Thursday, August 13, 2009

What Is Worth Painting?

I have a tendency to paint pictures of odd things. I have a weird and obscure sense of humor. I enjoy sarcasm, humor, and a biting wit. Most of my immediate family is quite funny. My friends are pretty funny- or at least they find me funny. If they don't, I generally do not want to be around them, because they must not be very smart- as I am freaking hilarious.

Now let me ask, is there room in painting for a sense of humor? Can art be funny? Of course a painting can be funny, but should it be? Should art aspire to something higher? Does a subject have to be serious to have a timeless weight to it? A painting of a monkey giving a clown a wedgie would be hilarious, but most could agree it is not worthy of being painted on canvas- black velvet maybe, but not canvas.
A lot of art by the Modernist is tongue in cheek or shocking; a sophomoric attempt at being clever.
Contrast is an important concept in painting, being a requirement to creating a composition. You need a contrast of two different values- a dark and a light, to set things off and emphasize the subject. You can have contrast of values, colors, edges and sizes. When arranged and used in their proper relation you are designing.

Old Frying Pan (16x12) oil on linen, 2004

I also enjoy contrast in subject matter. Arranging things that don't necessarily go together into a pleasing arrangement. Contrast of subject can be funny or defined as 'weird'.
I am trying to control my urge to set up weird stuff- for a few reasons. For one thing it sort of fits in that category of cutesy cleverness I criticize the 'moderns' for. Other than an odd arrangement of stuff, is it saying anything other than, 'hey look at how cute I am?' Also these paintings have been hard for me to sell. They are often attract attention, but never enough for someone to put down some money to own. If I do a painting that is a quiet and beautiful arrangement, it eventually sells. Why is that?
I think it has to do with timelessness of subject. Something which is weird has that initial shock value. It attracts at first, but does it maintain interest?

If the attached paintings do in your opinion, Why in the hell haven't you bought them!

1, 2, Red, Yellow, Blue, 9x7, oil on canvas, 2005

In a previous post I talked about a Surrealism show I saw at the museum. It was a bunch of 'weird', silly and juvenile stuff. I suggest you read the post.
Some other people posted some good comments under that post- including a quote by Ingres- "Woe to the artist who does not take his work seriously."
Someone else talked about how not all art is about beauty, and that "pretty" pictures can be boring. He also mentioned that while Geurnica is not pretty, it is honest.
I will post my response here as I thought it was pretty good and it adds more to the topic of 'What is worth painting':

"You could say that graffiti artists are being honest. You could say terrorists are being honest as well. They are expressing their intention.
I am not a fan of terrorism and I think most graffiti artists should have there right hand cut off if they are caught defacing property (that may be harsh, maybe just a few fingers).

I never said pretty. Beauty is something that can be separated from prettiness. I believe it is greater, a higher ideal than mere prettiness.
You mention Guernica- the most over rated painting in the history of the arts in my opinion. Yes it has intent, but what else? It is illustration of a terrible event. Other than to document misery, what is the point? Blood and guts says little more than your typical B-movie slasher film.
I will offer a contemporary example, and as I can't find a lot of success in fine arts, I will go to the movies. Two movies, both by Spielberg, document horrible events in human history: The Holocaust and WWII.
Ugly subjects in which he manages to show moments of beauty. Guernica ends after the opening bloody sequence of the beach landing. Leaving you with little to no faith in humanity.
This movie goes on to show the human spirit prevailing over the horrible events. A Guernica-like take on the holocaust would just show a stack of bodies, while Schindler's List goes on to show someone doing great deeds of heroism despite these events.
An art example is the Pietà by Michelangelo. Sorry I have to go back so far, but it is the highest example I could think of.
What is worse than the representation of the death of ones son? Yet there is beauty here, it shows pure love, even in ultimate loss. We do not even have to know the story of Christ to get the point. It is about something 'Greater'.

A great artist can paint an ugly rock and still manage to show it's beauty. Or you could just make it float over the ground so people ignore the poor craftsmanship and lack of any great idea other than the 'intent' to shock.

"Ooooh, that rock is floating over the ocean. Crazy man. But I still wish it had some boobies."

For the record, I often find Pissaro boring as well."

Finally, a friend of mine sent a very well put letter on the subject. It deserves to be shared here:

"May I suggest that weirdness is a cop out? That which is weird is so at the expense of a more true, more honest, more powerful effect. Weirdness may amuse a fellow weirdo (one who shares ones eccentricities in taste or humor) but can it do so and nourish the soul? Call to arms those timeless convictions that bid poets write, and mothers weep? Men fight and minstrels play, and children build with awkward blocks and clay?

Weirdness speaks of you first (the painter), and by so doing, is woefully limited. Consider; is weirdness not a dis-unity? a lack of harmony? A state of oddness that bears testimony to its incompetence? Is the effect of weirdness not produced by parts that do not cooperate with the whole of truth, with the concept, with the painting itself? To say one is weird with a grin, is to glorify ones isolation and estrangement from the pulse of mankind. From the pursuit of order and harmony, and therefore from the possibility of contributing to either.

So weirdness is employed by those who prefer to make cheap effects. To evoke in a viewer some reaction that would otherwise not be. Why? Is it that the effect and power of harmony and order employed by the creative mind and eye would require too daunting a task? Or is it just beyond the sense and sensitivities of our weird friend?

Whatever the reason may be, for one to be satisfied with weirdness is to trade ones grand inheritance for a bowl of luke warm soup, satisfying some temporal hunger in lue of pursuing that which is eternally satisfying and effective.

Off course, like most things, this phenomenon could easily apply to the other end of the spectrum. Paintings that are so ordered and lacking in ingenuity or courage that they cease to have any effect or harmony worth mentioning, they too are an offense to truth and the greater human project.

It just occurred to me that interest that might be categorized as weird, but exists within the context of a persuasively beautiful and powerful painting, ceases to be called weird. The assignment of weird is reserved for that which stands out and alone as off putting or odd. I think of numerous large paintings by Tintoretto or Varanasi . One can find countless "weird" stuff going on, but the overall effect is anything but.

I suppose it all boils down to that illusive balance between unity and interest. Effect and fact. Self and neighbor.

Would be worth while to explore what exactly those people found weird about your work. One might be pleasantly surprised to find how it could be remedied.
Take Care

Alastair Dacey"

1 comment:

Stapleton Kearns said...

How many times have I asked myself "would this be a better painting if I put a burning phone booth in it?"