and I think today I have made a breakthrough in finding the answer to a question that has been bugging me for a very long time.
I’ve been trying to study the “right” and the “wrong” way of making art, to find some guiding principles, something to go by in order to make “good art”.
And at the same time asking myself – those artists that lived in the past and even in ancient civilizations, did they really know some magnificent secrete that we, in modern times, have lost? Why does their art seem serious and whole, while ours, which is more informed, more realistic, lacks that sense of telling a simple, fundamental truth about the world?
For example, one step in my chain of discoveries was that good art involves storytelling. And like any verbal storytelling it has to be selective. It has to be tied to the theme.
But can that be used, like some kind of formula, to create “good art”?
That’s what I question. Surely, yes, it can, to some degree. It can help you debug your novel when it seems to go awry with too many details, for example.
But fundamentally good art comes from the artist’s genuine desire to describe something, and their focus on that thing that they want to describe.
Not their focus on how to impress, not their focus on how to please a critic, but just a focus on the thing they’re expressing.
Ancient Egyptian art lacks realism, but the confidence it has in its style and its devotion to telling its essential story are what make it beautiful. There is sincerity of a mind describing a thought there.
What have we done in modern times? We have replaced that desire with an impersonal aspiration of some kind. We ran away from realism in an attempt to find “individuality”, and then we came back to realism in an attempt to find “excellence”, and neither attempt is really fully successful, isn’t it..
Of course you could make the point that someone with no art training at all would just create a mess, and that is a very good point indeed.
But also, someone with lots of art education and excellent execution can create something stale and formulaic.
To speak beautifully – you need words, and then you need to have an idea that is Your owN.
Art that has no hesitations about the fundamental way it should be done, is possible when the artist has taken the time to learn the tools they need for that execution. And which tool they acquired was dictated by what they wanted to express. And that the tools themselves are a result of a sincere quest for expression.
A self trusting soul is earned and created by the habit of not hiding from its own questions, but trying to answer them, instead.
A thought about tools and painting: The tools we hold actually change our thinking. A tool determines what can and can’t be done, what solutions and options are open to us or not.
Our subconscious looks for solutions based on the options our tool provides. If the size or shape of your brush is not the one that matches what you envision should happen on your canvas, then you will probably get something that doesn’t exactly match your vision. Same thing for the paints you use or how the surface of the painting is like.
Like trying to do a block-in with paint on a very absorbent surface. The brush doesn’t want to move and it’s hard to draw. It can change the way you do your block-in. The drawing may come out more segmented, for example.
Or how about trying to create bright chroma with a muddy pile of paint?Trying to create large shapes with a small brush. Trying to create straight edges using a rounded brush. So my conclusion is that it’s nice to incorporate the habit of spending a minute to choose the right tool before I start working.
One of the strangest things I came across which has stayed with me, was one person’s description of how they feel about Enya’s music. They said they like her music a lot, but that they feel that it lacks emotion. To me that was the strangest thing to read, because I feel the complete opposite about her music. Her music is calm and pleasant, but the heart of that quietness, the slow-ripples-in-a-pond-like style lies a very deep emotion. I think it can be easily noticed when one compares her calm music with calm “elevator type” music. But it led me to think of a more general truth: The nature of the communication of art and its objectivity.
Art can obviously be experienced differently by different people.
The same works in paintings. An artist could paint an abandoned alley in golden daylight, think they captured that feeling of solitary glow perfectly, that feeling of slow sunlight shining quietly on the world in hidden corners, but someone else looks at the same painting and sees only the alley. They might sum up the painting by saying: “Oh, isn’t this the corner of 5th and Main? I think I know this alley!”.
However, and here is the important part: A different person with the right “emotional vocabulary” will see the meaning of the piece in the same way the artist thought of it instantly. It will be as obvious to them as to the one who created it. And the clues will all be there in the piece, too; the emphasis; not on the structure or the concrete details of the street, but rather on the interaction of light with the objects in the scene.
