All posts by jodymattison

I am a painter and art instructor from the Bay Area of California...

Making Art from Real Life

Many artists try to freeze a moment of life into a photograph, presuming to make it the model for a leisurely recollection, in paint, later. What too often happens is that the photo becomes a slave driver instead of a muse, and the subsequent painting is a flat, lifeless copy of an inferior derivative to the lost moment. These artists have forgotten to include feeling, memory, dream, and mystery in the standard elements of composition because interpretation — not documentation — is the essence of the artistic vision.

Art is a record of how the artist feels about what she’s seeing, and the reality of that is a complicated mix of sensation and expressive media. “What is reality?” makes an intriguing metaphysical dilemma which we all have to figure out for ourselves One way to confront the enigma is for the artist to go back to the subject again and again, examining it in every variation of shape, color, and value. Maybe the physical world isn’t real after all, but it’s invariably the beginning of the investigation, and art means taking risks with perception at all levels as it presents itself at the moment of its experience.

If the need to use a photograph is because the subject is unobtainable, the artist may be overlooking all that which makes up her real life and so, of course, her true art. A photo is an extraordinarily fallible document which can be only one of the starting points of a compositional strategy. The practices of drawing and painting must be taken back from a mechanistic dependence on photography in order for them to come alive again and become proper artistic statements about real life.

Doug Riggs

originally posted 08/01/1

On Framing Art

After all his technical mastery has whipped and cudgeled the demon of inspiration into a worthy picture, the artist is faced with the dismaying proposition of framing it, usually at the last minute–the submission deadline looming with a spectral menace in the haunted house of his slovenly procrastination. However, with just a little advance planning and adherence to a few basic principles, framing is a relatively simple problem to solve. Find a framer whose workmanship and design taste you can trust, KEEP IT SIMPLE, and include the cost of framing in the price you charge for a finished work.

Framing protects a picture from unrelenting environmental pressures, such as air pollution and the ultraviolet spectrum of light, which are usually taken care of by glazing and matting (varnishing is the artist’s–not the framer’s–responsibility). It also presents the picture in a special “sacred” space, commanding the viewer’s shift of focus to a heightened aesthetic awareness, where the frame outlines and isolates that special space from its surroundings. Finally, it makes a picture relatively inaccessible, so that the artist stops working on it, which is the only true definition of “finished”. Once these provisions are satisfied, the artist’s framing responsibilities are done.

It is an entirely foolish exercise in narcissism to agonize over whether one’s drawing or painting is “overwhelmed” by the frame–if that is actually the case, then the picture is certainly a bad one. If someone won’t buy because the frame is unacceptable, the artist should be ready to take the picture from the frame at a (slight) discount. Despite normal aesthetic considerations, the artist’s presentation should be as simple (and inexpensive) as possible, with the bulk of his care going to the protection of the piece, and the buyer’s responsibility is to frame according to their personal decorative taste.


Doug Riggs

originally posted 11/ 07/11