Carving Mountains from Scratch

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Having recently completed a set of six new paintings for the gallery that represents me in Charleston, SC (Mitchell-Hill Gallery), I decided I wanted to search for a gallery somewhere in the Rocky Mountain states. There are several ways to hunt down a gallery to represent you, but most of those ways do not work very well. The most common way is to send them an email and ask. But galleries can get over a hundred emails a month from artists and I would assume they just delete most of those emails as they get them. Some galleries actually state on their website what they ask from an artist that wants representation, and an artist following those requests is respectful, and that's a good way to start a relationship.

There are several ways to hunt down a gallery...but most of those ways do not work VERY well.

The other way though is for an artist to enter their work in regional shows, because gallery owners often go to shows to check out the art and shop for new artists to represent. Because my work is so hard to explain in a photo (they are dimensional and reflective), this last route is the way for me to go I think. So I am looking for key shows out west that I can enter a body of work into that would "fit" into that region. So for instance, I am looking to paint more rugged mountains that our Appalachians and Blue Ridge. These new paintings should like like somewhere out west (think Rocky Mountains) rather than western North Carolina or the Asheville vicinity. And I LOVE that challenge. I love painting new themes because that keeps my work fresh and my brain entertained!

So here is the beginning of a painting of Dream Lake (just southwest of Estes Park, Colorado). This is a quintessential Rocky Mountain lake scene, so it's perfect for my purposes. I just began applying modeling compound with my palette knife yesterday, building and carving the scene on my canvas. This is now about ready for the next step (applying aluminum leaf), then painting.

I'm really excited about painting this new body of work. We'll see where it goes! 

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"Trigger Warning"

St.Claire mountain landscape (full view)
St.Claire landscape painting (close up 1)
St.Claire landscape painting (close up 2)
St.Claire landscape painting (close up 3)

After the school shootings at Parkland, Florida and after watching a horrid video (that hit really close to home) showing a black man being totally brutalized by a local white police officer, several of my artist friends were talking and trying to process our grief and rage. This should not be normal. None of this should be normal. As the conversation progressed, we decided we needed to use our artistic voice to challenge our society to call that society to think and reason. This has turned into a multi-venue exhibition of art called "Trigger Warning".

As I said in my earlier blog about this, I wondered what I could do (as a landscape painter) to say something strong about this whole subject (because that's what it deserves). I really felt completely perplexed. But then in the early hours of the morning, the idea regarding what I had to do came to me.

Rather than wax on about what I wanted to say with this, I would like very much to know how it affects you, the reader/viewer. I have not titled this piece. What would you title it? Does this piece bring up any thoughts, emotions or questions? I'd really, seriously like to know. This was one of the most difficult paintings I've ever done (knowing what I was going to do to it to make it say what I wanted it to say). I would be very curious what exactly it's saying to you. Sincere thanks!

World View #5: Existentialism

As an artist who usually just paints local landscape paintings, I don't usually think about my "world view". Most people don't give their own world view any thought at all but that view affects how we interpret EVERYTHING here on this planet. So, because we want (I assume) to understand art, we really need to consider the world view of the artist so that we can accurately interpret (and maybe even enjoy!) a piece of artwork. 

The previous world view we looked at was the "abyss" of Nihilism. Because the ramifications of this view are so dark, it gave way to the next: Existentialism. 

I think Existentialism is interesting. In some sense, it is a "softening" of Nihilism. Again, Nihilism asserts that we are all here by chance and in a few billion years when the sun explodes there will be no trace we ever existed and so nothing anyone does ultimately matters at all. In Nihilism, concepts like "fair and unfair", "good and evil", "right and wrong", "meaningful and meaningless" are not based in reality at all and therefore are technically baseless philosophical constructs.  The results of a strict nihilistic world view left a lot of people pretty depressed because like it or not, most people intuitively desire some sort of transcendent meaning in life. Human beings like to at least feel like some things really do matter, and nihilism gives no basis for that assertion.

Enter Existentialism

Existentialism showing up on the scene when it did brings to mind an analogy. Imagine the world is at God's funeral -- people everywhere are quiet, weeping, downcast. As the pipe organ is finishing up the dirge, Stephen Colbert steps up to the podium and starts cracking jokes. Soon, everyone is laughing hysterically.

Existentialism is the joke-teller at a funeral.

Existentialism asserts that yes (as per nihilism) there’s no God but…good news! We don’t NEED a God! We’re free! We can do whatever we want! We can be who and what we want.