But an artist simply cannot create anything that will automatically impose its meaning on an observer. Such a thing is unobtainable.
Art speaks a language whose meaning can only be understood by having the complete emotional vocabulary. The meaning is there, but it has to be decoded by having the right “dictionary”. To a large degree I think all people have a lot in common in terms of their “dictionaries”, but they also have huge differences depending on their personality, life experiences and associations.
I also believe these different “dictionaries” can be explained and shown, to some degree, and that eventually, through differentiation from other artworks, someone can be made to see the essence of an artwork in a more precise, nuanced way. And I realize that this also applies to me regarding artworks I don’t immediately relate to or understand.
Most works of art are presented to us, the viewers/ readers, without explanation. They ignore our existence and are yet designed to display themselves to us as if we are the center of their universe. “Here is an interesting story”, “Here is a collection of sounds”, “Here is a picture for you to look at” “It’s just here, choose if you want to get involved in this made-up story and made up universe or not”. No explanation is given as to why you should get involved and when you read it, the story is told as if you’re not really there. As if the story exists in some fifth dimension. We take all of that for granted and just enjoy the artwork, but when you stop to think about it, the idea that someone is presenting us a story without acknowledging our presence is rather peculiar, interesting and worth consideration.
What’s more is that the events in the artwork are not just presented randomly. Everything is planned and crafted around you, the viewer, to show you something interesting, beautiful or important, but without acknowledging that you are there to see it (nor is the existence of the author/ artist that created it acknowledged). This is a third person story telling, and, just like it is the most common in literature, so it is also most common in visual art.
Consider, for example, this painting:
Talk about being in the right place at the right time! We just happen to be exactly at the spot allowing us to see this exceptional moment, from a location that shows us clearly and beautifully the story that unfolds, at a crucial moment of the plot. The figures are arranged to appear most beautifully composed from this particular angle, there is nothing in our way, the composition is carefully crafted to maximize our clarity and sense of beauty of the scene, and yet the way the painting is portrayed, it is like we are not even there. The characters in the painting do not know we are observing them or seem to recognize it, even though we are given the best seat in the stadium.
What’s even “funnier” is that paintings would often add random elements to make it seem like the painting is NOT intentionally trying to display itself to you, but that you rather accidentally stumbled across the scene. This is done by placing foreground objects (like the branches of plant covering the baby) and by keeping the main events off center.
But every now and then, artists also create visual art in the second or first person point of view.
The first person point of view in story telling, is when the author is describing their own experiences. Unlike the third-person pov, the existence of a creator is not taken for granted but is instead made the center of the work.
In visual art, this would be represented by self portraits where the artist is portrayed in the act of painting.
A perfect example is this self portrait by Elisabeth Vigée-Lebrun
The portrait presents to a viewer the creator herself, while creating a painting. It’s like writing a story that describes what the author is doing at any given moment. First-person storytelling in visual art is more tricky than in literature, because in literature, an author can describe themselves doing all sorts of activities, but in visual art, if the artist just shows themselves doing an activity, it wouldn’t be immediately known that it is them, unless the title or the plaque of the painting says so. And even then, it hardly changes the meaning of what is actually displayed in the piece. So mostly, first-person story telling are paintings about the act of painting. They may or may not acknowledge the existence of a viewer.
This brings us to the last category, the second-person point of view. In this method the existence of the viewer is acknowledged and the story is told as if told to you, the viewer. It is described in this website as: “This point of view treats the reader as the main character in the story. Other characters refer to the reader as “you.” Descriptions are based on what you would see if you were in that situation. This narrative voice is generally reserved for explanatory articles and how-to books, but adventurous writers will occasionally pen a short story or novel in the second person.”
I could not think of a better example than this drawing by Jason Brady. It is more likely that many would think of this drawing as an interesting gimmick, but actually it is an example of a rare category of point of view in art. Art that interacts directly with the viewer and makes the viewer the center of the piece and the center of the story.
In this drawing, you are playing a chess game with death. I believe it is your move, and you better choose wisely because the price of losing is gonna be high.
