When I look at a design magazine, as I sometimes like to do, and I find no art in it (as is, sadly, often the case) it makes me realize that people have basically given up on art.  For instance, one magazine photo features some decorative plaster ceiling moldings painted black and displayed in an elegant picture frame and placed above a beautiful couch.   Well, that, I tell you, is definitely a cry for help.  We are living in the aftermath of abstraction and living with the unforeseen consequences of anything-is-art.  “I could do that” is the plaint for some.  For others, it’s the door of opportunity opening.  Designers figure: “Why should I search for art when I can just make something that goes with the mood?”  And they do.  And what’s the difference between this designer-made art and the so-called artist’s art?  Not much.

It doesn’t have to be this way.  We can reconnect with subject matter in painting.  We can stop feeling that we must accept the status quo as regards what art is.  Just because someone says that such and such is art does not have to require our uncritical assent.  We can ask ourselves what kind of hidden agenda lies behind the current definitions of art.  Or more purposefully one can say, “Humbug on their idea,” and quite resolutely and simply search out one’s own desire.  I can find the first sure footing by looking for a picture that has something I care about in it.

Indeed, that’s how I first became an artist.  I was still essentially a child and had a child’s taste.  But there was a picture of the corner of a fencepost in what obviously must have been “the country” and it had chicorery growing beside it.  The grass was green.  The sky (what bit was visible) was blue.  The chicorery flowers were pretty.  The fence structure was simple and straightforward. 

I copied it.  It was one of my first exercises in painting.  It was less marvelous than, say, copying Monet.  But I didn’t know who Monet was back then.  This was my more humble beginning in appreciating landscape in art.  It connected to who I was then.  And humble beginning that it was, it led me to better things — including to Monet.  It was a gentle introduction to great art, and not unlike what many great artists themselves had in the way of introduction.  Even Van Gogh studied Charles Bargue’s Cours de Dessin.  These kinds of beginnings do not diminish genuine creativity.  But doing nothing, and attempting nothing, does.

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2 thoughts on “A Cry for Help

  1. I enjoy your writing. Are the images on your entries your work in general?
    I agree with your above entry. I’m stuck myself. I could make art. Or I could make kitchy little watercolors and sell them to pay the bills.
    I don’t think people want art, forcing actual artists to resort to “decorative plaster ceiling moldings painted black and displayed in an elegant picture frame.” It is easier to do and seems to be what the rich people want so they can seem edgy.

  2. Thank you jenashmen for your kind remarks. And it appears I should make more explicit which paintings are mine and which are not. Most are mine. The pen drawing at the top of “A Cry for Help” is a copy after a photo of an ancient Roman relief sculpture that I saw in a book, and the woman is weeping. But I’ve forgotten more exact references to its source, alas. The painting in “What price art” is an amateur painting made by a wonderful lady, a certain Mrs. Maynard, who discovered her visual talents late in life. The painting at the top of “The Secret of Painting” is an early painting by my good friend Suzanne Koch. Otherwise, unless noted, the works are mine.
    Actually I think people do want art, but are confused about what art is and have handed off the whole endeavor to various so-called “experts.” But real art speaks so deeply to eternal human longings that it continually breaks forth in each generation, though it doesn’t always catch on in the timely fashion so necessary to the well-being of the artist. Alas, about that too!
    It means that artists have to be more assertive in a very positive and forthright way. It begins with faith. Stay true to your individual talent and vision because the first audience you have to convince is yourself. In the beginning you will often be the only promoter of your work, and you will not be very effective if you don’t even believe in it yourself — which, of course, you won’t if you compromise the standards you know to be just. So, stick to your dream in its finest manifestation. Push your idea as far as your ability can carry you. When you are excited about it, you’ll have enthusiasm to share with others.
    Certainly this is not an easy prescription. But to labor away doing the “kitchy” thing, thinking you please others is — as you say — demoralizing and ultimately self-defeating. Of course, one needs to pay bills and no honest work is lacking in dignity. But in the work that pays bills, try to reach the highest standard compatible with the project. Various fundamental skills get practice there — to serve better things later on — drawing, color perception and harmonizing, sense of scale, development of meaning in imagery, all these things can function in minor arts too. Winslow Homer started out as an illustrator and the strong compositional skills he honed in commercial work later stood him in good stead when he switched permanently to fine art.
    In any case, nothing is more edgy than life. The living moment, the shape of your own life and personality, these are authentic facts. The same “self” that you share in life with those you meet provides the vitality of art. Good luck! And keep the faith.

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