The Laws of Nature

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Blogger Women and Guerilla Girls

Blogger women left to right: Kathy Cartwright, Margaret Ryall, Carolyn Abrams

Here we are at the Clark Museum in Williamstown, Mass! It was wonderful spending time with these very LOVELY ladies over lunch. We discussed our backgrounds in art, process, and ideas for the future. The only thing that could have improved our day is if YOU had joined us!

Returning to Cynthia Freeland's book, But is it art?, I've reached chapter five and a fascinating (and timely) discussion about the "Guerilla Girls." This is a group of radical feminist visual artists who emerged in New York City twenty-five years ago and are known for placing posters all over the city to protest the gender and racial imbalance of artists represented in galleries and museums. They've expanded their mission since then to include cinema as well. An anonymous group, they assume the names of deceased female artists and number somewhere about 100.
I you want to know more, they have a website at

Why does Freeland mention this group in her book? It's because she wants to answer the question: is gender relevant to art - to work an artist makes, or to meaning? And - what about sexual orientation? In my opinion, these are both good questions. One of the Guerilla Girls posters from 1989 asks "Do women have to be naked to get into the Met. Museum?" In other words, only paintings and sculptures of female nudes give women entry into this prestigious venue. The rest of the text on the poster informs us that "less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art Sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female." Hmmmm....
Another GG poster lists "The Advantages of being a woman artist." Notably, one item on the list is "not having to deal with the pressure of success." And, another advertisement pointed out that the 1997 still-life exhibit at MoMA (The Museum of Modern Art) featured only 4 women artists out of a total of 71 artists.

So, we might also ask why there's a paucity of great women artists throughout history. Freeland explains that, historically, women were not in a social or economic position to become professional artists. They couldn't acquire the materials or necessary training, nor could they gain entry into the important social groups that would legitimate their status as artists. And then, there's the notion that a "woman's place is in the home."

It's only been since 1971 that women have risen in the ranks in the art world. For instance, Georgia O'Keeffe's work is now housed in her own museum. And, there are others. Nearly a decade ago I spent a week with a very famous female artist whose work hangs in museums all over the world. She bitterly complained to me that her work sells for a fraction of what her male counterparts get and there's nothing she could do about it. She also complained that the feminine palette and content in her work is considered less important to serious collectors. Don't get me wrong, her work sells in the six figures but still below her male peers.

The newest series that I've developed, The Laws of Nature, is deceiving. Someone recently remarked that if they didn't know me, they would have attributed these paintings to a man. They're decidedly masculine. Interesting - but, should that even matter??

There's more to this, and Freeland offers a banquet. Next time....

And now, it's time for your thoughts.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Museums and the Artist

But is it art? by Cynthia Freeland

In chapter 4 of her book, Freeland takes a look at museums, markets, and money. I mentioned yesterday that she raises a number of interesting questions about this topic, and I'll use this post to ponder one of my own that is related.

Freeland explains the different categories of museums and their missions. Some are dedicated to collecting and preserving a particular genre of art or art by one particular artist or group of artists. Other art museums are less specific, but they all have in common a mission to collect, preserve, educate, and facilitate scholarship. This is a weighty mission, to be sure.

After considering the influences of corporate sponsors upon museums yesterday, I began to think about what all this means to individual artists, like us! For instance, if the general public acquires a taste for blockbuster exhibits that hyper-stimulate the senses, how will this impact the small voice of the individual artist? Will we be heard, and do we fit? How will all this change art and how will artists respond?

I ask this because I have a dear artist friend whose goal it is to have her work hang in a museum one day. I've never had this ambition, so it's not something I can relate to. But, I now wonder if that goal is a thing of the past - if museums have become something other than the highest goal an artist can achieve.

But, what if you want your work to hang in a museum? How would you go about it? I've read lots of advice about this topic in the art magazines that I normally purchase and the formula seems to be: gallery director + curator + museum board = museum hangs your work. So, you'd have to begin by establishing a relationship with a gallery director who has a strong connection to one or more museum curators. That director's reputation is on the line every time he/she makes a recommendation to the curator and, the curator's reputation is on the line every time he/she makes a recommendation to the museum board. So, these folks are cautious and select artists who have proven track record, and not just on the art work itself.