You are deliberately given a low eye level. Death is towering over you. The chess pieces are giant, bigger than you, almost, and death is staring right at you, waiting for you to make your move.
A common type of second-person pov in visual art is portraits. Especially when the person in the portrait is looking straight at you.
Portraits are explicit about displaying someone to a viewer and they explicitly acknowledge the viewer, especially if the person in them is looking at the viewer like in this portrait. There is no narrative, though. It is a very simple, yet stylized, presentation of the character and looks of one person to another (or others, in plural).
Here is another example of a second-person pov, in this drawing by comic book artist Joe Madureira
You are definitely acknowledged as the part of the scene here. In fact, every painting in which a character deliberately makes eye contact with you, the viewer, is a second person pov.
Some paintings will make a viewer implicitly part of the scene without making eye contact or directly interacting with them. The painting can assign the viewer a role by controlling their location in the scene. The eye level and distance from the scene play a crucial role here. In third person pov there is an unexplained distance in which anything could happen. But some paintings will explain everything, all the way down to your nose. This can be achieved by rendering objects that nearly touch you or stand in your way as the viewer.
A scene could be either composed in a distance, as if you are watching a play, or it can be viewed from a point of view inside the scene. I can’t quite classify all examples, but consider this painting by Norman Rockwell, Freedom of Speech:
You, the viewer, is specifically located inside the scene, sitting in with the rest of the crowd, looking back to see this young man in the row behind you standing up. you even have the man next to him partially blocking your view. The painting does not acknowledge you directly as a viewer, but it assigns you a place in the scene that is inside the scene. He chose specifically to place us in the crowd’s eye level to emphasize the monumental action of the man standing up to speak. This effect would be nearly ruined if our eye level was changed to look at the scene from above, for example. And the meaning and focus of the scene would have changed completely if we were looking at the whole courtroom from a distance, even if the same event was depicted.
The majority of visual art works are in the third person point of view and set a scene that is viewed as if in a theater. The space between the viewer and the scene is not fully explained. You could be viewing it through a window, or a few feet away, or just seeing a poster. But You are not directly assigned a role or a place in the scene.
To illustrate, here are a few examples:
Frédéric Soulacroix, Spring
Frank Dicksee, Yseult
Ivan Shishkin, Gathering Storm
Thomas Couture, Romans during the Decadence
Richard Bergh Nordic, Summers evening
Maxfield Parrish, Morning
Eugen de Blaas, The Flirtation
Jean Leon Gerome, Desert Quest
William Adolphe Bouguereau, Nymphes et satyre
John Everett Millais
I hope you see that in all of these, you get a sense of a scene deliberately being displayed to you. You are separate from the scene, observing it. You are not part of it and no role is assigned to you. There is no voice of the creator, either.
Some paintings make the viewer part of the scene by changing the eye level, the distance from the picture plane, or add depth to the painting such that items in the painting extend beyond the displayed scene and reach out or encompass the location of the viewer. In all the paintings of the 3rd person pov above, there is a distance between the scene and the viewer which is not visually explained. In painting where the viewer is assigned a location or a role, that distance is explained. It is more common in game art which I included in some of the examples:
League of Legends Game art
Arsène Vigeant, John Singer Sargent
In the first, you are somewhere on the ground, the grass obstructing your view, just about to be discovered by this dangerous assassin. In the second, you are right in front of the man in the painting, who looks like he is about to step in your direction or start talking to you. In the third, there are those poles right in front of your face, while the area of the interest, the couple, is all the way in the right of the picture, suggesting you are viewing the entire scene by chance. The Degas painting suggests that you are right there in front of them, strolling around the room. there is really little distance between you and the people in the room. The gameart of Zyra, looking right at you, or the other Zyra which you catch a glimpse of from behind the plants. The size of the plants suggests that they are right in your face, which places you at a specific distance from the scene.
