Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Beavis and Butthead

It's been ages since I last posted here.  Thoughts and ideas were either fleeting or I deemed them too offensive for publication.  But then, I began thinking about modern contemporary art and realized that there is nothing I could possibly write about that would, in any way, be overly offensive to anyone.  Well, maybe not everyone, but then , someone, a few, most, might be offended by something.

There are a couple of things that offend me artistically - I don't necessarily want to be reminded of anything that I might need to flush down a toilet and I don't like the flip side of that either - cutesy little teddy bear/ bunny rabbit paintings or anything depicting cute little baby animals that may make me do something that would need to be flushed down a toilet.  Oh, and then there's most, but not all, video art and most, but not all, performance art, and any, but not all, things that I would consider to be in the category of what I will call, "pseudo art".  "Pseudo art" is anything called art that is being made by people who shouldn't be called artists.  Pseudo art is gimmickry and gimmickry is a product of charlatans.

To me, visual art can be defined as anything made by humans that has absolutely no practical use, but has an inexplicable intrinsic aesthetic value.  If some "value" can't be placed on it, it doesn't deserve to be called art.  The value of art shouldn't need to be rationalized - it either has artistic value or it doesn't.  Once a piece of art is created, the artist should basically shut up and move on to the creation of the next piece.  If the artwork's creation is duly inspired, the viewer will place value on it.  Doesn't matter if it's beautiful or ugly, dark or light, representational or abstract, as long as it realizes the conscious or subconscious vision of the artist.

Oh yeah, "Beavis and Butthead" is just a title - an ironical reference - possibly a gimmick to peak the curiosity of those who are otherwise not curious about art.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Child's Play

I'm not sure I understand what is meant by the process of making art as being playful and coming from the inner child.  I've never really thought that either of those things are true in my process of making art.  Sometimes it comes easily and I feel a certain satisfaction and delight when it does, but most times a piece of artwork is hard fought and stressful in its production.  The making of art is hard work.

On the backside of the actual painting process, there's the prep work.  I make my own supports.  I like to paint on birch plywood panels and the prep for these is very labor intensive.  The only outside service I use is the cutting service offered by the store where I buy the 4' by 8' sheets of plywood.  With the cradling and 3 step priming process I use, I have invested many labor hours in the prep work.  I usually prepare several panels at once.

Many artists argue that making your own supports is a waste of time that could be better spent painting.  Fact is - I very much enjoy this part of the process.  I look at it this way - if an artist spends all of their time painting, they're possibly not spending enough time thinking about painting.  The menial preparation work gives me the contemplative time I need to prepare myself for the creative process.  I also find a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that I crafted the piece of art from beginning to end.

I wonder too if there may be some connection between the quality of the finished piece and the sweat put into the prep work.  That is - does the painting craft live up to the effort put into the woodcraft?  I find myself weighing this question in the end and based on the answer, I may decide to trash a painting and begin again on the same panel.

This and other considerations were born of simple economics.  I began making my own supports because I could make them at a fraction of the cost of buying them ready-made.  My style of painting may also be influenced by the cost of paint and other materials.  I buy student grade paints and professional grade when they're on sale.  I also use latex house paint - mostly for under-painting.  I use my paints very frugally - saving every scrap of leftover paint in glass jars to be used again.  I also use a simple "primary" color palette consisting of cobalt blue, cad red, and cad yellow along with titanium white and some form of black.  I keep a small tube of burnt umber handy for mixing buff white hue and for use as a stain for natural wood frames.  Most of the latex house paint comes from the returned paint shelf at retail outlets.  If they have an interesting color on the shelf I can usually pick it up for 2 or 3 dollars.

I once saw a Youtube video of an artist readying herself to paint.  She pulled several big gallery wrapped canvases from a box that had obviously been shipped from an online art supplier.  She laid them on the floor and went from panel to panel squeezing out copious amounts of the most expensive professional quality paints.  She playfully troweled the paint over the surfaces and completed 3 or 4 paintings in about 10 minutes (not including edits).  I watched this and wondered, "Wow, wouldn't that be fun?".  She used more paint in that short bit of time than I probably use in a year.

No matter...  Artists are a diverse bunch in the way they think about and approach art.  Whether it be finding satisfaction in an arduous process or being impatient to unload their creativity and arrive at a finished product post-haste, ultimately it is most important to produce art.

In my case I believe the preparatory path I take gives me a certain freedom to be spontaneous in the creative process.  However, often times spontaneity breeds dissatisfaction - with no recourse but to willfully overcome it.  It's often hard fought and stressful - things intolerable to children.  It's hard work kids!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


Well, I feel like I'm back among the living!  I've spent the better part of the past week putting together a slideshow video of some of my drawings and paintings.

