Choosing Materials to Create Art…Why Paint?

PART III

Once I address questions and concerns (in the last blog entry) about artistic ability and how to improve, I then ask, What kind of art should I create? What materials will I use and why? Should the work be two-dimensional or three-dimensional?

Of all the art-making materials, methods and possibilities, I choose painting. Until recently, I never thought much about why…but now I realize that there is something both traditional and contemporary about painting which is powerful. I also realize that it is a medium that fits into my life. A lack of workspace and a busy family might make other mediums difficult or impossible for me to use. While my choice is partly based on practicality, there are other reasons I chose paint as my medium.

In thinking more about paint on a two-dimensional surface, I realize now that I do want viewers to be able to own the pieces. I accept and admit to producing work that is part of a business. Many artists are against the commodification of art, believing that the art is diluted or tainted when it is driven, and part of, the art market. However, I believe that there are multiple purposes for art, which allow for some art to best thrive and communicate by being a part of the art market. Amongst those multiple purposes is the idea that art is meant to be enjoyed, to serve as entertainment, and to be educational or inspiring for viewers. Another purpose of art is to serve as a vehicle of communication for the artist.  Without collectors, viewers, galleries, and museums, an artist would have little opportunity to present ideas to viewers.

Additionally, painting on a two-dimensional surface allows art to be mobile and fit into a variety of spaces. Mobility and size allow 2D art to reach a wide variety of people by fitting in a wide variety of spaces, thus communicating the artist’s ideas broadly.

Another component of the medium, which I find alluring, is paint can create an illusion; though contemporary artists often acknowledge the material and the surface in an attempt to expose illusion. Artists can provide bits of realism, total realism or no realism to determine how much direct information to provide to viewers. As Pablo Picasso stated, “Art is a lie that makes us realize the truth.”

I do not try to fool the viewer with illusion; instead, I aim to present a combination of realistic and abstracted images to encourage certain feelings and thoughts for the viewer. And what images do I present? And what feelings and ideas do I hope to convey? I’ll dig into these questions in Part IV. Thank you for visiting!

Am I Good Enough?

PART II

In Part I, the broad question about the importance of art in our world was addressed. I now wonder, Am I good enough? How can I improve?

I’m afraid I will never believe I am good enough. But I am determined and can’t seem to quit being an artist so I might as well improve and learn as much as I possibly can. In order to improve, I enrolled in undergrad art classes four years ago at a local university. In the back of my mind lingered an idea, the same one that has whispered in my ear for over 15 years. Will I ever be able to study art in graduate school?  Driving to class one day, while my children were at their school, I thought, maybe I can do it. But do I really have the energy and ability to work, raise children and be a graduate student? As it turns out, there was really no question. I knew I had to try.

Now, miraculously, the end of the painting graduate program draws near and something that seemed so distant, so impossible, so large, looming and challenging is shifting before my very eyes from being right in FRONT of me to right BEHIND me. And it has been both daunting and dashing. The workload has crushed me and elevated me. The professors are critical and accepting. They demand and they give. And it has been hard and easy – hard because I have such a tremendous amount to learn and easy because I am infinitely grateful. Waiting for so many years to return makes the opportunity to study on a graduate level feel like a dream…a figment of my imagination that has finally shifted its way into the real world.

Though the workload has been great, when you love something, the work becomes a joy. That is what the program means to me – not a piece of paper or a line item on my resume.  The school experience has allowed me to see improvement in my work and in my ideas. More importantly, I am learning about the meaning of art, the purpose of art in our world, and the history of art. I am beginning to consider how all this applies to the work I create.

Now that the end of the program is near, a shift in work focus is eminent.  Instead of working on technical skills, I am working on ideas and how best to present the ideas. In the book, Why is That Art, by Terry Barrett, the author dedicates a section to Aristotle and how his studies apply to art. He believed successful artwork presents a subject in a way that invited the viewer to THINK and that art provides us with knowledge of the world. Barrett explains that the successful artist uses expression to present nature without relying only on mimetic skill.

And this leads me to another topic for another time – deciding what ideas to express and how to do so. Until then, thank you for your time! Off to work!

Can I Be An Artist? Asking Questions and Finding Answers

PART I

The more I study other artists, both contemporary and historical, the more I question what I do and why. There is the broader question, of course, why do I make art when there are so many other ways to work in this life? As Bauhaus artist, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy stated, “Can I assume the privilege of becoming an artist for myself when everybody is needed to solve the problems of simply managing to survive?” I’ve pondered this question related to my own decision to create art and here’s what I conclude:

Art teaches us to problem solve. It helps us realize our ideas and our feelings. Creating art and viewing art in a thoughtful way helps us understand each other and ourselves. In thinking about the power and purpose of the images and texts in our lives, I am reminded of American Pragmatist, Richard Rorty, who believes, “our task is to sensitize ourselves to the suffering of others, deepen and expand our ability to identify with others, think of others as being like ourselves in morally relevant ways, and reduce suffering and combat cruelty.” (see Why is That Art? by Terry Barrett) Through the creation of imagery and objects, I believe artists can achieve Rorty’s romantic idea of compelling viewers to be more understanding of each other and our circumstances.