I find that many paintings are still difficult for me to categorize clearly. The tools of visual art are different than those of literature but I find a lot of fascinating commonalities between the two. Another thing this topic has made me realize is that the location of the viewer in your scene is a tool to communicate different messages in your artwork. Things like the eye level and perspective play a significant role, beyond just organizing objects in a scene realistically. They can serve the goal of involving a viewer in your painting to varying degrees. In many paintings, the viewer is just there to watch and appreciate and in some – to participate in different ways. Your art will have a different psychological effect and a different message depending on what you choose.
Visual contrast is a key concept in the making of an artwork. A concept I learned from online lectures by artist Bill Perkins at NMA.
My initial concept of visual contrast was very limited. I thought that contrast consists of something visually standing out due to being darker or lighter than what’s next to it. I was aware that you could create color contrast. But his lecture really opened my eyes to the endless forms of visual contrast that take part in an artwork and shape the way we experience it. Continue reading →
Values is a term in art that describes how light or dark something is. It refers to the grayscale value of a color.
How light or dark something is is one of the primary ways our visual system analyzes the visual world around us. It’s how we recognize something as a shape or an outline and it clues us to understand it as an entity.
In visual art it is a primary tool to emphasize and de-emphasize elements in a work of art. More specifically than value, it is the contrast that is used to make something stand out or disappear. When you start paying attention to how it is used in art, some of those lovely paintings and the way they were composed starts seeming very deliberate and not so random. It is not just that an artist gets an inspiration and an idea of what they want to paint, it is also that they then spend time composing the values of the picture to make the theme or subject of their painting stand out. So much so that in some cases it can almost seem shamelessly composed, yet seem entirely coincidental, unintended and realistic. Continue reading →
Long time no see, Blog. Don’t ask, I’ve been sick for a week and had a lot of other stuff going on, but I’m back, ready to provide you with some fresh content.
First is the painting I did at my Atelier last week, working from a live model for 5 days. This was done in 4 colors: Redish brown, Yellow, Black and White.
I would get cool tones from mixing black and white to make a gray, or from mixing black and yellow to create a green, warming it up with red as necessary.
I was able to achieve a peach-brown by mixing my brown with white, or leaning more toward an orange by mixing it with the yellow, neutralizing it as necessary with the black and white. Wooha!
I also started working with a new palette which I absolutely love. It’s a glass palette. The neat thing about it is that I can control the background color against which I mix my colors, which allows me to see what I’m mixing so much better.
I decided that from now on I will start using a paper color that matches the average color of the skin tone of the model in the light. It really helps.
Here is the painting, done over 5 sittings of 3 hours each.
One of the things I learned here was how to solve the problem of cropping a figure against an abstract background. In this case, for example, I wanted to emphasize the triangle shape his arms created and end the painting there without painting the lower body part. The reason for this is that I felt that the core of the pose for me was the strength created by the two joined arms and that it was framing the body nicely. I liked the strength of it.
But then the problem was how to get rid of the rest of the body mass without making it looked chopped off. At first I simply didn’t paint it, which gave it a lovely Cheshire cat look, where one sees only the head of the cat. As lovely as that was, I decided against it. And painting carelessly and mostly using my subconscious the idea came to me to paint the beginning of the other parts in the right value, but with the background color instead of the flesh tones. This allowed me to then dissolve it at will into the background without making it feel like a strange operation was involved.
If you’re not an artist, this might bore you to death. And it might still bore you to death even if you are an artist, I don’t know. But it doesn’t bore me! Which is why I keep talking about it. 🙂
But anyway, indeed, it’s time to move on.
I also painted a few still life paintings. I am painting them quickly, one every day or two, with the purpose to practice and learn paint handling. Here is the result:
My next project is going to be a group of glass objects. It’s going to be longer than these studies – a 2 week project or so.
My next figurative project is going to be 2 weeks long, working from a live model again – a male model. I don’t know what the pose will be because I have no control over it. I will choose the angle and how I render it, but that’s about it. I hope it will be something I like.
