Pygmalion, the artist creates a sculpture so lifelike that she actually comes to life, because he has carved her with such gentle strength and grace, she did not look on him with contempt but shares in his compassion. The picture above is one of my favorite paintings, in this rendition, Gerome hides both the face of Galatea and that of Pygmalion and we intrude upon their private intimacy. The artist looses himself to that which he makes. In making art the artist does just this, we also refer to it as a birthing process. We transfer, all of our emotions to the success of the art at that moment. We communicated with the work, dialogue, to achieve a successful outcome. My work occurs over a long period, layers of time and paint go into the success of the work, yet the success in any given piece is also a result of its connection to the content. Artists use drawings, readings, physical and personal interactions, the past, politics, writing and many other methods to come up with ideas for the pieces they create. For some the dialogue is very personal, and some spend meticulous time and effort in communicating their idea in the artist statement, gallery talks, and interviews. The goal of dialoguing is to make that connection and have it communicate its message more readily. Artists we were created to be communicators, art is a visual language. What would history be, if the politicians and religious leaders were the only ones to report about the times at hand?
The artist begins this discourse by deciding what method will best show the content. There are a myriad of options out there, my chosen method, paint, oil to be specific. There is vividness to the color in oil. I believe oil can do anything if manipulated in the right way. I also like shallow space since I focus on the subject quite intensely. Therefore, my context of oil must encompass my content of showing restrictive space. I once asked a friend, “Why do you use clay? What is the relationship between clay and your subject?” Caught off guard the artist had not thought about it. This is truly a question meant for creators whose outcome is exhibition driven, as an exhibition places as its primary function, a direct communicator (the image) in front of the viewer. It is a discussion question, followed closely by, how does the process you use in your work relate to the content.
Since paint has been in use for hundreds of years, you might think using paint lets me off easy. I must ask myself how the applications of paint will correlate to my desired outcome. Currently, my subjects are gourd like shapes that also reference seedpods; though I am confronting capacity for expansion like skin, my chosen shapes carry an animated nature. Contextually, I can choose to paint it whimsically with a hard dark edge, loose and drippy or soft, or use a dry scumbled brush. Dialogue questions arise such as, do I desire a serious reading, a humorous overtone, or, do I wish to achieve a serious overtone with a bit of whimsy. These are all important questions. I engage in the process as to whether these decisions will compromise the reading of the work. Realistically, a dialogue can ensue regarding all of the elements and the principles of art.
Resolution as to choice of content (subject matter) and context (desired meaning) will be consistent in the body of work which for my work will consist of successive images. I have more content than one work can contain, making more images enables the audience to engage in the narrative. Whether related or not each body of work affects the next body, as art is also therapy and used to resolve personal issues regarding the content. Once that exchange of ideas is resolved and all the work made, the work then moves into another level of exchange, with the audience. This audience may include the critic whose job is to analyze if the dialogue is authentic an interpreter. If the artist has fully engaged in the dialoguing process, the critic can be of great assistance by revealing missed conversation. Think of the critic as someone fluent in the language and versed in the historical canon of the subject.
The outcome of a diligent process is rewarding and a successful show results in the audience discussing the meaning of the work, the process and the interaction of each piece with the others. Therefore, once released the work takes on a new dialoguing process one that engages the artist in an exchange now the artist must see if resolutions were successful. As the artist grows and his/her venues get wider, the dialogue evolves. The work then engages its audience through gallery talks, and interviews, the artists becomes more and more aware of the realities in the work and is able to comfortably move onto new work and into new dialogue.
Can an artist just make art without all this pretension? Sure, you can.
However, ignoring the precepts and pretensions on mere principle of making art for the sake of making art does not enable the artist to evolve. I once asked a student of mine, “Did we ruin art for you?” Meaning did coming to school for art take the fun out. His response, “you know, when I decided to be an artist it was fun, yet, once I received my first assignment it then became a challenge.” The dialogue is not about the artist existing in a vacuum like Pygmalion with his marble statue Galatea; it is about sharing by visually communicating.
In high school, I played badminton and I was great at smashing that little feathered birdie onto the opposite side of the net. Occasionally I would somehow over anticipate, my teammate would set up the smash, I would see the bird and BAM, but the birdie would just fall down in slow motion and land on my shoulder. I had rushed the birdie, jumped the gun. How often do we act too soon, get in the game before we are ready.
I am writing this because I am doing just this in my studio, at least I feel like I am. Since this blog is about learning, teaching and sharing, here is my experience:
In the book Hold Still, Sally Mann shares an excellent recommendation she says to be in the new body of work before sharing the current work (Mann p. 169). In the last years of undergraduate school painting majors build what is referred to as a body of work, which contains about 6 to 20 pieces that are alike in theme, and preferably appearance, The idea is that these pieces when shown together will communicate a concept like chapters in a book. To accomplish this we were, cheered on by our peers, coached by our mentors, guided by our advisors, encouraged, and sometimes prodded by our teachers. This is what is so difficult about being a “serious” artist. The challenge, not only to make the body of work, but fit it into the cannon of art history, use relevant painting technique, then defend it. Once an artist has mastered this; earned the degree and moved into the career of the arts, it then is done again, and, again, and again; body of work after body of work after bodies and bodies of work.