I can't resist comparing exposure on the world wide web to exposure in a museum. According to Freeland: art museums are still seen as elitist institutions. Across Europe and North America, attendance averages no more than 22 per cent of the population, and this group is skewed towards higher income brackets and educational backgrounds. Don't get me wrong, I love museums and it would be an honor to have my work in one. I just wonder if the role of museums in society, and in the art world, is changing.

What do you think?

Sunday, April 25, 2010


But is it art? by Cynthia Freeland

I've returned from a lovely weekend with former classmates at my 40th reunion. It was wonderful in every way and a reminder of how important those developmental years were for each of us.

On Tuesday I'll announce the three lucky winners of the contest to win an autographed copy of Wendy Richmond's excellent book, Art Without Compromise! In the meantime, I'll continue my discussion of Freeland's book.

Diving right into chapter 4, Freeland begins an examination of the evolving role of museums. This interests me a great deal because she asks some probing questions that I hope to discuss throughout this week. Today, I'm interested in Freeland's inquiry into whether present-day museum directors may feel restricted in what kinds of art can and cannot be shown because of the source of funding for these exhibitions.

To be clear, a general shift in museum funding occurred around 1965 away from private philanthropists to corporations who were interested in promoting culture and the arts. According to Freeland: the earliest corporations to provide major funding to museums were tobacco and oil companies, which likely sought to polish tarnished imaged by supporting "culture." The shift to corporate sources coincides with the rise of the "blockbuster" exhibition where funders expect a lot of bang for their buck.

These exhibitions include the Treasures of Tutankahmen, Pompeii, and Jewelsof the Romanovs which, according to this author, were intended to appeal to the largest number of the public and middle-class taste (whatever that is!).

So, my question is whether or not these corporate-backed exhibitions induce a form of self-censorship in museums who need them to remain commercially viable. And, if so, does the public suffer as a result?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Law of Inertia

The Law of Inertia by Katharine A. Cartwright, 2010
watercolor on paper
26" x 20"

Another week and another painting to add to my series "The Laws of Nature." The fun hasn't stopped, so I'll start another soon. In the meantime, I'm about to depart on a trip to my alma mater for a 40th Class Reunion this weekend. Yikes!! How did that much time elapse so quickly? Is this a violation of the "laws of nature?" The last post was about what we'd change in our art careers if we had the ability to turn back the hands of time. Looking back in my yearbook, I see that I was named "The Most Artistic" in my class, with a prediction that I'd become a famous artist. Well, I haven't become famous (yet) but I have continued in art. Did that prediction influence me enough to make it a life-long goal, or was it a logical conclusion because of my preoccupation with art? How much do other people influence our self-perception? Perhaps I'll discover a few answers to that question as I spend a weekend with my former classmates.

Until next week, happy painting everyone!!

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Turning Back the Hands of Time

Please excuse my brief lapse in "book reporting," but I've been up to my ears in preparing TWO solo exhibitions for this summer. Matting, framing, labelling, writing artist's statements and price lists, crating .... ugh! My dining room has nearly one hundred paintings crated and ready to go for both exhibitions. No time for reading/writing until a little later.

HOWEVER, I can't resist throwing out a question for all of you to ponder:

If you had the opportunity to "turn back the clock" and return to the time when you first decided to become an artist, what would you do differently? What didn't you attend to, or what path didn't you take that you now wish you had? Can you still do it, or is it too late?

I'll begin by saying that I should have been much more productive in my twenties and thirties. I should have painted more, listened to others less, and actively sought more venues to display my work. Obviously, it's not too late now, but I often wonder where I'd be today if I'd attended to all that more diligently when I was younger.

What about you?

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Can art break down barriers among cultures?

This question appears in Chapter 2 of Cynthia Freeland's book, But is it art? One answer is offered by John Dewey, who wrote that art is a universal language because it provides an immediate encounter with other cultures if we take the time to consider it. Freeland expands on Dewey's idea by adding that we must know the external facts before trying to acquire an internal attitude of appreciation for another community's art.

I'm reminded of a discussion we had here months ago when we considered appropriating symbols from other cultures in our own art. I think we all agreed that there's potential for misunderstanding, especially if those symbols are used in a way that might offend the originating culture. More recently, we've seen the anger that's emerged over the use of sacred symbols in our own culture. What the artist intends isn't always clear to the viewer, and can be misunderstood.

So, when Freeland asks if art can break down barriers among cultures, I wonder what those barriers are and how they form. Does art transcend all of those barriers? What does it take on the part of the viewer to openly regard and accept art from another culture or even from our own?

