The Laws of Nature

Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Lambert's First Law
watercolor on paper
26" x 20"
Katharine A. Cartwright, NWS
The other day, someone asked me if I thought that art created with traditional materials (e.g. surfaces and paints) is relevant any more. He was referring to the emergence of the use of electronic technology to create art in an age when we're so tech oriented. Everyone carries a cell phone, or I-pad, or computer .... you get the picture. Therefore, art created using or incorporating these devices is a relevant reflection of our society and interests. So, I could understand his point and believe that this type of art is relevant and very important.

However, there's also a good defense for the relevance of the type of art I make using traditional materials. The concept (content) is really what makes the art, in my opinion, no matter which materials are used. Relevance comes from  content. It reveals the artist's relationship with the world around her - the world she presently lives in. What could be more relevant than that?

So, the question really isn't relevance but the taste and sensibility of the art patron. You can do "neat" things with electronic devices in creating art that you can't do with a brush and vice versa.

What's your opinion?

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Beating "The Law of Averages"

Boyle's Law
watercolor on paper
Katharine A. Cartwright, NWS
The Law of Averages really isn’t a “law” but a belief that balance will eventually occur. As one definition states: “ the law of averages is a lay term used to express a belief that outcomes of a random event will even out within a small sample.”  This is not scientific thinking but is wishful thinking.

How does this “law” apply to being a professional artist?

We purchase art supplies, invest in some lessons, occasionally buy advertising, and consume many of our waking hours making and promoting our art with the belief that we’ll recoup that expense and, if we’re lucky, make a profit. Some artists are more successful at this than others and the balanced scales tip in their favor. They beat The Law of Averages.”

How can we do the same?

Word on the street is that typical brick and mortar galleries are struggling and closing in droves. Not all of them, of course, but nearly a third in this country last year alone. Many co-op galleries have emerged and also vanity galleries that charge the artist for space, advertising, and openings. So, we can’t look to the traditional route for marketing our art and hope to beat the odds.

The contemporary gallery exists in cyberspace: websites, blogs, Etsy et al., and Facebook just to name a few. We reach more people more often. But, who and what are they buying and at what price?

Lately, I’ve been experimenting with these cyber venues to see what will happen. Yes, I’m still represented by brick and mortar galleries (three of them) but I’d like greater exposure. So far, not much has happened.

The problem is, cyberspace has transformed the number of “galleries” from thousands (brick & mortar) to tens of millions (websites). There’s a lot more competition and it’s harder to reach patrons. Sometimes competition is healthy, and sometimes it’s just plain confusing to the consumer. In this case, competition has led to price wars and the devaluation of art in many instances.

So, how do we beat The Law of Averages?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Making the Time

Occam's Razor
watercolor on Arches paper
26" x 20"   sold
Katharine A. Cartwright, NWS
According to "Occam's Razor" the simplest explanation is always the best when all considered possibilities are equal. My painting depicts a razor slice through the complex, impractical mechanistic designs of man to reveal a singularity in the universe. The singularity is the simplest and purest form of energy expression that could ever exist.

This is the segue to today's post: "Making the Time." The single most common complaint that I get from my students when they first come to me is that they can't find the time to paint on a regular basis and, therefore, make unsatisfactory progress. Typically, they want me to share my secret formula for success in this regard. That secret is always a big disappointment to them: Finding the time to make art on a regular basis is as simple as making the time.

In other words, it's a matter of priority. Either you think it's important enough to engage in regularly or you don't.

What are your thoughts?

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Finding Peace

Brewster's Law
watercolor, 26"x20"
Katharine A. Cartwright, NWS
There was a time when painting was an act of hope and frustration. I hoped I could get it right and I was frustrated that I didn't. Early on in my technical training in college, my painting prof told me that my work looked like something you'd find in a department store. It was technically correct and fatally flawed in concept. But, no one ever taught me about the importance of the concept back then so I just painted bucolic scenes in an impressionist style. Evidently, my college professors were allergic to that.

But, I also knew that my artmaking was more important to me than a grade so I just kept marching along that path until I realized that I wasn't happy with the direction. Even I knew there was something lacking.

That started me on what became a nearly four decade journey to find peace with my work. There were too many struggles along the way as I tried to find something original to say and just couldn't. Why was it so important to me to be original? Why didn't I find peace in painting whatever I wanted without consequence?

Now that I've found peace with my work, the answer to these questions is apparent. Here's one way to put it: the very first painting of my Laws of Nature series literally poured out of me so quickly I couldn't stop it. There was no struggle at all. The same thing happened during the painting of the second, third, fourth .... twenty-ninth in the series. I'm still going and these pour out of me effortlessly. And, I'm happy with the results. I've never had to start one over or throw one away.

I have peace with my painting because I'm finally saying what's actually in my head and controlled by my imagination. The inner voice is speaking. It wanted to be heard from the very beginning but was silenced by obeying the voices of others. Peace with artmaking is really peace with self.

What do you think?

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Art and Explanation

Lenz's Law
watercolor, 20" x 26"
Katharine A. Cartwright, NWS
I've enjoyed reading your comments on the last post, and especially your reaction to my question about the artist's statement. It would be great if a work of art could just speak for itself without a dictated meaning by the artist that everyone must uniformly understand. Rather, I like the idea that meaning comes from the individual viewer. This opens up a world of possibilities.