Existentialism asserts that we’re not accountable or dependant on a grumpy deity out there somewhere. Individuals are free to create the meaning and essence of their lives, as opposed to deities or authorities creating it for them.

In existentialism, like it’s predecesor Nihilism, there is no true truth. There is no right right or wrong wrong. But existentialism deals with our penchant to at least “feel” like there are propositions that are true and false, right and wrong. This world view deals with that “desire for truth” by asserting that a belief can "become" true to you when you act on it.  This allows people to basically come up with “boutique truths”, customizable truth for every person on earth.

Let's look at the effects of existentialism on art. The poet, Tom Greening, wrote a poem which I think beautifully captures the ramifications of existentialism on a human life:

No Time to Feel (Tom Greening)

The way that I've arranged my life,
I've left no time to feel.
This anesthetic works so well
I never do reveal
my feelings even to myself
or to those close to me.
By keeping busy all the time
I act like I am free,
and if I have some time to spare
I fill it up real fast,
and pray this numbing sedative
is somehow going to last.
When nosey people question me
I hasten to explain
this is my plan to get through life
by minimizing pain,
and yet at times I lie awake
obsessed by sudden doubt—
I worry that I'm just a fool
and somehow missing out.
I do not hope to really live
but merely to survive,
but will I mourn when I'm near death
not having been alive?

So I have a question.  What’s your reaction to this poem?

Next, I’d like also to take a look at a sculpture named “Three Men Walking” by Alberto Giacometti (below)

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Take a look at it. What do you notice? Any thoughts?

 

 

World View #4: Nihilism

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In our basic survey of world views, we have looked at three so far: Theism, Deism and Naturalism. We have considered the basic assumptions espoused by these world views and their affect on culture and specifically upon art. By way of reminder, the basic assumption of theism is that "God is here". This world view asserts that the Creator is present and wants relationship with us. Deism asserts that God is "out there somewhere" (not here). He, she or it exists (order we see in the universe would suggest that) but that God is distant and a personal "relationship" with him/her/it is not possible. Naturalism states that to debate whether or not God exists is pointless, because the only way to determine the truth of something is to be able to prove it scientifically (hypothesize, predict, test, repeat). Since the existence of a deity is impossible to prove scientifically, the notion of God is therefore dismissed. Nihilism is the natural and obvious next step in the evolution of western thought. Nihilism is a philosophical position which argues that if naturalism is indeed correct, then it stands to reason that human existence is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value.

So Nihilism simply looks at naturalism and draws the natural conclusions. For instance, if there is no deity, no "judge", no absolute standard of right and wrong, then there is no point in us judging anyone or anything because the notions of right and wrong are purely human constructs. A strict nihilist therefore could not say "racism is wrong" or "sex slavery is wrong" or "mass murder is wrong". They may say it's painful, but they could not say it's "wrong" if the concept of "wrong" is in actuality non-existent.  

Nihilism has profoundly affected western civilization, and its effect can be very clearly seen in the arts.

Personally, I find Nihilism fascinating, but fascinating like studying the Ebola virus would be fascinating (deadly but fascinating). This is a really powerful (and incredibly influential) world view, and when it was propagated by philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, it was unique as a world view in that it offered no future hope of things made right. We are left with the "rule of the jungle" -- the strongest tyrant  rules -- and what he or she does or does not do matters nothing, because nothing has ultimate value.

A strict Nihilist would say that finding "meaning to life" is an opiate to get you through this existence with at least some semblance psychological health, but that's all it is (an opiate) because real "meaning" is non-existent.  Nihilism asserts that we are all here by chance and in a few billion years when the sun explodes there will be no trace we ever existed and so nothing anyone does ultimately matters at all.

What kind of art would you expect to be generated by an artist with this world view?

You might assume that such a pessimistic world view  would have not really caught on, but  you would be wrong.  Nihilism has profoundly affected western civilization, and its effect can be very clearly seen in the arts. So many people coming into my studio in Asheville's River Arts Distrct have said things like "I really don't 'get' most art" or "I look at some artwork that's supposed to be great and think 'this makes no sense at all! A four year old could have thrown the paint onto this canvas! And this is supposed to be 'art'? It's pointless!" See, this is where you must consider the world view of the artist in order to understand what he or she was trying to communicate with the art. I mean, what kind of art (painting, sculpture, prose, poetry) would you expect to be generated by an artist with this world view?