I'll digress from the book to offer my viewpoints on these questions. What are the barriers among and within cultures and how do they form? My personal opinion is that people, by nature, are self-protective. It's a characteristic that has successfully kept our species alive thus far. But, we take this part of our nature too far sometimes, and see danger where there is none. Mental barriers are constructed when we experience something that is different from what we are accustomed to. Will that new thing harm us in some way? Do we need to construct customs or laws to protect us from ever experiencing that again? Translated, this means that exposure to "foreign" art might automatically trigger in us the instinct to reject it. Foreign art challenges our established customs and beliefs, which we hold sacred and protect.

Does art transcend these barriers? Yes and no. I think we all respond to "beauty" as we comprehend it in any work of art. But, "art" doesn't have to be beautiful. It can rely on form and content to be considered a work of art. So, how do people accept unfamiliar form and content embedded in foreign art? I agree with Freeland that art needs to be viewed within the context in which it was created.

Finally, what does it take on the part of the viewer to openly regard and accept art from another culture and even from our own? I've already offered "logic" and "context," but would like to add eliminate fear. Fear blocks our desire to understand.
These are only my opinions, and I'd like to know yours!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What, How & Why

The Universal Law of Gravity by Katharine A. Cartwright
Series: The Laws of Nature
Watercolor on paper, 26" x 20"

I completed this painting two days ago and have had a lot of questions about this new series from bloggers and non-bloggers alike. So, I thought I'd use this weekend post to provide a greater explanation of what I'm doing.

Those of you who've followed my work know that I'm a "series" painter. I spend copious amounts of time thinking about concepts for series. I rarely write down my ideas and mostly keep them in my head. This past winter, I painted a number of false starts in series that didn't satisfy me. I may return to them in the future for refinement, and those paintings serve as my "notes."

My newest series, The Laws of Nature, was formulated in a painting demonstration I gave to a student last winter. The lesson was about the division of space in non-objective art to create effective designs. I set that demo aside for about a month, and then decided to use it as a foundation to create this new series. There are only two transitional paintings between the original demo and the first formal painting in this series, The Law of Reciprocal Actions. The concept for this new series is to comment on the attempt by humans to harness the raw materials and energy of the universe through our technology within the limitations of the physical laws of nature, which render our "machines" imperfect and our attempts flawed. This is not a statement against technology; rather, it's a comment about our limitations.

Most frequently, I'm asked about how I create these paintings. Unlike my previous work, I use no references outside of my imagination. I begin by stretching a full-sheet of watercolor paper and outlining the intended perimeter of the painting (26" x 20"). Then I ponder the physical "law" that will become the subject. Once I understand that law, I begin drafting forms on my paper after I've selected a focal point (or node) according to the Law of Thirds. Using my imagination, I begin with integrating forms at the focal point and then expand from there. The only thing I think about is how these forms will relate to each other, creating a variety of shapes, and establishing directionality. My approach is improvisational since I don't do any prior sketching. It takes me about two hours to complete a detailed pencil contour drawing.

Next, I select five colors and begin painting. I have no plan, but try to pay attention to establishing color dominance and using color to lead the eye. Precision painting takes a looooong time, so I need a full week to complete one painting. I'm never quite certain how a form will be painted, and usually don't decide until I've completed several adjacent forms. That tells me how to paint the next form. This is a purely intuitive process.

I've completed three paintings in this series and am now drafting the fourth, entitled The Law of Inertia. Believe me, I've had to overcome a lot of inertia to arrive at solutions for this one!!

I'll conclude by saying that this series is the easiest one I've ever painted - it freely flows from my subconscious and is quite natural. This is probably because I'm painting the worlds of my imagination, so it comes naturally and is satisfying. Isn't that what it's all about?

Your thoughts?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Paradigms and Purposes

Plan for the Gardens of Versailles

But is it art? by Cynthia Freeland

Diving right into Chapter 2, Freeland begins by suggesting that contemporary artists who create work using blood, urine, maggots, and plastic surgery are successors of past artists who took sex, violence, and war as their subjects. Since this type of work doesn't fit into either Kant or Hume's model for art, what theory can be applied? Freeland hopes to offer a context for today's art by visiting five historical periods in Western art:

Athens, 5th Century B.C.E.

