fine art

Of Mountains and Oceans

“Teahupoo Thunder” (36” x 60”)

“Teahupoo Thunder” (36” x 60”)

Last January (over six months ago now), I woke up in the middle of the night with a couple of ideas for two very impractical paintings. As I explained in a previous blog, I don’t usually TRY to paint an impractical subject matter, because impractical ideas are often “hard sells” in Asheville. Because I am a full time painter in the River Arts District, I don’t have the luxury of a “public-opinions-be-damned” sort of attitude. If people don’t like my artwork or can't relate to it, they aren’t going to buy it. Does this make me a “sell out”? I’ll let the reader decide that, but the bank really likes it when I pay my mortgage. Thankfully, most of what I know sells off my walls is an absolute joy to create, so I really am not the “angsty” sort of artist. But every now and then, I just have to paint something whether or not I think it will sell. And thankfully, my wife Joy is wholly supportive of those times because it’s at these points I grow as an artist.

So last winter, I had in my head a view of a crashing wave and a craggy, snow-capped mountain. For the wave, I wanted to depict the violent force of the water slamming into the shoreline. The challenge for the wave was to depict movement and to keep the shapes “soft” and fluid. And I knew I had to apply the white paint LAST because white is a very opaque color of paint and because I’m painting on top of textured metallic leaf, I will ruin a painting if the paint is applied in a manner that blocks the light from penetrating the paint (so it can then bounce back off the metallic background layer). So I worked with varying shades of blues and greens for 90% of the piece, and then finally applied all the white at the very end.

“Top of the World” (48” x 36”)

“Top of the World” (48” x 36”)

For the mountain scene, I combined several photos of the Himalayan mountain peaks because, well…because if you want to do it right, you might as well use the tallest mountains in the world for inspiration, right? This one was a challenge simply because it’s basically shades of just three colors: Blue, black and white.

So…maybe my definition of “impractical” is all washed up.

Both of these pieces are “impractical” as far as my Asheville clientele simply because a couple from Poughkeepsie that are walking down the street to my art studio in Asheville will not talking with each other about “do you think he’ll have any paintings of the ocean or the Himalayas?” People generally want to purchase a painting to remind them of their trip to Asheville, so…these two pieces are in the impractical category.

That’s okay. I can totally live with that. But I have to say, after I hung these on the wall for their grand debut yesterday morning, they got all sorts of really positive attention all day long. So…maybe my definition of “impractical” is all washed up. Honestly, I’d like that very much!

Regarding "Inspiration" vs "Necessity"

A few days ago, a visitor to my art studio was watching me paint for several minutes, asking good questions about what I was doing, and sharing some of her adventures in artistic endeavors. Then she asked me a really good question that I think bears addressing: “What do you do when you have to paint but don’t WANT to paint?” Then she followed up with a related question: “How do you paint when you just don’t feel inspired?”

There are so many ways I can answer those questions. I wrote a blog a while back “How to create when you don’t feel creative” that addresses some of this, but I’ll answer from a different direction here. 

Art is not just born in a moment of whimsy.

It’s not controlled strictly by the emotions…

I’m a full-time artist and I have my studio in an awesome tourist Mecca: Asheville, North Carolina. We get visitors all year long from all over the country (and other countries) who spend the day wandering through the art studios of over 220 artists, looking at the artwork and getting to know the artists. Because this is more than just a hobby for me, we don’t eat if I don’t sell paintings and I won’t sell paintings if I’m not producing them. So I don’t have an option regarding whether or not I’m painting. That’s my job. What if a doctor didn’t show up in an operating room, or an airline pilot didn’t show up at the airport, or an Uber driving didn’t show up in his car or a restaurant owner didn’t show up at the restaurant simply because “they didn’t WANT to show up”?  I’m not different.

Art is not just born in a moment of whimsy. It’s not controlled strictly by the emotions. If it were, then most of the professional artists I know would go out of business. Just like everyone else trying to earn a living, professional artists have to do what they do, do it as best they can, and then hope it sells. 