Art offers us a visual to the complex issues of our time. And when it is collected, printed in books, and exhibited in galleries and museums, it can serve as a guidebook illustrating society’s most pressing issues and the human condition of the time.

Art can’t be suppressed. As long as there humans, there will be creation. We paint, draw, sculpt, weave, knit, carve, sew, stitch, blow, melt, design, build, craft, band, imagine, throw, fire, print, grind, mold, mix, cut and weld. We use our senses and our minds and our hands. School budgets can be cut, math and science can be favored. Though without this activity, the activity of creating art, there would be nothing. To answer my initial question and the question of Moholy-Nagy, I realize, how can we not be artists?

With that thought, I’ll say good-bye and thank you for visiting! Next week, in Part II, I’ll ask a question many artists ask themselves, Am I good enough?

Staying True to Yourself as an Artist

Her Dreams“Sometimes the people in our lives do not want us to pursue our goals because they do not recognize our art as important. They believe their needs are greater than ours. In other situations, they may just fear change…But no matter what the reason is, the result is that they may consciously or unconsciously apply pressure to keep us playing our assigned social role. As a result, we may be torn between pleasing other people in our lives and pleasing ourselves through creating art.” Elena Parashko, Professional Artist magazine, October/November 2013

Regardless of your support system and how friends and family feel about your work as an artist, I find this quote to be applicable and thought provoking for many of us. We must think hard about what we do and why and be able to defend our career in the face of innocent (though potentially insulting) comments. Other times, we must defend our choice to be a practicing artist amongst more aggressive or manipulative forces.

I have encountered many comments about “my little hobby.” Some people say, “how fun that you get to play with paint all day!” Some people ask what I will do when I finish my painting grad school program and they stare blankly when I respond with anything along the lines of “I hope to become a more professional, accomplished artist” as if it is the most fanciful and ridiculous answer they can imagine. Some seem to wait for me to say, “Just kidding, of course I want to become a museum curator or a high school art teacher!” Of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with those fine jobs (and I am interested in both). But if you are one of those souls who seems unable to stop being an artist, who reads about art, dreams about compositions, plans vacations around museum exhibits, and draws incessantly, figuring out a way to practice art as a career is simply unavoidable.

Regarding the statement Parashko makes about pleasing others versus pleasing oneself – perhaps this does not have to be an “either/or” situation. Perhaps if you are true to yourself and kind in your thoughts and actions toward others, the people who wind up in your life will fit there while you work as an artist. I suspect those who try to steer you in another direction, try to control you to meet their needs, might find themselves not finding a place in your life…not because you have shunned this person, but because they have inadvertently removed themselves.

I am finally learning that if I make decisions to please someone else, and those decisions conflict with my own goals, then I not helping anyone and will find failure again and again.

Parashko states that perhaps others believe their needs are greater then ours. I wonder, do I do this to others? Do I try to force my ideas, my goals on others? Have you ever given someone a gift that they might not want but you want it for them? Admittedly, I’m guilty. I’ve done it. But what I realize now is that what they want for themselves is more important than what I want for them. And if I try to usurp that power, I am being a controlling bully who will probably find myself without a friend.

So, in the end, I remind myself that even those who try to change me or dismiss my goals as an artist just don’t understand. They are unable to get past their own desires for me. And that’s ok. We don’t all have to fully understand what makes our friends and family tick. But when you find that special friend who does support you as a person and artist, when you have a family member who tries to understand and trusts you to make your own decisions, it is a relationship to treasure. Hug that person and thank them. And then get back to making art.

A little inspiration goes a long way

“The distance is nothing; it is only the first step that is difficult.” Marie Anne du Deffand (1697-1780)

You know those words or quotes that jump out at you at just the right moment? Just when you need that extra nudge or new perspective? Well, this quote practically tore itself out of a magazine and pinned itself under a magnet on my fridge. And there it has remained for the past 7 or 8 years. I think I’ve read the tattered little paper almost everyday. It is simple, yet powerful. These words have enabled me to persevere during life’s ups and downs. Any challenge I can think of, no matter how gargantuan and hopeless it seems, is lessened and made possible when I read these words. They give me the courage to try, even when I don’t think I have the strength or skill to succeed. The real miracle occurs once I have started the task and taken “the first step.” I start to believe that maybe, just maybe, I can inch a little closer to a goal. I start to believe that maybe, just maybe, I do have the strength and skill I need. And I start to realize that, indeed, the distance is nothing and that anything is possible, or at least worth a try.

So, here I am, creating a new web painting portfolio and blog. Taking the aforementioned “first step.” I hope to start following writers and gaining readers who are interested in contemporary art and the ideas and processes behind the work. I imagine I’ll post various quotes and inspirational lessons, artists, writers and people whom I meet along the way. If anyone out there is reading this, welcome and thank you for visiting!

Laura