Classical tragedy began in Athens, and gave us the theory that art imitates nature or human life. Plato labeled art as skilled craft by imitators. He found tragedy to be morally confusing to the masses. However, Artistotle disagreed and stated that imitation is not only natural for humans but even pleasurable. He felt that tragedy could educate people about adversity and offer a catharsis, although he did take exception with Euripides' Medea, where a good person chooses evil. Aristotle believed that the hero should have an unflawed character and simply makes mistakes.

Chartres, 1200 A.D.

This thriving medieval French city is home to a famous gothic-style Notre-Dame cathedral. Freeland notes that the main entry portal has statues of pagan philosophers like Artistotle and Pythagoras, amid hundreds of saints and apostles. Why? Chartres was known for its school of theology, which was really a liberal arts institution where all classical authors were studied. Therefore, the builders were influenced by these philosophers and incorporated them into the ornamentation. But, it was Thomas Aquinas who developed a theory about art at that time that became truly influential. His idea was that beauty is an essential property of God and that human art works should aspire to be God-like. Cathedral builders thus concerned themselves with proportion, light, and allegory to build what would represent God's heavenly illumination and to reveal sacred truths in the stained-glass windows, sculptures, paintings, and architecture. Hence, the role of art was a spiritual one.

Versailles, 1660-1715

The famous Gardens of Versailles, commissioned by Louis XIV, were designed by Andre' Le Notre around the theme of Apollos, the sun god. Greek mythology was important to the plan. The purpose of the garden was to signify Louis' dominance as an absolute monarch and to serve as a venue for official gatherings. Although Kant never visited the gardens, he saw engravings of them and commented that it seems strange that landscape gardening may be regarded as a kind of painting and added that it is art since it allows for the free play of imagination and that it is beautiful. Kant's ideas gave rise to new genres of landscape painting and Romantic poets.

Premier of Wagner's opera Parsifal, 1882

Richard Wagner was a Romantic who was in the patronage of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. Parsifal was his last opera. Philospher Friderich Nietzche, who was in the audience on the opening-night of this five hour opera, was so impacted by Wagner's work that he wrote and published The Case of Wagner in 1888 to praise the "psychological knowingness" of this opera but also to criticize its "sick" plot. There began a clash between aesthetic and moral concerns.

Warhol's Brillo Box, 1964

According to Freeland, Warhol helped spark the transition from macho New York Abstract Expressionism to playful gender-bending postmodernism. Warhol's brillo boxes exactly replicated the ones in supermarkets, which lead art critic Arthur Danto to question whether this was art. On the other hand, philosopher George Dickie offered in defense of Warhol's work the "institutional theory of art" which states that any artifact which has been conferred upon it the status of candidate for appreciation by some person or persons acting on behalf of a certain social institution (the art world) is art. Danto eventually concluded that a work of art is an object that embodies meaning. It is Danto's theory of art that enabled the artworld to accept the works of Warhol, Serrano, Hirst, Koons, and other "controversial" artists.

What Freeland demonstrates in this historical narrative is a broadening of the term "art" from narrow in its early history to almost all-inclusive today. The historic notions of beauty, morality, and form are very rigid by comparison. But, even today, not all that is "art" is "good art." We'll expand on this thought in the next few posts.

And now, your thoughts??

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Kant's Legacy

Goya's Executions of the third of May 1808

But is it art? by Cynthia Freeland

Moving along in Chapter 1, Freeland continues her discussion on Kant's philosophy. As you'll remember from yesterday's post, Kant was interested in defining "beauty", although he didn't feel that all art must be beautiful. The influence of his ideas extended to art writers over the next two centuries, including Bell, Bullough, and Greenberg.

Bell, whose writing coincided with the emergence of artists like Cezanne and Picasso, emphasized "Significant Form" rather than content. By that, he meant the combination of lines and colors in a work of art that appeal to our aesthetic emotions. He thought that artists should avoid creating works of art that are concerned with life or politics.

Bullough, on the other hand, emphasized "psychical distance" as essential to experiencing art. Similar to Bell, he felt that sexual or political content would block aesthetic consciousness.

Greenberg, a great supporter of Pollock, "celebrated form as the quality through which a painting or sculpture refers to its medium and to its own conditions of creation." So, content is unimportant and the surface and paint are all-important.

