Category Archives: Art in General

What is a good painting?

In my last blog post I have talked about how painting can be compared to music. Personal taste is ultimately the reason why an individual likes a painting or a song. Good art, bad art? Who’s to judge? What’s great to one person may be horrible to another. In music, there are people who love endless jazz solos and others would want to run screaming out of the room if they were exposed to it. There may be paintings that I like a lot and someone else hates them. Overall, I think that’s natural.

But there is some music and some art almost everyone can love, maybe Mozart? Paintings by Sorolla, or more contemporary, Dali? Ancient Notan art of the Japanese and Chinese. In other words, there is a consensus where most of us feel the same way about something. To take it further, most people would agree that Audrey Hepburn was a beautiful woman. So there is almost like a standard for what’s beautiful.

How would that apply to painting? I think, ultimately, it comes down to the personal style of any given artist. The artist’s personality that has its presence in their work. We can see it. Sometimes you look at some painting and you just know, that’s a Sargent or a Zorn! The masters have their own distinctive style. It is *their* own personal vision of beauty that we pick up on and it resonates within us.

Nature by itself is not art per se, it is what the artist expresses when they paint her that becomes art. A painting that has the mood of a landscape is more powerful than one where the artists tries to paint every leaf on a tree.

Art and music are also influenced by the aesthetics of a people and societies in general. Sense of beauty and taste also changes with time, although some art and music is ‘timeless’. Landscape painting is timeless, I think, because we as human beings come from nature. It is in our DNA. In music, the classics like Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin etc etc. are still liked and listened to today even though their music was written hundreds of years ago.

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#52artworksin52weeks

People who have met me know I’m not exactly fond of social media, but the appeal of Instagram is its dedication to the visual and minimal words. Given that I’m not exactly a gifted wordsmith, I’m all for it. This year I thought I’d give Instagram a decent chance. And by decent chance I mean no more unfocused, badly-cropped pictures and half-assed captions. I would post sharp, nicely-cropped, squared-up paintings, make engaging captions, and even work in some clever hashtags. (Ha.) To dig a deeper hole, I vowed to post frequently, thus creating #52artworksin52weeks.

So far I’m up to #06of52, which happens to be this. Parents, I’m sure you’re all familiar with that look on her face!

 

And mind-bogglingly, #01of52 happens to be the most popular. Really. And it occurred to me: am I in the right genre? Should I be painting more animal portraits, less landscapes? More bichons, less barns? Someone thinks so. (Still waiting for AWS, TWSA, NWS, and CAC on their input…)

 

Last year, people were really drawn to these San Luis Obispo county landscapes. Central California is gorgeous, isn’t it? I’ve been thinking of doing a local workshop here… Watercolors and Wine. Or should it be Wine and Watercolors?

 

Finally, this city scene from Florence brings back some good memories… I conducted workshops in Tuscany in 2013 and 2015, and will be back again this year.

 

If you’re on Instagram, please drop by and say Hello! Hold my feet to the fire and make sure I get to #52of52! (And thanks for all your support.)

A week in beautiful Maine

I was very fortunate to teach a workshop in Belfast, ME with Coastal Maine last week. Having been busy with workshops in Wisconsin and Norway lately, I was not thrilled on boarding another long distance flight but when I got there I immediately forgot about it and couldn’t wait to start painting!

Belfast is a seaside town about two hours northeast of Portland. It boasts a busy downtown area with some great restaurants, sparkling bays with iconic lighthouses and a great harbor to paint. Maine is not named “Vacationland” for nothing! Even while teaching I felt like I am on permanent vacation! People are friendly but not overly so (which I like!) and everything seems slower paced. Nobody’s rushing…

Places to see are Belfast, Camden and Rockland. I am sure there’s a lot more but that’s all I had time to see. It will just take another trip!

One of the highlights for me was to see the Farnsworth Art Museum and Wyeth Center in Rockland. The museum offers an opportunity to enjoy a comprehensive collection of American art related to Maine and above all, a big collection of works by the late Andrew Wyeth! I really like his art so I couldn’t wait to go! The Wyeth Center houses a collection related to three generations of Wyeths in Maine: N.C, Andrew and Jamie. The entrance fee is waived on Wednesdays!

Why paint…

To continue with the musings about growing and evolving as an artist, I happen to come across a website about poetry that posted a letter by one of my favorite poets Rainer Maria Rilke. It is one of a collection of 10 letters written by the famous poet RMR (1875-1926) to a young officer cadet at the Military Academy in Vienna, who wanted Rilke to critique the quality of his poetry so he could decide whether a literary career made sense for him. The correspondence lasted from 1902 to 1908

I decided to include this because in his first letter, Rilke’s comments really hit home with me and it can be directly applied to the art of painting. It is as if he wrote this yesterday where in fact the letter dates back to 17 February 1903 in Paris!!

Read this excerpt and replace the word ‘poem’ with ‘painting’ and ‘writer’ with ‘painter’. The interesting thing to me is to compare it to social media today where so many artists post their paintings in hopes to get ‘likes’, in other words, looking outwards for recognition and approval. Nothing has changed! We just don’t send physical letters anymore. (Emphasis in italics is mine.)

“You ask whether your poems are good. You send them to publishers; you compare them with other poems; you are disturbed when certain publishers reject your attempts. Well now, since you have given me permission to advise you, I suggest that you give all that up. You are looking outward and, above all else, that you must not do now. No one can advise and help you, no one.

There is only one way: Go within. Search for the cause, find the impetus that bids you write. Put it to this test: Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must,” then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity. Your life, in even the most mundane and least significant hour, must become a sign, a testimony to this urge.

Then draw near to nature. Pretend you are the very first man and then write what you see and experience, what you love and lose.

