The Laws of Nature

Sunday, July 31, 2011

I paint because ...

Very recently, a notable fine art museum curator decided to spend time with my new series, The Laws of Nature, which now includes fourteen paintings. Her questions were astute and delving: my developmental history as an artist, what I paint, how I paint, and ... especially, why I paint. At the end of her examination of me and my work, I was astounded by her praise and proclamations of "genius." I don't think of myself in that way, nor will I ever.

We artists typically view our work in a more practical way. We LIVE in, through, and by our artmaking. It's not our second nature, it's our first nature. We can't imagine life any other way.

Explaining myself compelled me to think about this a little more:

I paint because ...

I can't effectively express what I really want to say in words or music,
I see everything in pictures,
I must paint,
My life is incomplete if I don't paint,
I've always painted

You paint because ...

Friday, July 22, 2011

What's in a Name?

Fourier's Law
by Katharine A. Cartwright
Watercolor on Arches paper
26" x 20"

What's in a name? I began to think about this after reading your great comments yesterday. Influences upon our viewpoint about the relative value of art include not only outside "experts" and our own personal opinion, but also the title assigned to the work and (sometimes) the gender of the artist if the full name is revealed.

The title of a work of art often influences what we think we see and also the overarching concept that the artist wishes to convey to viewers. But, there are times when the title doesn't match what I'm getting out of the painting or sculpture. So, the name (title) can be confusing. For instance, my own work based upon the laws of nature led me to interpret each law according to what I see in my mind's eye. No one else has that viewpoint, so why would anyone look at the painting shown in this post and remark: Hey! That's Fourier's Law! Nope ... it wouldn't happen.

So, I must consider the importance of the names (titles) of my works. In this instance, they're essential. But, should that be the case? What would happen to my series (which is a comment on man's inability to create the perfect machine because of the limitations imposed upon us by the natural laws) if I named each work "Untitled"? I doubt that anyone would get it.

And then, there's my own name to consider. For this series of paintings, I decided to sign them all "K. Cartwright" because either sex could have created the work and it shouldn't matter which. Viewers are influenced by the sex of an artist when considering relative value and the "seriousness" of the artist.

So, it seems to me that names are very important when it comes to fine art.

What do you think?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Who's to Say?

Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose by John Singer Sargent

Thanks for all your substantive comments to my last posts! I want to pick up a thread laid down by our good friend Robin . She wrote: I always wonder who determines how meaningful one's work is anyway, but I guess if it matters to at least one person (me) that's enough. This is a good point to explore.

Who does determine if our work is meaningful? As Robin suggests, it does begin with the artist her/himself and then perhaps at least one other person who “gets it.” Generally, we often look to directors, curators, critics, and art historians to identify the meaningfulness of works of art. But, those influences are extrinsic to the individual experience of just standing before a work of art and connecting with it.

In March 2010, we discussed here Robert Henri’s book “The Art Spirit.” In it, he writes: The man who has honesty, integrity, the love of inquiry, the desire to see beyond, is ready to appreciate good art. He needs no one to give him an art education; he is already qualified. He needs but to see pictures with his active mind, look into them for the things that belong to him, and he will find soon enough in himself an art connoisseur and an art lover of the first order.

I think that’s really the bottom line. The discovery of meaning is a subjective experience and one that can’t be left to outside influences if it’s to be real. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve read (or heard) from an expert about the importance and meaning of a work of art before actually seeing the original in person. Unfortunately, I can’t forget what the expert said when I finally get to the museum, but I do try to personally connect and shake off the voices of others.

Then again, when we go to museums, we are automatically influenced by the notion that the works of art in it are meaningful and important enough to be archived and displayed in a building worth millions of dollars. And, works of art appear in newspapers and magazines with articles written by “experts” who dissect them for meaning.

But, maybe we need experts to tell us what we can’t learn on our own. Or, maybe we need only to heed Henri and make the whole thing subjective.

What do you think?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Your Contribution to the Dialogue

Painting by Richard Diebenkorn

Frequently, I ask my workshop students to consider how their work contributes to the global dialogue of art. This means examining their work for its purpose. Does it truly reflect their own view of the world or is it imitative? The former lends authenticity to the work and has the best possibility for contributing to the dialogue. Each artist has something unique to share, even if the medium and techniques are traditional. What we have to say and how we say it are essential, in my opinion, to creating work that is truly meaningful.

I was never taught this in college, or even in any of the art workshops I took years ago. We students were given assignments that led to the mastery of technique and little attention was given to helping us develop our unique viewpoints. I never thought about it much until fifteen years ago. That made all the difference. I make no claims toward greatness, only that my work truly reflects how I see and think. That’s satisfying.

Recently, I saw a painting in a nearby art museum that had several technical flaws, but the overall effect was intact anyway. The viewpoint of the artist spoke to me and evoked a feeling. So, I started to wonder about the importance of the technical aspects of the painting. I’ve always felt that the best way to effectively dialogue through my art is to eliminate as many technical errors as possible so the viewer doesn’t miss the message. Then again, artists who are only technicians bore me to death. There’s a fine line there, somewhere.

What do you think?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Return and Other Things

Images: (left) workspace in studio (middle) extended view of studio (right) gallery wall in studio

At long last ... I'm back!! Our move to our now permanent home in Maine was epic in proportion. Not only did we move during the worst winter in recent history, but we had to install heat in the house first and also complete the interior of my studio (which is in a building separate from the house). Now ... after seven years of waiting ... we also have access to high speed internet and so I can rejoin the blogosphere.

Many, many thanks to all of you who emailed me during my long absence to encourage me to return to our wonderful discussions. I'm looking forward to reuniting with you (big smile).

Many great things have happened during the past few months: lots of teaching (concept development in art and technique) and lots of really terrific students, painting sales at an all time high, public speaking, and several shows (some solo) now and next year. It's exciting and rewarding.
Now, onto more important things. Lately, I've been thinking about the importance of wearing blinders as I continue to paint the "Laws" series. It's so easy to get distracted by other ideas or even succumb to the influence of works/ideas by other artists that appeal to me. I've always had to battle the distractions, and the further I get into a series the more myopic my artistic vision becomes. Is that helping or hindering me? I'd like to think that it's helping, but maybe it's retarding my creativity.

Edward Hopper once said: I find in working always the disturbing intrusion of elements not a part of my most interested vision, and the inevitable obliteration and replacement of this vision by the work itself as it proceeds.

How about you? What keeps you on track?