I can’t answer for any other artist out there, but personally, I’ve never NOT wanted to paint. I love painting because I love imagining (I can’t help it). But the issue of painting when I’m not “inspired” usually just means I have to be quiet, go for a walk, listen to music. Creating involves emptying the creative “tank” inside my head and when that tank gets drained, it’s important to fill it back up again. So I hike. I pray. I think. I listen to leaves rustling in the trees. I try to listen to God. How one “fills up” would probably be a personal thing that varies from artist to artist, but that’s how I do it. 

In short, I don’t have the option of just painting when I’m “inspired”. If my creative tank is empty, it’s because I’m not regularly filling it up and while I sometimes don’t have control of when and how my “tank” is empty, I do have control over how often I am filling it. It takes time. Resting time. Quiet time. My culture would look at that sort of thing is frivolous and unproductive. It is not. For an artist (and I assume everyone?), that replenishing time is absolutely essential, and that’s an element of my culture I try vigorously to take exception to. 

World View #6: Modernism

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In our basic survey of world views and how they influence the arts and culture, we have looked at five: Theism, Deism, Naturalism, Nihilism and Existentialism (that's a lot of isms to consider!). We have considered the basic "life premises" promoted by these world views and their affect on culture and specifically upon art. We noted that 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" (but 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). Nihilism argues that if the propositions of naturalism are true, then the whole notion of God is dead, and that as a result, human existence is without objective meaning, purpose, comprehensible truth, or essential value. Existentialism states that "well, yes God is dead, but we don't need him/her/it  to determine truth or real meaning...we do that ourselves.

Understand that at about this time, a lot of "culture shapers" in western society were to the point of saying (and I paraphrase): “Ah, all you philosophers are taking this 'meaning  and truth' thing all too seriously. You're totally depressing us!  At this point in history, we no longer NEED your religion or philosophy to explain or advance life and culture...we have technology…we can do SO MUCH to help the species progress, and isn't that what it's all about?"

Enter Modernism.

Modernism is the world view which preaches that human beings have the power to create, improve, and reshape their environment, with the aid of scientific knowledge and  technology. It encourages us to re-examine every aspect of life, and use science and technology to find better ways of doing everything.

Modernism basically sets aside the theology and philosophy that lead us to this point. Or rather, it actually coops theology and philosophy to strengthen itself as "the" legit world view. Let me explain.

Rather than glorify a deity that is here, there or nowhere at all, modernism glorifies technology as the key to our thriving as a species. In a sense, technology becomes the new god. In the early 1900's, there was a phrase that summed up the thought of the time: "Every day in every way, we keep getting better and better!"  This was real cultural optimism brought about by a new and fresh faith in technology. Finally, humans were finally on the brink of utopia (in 1900, they didn't know about the two world wars on the horizon).

The idea of solving human problems with design and technology was very long-lived and even exists today.  But the optimism preached by the proponents of modernism was based on technology alone, not on human emotional satisfaction or fullness. Traces of human emotions were being stripped from art and design at breakneck speed. Consider the profound effect on architecture. Prior to modernism, buildings were ornamented. Details and hand-crafted elements were important. With modernism though, ornamentation was distained as unnecessary. Everything was stripped down to the bare essentials. That is all we need. Anything else was viewed as superfluous. “Less is more” was the mantra that guided architecture from the early 1900's until the 1980's (look at Soviet era housing for a grand example of this…)  

But...consider this. The art produced by modernism was becoming less and less "human". Architecture and design was looking more fit for robots rather than humans. Metal and glass, absence of vibrant color or intricate design is cold and mechanistic, with no "personality".  Human beings are fleshly and emotional -- warm, soft and full of feelings, (not cold and metallic and impersonal).  So, this leaves human beings with some cool looking art and architecture, but also leaves society with having to live in a very cold, mechanistic world with no personal identity.

Until the 1960's changed all that, but that's for the next blog.

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