The Madman

by Friedrich Nietzsche

"Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the market place, and cried incessantly: "I seek God! I seek God!"---As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated?---Thus they yelled and laughed

"The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. "Whither is God?" he cried; "I will tell you. We have killed him---you and I. All of us are his murderers. But how did we do this? How could we drink up the sea? Who gave us the sponge to wipe away the entire horizon? What were we doing when we unchained this earth from its sun? Whither is it moving now? Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? Do we not need to light lanterns in the morning? Do we hear nothing as yet of the noise of the gravediggers who are burying God? Do we smell nothing as yet of the divine decomposition? Gods, too, decompose. God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him.

 

World View #3: Naturalism

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In my studio, most people that visit are tourists visiting Asheville, and most visitors are just there to enjoy artwork. Most folks I meet are probably not looking at my artwork and wondering which World View spawned this style of art. (That makes me laugh just thinking about it.) I would go so far to say that 99.9% of people you might survey would not know what the term "World View" even means.

Every one of the visitors to my studio has a "world view" and are trying to understand my artwork (sometimes frantically), based on their world view.

However, every one of the visitors to my studio has a "world view" and are trying to understand my artwork (sometimes frantically), based on their world view. But that's like you using a meter stick to measure something I used a yard stick to create. You might look at both measuring devices and conclude that because they look similar and are used in exactly the same way, they're the same. But unless you factor in the differences between our two methods of measuring, you won't be able to make sense of my dimensions at all, correct?  And that is why this "world view thing" is important to me. Art should be understood.

So...if I still have your attention by this third blog entry on "Understanding Art", then you are truly among the elite academics because this stuff would completely bore most people I meet. However, if you are still reading this blog and I still have your attention, that's awesome! You are well on your way to "getting" every piece of art you ever see. I'm totally serious.

Understanding the artistic creations of someone requires understanding what the creator was trying to say (not just your interpretation of it). And understanding that creator means digging into his or her world view (how they see the world -- how it works and why). Those basic assumptions shape everything about that person's life and especially the artistic work they produce (the art is, in essence, a huge clue into the soul of the artist).

Understanding the artistic creations of someone requires understanding what the creator was trying to say (not just your interpretation of it)

So we have already stated that, historically speaking, theism is the oldest World View. We said that according to theism, God is "here", present with us and wanting to interact with us. The next World View we considered sprung up in Europe in the 17th century and is called Deism. Deism asserts that God is "out there somewhere" but has nothing to do with the world he/she/it created. The next World View to evolve took this all one step further. Naturalism states that whether God exists or not is immaterial.   

Naturalism is the view that the scientific method (hypothesize, predict, test, repeat) is the only effective way to investigate reality.

  • Everything REAL can be explained scientifically. If it can’t, it’s not real.
  • There is no moral right or wrong, good or bad. There is only fact and non-fact.

Therefore...

  • What individual people do does not ultimately matter.
  • There is no God to enjoy or glorify and there is no real significance granted to human beings other than what they imagine or make for themselves.

This world view is really interesting to me, because with virtually every other world view, I can find music, poetry and art that was generated from the standpoint of that world view. With Naturalism, I cannot. Nothing. I assume this is because music, poetry and art are transcendent, and naturalism disregards the transcendent as ultimately meaningless. Don't get me wrong...I don't think someone holding to this world view would hate art. But strictly speaking, artwork and the creation of beauty would be like wiring a paper leaf to tree-shaped sculpture made of metal rods welded together.  Just because you hang the leaf on this "tree" might be very nice but it doesn't mean the tree is real. So create if you want, but that's not reality and is ultimately meaningless.

Strictly speaking, naturalism didn't last very long before it morphed into the next logical World View:  Nihilism. And we will look at that one next, complete with poetry and art.

World View #2: Deism

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In this blog series, I'm looking back through history and tracing the effects of societal world views upon art.  By way of reminder, a "world view" is a fancy term (use it this week and impress your friends!) that simply refers to the "comprehensive conception of the world and how this world works", i.e. our basic assumptions about life. I think this is interesting and helpful because understanding the mind of an artist greatly helps us interpret (and maybe even enjoy) his or her artwork, and that is the point of this blog.

