Friday, May 19, 2006

Sharing the Feeling

Hello all you nice new people! Thanks for visiting my blog.

Bsch has some wise things to say:

Even the the most deeply felt painting may end up as someone's wallpaper. Your effect upon them wasn't the reason you made it. We make the work to fill a need we have. To fill a space that was going unfilled in the world around us. To paraphrase an old teacher, "we paint to have something to look at."

I am always pleased when I get a positive response to my work but the pleasure is moderated by the fact that what the viewer gets from the work is so different from what I see. Communication is always uncertain and visual forms are less certain than most.
I'd like, however, to address that issue of 'deeply felt painting.' We could wander into some sticky territory, if we're not careful.

As they say, "All bad poetry is sincere." This goes equally for bad painting. If the only criteria for assessing the artistic merit of a work is whether or not it is 'deeply felt,' we might as well all hang up our smocks and open a pizzeria. I can recall many, many nights in art school where I played the Cure at top volume till 4 AM, rent my veins, and bled all over my canvas; the resultant work was certainly 'deeply felt,' but it was still awful. The process of maturing as an artist requires the ability to separate from one's feelings, particularly those ego-based feelings that say "This work is Great Art because I made it," and honestly assess how the work measures up in the world.

And I am not sure that I, personally, necessarily paint to have something to look at. The world as God created it is a hell of a lot more amazing than anything I could possibly produce; most people, indeed, seem to be blind to it. When I walk up my block and see a thunderhead approaching, with the sunset behind it, gingko trees lashing in the wind and the unearthly pinky-gold light reflecting off the towers of Manhattan, I am not only astonished, but floored by the fact that I seem to be the only person staring. Whenever I get maudlin about lack of artistic recognition, I pause and consider how God must feel about that same issue.

No, the reason I paint is 1) because I am instinctively compelled to do it and 2) in order to create a certain, specific set of vibrations, to be placed in specific places, toward a specific effect. These vibrations are partly visual, but partly not. The best I can describe it is that I am creating an aura.

Part of what I am doing involves movement, as well. Recently I attended a lecture by Thomas Bennett, a really splendid Brooklyn painter, and we discussed the fact that some painters relate to the world kinesthetically, that is, with the aesthetics of movement. You can see this clearly in Bennett's work; he paints figures and animals that are not only obviously in motion, but leaving clear evidence of the type of gesture he himself makes while painting. The resultant images have a spontaneity and aliveness that would not be reproducible by a purely visual, precise, stop-motion type of painter.

"Flicka," 1999 by Thomas Bennett, oil on styrene, 40 x 72

Motives and feelings about painting aside, I fervently believe that there ARE such things as objective, or semi-objective, standards for deciding what is Art and what is ego-indulgent crap. Sometimes it takes a generation or two for the crap to settle to the bottom, and sometimes Great Work goes unrecognized and lost for all time. But I don't believe that solipsism does any artist any good.

Over the years I have put a lot of thought, research and study into the notion of what makes a great painting, great. I've schlepped through the Met, the MOMA, the Louvre, the Kimbell, the Art Institute of Chicago, the SF MOMA, the Tate, as many of the major museums in Mexico City as I could before the smog and the thugs took me out, and innumerable galleries, and less-notable museums. I've bought the art books, and read as much criticism as I could stomach (which isn't all that much, honestly.) After all this earnest looking, I cannot come up with any better description than the one Lucio Pozo gave me in my first semester at SFAI: "It has to be singing. Every bit of it."

The difference between a great painting and a second-rate one is that the great one, in some way, transcends rational thought; it is more than just a symbol denotating an object or a concept or a feeling. It is actually doing something very cohesive to the space around it; you can literally almost hear it, almost feel the punch in your solar plexus. Rembrandt does it; Vermeer, Manet, Caravaggio, Van Gogh, Pollock, Tamayo, Kieffer. They all do it in their own, highly individual ways, and it doesn't matter whether or not their paintings are literal, representative, polished, messy, or abstract.

A second-rate painter gets permanently mired in depiction, even the abstract ones. They're taking an intellectual concept and painstakingly representing it on a surface, without allowing any space for the breath of spirit to take over and lift it up.

Ahem. I didn't intend to go so far into that; please excuse.

But all this to make the point--that there comes a point when I've done enough work, taken enough long looks and resignedly done another scrapedown, thrown enough whole bodies of my own failed artwork into dumpsters, that I know when something I've done is good. I can still acknowlege when another artist blows me out of the water; I can still see where I've got a long way to go toward realizing my vision. But when I got the paintings for my show last year out, all together, and sat with them, they were singing. It wasn't just my ego. They succeeded.