For instance, is it important for the viewer to know the definition of Lenz's Law in order to appreciate this posted painting? I would hope not. As an artist, it's my intention to use how I understand that physical law to create an aesthetic work rather than to illustrate the actual definition of the law. I'm not an illustrator.

And, what about the time factor? Each new generation views things differently. Imagine how people viewed the Mona Lisa when it was first painted hundreds of years ago versus a 2013 teenager viewing the same painting. I like the fact that time can change the meaning of a painting rendering the work timeless in itself. I would like to think that if my paintings survive hundreds of years that new viewers will see them entirely differently from present viewers. Sure, art historians will want to uncover the original meaning but - who cares? I still think that art speaks for itself in the hearts and minds of the individual viewers despite whatever artist statement I concoct.

What do you think?

Saturday, February 9, 2013


The Law of Reciprocal Actions, 2
watercolor on Arches paper
Katharine A. Cartwright, NWS
Making art is a personal decision; one that is usually based upon the need to create and to feed our cravings for the aesthetic. It's a very human activity. Most people respond to music, literature, visual art and dance and require it daily.

As an artist, I can think of a number of good reasons to make art that have nothing to do with others. There's something inside of me that compels me to do it.

But, does making art come with obligations? I don't have an answer to this question, and maybe there isn't one. For instance, once art is created is the artist obligated to share it with others? Maybe there's no legal obligation, and certainly the artist can do what she wants, but is there a higher purpose to a work of art that requires it to be shared? Does it become more than an artist's possession once it exists?

Furthermore, is an artist obligated to explain what a work means? We're always asked to provide an Artist's Statement for exhibitions, journals, and books. Doesn't the work speak for itself? Is an artist obligated to provide legitimacy to the work in the form of a complex statement that rarely makes sense?

Finally, is an artist obligated to sell work to be called an artist? Is art making relegated to hobby status just because it doesn't sell? Or, if work does sell, does that really make it art and the creator an artist?

In the years that I've been working as a professional artist, I've encountered feelings of obligation but am uncertain if any of them should be legitimized.
What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Formulating an Original Concept

Weidemann-Franz Law
watercolor on paper, 26" x 20"
Katharine A. Cartwright, NWS
One thing that I didn't learn at any of the three universities I attended was how to formulate an original concept for my work. No professor ever taught it. So, I spent decades perfecting technique and doing lots of imitative work without being truly original.

It wasn't until I studied watercolor with Susan Webb Tregay nearly fifteen years ago that I learned the value of original content. And, it's been the focus of my work and teaching ever since.

Every year I work with both professional and amateur artists who want to make a an original statement but don't know how to find one. It's hard work and we spend several days in deep discussion and employing my process that eventually leads to a break-through.

The one thing I can't emphasize enough is the importance of thinking. Most of us are anxious to pick up the brush too soon. We think that if we don't stand at our easels we're not making art. In fact, making art begins with thinking.

I spend far less time painting than I do thinking about it. The key to formulating an original concept is our ability to look inward toward self recognition.

Your thoughts?

Sunday, February 3, 2013


Archimedes' Principle
watercolor on paper,  26" x 20"
Katharine A. Cartwright
Thank you to those who have rejoined my discussions after my prolonged absence. As you know, a few years ago I reviewed over a dozen books on art theory on this blog and you enhanced my reviews with your insightful discussion. Priceless! If you're new to this blog and want to read those posts, they're archived according to author and title on the sidebar of this page. Just select the author's name to get to the book and discussion.

In the couple of years that have lapsed since my book reviews, I've spent a lot of time developing this new series entitled "The Laws of Nature" and showing it at various exhibitions around the country. I've completed 28 of these so far, and have another going in my studio.

What's become most obvious to me over the past half decade is the importance of decision making when it comes to art making. I'm not a great fan of happy accidents. Rather, I like to think things through and then make a decision about what to say, how to say it, and when I should stop.

The decision about what to say arrives after much introspection. What is my internal perception of the external world? What single point can I make in this painting or series of related paintings? How is reality altered by my perception and how can I exaggerate that?

The decision about how to say what I want to say arrives after even more deliberation. What ideosyncracies in my mark-making can I exploit to express my own unique style? What color relationships reflect the mood I want to impart to my work? What values do the same? How can I best construct forms and relationships between forms to express my idea?

The decision about when to stop a painting or a series of related paintings occurs when I consciously realize that the work is becoming repetitive and I have nothing new to say about it.

At that point, I must begin the decision making process again and create a new series.

Some have teased and even criticized me for being so deliberate in my approach to art. The only defense I have is that I'm introspective, analytical, and meticulous and must, therefore, express who I am in my work. In other words, I won't deny who I am and I won't try to be someone else when I make art.

How 'bout you?

Friday, February 1, 2013

How do you do it?

Kirschhoff's First Law
watercolor on paper
26" x 20"
Katharine A. Cartwright, 2013
I hear this question all the time. But for me, the answer for "How do you do it?" when it comes to my art is no different from what your answer would be if the question were put to you. It's how I think.

Non-objective art derives from our imagination; our ability to see the mind's eye exclusive of what's really in front of us. The mind's eye has the wonderful ability to distort reality and transform it according to our will. Everyone has that ability, so I'm no different.

The real difference comes in how interested we are in our mind's eye. Do we want to spend time looking through its lens, or through someone else's? Do we imitate or "imaginate"? ( Sorry, that's not a word but it just seemed right).

I like to imaginate. How 'bout you?