So in my last blog, I talked about theism, the dominant world view in Western Civilization until about the 17th century. Around that period of time, the mindset of the average European peasant was fixed in theism and the mindset of the average European academic was fixed in skepticism.  This was the time of the Enlightenment, when the West examined theistic explanations for why things are the way they are, collectively scratching societal heads wondering "WHY do we believe all this stuff?"  So you really had two basic camps: the religiously devout and the skeptics, and in between both of them stood the deists.

The basic assumptions about life according to a deist can be summed up this way:

Deism derives the existence and nature of God from reason and personal experience (rather than from a written scripture or religious institution).

Deism reject supernatural events (prophecy, miracles). According to a deist, God exists but does not intervene with the affairs of human life and the natural laws of the universe.

Deism accepts holy books of religion as interpretations made by other humans, rather than as authoritative sources.

Deism purports that God's greatest gift to humanity is not religion, but the ability to reason.

Deism teaches that there is right and wrong, good and evil based upon the laws set up by the Creator because by those laws, society runs best.

Where theism teaches that the chief end of man is to "glorify God and enjoy him forever", deism would postulate that that would be utterly impossible, because God is viewed as basically unknowable and distant. A deist would assume that God created the world but that he/she or it is aloof – somewhere out there beyond the stars but too busy and/or to grand to notice us much here on earth.  A famous illustration of what deism teaches pictures God as a watch maker who created this grand time piece and set it ticking. Then God left his work desk and left the watch to tick by itself.  And so a deist would believe that human beings still have the dignity of being created in the image of God but this God offers no personal relationship to men. So whereas theism teaches "God is here" (present), deism teaches that God is "out there somewhere" (unknowable).

How did all this affect artistic expression? Most notably, visual art was no longer centered on religious themes, but on natural situations in everyday life. Humankind was now at the center of attention rather than the Deity. To illustrate this, compare two examples. The first is of the Madonna and Child by Giotto di Bondone.

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What is the focus of this piece of art? It very obviously was painted to exalt the deity. Compare this piece to "The Concert" by Judith Leyster, ca. 1633.

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What is the focus of this piece? Obviously, people...human interaction with each other. Is God there? Oh, maybe off somewhere, but definitely not included in this moment from "normal" everyday life.

This shift in world view rocked all human expression. I have noted an example of this regarding visual art, but as far as music goes, one the most famous pieces ever written actually illustrates this world view shift with remarkable clarity. Beethoven's masterpiece, the "Ode to Joy" from the final movement of his Symphony #9 has to be one of the most beloved pieces of music in all Western history and perfectly illustrates the influence of deism. See if you can catch it.

"Ode to Joy" by Ludwig van Beethoven

Joy, thou source of light immortal,

Daughter of Elysium!

Touched with fire, to the portal,

To your radiant shrine, we come.

Your sweet magic frees all others,

Held in custom's rigid rings.

All men on earth become brothers,

In the haven of your wings.

Whoever succeeds in the great attempt

To be a friend of a friend,

Whoever has won a lovely woman,

Let him add his jubilation!

All creatures drink joy

At the breasts of nature;

All the good, all the evil

Follow her roses' trail.

Kisses gave she us, and wine,

A friend, proven unto death;

Be embraced, you millions!

This kiss for the whole world!

Brothers, beyond the star-canopy

Must a loving Father dwell.

Do you bow down, you millions?

Do you sense the Creator, world?

Seek Him beyond the star-canopy!

Beyond the stars must He dwell.

Do you see the shift? Whereas the piece by Bach I referenced in my last blog (Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring) had the deity as the center of attention, Beethoven has humankind at the center. Is God there? Oh, yes...somewhere "beyond the star-canopy...beyond the stars he must dwell".

So bottom line, a theist would say "God is here" and a deist would say "God is out there somewhere, but certainly not here". Theism holds out relationship with God as prime, and deism takes a big step back from that.

In my next blog, we'll progress to the next world view that hit the stage, that of "Naturalism". And by "Naturalism", please do not think of organic food and care for the earth. It's not that nice at all. But I'll save that for next time.

World View #1: Theism

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By way of reminder, what I am doing here is trying to help people appreciate and understand the art they look at. I am not going to attempt to get you to "enjoy" that art. No one can do that. You're not going to enjoy all art just because you understand it and that's fine. I understand sushi and I can appreciate the exquisite art of preparing it, but you won't catch me eating it because though I understand and appreciate it, I do not enjoy sushi at all. Sorry.