My normal creative process is anything but meticulous.  I had to radically shift gears to make the video.  I found it to be an extremely arduous process.  A simple thing like identifying suitable fonts became a frustrating undertaking and I'm still not sure I was completely successful.  I fiddled around with the slideshow images for hours on end.  The learning curve for my video editing software was extremely steep - things that worked in the editing software's prevue feature failed miserably when exported to a regular video file format.  But, I learned a lot in the process and I believe the experience will serve me well in the future.

The easiest part of the whole process was the soundtrack.  A local (Shenandoah Valley) musician, Lee Blanton, performed at the same venue as my solo art exhibit about a year ago.  At that time he gave me a sample CD of his music.  I contacted him a few weeks ago via email and he graciously gave me permission to use his music on my video - thanks Lee!  I was very anxious to use Lee's music because of our mutual "Southern" connection.  Lee grew up in the small town of Shelby, North Carolina and I grew up about six miles away in the small town of Gaffney, South Carolina.  My art and his music have strong Southern influences and I believe they work well together in collaboration.

Here's the video -

Thank you for watching.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Market Influence

I was thinking about influences.  And, I'm not talking about the influences of style and technique garnered from past and contemporary artists who we might admire and from whom we might simply be seeking inspiration.  No, I'm speaking more about market influences.  I'll ask rhetorically, "Do you adjust your process/style to the prevailing market, or do you exploit a niche that fits the process/style of the work you produce?".  I believe the answer to this question best defines the artist's creative integrity.  As an artist, you are either true to the market, or you are true to your own artistic integrity.

I know there are many bloggers who offer information and suggestions with the purpose of helping artists to be successful in today's art market.  Well, that ain't me!  However, I don't think their efforts are without merit.  Indeed, I follow some marketing suggestions because, yes, I DO want to sell my artwork.  But, there are some lines I won't cross.  The hardest line for me would be to compromise the integrity of my artwork to suit the market.  I don't feel alone in this.  I've heard the same sentiment expressed by many other artists.

In today's world of instant information it seems that insidious influences are forced upon us at every click.  What prompted this post was a forum post I recently read that put forth the premise that most art buyers don't like to purchase "square" paintings.  The consensus of the responders to the post was that the premise was simply not true - supported by their own anecdotal evidence of having been very successful at selling square format paintings.  My concern is how some artists allow their work to be influenced by such market idioms.  If you come to a point of evaluating the saleability of your artwork based on format, scale, color combinations, how it might look behind a couch, etc., the market may be exerting a negative influence on your creativity.

Art making is (or should be) a solitary endeavor.  Good art isn't produced by committees or think tanks or demanding gallery owners or curators.  It isn't (or shouldn't be) a factory process.  The most general and important movement in art making over the past century (plus) has been the selective rejection of the technical rules of academia.  Everything modern abstract art IS is based on the rejection of some or all of the rules.  So, in this spirit of individualism, why are so many modern artist willing to bend to the rules and influences of the "market"?   The simple answer may be that art has become a commodity.  There are few "art" collectors remaining.  The shift is to speculation and investment.  Most collectors buying high-end art these days aren't necessarily interested in the aesthetic quality of the artwork so much as they are in its increase in value after the purchase.  Art promotion is no longer about the quality of the artwork, but about the branding of the artist.

In selling a painting one assumption can be made - it is purchased to hang on a wall, or if the artist is of high enough caliber, maybe stored in a vault.  Should artists be concerned with anything more - that is, does it match the couch?

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Art Contests

There was a time when I thought that an art contest was about as low as an artist could stoop in presenting his/her work to the public.  My thinking was that art making isn't a competitive undertaking and that participating in art contests was demeaning to both the artist and the artwork.  But, as I grow older, I guess the idea of exhibition as a contest has become more palpable.  I suppose what is most important to me is the integrity of the contest - that is, is the exhibition of the artwork more important than the awarding of any prize at the end and is the contest conducted with fairness and integrity?

I think, if it weren't so politically incorrect (and unlawful), our society might see a return of gladiatorial exhibitions (i.e., blood sport).  Even in the culinary arts, contest have become insidious.  I remember just a decade or so ago it was possible to tune in a cooking show on the TV and be entertained and instructed by a chef actually demonstrating and discussing the preparation of food.  Now it would seem that prime time TV is preoccupied with panels of arrogant, elitist food-snobs who taste samples of ill prepared food cooked by up-and-coming chefs who are expected to prepare their dishes in an unreasonable allotment of time using the most exotic and unobtainable ingredients.  As expected, one or two contestants may be able to pull off a reasonably decent dish while most of the others are soundly berated and humiliated before one contestant is ordered off the show.  What the viewer is left with is NOT a passionate food preparation experience, but a look into the cut-throat drama of the contest.

