Monthly Archives: January 2011

Thirty in Thirty. Day Twenty Seven: The Opinionated Artist & “The Artist Statement”…

Time to start the fire…

I mentioned yesterday that I dislike the artist statement, and that I will no longer voluntarily participate in the relatively new, unnecessary, and arguably harmful practice of writing Cliffs Notes for my paintings. I took mine off this site last night because I realized the entire thing flies in the face of everything I believe about art.

One of my favorite things about exhibiting my work is watching people experience my paintings and listening to their spontaneous reactions. I don’t want my words to get in the way of how others experience my art on that primal level. I don’t want to intellectualize and analyze that which comes from the non-verbal side of myself. And it’s not because I don’t know how to talk or write about my work. Oh, I spent a small fortune honing my writing skills as an English major at a certain New England University. I can write up a storm. But in the case of my painting, I prefer not to write –I prefer to PAINT. What a novelty!

If you do a bit of research, you will find that the artist statement is a relatively new, and dangerously effete modern requirement of the Western “art world” (which is another pretentious term I dislike, because art is always part of the world and never separate from the rest of it) that I feel is part of the harmful institutionalization of visual art. Why does the Western “art world” insist upon making art separate from everyday life? And while I’m at it, what is it with the big, intimidating desks at the front of galleries and museums? What is with all the high-brow attitude? Can you imagine going through that experience to hear your favorite band play? Of course not. It’s ridiculous and it keeps everyday people separate from the thing we SAY we want them to participate in: Art. Well, I don’t want that separation!

We say we want to improve arts education in this country. Well, let us begin that process by tearing down those artificial, divisive walls and ivory towers we’ve built around this pretend “art world”. As artists, we can really start the ball rolling on this by being honest about who we are. Let’s admit that we are more like musicians and dancers and actors than we are like tenured history professors. I will tell you truthfully that I do not sit around my studio pontificating about the message of my work. That sounds like a nightmare! I go into the studio to get OUT of my head: to feel and to act and to be physical with my materials. I just make art. Sorry, there’s nothing more to say than that. I am no different from the musician, aimlessly playing with an instrument, until something comes magically from that physical act of noodling or jamming with other musicians. And you know, it’s such a relief to NOT be on the right side of my brain for awhile. I love it when my blah, blah, blah finally shuts up.

While researching the history of the “artist statement”, I found this fantastic article “Are ‘Artists’ Statements’ Really Necessary?’ by Daniel Grant, in The Huffington Post, and it made me realize that not only am I not alone in my view, but that there seems to be a growing debate about this academic practice. What are we doing to art? Have we —as a culture— become so scared of our feelings, and so dependent upon our need to defend and explain everything that we no longer trust art? Can you imagine Vincent Van Gogh being forced to define and explain his work with words? It’s absolutely ridiculous. Look at the paintings. LOOK. You don’t need Cliffs Notes! Now, if you need to analyze the painting, go ahead and be my guest. Once my art leaves the studio, it belongs to all of you. I hope you will experience it in the same way you listen to a song on the radio. Just feel it.

So now what? Oh, I’m sure that somewhere, sometime in the near future, I am going to be asked for an artist statement. What will I do? Well, I really don’t know yet. As you can see from my kindling pile (pictured above) I have put my current statement to much better use.

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Thirty in Thirty. Day Twenty Six: Back to Basics…

If you have seen my work in person, then you are probably familiar with the home-built plywood panels I use as supports. Twice a year, I buy sheets of plywood and cut them into squares and rectangles of various sizes. When I need new supports, those plywood sheets are gessoed (I use an acrylic sealer in white or sometimes clear), have back frames attached, and are sealed again. Usually there are three layers of gesso on a panel. When the panel is dry, I then sand it lightly and use a tack-cloth to clean it.

The idea is to create a self-contained work —no frame necessary— which allows the painting to ‘float’ away from the wall with visible sides. I am not overly fond of frames on artwork, unless absolutely necessary (pastels are a good example of necessary).

Prepping panels always seems to go hand in hand with a little break and some outside inspiration. Today it was snowshoeing.

Fox tracks in the snow.

There was a lively debate today among artists in my circle, about the necessity of the dread ‘artist statement’. I have always disliked the “artist statement”, and find that I rarely read them, because they all sound the same. I just took mine off this site. I’ll write more about this in the coming days, but for now I will say that the discussion amongst my artistic colleagues reinforced my opinion that the “artist statement” is often forced and rarely enhances the viewer’s experience of the work (in fact, it sometimes detracts from it). If I need to explain my work, then I have failed. When did the “artist statement” start, and why has it become a requirement? To me, the statement seems like an extension of academia: a need to intellectualize, rationalize and categorize with language. I can’t imagine The Rolling Stones writing an artist’s statement —can you?— and if they did, they probably would have been stoned when they wrote it. They, and their music, are the statement. Trying to analyze and explain it is absurd. Visual art is a lot like music. Just listen to the music. It will give you everything you need.

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Thirty in Thirty. Day Twenty Five: Wide Awake. Switching Palettes

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Started something new overnight and into this morning. It’s really just a start. I needed a jolt. A switch of frequency. I felt dull, but wide awake.

I find myself back in the palette of Echo. Passing through. Afterglow. Reflection. Reverb. Bouncing back and forth.

It will be interesting to see where this leads. The feeling seems to be in charge.

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Thirty in Thirty. Day Twenty Four: A Sad Day. Ice Painting Series

Untitled within the Ice Painting Series – 24″ x 24″ – Oil, Oil Bar and Wax on Panel

The Ice Painting Series is a long-running, multi-layered series. I posted another piece, ‘Frozen Time’, from the series earlier this month. Currently, I’m working on larger pieces with oil wash and oil bar drawing at the base, semi-transparent and opaque layers in the mid-layer and heavier, textured impasto at the top. Some parts are scraped away to reveal the drawing beneath, and in some places, they are left as a mere hint.

I only worked a short time this morning in the studio.

A friend from Jumptown was killed in a BASE jumping accident in Switzerland this morning. It came as quiet a shock to all of us within the small aviation/skydiving community.  To watch a gifted athlete doing what they love to do, and doing it with breathtaking skill, is a beautiful thing. Goodbye Gary, you and your contagious smile will be sadly missed by many. May your skis be forever blue as you fly so free…

David Gray’s “Freedom” spoke to me on this sad day.

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