So what we're going to do is to try to understand and appreciate the art by understanding and appreciating where the artist is coming from (i.e. his/her world view). By "world view", I mean the comprehensive conception of the world and how this world works, i.e. our assumptions about life. The way I'll do this is to trace the historic progression of the dominant world view as it evolves through history. One note here...No one really holds to just one world view, no matter what we say. For instance, a religious person may intellectually hold to a theistic world view but act as though there were no God or higher power at all. A nihilist may say there is no real "importance" to life at all and that there is no basis for any moral standards at all, and yet act and live as though something like global warming WAS important and that it's "wrong" to be homophobic or racist.

So, when we talk about someone's world view, we're painting with a broad brush -- there will be exceptions because most human beings are anything but consistent.  That said, there is something to be learned from looking at the dominant world view an artist (or anyone for that matter) has because it helps us interpret everything else about them. It's not really fair to judge someone with my own standards even if I believe those standards are correct. What I would like to encourage you to do is to learn the standards of someone else and interpret their life and their art on that basis. Why? Well, because that is just respectful and I hope that's still a valued attribute to everyone reading this, no matter your world view.

Enough of a prologue. Let's get into it.

First of all, for thousands of years, the dominant world view was that of THEISM. The basic assumptions about life according to a theist can be summed up this way:

  • There is a God. He* has created everything there is.

  • He has revealed himself to the world (he wants to be known).

  • He is actively involved in the world of human affairs, i.e. what we call miracles are possible if there is a God.

  • God controls all things and provides a sense of order.

*By using the pronoun "he", I am simply acquiescing to the historical way of referring to the God of the Bible since that God is not portrayed in the scriptures as an "it" but as possessing a personality. That said, I need to be careful because that God is not portrayed as possessing a Y chromosome. The God of the Bible is not male; neither is he female but the creator and wellspring of all that is male and all that is female.

According to theism, there is actual

  • Good and evil

  • Right and wrong

  • True and false

  • ...and what you do (good or evil, right or wrong) ultimately matters.

The historic theistic world view states that the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. It states unequivocally that human beings are significant because they were created in the image of God.

So, a question...

What would you expect visual art, music or poetry to look or sound like that is coming from a theistic world view?  Other than the obvious (saints and halos), any art that CELEBRATES ORDER may well be coming from a theistic assumption of the world. Sometime, look up the "Golden Section" or "Divine proportion" (same thing). It's an amazing proportion that artists and designers have been using since the days of ancient Egypt. That proportion is 38:62 By and large, your navel is at about the 62% mark from your feet to the top of your head, your elbow is about 38% from your shoulder to your finger tips. The dorsal fin of a dolphin is 62% back from the tip of its nose to it's tail. This proportion is in plants and animals nearly everywhere you look. It even dictates the planetary rotations of all the inner planets out to Jupiter, and is clearly seen in the location of bands in the rings of Saturn.  Architects have employed it in the design of the Great Pyramid and Parthenon and it was used in the proportions of the Ark of the Covenant in the book of Exodus.

The existence of order in any artwork (visual art, music and poetry) is a "tipping of the hat" to the theistic world view.

As far as music goes, take a break and go and listen to Bach's Fugue in G Minor. I don't care if you like or love Bach. Just do it. I chose this rendition of it because it comes with cool graphics (so it'll be entertaining!). Look at and listen to the incredible order in this piece of music. This is literally mathematics set to music, and it definitely comes from the strong theistic world view of Johann Sebastian Bach.

For an example of poetry coming from this world view I've selected a verse from Bach's hymn "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring", and as you read it, rather than agreeing or disagreeing with his assumptions very clearly written here, read it and understand simply WHAT his assumptions are. According to the lyricist of this piece, (ask yourself) is there meaning to life, does life matter, are people important?

Jesu, joy of man's desiring
Holy wisdom, love most bright

Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned
With the fire of life impassioned
Striving still to truth unknown
Soaring, dying round Thy throne

So that is Theism. In a theistic world view, you have a God who is there, who wants to be known by humans. BUT…everything eventually morphs. In my next post in this series, I'll look at the next world view, Deism and it's powerful influence on painting, music and poetry as well.

 

 

 

 

A Time to be Disturbed

 Beginning of one of the most disturbing paintings I've ever started

Beginning of one of the most disturbing paintings I've ever started

If you know me at all, or are familiar with the work I do, you know I love painting landscapes. That's my thing. But now and then, something just really hits me and changes to course of what I'm doing completely. The last time this happened was when Joy and I visited what is left of the concentration camp at Dachau (just north of Munich) last September. Seeing what I saw -- I was shaken to my core. That doesn't happen very often. I'm pretty "even-keel" but when I left, I had to express myself in my language (art). If you're interested, just click here for a link to that blog. 