Jerry Yarnell, Bob Ross... move over!  Season 2 of "Work of Art: The Next Great Artist" (WOA) has just completed.  Bravo TV put a group of up-and-coming young artist in a well stocked studio, gave them goofy themes and concepts with an unreasonable amount of time to produce palpable artworks.  Oh yes, and as in the cooking contests, we were obliged to watch more personal drama than art process.  As could be expected, given the time constraint, most of the artwork was ill conceived and lackluster in its execution and presentation.  With little exception the weekly episodes did nothing to showcase the artists' individual creative abilities.  They served only to demonstrate the influence pressed upon artists by the elite controllers of the modern art market.  What is illustrated in WOA is the notion that the artist is relegated to the status of a necessary evil in the process of art marketing.

One notable omission this season - the lack of a career-seasoned older artist.  I suppose after Judith's rebellion against the status quo in season 1, it must have seemed wise to just go with the younger, early-career cadre of artist.  In their hunger for success they appear to be more willing to bend to the will of the marketeers.

The one shining moment in both seasons was the finale.  The finale offered the three remaining contestants, Kymia, Sara and Young, the opportunity (and time) to actually demonstrate their own conceptual and creative abilities.  Given this freedom, the artists did what artist do best - in their solitude they created good art.  At the eleventh hour WOA showed us who the finalist really were as artists - something missing in the preceding episodes.  It leaves me wondering what some of the other contestants might have accomplished if given the freedom to do so.

The outcome was somewhat disappointing.  The winner was Kymia and deservedly so.  Her exhibit showed mature technical skills and a great aesthetic depth.  She's also likable as a person - intelligent and enthusiastic with a wonderful personality and artistic sensibility.  The disappointment was in the second place selection.  Most online discussions and even Bravo's own poll would seem to indicate that Sara should have received the second place position.  Young's exhibit reminded me of the memorial shadow box I put together after the death of my wife's favorite greyhound.  She cried when I gave it to her, but I would never consider it high art.  Sara, "you wuz robbed".  I have to wonder if maybe the final placement wasn't a backroom compromise to appease someone with a thing for Young.  I scratch my head in disbelief that a majority of the 5(?) judges thought Young's was the better of the two exhibits.

Gracie's memorial shadowbox

Oh well, such is the way of contests.  My daughter, Lucy, and I have watched both seasons with enthusiasm.  It is after all ABOUT ART and as artists, we held out hope from episode to episode that there would evolve some semblance of artistic integrity.  We were left wondering, "who were those artists who didn't make it to the finale?".  perhaps season 3 (if there is one) will see changes in the format that will allow the contestants to explore art making to a greater degree than the personal-drama reality-style of the first two seasons.  But hey, it's TV and nothing more can be expected.  Even at that, I applaud Bravo for their attempt at bringing art to the masses and hope there will be a third season.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of the judges from the show. That would be Jerry Saltz. He's a writer and art critic for New York Magazine. He also chronicled his experience on the show with blog posts on Vulture. A list of the posts (and others) can be found at NYMagazine .  Of all the judges, I most appreciate his honest critiques and comments and his sincere respect for the responsibility given him to choose winners and losers.  In his blog posts there are indications that at times he may have questioned some of his decisions.  I don't see this as a lack of confidence, but a pretty good indicator that he truly takes the responsibility seriously.  The artist contestants have a lot invested in a high-pressure situation and deserve every consideration.  Jerry delivers on that responsibility in spades.

I've been a little long-winded, but these things seem to go where they want to go.  I'll try not to wait so long to post next time.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Humans, animals, plants, and other life forms live and die.  Although, even in death, these things continue to exist.  My son attends a high school located next to a cemetery.  I've always been intrigued by the irony of it - that is, children in the process of development as humans on this earth and the nonliving in the dirt - juxtaposed there next to them.  The high school is located in the small town of Strasburg, Virginia.  Many of the children in the school can trace their ancestry back generations as having lived in Strasburg and undoubtedly some have family members buried in the very cemetery there next to the school.  So, the children are not only the present mortal generation living and learning there next to a memorial to the past, they are also a continuum.  Just as a plant produces a seed, dies, and other plants grow from what it was, so go all living things.

Does this mean that nothing ever really dies?  Occasionally a lineage of living things certainly does become extinct.  But does that really mean it is finally and completely dead?  Or, does it simply mean that a thing that evolved from some other source has become somehow nonviable and has left a void to be filled by the next evolution of something new from the mass of all life?

