Thursday, June 25, 2009

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged!

So I judged a show!
What are you going to do about it? Judge me!

I dare you!
Seriously, I dare you.

A simple way to explain how art is created is through a discussion of critical judgment- Visual judgment. Proportions are determined by relational comparisons- "Is that bigger than that?" "Is this too wide for it's height?" You can do the same for everything in a picture, including color, value, edges, and so on. Criticism is how good work is made, it is how the artist is made, it is how we get better. I can't think of a more loving thing to do than to spend the time offering your views on someones work. So, when I criticize, I do it because I love.

Group Hug!

Anyway, my wife still made sure to tell me to be nice before I left the house the morning of this show. I did my best.

This is an action shot of me in full on judging action.

I thought I would talk a bit about my experience judging a show in Hillsboro, Ohio last weekend for the Brush and Palette Guild. This is my home town, it is out in the country, and my Grade School art teacher is a member of the Guild. So it was like a home coming of sorts.
It was an interesting show, with a wide range of abilities and talent. Over all the show was very good for such a small group. Some work there that every bit as good as that seen in some city galleries and large studio buildings of full of "artists". It helps that they are a lovely group of people, interested in art, struggling to produce and supportive of each other.

I was a bit surprised by the shear number of awards given, but I have to admit it made my job easier. This was more of a show to demonstrate what the group is doing and to cheer them on to do more. So there were 30 something artists, around 300 pieces of art, and I gave out over 200 awards. It was very much divided up into categories- I had 6 pages or so of them listed with 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 4th for each of them.
So, I imagine, or at least I hope, everyone got some sort of prize. It was tough as there were occasionally 10 pieces in a category, where the top 4 were by the same artist.
I wanted to use this opportunity to discuss how I judged the show and the trends I saw or problems that I most often saw in the work.
The show, luckily was representational so I did not have to worry about being biased towards realism, as I obviously am very biased. So I only had to look at the quality and intent of the pieces.
As I had to judge 300 works in 3 hours, and give out a wheel barrow of ribbons, I had to work fast. Composition and power of the piece from a distance was my first point of consideration, next was color, next was drawing ability, finally was whether I just plain like the piece for what ever reason, including subject matter.
I am sure that some of my choices may have left a few scratching their heads, as small, comfortable, simple pictures with weaker drawing occasionally won out over large flashy painting that were more photographic.

After judging the show, and after lunch, I was to walk around with the artists, and discuss and critique my choices. First off, this was amazingly fun and a great exercise for me. The group was a lot of fun and pretty receptive to my ripping their art to shreds.
The crazy thing was that I got paid to do it. I was handed a Judges Guildlines sheet, that I suppose I was suppose to read. I was to critic the work from 1:00 to 2:30. I did it from 1:30 to about 5.

My comments on their art was probably not very different from comments I might make on most art done today.
So, what were the over riding issues and problems with the work?
1) Lack of Design and a strong center.
A drawing or painting has to first and foremost work in design. This is one of the hardest things to teach, to learn and to explain. It is obviously one of the hardest to do as I see some wonderful painters working today, that are just not designing- at all. Many very talented figure painters seem to believe that a painting is designed if you get the pretty, nude girls butt close to the center. While that is part of it, there is a lot more do creating a good abstraction.
One could write a series of books on the subject, so I will do little more here than mention these things, and suggest that you read on the topic. Also, make sure you look at good pictures. No, let me rephrase that- Great pictures.
The tendency to work from photos is a big part of the problem. A photo rarely is good design. It maybe an accurate representation, people usually get the subject roughly in the center of the viewfinder, but that is not necessarily a reason to paint from it. A photo can be a good tool, but nature does not design for us, we design from nature. I also feel this trend of a "painting a day", which is a good exercise in painting, for effect, quickly, often has completely neglected design. A pear in the middle of a color field canvas is not a good design unless you are painting a bulls eye for an archery club. A line of pears is also not a good design if they are all treated equally haphazardly lined up. Maybe if you are painting a pattern for a wall paper border, but I still think that design is not considered as much as it should be.
Some books on the topic: Pictorial Composition by Arthur Dow, Figure Composition by R. G. Hatton, and Composition by Cyril Pearce. Most good art books have a chapter or discussion on composition. Make sure the artist writing the book either has had great training, is a great artist themselves, and I suggest that they probably should have been dead for a long time. Some are out of print, but check your library or if it is posted online for free somewhere.