Freeland moves on to discuss Serrano's highly controversial work (e.g. Piss Christ, Morgue, Heaven and Hell, etc.) How was his work defended by art critics? In particular, the author notes the writings of critic Lucy Lippard (Art in America, April 1990). Her defense of Serrano's work is based upon three aspects:

(1) its formal and material properties - a very large (5' x 3') Cibachrome photograph

(2) its content - evidently, Serrano wanted to condemn the way that culture pays only lip service to a religion without truly endorsing its values. His work was done not to denounce religion but its institutions - to show how our contemporary culture is commercializing and cheapening Christianity and its icons.

(3) its context - the artist has strong ties to Spanish art, especially Goya who was concerned with extreme situations in the human dilemma. Goya lived during a time of terrible atrocities, which he witnessed and expressed symbolically in his art.

Freeland asks if the comparison between Serrano and Goya is a fair one. She writes: Goya is different from Serrano because his artistic ability was greater, and because he depicted violence not to sensationalize it or to shock people but precisley in order to condemn it. However, Lippard argues that Serrano is a skilled and thoughtful artist. Freeland goes on to say that Goya's message might not be morally uplifting after all, but merely a comment on the dreadful condition of human nature. If so, then maybe the link between Serrano and Goya is defensible.

In any case, the shocking art we see today has precedents in Europe. This isn't new, but maybe the meaning is. That's a matter for debate.

Your thoughts??

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Taste and Beauty

Brillo Box by Andy Warhol, 1969

But is it art? by Cynthia Freeland

We all know that taste in art is subjective and each person has a different opinion of what is "tasteful." In her book, Freeland examines the historical philosophical debate about taste between Hume and Kant. While both men agreed that works of art can be classified as superior or inferior, they disagreed about why some people have "better taste."

Hume's idea is that "good taste" is acquired through education and experience. He added that it is these educated people who set the "standard of taste" for all, and who differentiate between good and bad works of art. In contrast to that opinion, Freeland notes the skeptics' viewpoint that Hume's taste-arbiters only acquired their values through cultural indoctrination. In other words, these few elite weren't raised in a vacuum, so the culture they grew-up in influenced their opinions. It's a passive way for society to maintain a form of stasis in aesthetics.

On the other hand, Kant was more interested in explaining judgements of "beauty" in order to address "taste." He felt that good judgements in aesthetics are grounded in features of artworks themselves, not just in us and our preferences. Unlike Hume, Kant believed that judgements of beauty were universal and grounded in the real world, even though they were not actually objective. His definition of what makes something beautiful is that it has "purposiveness without a purpose." Say what????

The author unpacks this for us (thank goodness!). She uses the rose as an example. Although we could say that the purpose of a rose is to produce more roses, that's not what makes it beautiful. Beauty is found in the color, texture, and odor of the rose that seem "right" to our senses and elicits pleasure. This is its "purposiveness without a purpose." Kant believed that to make beautiful art requires human genius , the special ability to manipulate materials so that they create a harmony of the faculties causing viewers to respond with distanced enjoyment. So, Freeland interprets Kant's ideas by stating that beautiful objects appeal to our senses, but in a cool, detached way which satisfied our imagination and intellect.

It's interesting for me to read Freeland's comparison of Hume and Kant's ideas. I think that today we operate in a mixture of the two, since society tends place high regard in the opinions of educated art critics and museum curators while also placing value in what satisfies us personally. For instance, I've been to museums and art exhibitions where a few art objects that are proudly on display don't make sense to me - they lack content and/or skill. For me, the art doesn't have to be beautiful, but it must satisfy my emotions and intellect. There must be some sort of significance for it to be included as an important work of art among others that are deemed "great." When I read a lengthy narrative by a curator about the importance of a work of art, sometimes I'm convinced and sometimes not.

This may seem unimportant, but we artists are part of an industry that is worth bazillions of dollars and has some historical significance. Therefore, the opinons of Hume's few educated elite greatly influence the market, which affects even the smallest artist like me. It's somewhat paradoxical.

What are your thoughts??

Monday, April 12, 2010

But Is It Art?

Today, I'll begin a discussion of the book But is it art? by Cynthia Freeland. According to the back cover, the author "explains why innovation and controversy in art are constantly in the headlines, and why it matters. She also discusses the relationship of art with beauty, culture, money, sex, and new technology." This seems pretty good to me, so I'll dive right in.