You are right, Bsch, that communication is uncertain, particularly with visual images. But people do pick up on them, at least subliminally; they do and did respond to that show.

The problem was, quite specifically, that the people in the gallery did not take the time or the trouble to point out to the visitors what they were experiencing, name it, and acknowlege it as something worth recognizing and, ultimately, paying for. As the artist, I did my job. As artists, we desperately need dealers who do THEIR jobs. I've been a dealer, briefly; I did the job of pointing out the poetry, the songs, the feeling of the paintings I sold, and it was a crucial one.

In closing, I feel the need to address a piece of Pointless Spite that popped up recently, despite the fact that my general rule is to ignore such unprovoked rudeness.
just stick to massage and writing-don't bother with painting,you're not talented enough to drive yourself crazy over it-sorry,but thats the truth

Hello? Who are you, again? Didn't catch the name. Obviously this is a person who knows me quite well, has taken the time to visit my studio and my shows and knows the work intimately in person; they also evidently have my psychology pegged, and know me better than I know myself. Obviously they have nothing but concern for my happiness at heart. Obviously they also need a lesson or two in basic grammar, but that is not my job, being too busy as I am with my crazed bashing of talentless head against a wall.

But, as Danny points out below, talent is not, and never has been, the issue. You can call it whatever you like, but we ALL have talent. Some more, some less, in all sorts of different arenas. The issue is commitment, drive, and honesty. I've been a committed painter for eighteen years, and that is not going to change because some idiot thinks I'm not talented. Maybe I'm NOT talented. So what? There are a lot of schmos out there with less talent than I've got, having shows in galleries with equally un-talented dealers, selling to collectors with no taste.

I chose this life, craziness and all, and I have no regrets.


danonymous said...

Hey ....I shortened my name from Dannynonamous to Danonymous. I instantly felt connected to Greek history. Amazing. I actualkly felt like standing a little taller and watching my posture....just because of the Greekosity of the sound.
The part of these conversations that are difficult for me is that they belong in the close huddle, intimate late night confessionals of a small group of friends. As if art needs defending, but when one is attacked, it is hard not to rise to the bait. That little bit of "nasty, nasty" comment the individual made in the previous post is like the baiting reserved for pit bulls to get them going. That same sentiment could be transformative if it came from "This is how I see this. Can you enlighten me to something I might be missing." Wow...would that be impressive and beneficial all around.
But I think artists just need to get kicked around. I see it in all the movies, I read it in the books and I hear sloppy half-drunk complaints in the bars so it must be true.
A wonderful part of art is one goes into the studio, shuts the door behind, fights and slays a few demons standing between the artist and the canvas and then starts to work with the resulting blood and the world is forgotten.
I think I may have lost my way here....but that was because I was falling in love with art making as I typed the words down.
Oh well.

Chris Rywalt said...

This is one of those posts I want to point people to when I want to explain what I'm thinking. It is exactly right. "A second-rate painter gets permanently mired in depiction, even the abstract ones." Yes!

Kurt Vonnegut, in one of my favorite books, Bluebeard, says that a great painting contains everything, from life to death. No one's sure how it got there, but it's there.

jackadandy said...

Serena, you know what? I really learn a lot from you. :)

Whether it's fortune or misfortune I missed a formal art education, and everything that comes with it (including spiteful colleagues). That lack of formal education, combined with 50-plus years on this stern planet, has made me incredibly hungry for as well as thoughtful about every little bit of sort of "found" art knowledge that comes my way. It also makes me way, way too old to be stopped by considerations of Talent or No-Talent. I no longer have the time. I simply must do, or literally die with it undone. It's closer every day.

What matters is action. My action. All the way from the action of insisting on living with my eyes open, to the action of striding past the doubters, to the action of, as danonymous says, going into the studio and shutting the door behind, to the action of those actual marks on/in the medium---the "battlescars", if you will.

And if that action is true---really true, then it will be in the painting, every singing note of it.

Re: depiction, I couldn't agree with you more. If someone would be able to explain their whole painting to me before they've even painted it, I can be pretty sure I won't have to take the extra bother of looking at it when it's done.

bsch said...

Thanks for the kind words. It's a little frightening to think that anyone is actually listening.
Of course I was overstating when I said that we only painted to have something to look at. Maybe its more to the point to say that we have fallen in love with something and we want to give something back. That's probably too much but it comes close to how I feel.
When I stand in front of a great painting. One that overwhelms me. I feel a call that wants, demands to be answered. The dilemma is that I can't make what I want. I can't respond in kind, beauty for beauty, power for power, truth for truth. I feel inadequate to the task. So the challange is to keep striving, even with limited means. I may succeed but I suspect that I won't know it if I do.