Well, it's happened again. I wish this wouldn't happen in my head. I'd sleep a lot better if I could just paint trees and mountains all the time, but I think I'd explode if I didn't say something right now about an issue that's really hot in today's news. If you have a minute, please go to this link and if you have the stomach for it, please, please watch the video and then me know what YOU think. 

When I watched this, I couldn't help but respond. And I'm (thankfully) not alone. A group of artists in my building (the Pink Dog Creative Building in Asheville's River Arts District) met and dreamed together. We are in the beginning phases of putting together an exhibition of art from artists (painters, poets and musicians) all over Asheville that encapsulates our response to police brutality against black men and gun violence in general.

So right now, this painting I'm starting looks pretty innocuous and no different than anything else I do, right? Well, I'm going to be taking you through the steps to the very end, so you can see it evolve. I know what it'll look like in the end and some of those I've explained it to have teared up. For now, I'm keeping a tight lip until it's done. 

I'm honored to be working with these other artists. It's so nice not to have to do this alone, because I really don't know what I'm doing. I just have one voice, but a multi-thousand member choir is made of individual voices. I want one of those voices to be mine. Sing with me?

 

Understanding Art 101

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As an artist with an open studio in Asheville, North Carolina, I am around artwork and people all day long. People from all over the country visit me, check out my paintings and sometimes chat with me. Oftentimes, we talk about the types of artwork they like and don't like and they ask a lot of questions to try to understand my specific technique. I love these conversations. I love talking about art and help people appreciate the artwork they're seeing. My passion is that people at least appreciate (if not enjoy) all the artwork they see, whether it's from the ancient Greeks, Renaissance masters or modern abstract.

Recently, I was having a conversation with a studio visitor about different art styles and artistic periods and he admitted that he did not understand most art at all. That conversation got me thinking, and because of that, I decided to write a blog series based on a lecture I've given several times on the subject of "understanding art" because I think that's important. Understanding art does not mean you have to enjoy it or like the art at all. Understanding the art involves understanding the world view of the artist. This is crucial because knowing the world view of a person (their comprehensive conception of the world) helps us interpret what that persons says and does. 

So, for the next few weeks, I'm going to talk about chronological periods of world views and how those views affected the arts and culture. The world views I will cover include theism, deism, naturalism, nihilism, existentialism, modernism, new-age pantheism, and post-modernism. Sound exciting? Maybe I'm a geek but I think it's fascinating! Knowing a bit about these world views and knowing where a person is coming from helps us to better appreciate and understand that person. Who doesn't want to do a better job of that? 

 

The Organ Mountains

 "The Organ Mountains" (45" x 49")

"The Organ Mountains" (45" x 49")

This painting epitomizes my very favorite thing about painting a commission: I literally get to paint scenes from all over the world! This just completed piece "The Organ Mountains" is depicting a mountain range just east of Las Cruces, New Mexico. They were named the "organ" mountains because the jagged peaks reminded early settlers of a pipe organ (so the story goes). 

Planning for this painting began last December when a very nice local couple were visiting my art studio in Asheville's River Arts District. They liked my technique and asked if I ever did commission work. I love that question. I explained that "YES!" I do commissions and that they comprise over half of all I paint at this point. So they pulled out their iPhone and showed me photos of these incredible desert mountains and I was totally hooked. After agreeing to the size, they sent me several photos they liked, which I kind of combined together, i.e. I took the composition of the mountain range in one of the photos and sketched my composition based on that photo. But it was dark and the coloring was off, so I used the lighting and coloring of a second painting and vegetation from a third photo. After I completed the sketch, texturized it and applied the metallic leaf, I colorized it with multiple layers of oil paint and called in my clients to take a look. They asked if I could insert a massive cumulus cloud above the mountains, and insert an ocotillo plant and some yucca's (all cacti indigenous to that region). A week later, I completed the painting, applied the gold to the edges  and poured the resin. 

I love the American South West. I've spent a lot of time exploring the area but it's so, SO vast, there's no way anyone could see it all in a lifetime. If you like very wide open spaces and dramatic geology, the west is definitely worth a visit (and definitely worth commissioning a painting I might add).