Chapter 1 has an eye-catching title: "Blood and Beauty." Freeland begins my enumerating the ways in which blood has been used in art over time and asks why. She cites a number of reasons that include the fact that blood is similar to paint and also a highly symbolic medium because it is our human essence. Because of it's symbolic meanings, blood is used in many different types of human rituals, so maybe the artists who use blood see art as a ritual as well. The author notes that a theory of art as ritual might seem plausible, since art can involve a gathering guided by certain aims, producing symbolic value by the use of ceremonies, gestures, and artefacts. However, there is a difference between the rituals of society and those established by a single artist. Audiences who see and react to a modern artist do not enter in with shared beliefs and values, or with prior knowledge of what will transpire. In other words, there is potential for shock value in this kind of art. Freeland cites an extreme case where a performance artist named Ron Athey, who was HIV positive, cut the flesh of another performer on stage and then hung blood-soaked paper towels over the audience, who panicked.

The author acknowledges that the cynical assessment is that blood in contemporary art does not forge meaningful associations, but promotes entertainment and profit. Although I’m not entirely cynical about this, I can see her point. I remember my college days, years ago, when another young woman in my painting class decided to use her own menstrual blood to paint a crucifixion scene. Although I was shocked, I decided to try to find meaning in it. However, when I asked the artist what it meant to her, she stated that her only purpose was to shock the viewer. Oh, well.

Some artists have gone beyond using blood to incorporate other bodily materials in their work. Here are a few notable examples by contemporary artists that I'll keep small in case you'd prefer not to look at them (click on image to enlarge if you want to see it):

Damien Hirst's sectioned cow

Chris Ofili's Holy Virgin Mary with elephant dung

Andres Serrano's Piss Christ, a crucifix submerged in a jar of the artist's urine

As Freeland states: Artwork that uses blood or urine enters into the public sphere without the context of either well-understood ritual significance or artistic redemption through beauty.

In the next section of the first chapter, the author considers "taste and beauty." Next time ...

Your thoughts??

Success and Other Abstractions

Dinner Party by Judy Chicago

Presently, I'm searching through my art library to find the next great book to review. In the meantime, I just received the most recent issue of "Art Calendar" and found an article of interest. 25 Golden Rules of Success by Renee Phillips is a concise 2-page article found on pages 14 & 15. There are some great tips to be found, but I always consider the title before reading.

rules - Most artists, who are typically free-thinking, react to the word "rules" like an allergic reaction. But, there's no denying that some practices almost always work and are advisable.

golden - "Golden" rules are those that cannot be improved upon, and here we have twenty five!

success - Here's a subjective term. What IS success? The dictionary defines it as a desired outcome, which could be as diverse as the number of people on this planet.

What are these Golden Rules? Here's a short synopsis of the 25 rules lumped into 7 general categories that I've assigned:

Implementing your plans
Record-keeping and journaling
Positive thinking
Continuing education
Taking care of your mental and physical health

When you read the article for yourself you'll be able to consider the author's individual rules and advice offered. It's useful and fairly comprehensive. However, I've got to add one important rule that was omitted:

Keep your mind open to unexpected opportunities.

I'm great at making plans and implementing them, but many of my best experiences as an artist arrived from unexpected sources. Although my first reaction is one of caution, I try not to say "no" immediately. Rather, I take the time to consider the proposal and then decide what to do. So, expect the unexpected and be open to the possibilities. As John Lennon would say, "Imagine."

Your thoughts??

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Two Classes of Artists

1902 photo of Robert Henri (pronounced hen-rye), born Robert Henry Cozad in Cincinnati Ohio. The family moved and changed their names because of a scandal, where Robert's father shot and killed a rancher with whom he had a dispute over pasture land.

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

It's time to end our discussion of Henri's book and begin a new book next week. Tomorrow, I'm going to New York City for the weekend to view the AWS (American Watercolor Society) annual exhibition and tour some museums. So, I won't post again until my return. To end Henri's book, I'll examine this statement:

It would be easy to divide artists into two classes: those who grow so much within themselves as to master technique by the force of their need, and those who are mastered by technique and become stylists. (p. 171-172)

To me, this is the difference between an artist who has something to say (a statement) and an artist who wants to create an effect. But, does this mean that one is necessarily superior to the other? Is there an equal role for both in the art community? Do both types inhabit the museums of the world?

I don't have "the" answer to these questions, but I do have a personal preference for content-rich paintings. All of my series are concept-based. However, I do enjoy the "feel" of painting. It is a sensory experience that yields great satisfaction even if there's no content, or statement. But, does the sensory experience of creating a painting translate to the viewing public or make a significant contribution to art? I guess there are a variety of viewpoints about that.