Anonymous said...

Serena, you're awesome. So glad you have a blog.
Here's a desperate question for you: is it common for fine art galleries to have return policies? I tend to think that they would not, if they are selling paintings. (And that they should not.) I have a private collector who is starting to make an annoying habit of returning things he buys from the studio and I would like to say "no" to him but it would help to know what the rule of thumb is, if there is any.

danonymous said...

There is such a thing as art rental. Museums and such organizations on smaller scales have that service sometimes. so it may be a good model to mimic. You get paid for a 6 month rental with option to buy. Return and return on money is based on condition of work when returned. If you do a straight rental, then you figure in the time and trouble involved in preparing, packing , etc. and restocking, just like any other business. It is probably appropriate to ask for 25% return charge for stuff returned after neing sold. You may have had an opportunity to sell the work while your collector was sitting on it.

Chris Rywalt said...

Bsch sez:
Maybe its more to the point to say that we have fallen in love with something and we want to give something back. That's probably too much but it comes close to how I feel.

No-Where-Man posted a quote from Andy Warhol on her blog:

An artist is someone who produces things that people don't need to have but that he -- for some reason -- thinks it would be a good idea to give them.

I think that sums up your feelings. And mine, too. I've given away a lot of paintings over the years.

serena said...

Wow, I LOVE the fact that these posts are prompting whole, entire, gorgeously thought-out essays from everybody in return. Thanks, guys.

Anonymous, I second Dan's suggestion. At the very least you need to have a contract in writing that states what your return policy is, and make sure your 'inconvenience expenses' are covered.

My gallery did not have a return policy, but then, I only sold work when people were clawing over each other in order to buy it. We never had anyone attempt to return anything.

If there is some technical defect in the work which causes it to deteriorate over time, there is a case for reimbursing your collector, but generally a collector should be sure about it before plunking down the cash. It's a terrible thing to return something to an artist, as most of us are living hand to mouth as it is.

I have, at times, offered collectors the option of taking the piece home and living with it for a short time, leaving a post-dated check with me, to make sure they really love it. Every time I've done this, the collector has called the next day and told me to cash the check.

why valerie said...

"Trite" is how I should have put my opinion of your work instead of no-talent-as a little excercise,try to imagine your work posted on the "painter NYC" blog

serena said...

Valerie, let me explain one more time. I can certainly understand why my work would read as 'trite' from a three-inch online JPEG. Imagine Mark Rothko's work posted on a blog; or Rufino Tamayo's, or Pollock's, or any other painter whose work is primarily about energetic presence and not intellectual depiction. I imagine that my work would get reamed on 'PainterNYC,' except by those painters with enough experience and sensibility to ask questions about such things as scale, texture, medium and layering.

"Trite," however, is a word most aptly applied to painters like Thomas Kinkade, who do not observe the world with an original eye, but merely copy the picture construction, technique, and world view of thousands of landscape painters before them. I know what that looks like, and I know I'm not doing it, however it may seem to others.

In fact, at one time or another, I've probably produced a painting that looked roughly comparable to a cross section of what appears on PainterNYC. Through that process of winnowing intellectual complexity, I have arrived at a place of innocence and simplicity, which feels frighteningly close to 'trite,' but which is, at least, honest and deeply considered.

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for the generous responses to my question, danonymous and Serena.
I haven't encountered this art-returning business before except with this particular collector. But once it starts it's time to figure out what to do. I personally don't think of original paintings as mere retail (gauche!) but I didn't know what policies were being formed out there in the bigger market.

Maybe my collector should meet Troll, oops I mean Trite, they can go around passive-aggressively picking on artists together.

One last remark:
Danonymous, have you noticed how the psycho-killer in way too many TV shows and bad TV movies artist?!
(I'm not sure this post is posting but i'll try again -- if it multiplies, can you remove them, Serena?)

danonymous said...

Anonymous....are we related on my mother's side, the "mous". As for the psycho-thriller-killer artist on TV....I haven't watched tv for about 8 years......whooppee. It is so exciting for me to remember that.

Chris Rywalt said...

Where did this Valerie come from with her unpleasantness?

I'm pretty sure "Guernica" would get torn apart on PainterNYC. If there was a way to post Duchamp's work without anyone realizing it was Duchamp, even he'd get his ass kicked on PainterNYC. That's why I don't bother reading it.

If my work ever got posted to PainterNYC somehow, I'm pretty sure a couple of people would get together, come to my house, burn my paints, and smash my PC. And then call me an illustrator.

Anonymous said...

Lucio Pozo was the only teacher at SFAI that made any sense to me. I feel fortunate to have met him. I like your blog- glad I stumbled across it.