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Archives for December, 2006

Art resolutions for the New Year

plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

Do not fail, as you go on, to draw something every day, for no matter how little it is it will be well worth while, and will do you a world of good.

Cennino Cennini, Il Libro dell’Arte

In 2006 I made sculpture; at the close of the year I began to take an interest in photography. What I found was that weeks could pass without my even touching a paint brush. Recently, I have been painting daily without doing any sculpture or photography at all.

Is it good to abandon one art form for another, even temporarily? One could argue that, in some cases, it is good. But here is another way to think about it, in analogy to physical exercise: would it be good to give up daily exercise for the sake of art? Thinking of it this way, the answer is, of course not.

My goal for 2007 is to draw, to paint, to do sculpture and to do photography, every single day.

My goal is not to try to accomplish something remarkable every day in these various media. The goal is to keep myself in “condition” or “artistically fit” in the same way that I stay “physically fit.” Stated in this way, I don’t think this New Year’s resolution is too ambitious to follow. We shall see . . .

Do you have New Year’s resolutions pertaining to art that you would like to share?

A question of viewpoint

plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

Hanneke can’t post today and she asked me to fill in for her. I wanted to remark on an interesting trend in some of the comments about her work. For example, looking at an image of Old grapes, new painting, Colin Jago wrote “I seem to be looking down on the grapes and up at the glass.”

For Colorful Underpainting, Steve wrote “my first impression was that the cloth was somehow mounted on a wall. The bunch of grapes and the way they rest on it make this interpretation virtually impossible, of course, but I still don’t feel the correct perspective as strongly as I would like to.”

Hanneke paints her still life paintings “from life” and she tries to paint what she sees. Is she trying to show multiple viewpoints, or to produce distortion in perspective? Not intentionally, she has said. But is she doing so unintentionally?

Let’s take a look at Hanneke’s imaginary still life drawing and see if can find out more about the viewpoint issue.

In this imaginary still-life, the vessel is seen directly from the side, but the table top and fruit are seen from a different perspective, from above. We seem to look down on the table top while looking at the vessel from the side. This merging of different perspective points lends an interesting quality to the imaginary drawings. More examples of her “multiple viewpoint” imaginary drawings are here, here and here.

Let’s compare this to a drawing made directly from a real still life the same week when she made the imaginary drawings:

Do you see the difference? In this drawing from a real still-life, multiple viewpoints are not manifest. The fruit and the vessel are both seen from the same viewpoint.

I think that Colin and Steve are on to something with their comments about Hanneke’s painted still life work. In the “from life” still life paintings, the perspective may be technically correct, but she sometimes manages to produce a feeling of different viewpoints nonetheless. Would it be interesting if she tried to bring this difference in viewpoints more explicitly into her “from life” still life paintings? Or, should she work to correct the apparent flaw when it occurs?

Figure Drawing from Imagination

I’m not sure that this post will be very interesting or useful to anyone here since it seems that what I do, artwise, is not something anyone else does. I have not even heard any aspirations in the direction of classical figure drawing either, but here, nevertheless, is a quick synopsis of my method.

I decided to attempt to recover some of my earlier methods in order to illustrate the story, but lacking pastels for the moment and furthermore basically despising using the computer to simulate the effects, I recovered only certain aspects of the earlier style — mainly a sense of dynamic motion and form. If you’d like to see some more, you can have a look at the non romantic exposé of my penultimate post. I lacked the time before, but this past week and a half, I’ve done nothing but make time and pick up the pace, so here’s my first recent blush at a classical theme in a long time — the fight between Heraklos and Antaeus.

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my first try


To illustrate a simple poem, I went to a textile shop in the old garment center of Manhattan and bought the dull yellow linen for the background and patches of colorful silk. Troels was doubtful when I showed him the mix of colors and announced that they would turn it into a wall hanging (40 x 55″). Now, a few years later, he still likes the outcome.

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Is children’s art “Art”?

plein air landscape painting
Painting From Life vs. From Photos

It’s easy to say, “all children are artists,” or “everyone is born an artist.” But let’s be serious: how old do you have to be before people take you seriously as an artist?

If you are recognized as an artist as an adult, does your “early work” then become art as well? What if your “early work” was not so good? What if (as in the case of my sister Nina) only your “early work” was good?

Does an artist need to be older than ten to make real art? Is children’s art “Art”?

. . .

related post: Edward Winkleman, What Is an “Emerging Artist”?

Choiceful tool use

When I made the transition to digital, I thought, oh, this is just another tool to make an image, it’s not going to change anything. Boy, was I wrong. There are a lot of details I could get sidetracked on here, but suffice to say that, 2 years on, I am still in the readjustment phase that this technology is having on both my commercial work and my personal sensibility.

Digital is a big watershed shift in how photographic images come to be. But there are less portentous choices. The issue at hand is, how do you tell the difference between a tool that meaningfully adds a voice, and one that’s a fad? Photography is full of examples of process overtaking content, and it’s a common problem in advertising work. Remember how dreadful all those composited images looked when that first became possible? In the commercial realm, there are always the “instant art” solutions that one practitioner raises to a high level, then everyone copies it. Anyone remember the Hosemaster Lighting System that was so cool looking in 1988, and so overdone by 1992? The current craze is the “Lensbaby” aesthetic, which is, at last, raising a backlash: read this great rant that I came across the other day. In the fine art photography field, infrared seems to raise its grainy, overexposed head every few years, and everyone seems to be perpetually rediscovering the Holga (nee Diana) camera look.

This is why it is really useful to restrict one’s palette. I have a fair bit of equipment, because I’ve been a pro for awhile, but I don’t buy gear very often. And when I hit on a system that works, I’m loathe to change it. When I shot film I shot one kind for color, and one kind for black and white. Now 90% of my photos I take with one camera body and one lens (well, it’s a zoom, but still), and I rarely play around with alternate ways of processing my images. It’s hard in the digital realm though, because you barely get to learn how to do what you do before someone rewrites the software on you.

I am hard pressed to think of a memorable body of work that doesn’t have a consistency in execution, but that doesn’t also have a meaning that transcends those tools. Their marks have meaning. Ansel Adams applied his technical precision at the service of what, at the time, was a revolutionary way of seeing the American landscape. Cartier-Bresson used a the handheld camera, making work meant to be experienced on the printed page and eschewing a finished print aesthetic (Ever see his original prints? They’re dreadful! They weren’t the point.). Early in his career Emmit Gowin used a lens that didn’t cover the field of his 8×10 back for his inimitable family imagery. Richard Avedon took the white backdrop to a height that has yet to be matched.

Beware of copying the tricks of a master. It may be a good pedagogical exercise, but it’s unlikely to lead you to your unique voice, the mark you make your own. More likely, you’ve come across your latest reiteration of the Lensbaby.

Four categories of art


I’m interested in the relationships for each of us among four categories of art. Maybe five for technical reasons having to do with the size of our bank accounts.

1. Art we make
2A. Art we own (but didn’t make)
2B. Art we would like to own but don’t because we can’t afford it. (For the purposes of this question only, you can have it. But only as much as fits in your home.)
3. Art we like to look at but don’t really want to own.
4. Art we don’t like to look at.

These categories are reasonably exhaustive and mutually exclusive, except for just a tiny wee bit of overlap between 1 and 4 in my case.

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