What's yours?


On another note, and for your entertainment, here's the first and second painting in my new series entitled "The Laws of Nature":

The Law of Reciprocal Actions (left) & Entropy (right)
by Katharine A. Cartwright
watercolor on Arches paper
both 26" x 20"

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Statement Worthy of Permanent Expression

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

It is a question of saying the thing that a person has to say. A man should not care whether the thing he wishes to express is art or not, whether it is a picture or not, he should only care that it is a statement of what is worthy to put into permanent expression. (p. 137)

Gertrude Stein once wrote: "Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose." Or, is it?? In the paintings (permanent expressions) that follow, these artists found something worthy to say about a rose:

Georgia O'Keeffe: a rose is a sensual and beautiful form

Salvidore Dali: a rose is the object of a meditation

Vincent Van Gogh: a rose is an interesting design

John William Waterhouse: a rose is a spiritual symbol

The point is: if a statement is worthy of expression, then it is worthy of permanence through art. So, what personal statement is worthy of your time, efforts, and materials today?

Sunday, April 4, 2010


Robet Henri Class, New York School of Art, 1902

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

I love to learn and I love to teach. To me, every day is a learning opportunity. When I have the opportunity to teach others, I consider it my sacred duty to help my students expertly express their own unique ideas rather than imitate me. I want them to experience the thrill of self-discovery through art.

In this country, the spring/summer art workshop season is upon us. Some of us will teach at these venues, and others will enroll as students. So, it's a good time to think about how we learn. In his book, Robert Henri offers good advice to students. In the excerpts that follow, we could change the word "school" to "workshop" or "art instruction book/video."

Some students possess the school they work in. Others are possessed by the school.

Let a student enter the school with this advice: No matter how good the school is, his education is in his own hands. All education must be self-education.

Let him realize the truth of this and no school will be a danger to him.

The self-educator judges his own course, judges advices, judges the evidences about him.

No one can lead him. Many can give advices, but the greatest artist in the world cannot point his course for he is a new man.

A school should be an offering of opportunity, not a direction, and the student should know that the school will be good for him only to the degree that he makes it good. (p. 120 - 121)

I've encountered many types of students during week-long painting workshops that I've attended over the past decade. Some students are open to instruction and enthusiastic experimentation. They are the self-educators. Typically, a few students appear to want to learn but really want just to show everyone else how great they are. They spend the whole week painting exactly as they did when they arrived. And then, there are a few students who seriously lack self-confidence and spend the week making excuses and putting up emotional walls. Progress is almost unattainable despite continual encouragement. Inevitably, there's usually one student who relentlessly challenges the instructor with a firm stubborness that can only be interpreted as "there's nothing you can teach me!" I always wonder why that person spent the time and money to enroll in the first place.

One type of behavior among art workshop students that's become increasingly common is intense socializing. Now, I'm no party-pooper, but when I'm painting I must concentrate. Distractions aren't welcome. On the other hand, I do enjoy the comraderie of artists and getting to know some wonderful folks. After all, a classroom should be a friendly place. It should also be a place that's conducive to learning.

No matter what the situation, the responsibility for learning always rests with the students. If we aren't willing to self-educate, not even the greatest teacher can help us. And, isn't it more fun to discover for ouselves anyway?

Your thoughts??

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Laws of Nature

The Law of Reciprocal Action
by Katharine A. Cartwright
watercolor on paper
26" x 20"

Today, I'm posting the first painting in my new series entitled "The Laws Of Nature." This series is an exploration of the fundamental laws of physics that govern the universe and our technology. These paintings are created entirely from my imagination with no reference material. The importance of this new series to me is one of personal interest because it melds together the two professions of my life: scientist and artist. I enjoy exploring the complexities and aesthetics of the natural realm and, here, consider man's attempts to harness the materials and energy of nature.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Life Is Not Repetition

The Art Spirit by Robert Henri

Today must not be a souvenir of yesterday, and so the struggle is everlasting. Who am I today? What do I see today? How shall I use what I know, and how shall I avoid being victim of what I know? Life is not repetition. (p. 115)

I should post this quotation near by bed and read it every morning before I head to the studio. It's one of the most profound statements that I've read. Imagine how much my art would improve if I could just remind myself of this every day! There's a worthwhile goal.

Your thoughts??