Sometimes it’s perplexing for artists to figure out what to call the result of an essentially non-verbal experience, since naming can be a profound appropriation of meaning and therefore of understanding and appreciation. Furthermore, an artist’s tendency to title work in a certain way often indicates the origin of their art spirit. What makes mature work is the artist’s ability to universalize the particular, which means that sentimentality–the glorification of the particular–must be avoided except, of course, when making propaganda.
An academic terminology (involving a simple, objective description of form and content, such as “Still Life with Knife and Onions”) tends to elevate the tone of a piece to a more serious aesthetic level, although the academic use of irony usually becomes nothing more than pompous, condescending sarcasm. And beware–titles with colons in them are pretentiously over-explanatory, without exception. Personalizing a title (as in “Amber’s Favorite Things”) alienates viewers who don’t happen to belong to the artist’s implied intimate group, which is most of us; indulging in poetic license (“Romantic Reverie” or “Peaceful Zinnias”) panders to shallow emotional responses rooted in a pleasure principle devoid of any expansive aesthetic or critical feeling. In the best case, however, the emotional tone of a piece can be tuned pitch-perfect by a thoughtful title.
So, the fewer words in a title the better. One-word titles may be the best, though the feeble compromise of titling something “Untitled” means that eventually someone will attempt to differentiate a body of such work with numbers, colons, parenthetical descriptions, and other devices of commercial and scholarly accounting. A careful study of the great works of art history will help the artist to appreciate the deep resonance of simple naming in order to describe the complex work of speaking the visual language of art.
originally published August 1, 2011
One of the most notorious creative blocks in a serious artist’s life is the fear of doing bad work. If we made a close examination of the commonly accepted, contemporary opinions of “good” work, we would see that the concept of “good” has no real meaning outside the simplistic market ideology that drives it. The great contribution of modernism to art has been to emphasize the importance of personal creative seriousness in the artist’s practice, out of which then comes new insights into individual and social values and their subsequent transformations.
Every artist eventually reaches a limit to their technical and inspirational capacity. The problem then becomes how to break through to the next level. Taking classes; going back to basics; exploring every subject matter of their own lives (especially the fearful and shameful ones); hanging out with other artists and talking out the work–are all classic ways to try to solve the dilemma. It turns out that simple hard work is most often the best stick for beating back the adversity of staleness.
At a local venue some years ago, Manuel Neri remarked that eventually, for the serious artist, “good” and “bad” come to have no meaning, and the only important artistic value is simply to go to the studio every day and do the work. Chuck Close likewise commented, “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work.” Eventually, constant practice, absolute honesty, and unending patience are those qualifications of the artist most conducive to producing interesting and relevant art.
originally posted 07/31/11
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.
originally posted 08/01/1
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.
originally posted 11/ 07/11