I actually have a lot of thoughts about art and about my art, but they have not grown deep enough roots yet in my mind to articulate or write about.
I find that usually when I have an idea, it is not isolated – it is part of a generalization which relates to other areas of my life, and the process of forming the generalization and making the connections takes time and thinking which spans over years sometimes.
I was thinking about what art IS. I believe if you ask someone who has been through art school they will tell you that everything can be made into art.
If you asked what a spoon is and someone told you that a spoon could be anything and everything you would think they are nuts. Why? Because a spoon is a specific object, with a specific shape-family and function.
But the same does not apply to art. Why? Because the identity of art involves a high level abstraction. Forming the concept of what art IS involves identifying a lot of abstract qualities about art. In our modern age where people are taught not to trust their own mind, performing this level of abstraction on our own is extremely difficult, borderline impossible.
Similarly, the question “what is a spoon” is much easier than “what is justice?”. The later involves a chain of abstract concepts which need to be retained and which have no immediate physical manifestation. You don’t “see” justice in the street the way you might see a spoon.
The essence of “justice” is hidden in actions, in seeing similarity and relating them to one’s existing spiritual values. It’s harder to do.
In the last decade there has been a resurgence of classical realism. In the last 10 years over a dozen ateliers have opened across the United States and Europe where none existed earlier on. The only option for artists seeking training was an art degree, which was a pile of wishy washy intellectual crap without a single course offered as a saving grace to develop actual rendering skills. Pretty much, that was it.
The leading premise was that to teach an artist anything concrete would be to destroy their artistic freedom and identity – to make them into a mold. But actually, what this idea mean is that to have an identity means to lose freedom. In fact, if something has no identity, it does not exist.
We are conceptual beings, but to form those concepts and concretize them we need a visualization of them. Something like “Pride” may only be understood when seen on a human face or through some action (like soldiers, going to war). There is an inseparable connection between the tangible and the abstract. Take away the tangible and you “art” is a pile of materials. It is no longer ART. It’s a piece of no good junk. (OK, I may be going overboard here, but I couldn’t resist. I just love calling things a piece of no good junk, especially in a southern accent for added emphasis). It’s true of most of them anyway, if not all. I wouldn’t know because I find them too boring to pay attention to.
Believe it or not, I got my share of hate for my belief. As if that’s gonna stop me. If you want someone who supports modern art you only have the rest of the world to talk to. Don’t take your insecurities in your opinion out on me. You don’t see me torturing you because of what you believe, right? That’s because I am confident I am right.
Anyway now that this issue has been settled, I’d like to talk some more about something else on my mind.
As my “About” page mentions, I model in order to pay my tuition and living expenses. (By the way, buying any small piece of art off my hands would be SO appreciated).
I’ve had some thoughts about modeling. I absolutely love doing it. It involves standing still in a pose or several poses while a room full of people creates art based off of you.
I realized that what I enjoy about it resembles very much my motivation in making art.
When I am motivated to draw, paint or sculpt, the subconscious, underlying motivation is being able to communicate something to someone. Something which I feel very intensely about and which is unique to me. It’s as if a voice in my mind looks at the subject I want to paint and says to the future viewer: “Look how wonderful it is. See what I mean? See?” and then I am able to show what I mean by emphasizing all the things I see about it through rendering it. The way I would render an expression, or contort or stretch the body, or emphasize a certain light. All those things come together to show a vision, and the satisfaction is from having that vision understood and admired.
Modeling is the same in some regards. Through the way I hold my body I am able to communicate a vision. It is then up to others to interpret it or capture it as they like, but I do my part in describing something. The difference is that in this case the model’s body becomes the medium and he or she are a flesh and blood sculpture of their own vision (in case they decide on the pose). I enjoy this part of the job, which is otherwise physically demanding.
I’m all out of things to say tonight and so I’d like to end the post here.
Lastly, I’m happy to announce that I will be giving an interview about my art to The Objective Standard magazine. My deep thanks to Craig Biddle.
Wishing you a happy, productive week, and a fun holiday season,