If your everyday life appears to be unworthy subject matter, do not complain to life. Complain to yourself. Lament that you are not poet enough to call up its wealth. For the creative artist there is no poverty—nothing is insignificant or unimportant.
If, as a result of this turning inward, of this sinking into your own world, poetry should emerge, you will not think to ask someone whether it is good poetry. And you will not try to interest publishers of magazines in these works. For you will hear in them your own voice; you will see in them a piece of your life, a natural possession of yours. A piece of art is good if it is born of necessity. This, its source, is its criterion; there is no other.

Therefore, my dear friend, I know of no other advice than this: Go within and scale the depths of your being from which your very life springs forth. At its source you will find the answer to the question, whether you must write. Accept it, however it sounds to you, without analyzing. Perhaps it will become apparent to you that you are indeed called to be a writer. Then accept that fate; bear its burden, and its grandeur, without asking for the reward, which might possibly come from without. For the creative artist must be a world of his own and must find everything within himself and in nature, to which he has betrothed himself.
It is possible that, even after your descent into your inner self and into your secret place of solitude, you might find that you must give up becoming a poet. As I have said, to feel that one could live without writing is enough indication that, in fact, one should not.”

Interesting stuff, isn’t it! I encourage you to read the whole letter here.

Aspirations of an artist

‘Nowhere in the world of art education has technique been so foolishly substituted for true meaning, self expression, and knowledge as in the field of watercolor’
Edward Reep, 1983 (from the book Content of Watercolor)

Harsh words from Mr. Reep, but he has a point. Students often don’t seem to move on from materials and technique. Part of the problem is that people seem to think they learn how to paint by attending workshops. I don’t mean to downplay that a workshop can help. Some just take so many or even worse, some actually only paint in workshop settings, never anywhere else! The art of painting is learned by painting!

Well, it all depends on what goals we have, doesn’t it? I guess it’s ok to just paint as a pastime. However, I think that someone who paints three times a year should not have the right to call themselves an artist, any more so than someone who thinks they’re a musician when they only play their instrument every leap year and otherwise just listen to music.
To think and talk about painting doesn’t count. To look at painting images on facebook doesn’t either. We actually have to do it.

The more we paint, the closer we get to the real reason of why we paint. We no longer focus on the ‘how’ but more on the ‘why’.

When we start it’s quite normal that we’re preoccupied with technique and materials. We inhale ‘how to paint this and that’-books and attend workshops. We have to start somewhere. After a while, the focus starts shifting. At least in theory.

As the years go by I started thinking more and more about why I paint. In the beginning I even had problems articulating it, or finding a good reason at all! Sure, I used to be a professional illustrator. Sure, I painted since I was a child on and off. Sure, I studied painting with an Italian master painter, etc. etc. But are those real reasons? Motivation enough to keep at it today, after all these years? Do I love it that much?

Everyone should ask themselves the question why they paint, I think. Painting ultimately should be about expression. A painter, even a representational painter, needs to have a vision that goes beyond copying shapes that we encounter in nature or take pictures of. We need to have something to say with our art. It’s a different path for each and everyone of us. It’s a different life for each and every one of us. Therefore our art and what we express should be highly personal and intimate. Despite social media, painting will remain a solitary pursuit where only the end product is shared with others and even that is not for certain.

Keep it that way.

The Art Spirit, Part II

When I was interviewed by Paul Sullivan, editor with Artist Daily and a great watercolor artist himself, he mentioned that my interview was part of a series called  ‘Masters of American watercolor’. I was seriously concerned, because I don’t see myself being a ‘master’. Far from it, actually!  As if on queue I found a passage in Robert Henri’s book that talks about this very subject:

“He who is master of what he has today will be master of what he has tomorrow. An artist is a master at the start, if he is ever going to be one. Masters are people who use what they have.”

“Work always as if you were a master, expect from yourself a masterpiece. It’s a wrong idea that a master is a finished person. Masters are very faulty, they haven’t learned everything and they know it. Finished persons are very common – people who are closed up, quite satisfied that there is little or nothing more to learn.”
Pretty interesting, and I love this one:

“A small boy can be a master. I have met masters now and again, some in studios, others anywhere, working on a railroad, running a boat, playing a game, selling things. Masters are such as they had. They are wonderful people to meet. Have you never felt yourself ‘in the presence’ when with a carpenter or a gardener? They do not say, ‘oh, I am only a gardener, therefore not much can be expected from me’. They say, or seem to say, ‘I am a Gardener!’
These are masters, what more could anyone be!”

 

‘The Art Spirit’ by Robert Henri

I thought I should share some of Robert Henri’s quotes from the book The Art Spirit that I am studying at the moment. My thanks goes out to Phil Kinsey for turning me on to this book! It was written in the late 1800’s but it is as true today as it was back then. The truth will be the truth, withstanding the passage of time. Enjoy!

‘If you want to know how to do a thing you must first have complete desire to do that thing.’

‘The effect of brilliancy is to be obtained principally from the opposition of cool colors with warm colors, and the opposition of muted colors with bright colors.’

‘Hold on to the few simple larger masses of your composition, and value as most important the beauty and design of these larger masses, or forms, or movements. Do not let beauty in the subdivisions destroy the beauty or the power of the major divisions’.

‘Whatever you feel or think, your exact state at the exact moment of your brush touching the surface is in some way registered in that stroke.’

‘There is a super color which envelops all the colors. It is this super color – this color of the whole – which is most important.’

‘Do not be interested in light for light’s sake or in color for color’s sake, but in each as a medium of expression.’

‘In painting of light, in modeling form, keep as deep down in color as you can. It is color that makes the sensation of light. Play from warm to cold, not from white to black.’

‘The painting that impresses you at first sight and the next day loses even the power to attract your attention is one that looks always the same. It has a moment of life but dies immediately thereafter.’