The hard thing is falling in love with the first individual piece, or the third, even the sixth and sharing it with the world. We fall in love introduce the piece then realize it really is not as good as was thought or does not go with the others. I can make all types of paintings landscapes, figurative, realistic, abstract, wet into wet, and I know very well the fat over lean mantra. I love performing all these tasks in the studio. After taking two years away from the studio to pursue a second Masters Degree I returned to find, I am back to the drawing board. It feels like being back in art school again, trial and error. My studies are spot on but the translation to painting questionable and I am jumping the gun, so excited about new work I begin to enter shows, post images; even invite curators into the studio. The work, or, should I say my relationship with the work is not solid enough yet, and I am well aware of it.
All artists jump the gun; get excited about the newest piece and fall in love with the prospect of what the audience will feel once they see it. The relationship not solidified, the problem, the artist had not dialogued enough through the process of making the work.
The resolution is to build a relationship with the work and desired outcome so clear and intentional developments can come about. Then, writing the artist statement is easier and talking about the work is clearer. Get to know your own work, write down notes, make studies, and share it with intimate friends who are willing to assist in the relationship building process. Relating to one’s own pieces is a summation of connections. Made by the choice of the finished look of the work, the subject matter and the process whereby it came about.
Slow and steady wins the race. I have been painting for more than two decades; opportunities have arisen more than once, even when I burned the bridge or blew it. I’ve gotten surer about my process, I am better at making a body of work and conceptualizing. I make a lot of work, some good, some not so good, some cohesive and some not. The truth is what has a lasting effect is often not the just the work itself, but the feeling and connections that came while and from making it. I plan to be in the Arts for the rest of my life, sharing strong bodies of work, building relationships and earning respect. The truth is I will always get excited about new work and I will probably jump the gun again.
Image retrieved from August 22, 2016: http://rp-prod-wordpress-b-content.s3.amazonaws.com/assets/2013/06/05131818/salon-style-art.jpg
My older sister had the most beautiful clothes, no holes, no spots, smears or stains, and above all a wide array of tints, tones, and shades unlike my meager set of worn out black outfits. At times she’d allow me to wear a piece. Occasionally I’d sneak into her drawers and make something my own for the day. I did my best not to perform any activity that would give away the fact that I borrowed the item without asking. Without fail I did something to get myself caught, a stain, a tear, leaving it on the floor, not folding it exactly the way it was when I took it, once I even melted her brand new silk top ironing it. My sister always scorned and scolded me when she found out and if we were out of the house she told me to take it off right then. The comment I remember best however was “you get paint on everything you own.”
There is something about being an artist that reeks of grunge. Frankly, I stay dirty. Even though I try to stay clean by maintaining separate sets of clothes; for work, for church, for going to the gym, and studio clothes. However I never fail to get paint on any and everything, even my bed sheets.
During performances, when my daughter was studying dance, the children were cautioned not to be seen in their costumes before the show, it would ruin the magic. This made me think about the magic of the studio. My work space which is in the back of my home is a beautiful, large space with cathedral ceilings, a large storage closet and a bathroom. It is where I make hard work look easy, where mistakes unfurl into process. It is where the magic happens. I’ve got lots of paper, old work, tons of books, and enough tools and materials to open a store. It is where I practice for the final performance. For the artist it is the exhibition in the clean gallery, with reading space between imagery and white walls that allow for intended color reading.
Experiencing other artists resolved work in white space is similar to how I felt while wearing the beautiful outfits that belonged to my older sister. After spending weeks in my studio producing, I look forward to entering clean spaces and enjoying readable, content rich art work. White space with focused light helps the readability of color, space, line, value and composition, specifically when work is in resolution status. It enables the viewer to renew and refresh. Finished work needs to be honored in an environment that lends itself to the finality that the hard work of practice deserves.
Today, I am going to talk about Sally Mann’s book Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs. This book won a National Book Award, which is not surprising because it is well written and honest. I learned a lot from reading about Mann and her connection to her work. It is a must read for artists not just because of the importance of Mann in the canon of art photography, but because when an artist shares that much about her life with the public, artist should be the first in line to receive it.
I do have a concern about the work and life of Sally Mann: never does she mention a spiritual connection and in reading I garnered a deep disquiet about the author. Her work focuses on darkness in a very unsettling way. Erie and phantasmal, Mann is a master of photographic technique; the photos resonate by confronting our inner fears of death and the unknown. We like to consider children as innocent angelic cherubs, yet we know by portrayals of children like, Lord of the Flies, that this isn’t always true. Mann’s photos of children and landscape speak to the temporary qualities of a lived life.
Photographers inevitably are concerned with light and darkness it is part of the process and shows in the result of the work. Mann’s portraits of children and even the landscapes lean toward spiritual darkness but still exist between darkness and light perhaps as a result of the subject matter. Toward the end of the book Mann moves very close to the darkness, as a deeply spiritual individual I felt heaviness and became very disheartened at the end of the book. The final series focusing on death bore an unemotional finality. This is a commanding text, it’s dense and intensely personal, well written, however, it is not be read passively; definitely not for the prudish.