That said, perhaps there is no death in the natural world, but only cycles of life.  Isn't a seed a piece of a living tree?  If a seed falls from a tree and another tree grows from the seed, is the new tree not just a continuum of the original tree (itself)?  That is, is every oak tree the same oak tree, every human the same human, everything that was, is, and will be - all contributing all that they are to the next?  Its enough to make you crazy.

What about those things that are inanimate - rocks, architecture, consumer products, artwork, etc.  A rock may crumble into sand, but it will be elementally intact - but never alive.  If a house is abandoned it may deteriorate - its organic parts finishing the cycle of decay and its inorganic parts continuing elementally, but another house will never be spawned from it.  The house is simply the product of a process put into motion by humans and will not and cannot propagate itself.  And, so goes an artwork.

Humans and societies, since ancient times, have tried to imbue their creations with immortality - thinking them to be an embodiment of their own spirit,  intellect, or greatness.  Some say that a work of art has a life (or spirit) - really?  Are artists god-like - breathing life into an inanimate object (much like god formed Adam from the dust of the Earth and breathed life into him)?  I believe that art simply exists as a temporary expression of an artist's intellect and/or ego and will eventually vanish from existence.  Can any of you reading this post name an artist from before the 16th century?  It's probably safe to say that few, if any, can.  For most people art seems to have begun with the renaissance - at least in as much as some of the artists from that era gained celebrity status and became memorable for what they accomplished.  For those artists who fell into anonymity, their work, without conservation, found its way to the trash heap or a thrift shop wall.  Even with armies of conservators, the great pyramids of Egypt and da Vinci's Mona Lisa will find their fate - dust.

A work of art is not a living thing.  It is an inanimate object crafted from the imagination of the artist to speak to the intellect and emotions of humans, just as a flower (creation of nature (god)) speaks to the human senses.  One will decay into dust and cease to exist.  The other, through natural propagation, will live on until the end-of-days.

As with my artwork and most of my writing, I find that this blog post hasn't  completely realized its original intention.  I meant to write about the use of archival materials in the making of art.  No matter how hard I try, these things seem to take their own course.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011


At a certain point in my career as an artist I wanted to paint landscapes in a more or less impressionistic style.  From an artist's perspective I've always enjoyed observing nature, but I've never enjoyed setting up outside to paint the interesting landscape scenes that I found.  I tried painting from photographic references for a short time, but found that rendering visual representations caused me a lot of anxiety - that is, I cussed a lot.   I found that I enjoyed photographing nature much more than painting it.  At about the same time that I stopped using visual first-hand and photographic references in my painting process, I began seriously taking photographs.

This is a very old (40 years) plein air drawing:

Florida Scrub Oaks, circa 1971
charcoal, pen & ink on paper

These are older paintings from photographic references:

Valley Overlook, circa 2003
acrylic on stretched canvas, 22"X28"

The Marsh at Veteran's Park, circa 2004
acrylic on stretched canvas, 22"X26"

Up until a couple of years ago I was taking snapshots with a point and shoot camera.  When I retired from my job in June of 2009 I decided to move up to a DSLR camera.  At the time the Nikon D5000 was relatively new and being promoted heavily, so that's what I bought.   I've found that the learning curve for the camera and photography in general is pretty steep.  I shot in auto mode for at least the first year and a half.  I found this web site, Digital Photography School (DPS), and it has become particularly helpful as a tutorial and reference tool.

Early examples from the Nikon D5000:

Winter Tree, circa 2010

Valley Farm, circa 2010

I'm finding photography to be much more demanding technically - that is, I find it to be much less intuitive than other visual art mediums.  Most of the process of photography seems to be in the "getting-ready-to-make-the-picture" and once you're ready to shoot, if you're lucky, you'll still have a subject to shoot.  The natural world slips in and out of moods with the blink of an eye.   At some point I would like to be technically proficient enough to be able to focus more on the subject than the camera and not be so dependent on post-production software to save a poorly shot picture.

Whereas my painting method is almost totally right-brained, I find that photography is a close harmony between the left and the right brain.   I've also found that what I do with a camera and what I do with paint are almost completely opposite in terms of subject and style.  The camera is filling a hollow space in my creativity.  It allows me the contact with the external natural world that is lacking in my current painting process.

These two images illustrate the vast difference between my photography and painting styles:

Shenandoah River, circa 2011
HDR photograph

acrylic on stretched canvas, 12"X12"

I hope, one day, to be able to confidently call myself a photographer as well as a painter.   Bear with me while I grope my way to that goal.