I will discuss more of the issues in later posts. Just to get you ready, these issues will include Lack of Light effect, Silhouette, Rhythm, and some discussion of presentation and framing.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tuesday night Sketch Group goes digital

I have posted my attempts at using new technology for art. I have Nintendo DS which is normally used for playing mind numbing, time wasting games- a few of which I enjoy. It can be enabled to be used as a digital sketchbook. There is a little pen that you can use to draw on the screen, and a free program that can be downloaded which is like a small version of Photoshop. I have posted some of my attempts in the past, and here are some newer ones. Keep in mind these are not life changing art. They are just little sketches done on a 2" x 3" screen that are fun exersizes.

Digital painting that I never quite finished of the bathroom light.

A coffee cup. I drink too much coffee.

This is a sketch of a thermos. My wife feels that these thermoses have changed her life forever, for the better. Life before this was a lonely and thirsty existence. We own 3 of them and she has even given them out as gifts. While I enjoy a thermos as much as the next guy, my excitement is probably not what she would like it to be- it rarely is. Anyway, I drew a picture of it to display my affection for the thermos and to impress her. Plus it is always fun drawing shinny things.

In a desperate display of one upsmanship, my friend Joe showed up to our sketch group with something much more impressive than my little Nintendo.
There is a group of us that meet every Tuesday night to draw from a figure model. Last night, one of the regular memebers brought a full size digital sketchbook to draw on. It is basically a laptop without a keyboard that has a screen you can draw on like a normal digital tablet. He works digitally most so it is nice to have a rig to work on in the field or you can even look cool and sit in a coffee shop and work on your art work.
Here are some photos of Joe working from the model. I was intrigued, but as you know, new things frighten me, so I will stick to charcoal and pencil for now.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Just too funny

If you read this blog, you know I have a few opinions. I like to discuss the art world, which while it is free and open allowing for one to communicate anything they like to an audience, this has swung wide the door to free thought all the way to complete nonsense- or even lack of any thought. This freedom had removed any responsibility the "artists" has to the public.

Cy Twombly, Sensations of the Moment. MUMOK Ausstellungsansicht / exhibition view. Foto: MUMOK, Lisa Rastl © MUMOK
"You have to admire his consistency."

If you don't get the gibberish they are speaking, it is blamed on the ignorance of the viewer- not the inadequacies of the "artist". Having been to "art school" I am well versed in the complete Bull S%#* that is spilled liberally in those institutions, during critiques and in classes of art history.
We have set up a whole industry around it. Museums and galleries do their best to push and explain it with fancy words, stepping on anyone that is not in on the sham.

"I really like how the squiggly things looks against the jaggedy thing."

I get daily emails from, a site that hosts news, events and discusses trends in the art world. Occasionally they have photos heading their stories that I find absolutely hilarious. They are not supposed to be, but I usually save the image for my own amusement. I thought I would share a few of them. There really is not much to say here. I thought about adding little thought bubbles above the gallery audience that is deep in thought in front of these modern works, but I thought that would be over kill. They are pretty funny all on their own.
-Sorry, I couldn't resist-I decided it wasn't overkill and added my own quotes.

After his close examination he was heard to exclaim, "oh, I get it?! Yellow!"

I plan on discussing this further in relation to public art. Again, any responsibility to the public and the role as a visual communicator has been removed. It is more an exercise in selfish expression. There is a public sculpture near my studio that is a perfect example of what I find a failing system.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

73rd Butler National Mid-Year Show

After a year of rejections for shows, prizes and a humiliating attempt to get on American Idol, I have finally been accepted to hang some work in a show- and as you can see from the title of this post, it is an national show at a museum. So that is some good stuff.
This was a good shot in the arm for me and prevented me from throwing a noose over the rafter of the studio at least for a while.

Here is the painting that got into the show.

Chocolate Milk and Candy (the son), 22 x 14, oil on linen
This is part of diptych, the other half of which is hanging in the Rottinghaus gallery. Both works are for sale.

Another cool thing was that my good friend Carl Samson also got a painting in the show. We both drove our work up to the Butler Institute on Friday. This little museum is in Youngstown Ohio, and is an architectural masterpiece built by McKim, Mead and White. A long drive from Cincinnati, but we had a great time at the museum which has a pretty good collection of work for such a small institution. There are some heavy hitters there, the most famous being Winslow Homer's Snap the Whip. There was Paxton painting that was the highlight of the collection for both of us. It had brilliant drawing, coloring and amazing form. A real beauty. The only thing wrong with it was that it was hung between two miserable Thomas Eakins, but it was easy to ignore them (I should do a post sometime about why Eakins is the most overrated artist in American painting). Other great paintings includ a nice Birge Harrison, a lovely Emil Carlson seascape and two very nice Whistlers.

Enough about those other hacks- my painting will be on view at the Butler from June 28 through August 23. There is going to be a meet the artist reception and awards ceremony on Sunday, June 28 from 1 to 3. The event is free, but they ask for reservations.