Sunday, December 26, 2010

A reply

JG said:  This is a whole new vocabulary for me; if you were talking about writing, I would understand, but with painting? More explanation would be needed, for me....Seems like the opposite of the canvas-a-day quest though. Or can there be both volume and profundity? Worth pondering.
And I started to reply in the commets and then realised that I was writing a blog post.  So here it is expanded and completed, at least for the moment:

JG, I am not sure there is that much difference. Whether one is writing or painting, there is a difference in depth between some works and others.  Toni Morrison's stories contain considerably more than the superficial stream of words that create the story, and it is not just the function of clever plot construction and textual fireworks.  Other writers, such as Barbara Kingsolver, for example, have comparatively more straightforward stories in conjunction with considerable depth, or meat.  There is something to chew on that other work does not contain.  It seems more tenuous in painting, especially more modern painting because it can be structurally difficult to enter the piece in a way that a novel, outside of Finnegan's Wake doesn't necessary suffer, but I do think that there are parallels between writers and painters who are aiming to go deeper with their works.  No?

Another way of looking at this is the historical court painter tradition, and court historian;  these were painters with considerable technical skills but who functioned in many ways as a camera, recording history.  Yet we clearly value many of these works as art, and that is beyond their historical value as records of what has come before.  It is, in some ways, like viewing historical documents as art, some is, most isn't.  It's a question of the depth and further meaning that the painter or writer was able to put into it despite the mandated content.

Modern artists are not constrainted by these requirements. There are cameras and so painters are, largely, freed from the necessity of portraiture.  Many still do so, and use it as a medium of expression, Freud (who I loathe, sorry) is a highly successful example of this.  While I...ah.....strongly dislike what he has to say one must admit that his use of portraiture as a medium for expression is powerful.  The very fact that he is eliciting loathing from me speaks to that.  Other work, that is more abstract still, I find in many ways the most evocative.  It is speaking to us now in the voice of our time.  We do not need to learn the language of symbolism used by medieval painters, for example,  in their work where a dove stood for this and a cup stood for that.  Without this 'language' we cannot access the work beyond aesthetic levels, and in reality much has already been lost.   The symbols used in contemporary art are what we recognise in daily life, which may be the very reason that we are confused by it.  Many people expect there to be a 'dictionary' of meaning that one must be fluent in in order to understand what the artist is getting at, but if it is well done, it is tremedously accessible, we contain within us all the references that the artist is attempting to evoke.

As far as a possible contradiction between working in depth and in volume within the canvas a day project: the project was initially conceived with the motivation of getting me to show up every day and to tone up the painting muscles.   There is also something to be said for simply showing up every day, it is vital.  I am not yet sure that the two are opposed though.  Some writers/artists/painters/scupters are more prolific than others, no?  The importance is in realising that not everything is going to be brilliant, and that things can be reworked.  Indeed some of the canvases from the canvas a day project are reworked from previous pieces in the project.   Also depth can be approached through volume, each piece like a step down a ladder moving onwards to somewhere else.  A more kinesthetic approach rather than a purely cerebral.  Seems I need to wack my head against disasters in order to find the route to where I want to go.... at least for now.

Then there is the common supposition that painting is dead and all real art is being done as video work or installation pieces.  I do adore installation pieces, but at this stage in my life, that would be pretty much impossible, and what would be the point, Chuck and I could check out what I'd done in the guest loo?  I think not.  That's for another post though I think.  I've gone on enough for today.


J.G. said...

Wow, this is awesome! Thanks for taking the time to enlighten me. I confess I never thought of painting in quite this way (another gap in my education), though I have enjoyed learning about court painters and the meanings they slipped in. "Las Meninas" by Velasquez and Sargent's "Daughters of Edward Darley Boit" (two of my favorites) come to mind.

My mistake has been in thinking that modern/abstract art is an exploration of color and form, without being representational or referential, or having a message or meaning. So I have been stuck looking at surface only, although I certainly have an emotional response to some paintings. Duh! So much I've been missing, apparently!

There is definitely value in showing up every day (whatever your art form). But I guess there's no rule that says you have to always start something new when you show up.

Thanks again for all the insights. Sorry for the long reply . . . enthusiasm leads to chattiness for me!

oreneta said...

JG, I too seem to go on with enthusiasm....I got a whole post out of a response to your comment...and a long one at that.