Friday, January 18, 2013

Imaginitive Transformation

Mossy Stump
 oil on linen panel  8" x 10"

'The purpose of art is the imaginative transformation of the mind."
                                                                    Wallace Stevens

       If we agree that Wallace Stevens' idea about art is an important and even the best description of what art must be about, we can come to some wondrous conclusions. The first is to understand that all the arts are united in the same task and in ways subtle and obvious, feed off of and nourish each other. The second would have to put an end to any limitation on sources or methods or materials or ideas, other than the qualification they must speak from and to the human condition. 

      A question that often came up in my classroom was in reference to how we might discern 'good art from bad art' - or better still, 'visually effective art from dull or disinteresting art".  That is where the skill sets acquired through motivated practice come in to play. In the visual arts drawing, composition, color, perspective, skilled handling of materials are the primary skills, with drawing above all. Perhaps here is where it all can sometimes run adrift.

     Somewhere along the line, (no pun intended), drawing becomes so concerned with its end results it devolves into an imitation of what sits before the artist. A dull accuracy in imitation is what teenagers will often mistake for 'good art', - the more photographic , the better. Instead, drawing as the source headwaters of all visual art forms must be an open-ended investigation. More accurately, drawing must be the nuanced record of one's unknowing investigation of a slice of the visual world. 

     All preconceived notions and supposed visual experience must be discarded in this sort of drawing - one must approach it as if one had just been given sight by miracle and all the visual world is new and uncertain. Against this uncertainty the artist is armed only with eyes to see and a mark making tool to record with. Its important to understand that all art forms must proceed with the same innocent ignorance and simply use the art form to discover and record the exploration. 

      The habit of working toward an undetermined end and allowing the journey to become the purpose (instead of a piece of 'art') the artist begins to undergo Steven's 'imaginative transformation' and happily, so does the artist's work. The world is transformed into a seductive, massive chaotic tangle - waiting to be explored and embraced. As soon as one recognizes this effect it becomes addictive - one cannot wait to begin each work anew - to further one's own imaginative transformation in experiencing the visual world. . Another benefit is an renewed ability to better recognize when one's work is getting toward the visually effective and away from the dull and disinterested.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

'My head is bursting..."

Windfall 1
 9" x 12"  oil on linen

Windfall 2 
 9" x 12"  oil on linen

“Every day I discover more and more beautiful things. It's enough to drive one mad. I have such a desire to do everything, my head is bursting with it.”     Claude Monet

I've discovered that the only way to relieve the 'bursting head syndrome' Monet refers to, (and I've suffered from this problem all my life), is to perform a metaphorical trepanning every day by trying to paint something of beauty. Trepanning as I understand it, was a way of relieving pressure on the brain by drilling a hole in one's skull - sometimes an emergency technique for severe head injury. Doctors performed an actual trepanning on the painter George Braque to help him with head injuries suffered as a soldier in WWI. He survived to paint well for years after this procedure! 
Back to the Monet quote and the idea of the head bursting with ideas - I have found the real key to the cure for trying to grab onto all the amazing beauty that confronts the painter is twofold. First, one must have a way of selecting and simplifying. My way is to allow myself to wander visually and land upon any possible thing that I find intriguing. No judging - I'll turn off my "good/bad - correct/incorrect" brain and just allow myself to look and feel and think. Some subject will trigger if I don't force it in any way. THEN I STOP!! I have to now really investigate along the lines of - 1. What is the poetry here (the star of the show)? 2. What is the visual structure of elements that brings forth the poetry? 3. What will my strategy be (color scheme, mark making, emphasis/de-emphasis, and so on) to keep the poetry alive and deliver it to the viewer? After careful consideration of these questions - I'm ready to start setting up and painting.
So, first a trigger and second an investigation. This way one can come to grips each day with the overwhelming sense of possibility and beauty. Once one gets into the habit of the two steps, one is free to paint as Robert Henri once described,
"A man singing and striding over the top of a hill".  
I always try to keep my picture of that happy man in mind.