Can You Hear the Music?

“How can we know the dancer from the dance? ”

– William Butler Yeats

I love to photograph and/or paint the human figure, but I particularly like to work with the body as it dances. I can’t think of another marriage of artistic mediums that works together so well to represent the essence of the dancer as artist. Capturing for a moment the human body as it propels itself through space, limbs dreaming their dreams, feet tapping out their poetry, the dancer as not just the artist, but the art itself.

Can you hear the music even though there is none playing? Can your mind fill in the blank soundless spaces because of what the eye sees? Can this one image contain what has come before and what will happen next? Can it inspire the imagination to recreate the dancing as it actually happened? There is a way in which the distillation of movement down into a single image interacts with the mind to cause it to play a more active role in how the art is viewed. It’s a little like listening to the radio vs. watching TV – your mind has more to do to create the desired experience. I think this is why I am so drawn to capturing motion in my artwork.


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More Monoprinting

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”

– Scott Adams

I’ve been continuing to explore my interest in monoprinting. So far, these are all fairly small (6×6″) pieces done using hand tools only (no big presses). One of the things I find most appealing about the process is the way in which so much of the result is unexpected – maybe that changes with more experience but, for now, I’m enjoying the unanticipated nature of it. It seems as if there are no “mistakes” in this process, just images that haven’t found their way to completion yet. Sometimes I even cut up my “mistakes” into pieces to use as collage elements in other work. OK, I admit, I have actually thrown a couple into the trash bin, but that was probably just being lazy instead of considering how they might be used, saved or resurrected.

Another aspect I like is that the best way to work on these is to start a bunch of them all at once – each time the brayer lays down the ink, an impression is created on it’s surface that can then be used on another or a new piece. Often these “ghost” impressions are the most interesting, containing shapes and textures from previous applications. In the past, I’ve sometimes become bored when working on one piece at a time – this lets me feel like I’m working on a dozen pieces all at once!

Here’s another recent effort…

The Unknowable

“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”

Rumi

To continue the discussion about art and it’s relation to reality (hopefully you won’t mind), the above quote implies that there is some perfect form or super reality of which art is a pale imitation. Shades of Plato’s cave!

If everything that we know is only an imperfect representation of another realm, how can we ever know that other realm at all? Western philosophers have struggled with this question for centuries. Some believed that since we, in fact, cannot really know the perfect form behind our perceptions, we have no right to say that anything exists at all except our perceptions – the empiricists (Hume, Berkeley) were in this camp. This rigorous doctrine leads to all sorts of problems, however, so Immanuel Kant tried to reconcile the dilemma by saying that the ding an sich, the thing in itself, was unknowable but that it indeed existed. We can only know our mental representations about it and there is a fairly murky relationship between these representations and the things in themselves. If you’ve ever read Kant, you’ll know what I mean by murky here.

A work of art is one of these mental representations of reality, perhaps it’s ultimate form. In light of all this questioning of to what extent we can actually represent the thing in itself, artists started paying more attention to their relationship to the painting than to the paintings relationship to the world. A lot of this philosophical dialogue was happening in the early 19th century, around the time when painters started moving toward more abstraction and when photography began. The rise of photography served as a counterpoint to this dialogue as well – the difference between a painting of something and a photograph of it was that the painting had something of the artist in it, while the photograph was just a simple and exact rendering of the world.

Even today, painting is held in general in higher artistic esteem than photography, perhaps because the painting reveals more about the mental imaginations and feelings of the artist than does a photograph. that’s a point for another discussion – since I’m both a painter and a photographer, I have some feelings about that one!

Subjects and Objects


“Every good painter paints what he is.”

– Jackson Pollack

My friend Gayle raised some eloquent and thoughtful points in my last posting so I thought I’d continue the thread a little more. I am most grateful for such contributions as they make me think more about things I do not understand – such as “what is art?”, “why do I do it?”, “how should I place value on it?”. Well, that list goes on and on. And Jerry Dodrill offers another perspective, one in which art isn’t different than what else one does with passion in their life. There are so many vantage points from which to consider these questions.

“Is art a pretty picture or the lived experience of a moment’s exchange with the ground of being, the energy field from which all comes?” Gayle asks. These certainly seem to be on opposite ends of some spectrum, don’t they? Does one have more value than the other? Centuries ago, art was meant to represent or imitate life – it’s ability to do so gave it great power, to the extent that in some cultures (Judaism, Islam, etc) it was forbidden or at least looked at with suspicion. Heck, the 2nd Commandment is about “image making”, giving it priority over activities like murder and aldultery. Over the last 200 years, simple imitation has grown to lack such impact, at least in most Western cultures. Art has become more about expressing what is inside the artist than imitation of the external world.

So how do we today view the work of a representational painter who has most skilfully recreated a still life in tremendous realistic detail? Is this a work of art? Surely it must be – it has been done artfully and is beautiful to look at.

Yet it is also a “pretty picture”. What does the painting say about the experience of the painter or what they are trying to express. It seems hard to see a connection there, we can’t tell much about the artist at all. On the other hand, this artist may be having a profound experience in creating that piece. The intensity with which the objects must be studied, the patience and discipline with which the painting is created, the concentration required may have all led to an almost ecstatic meditation inside. Does the internal experience of the ground of being need to be expressed so that others can see it and perhaps share a little of it, or not? Whose experience is involved in determining the artistic merit of a piece?

Post Workshop Blues…

“Painting is easy when you don’t know how, but very difficult when you do.”

– Edgar Degas

Another monoprint from last weekends workshop. I started doing some more of these miniature pieces last night at home and found them somehow less interesting than what I did last weekend. It was frustrating.

Why is it that sometimes are done in a class when just learning can be more satisfying than our own efforts later? Is it beginner’s luck? Is there some energy that exists when doing art as part of a group that isn’t there when flying solo? Maybe one is just more relaxed when away “on vacation” at a workshop rather than trying to steal an hour or two amidst our busy schedules.

Here’s another from the workshop:

So maybe now that I “know how to do monoprints”, the real struggle will begin.

Monoprinting…

“Abstract art is a product of the untalented, sold by the unprincipled to the utterly bewildered.”

Al Kapp

Last weekend I went to Mendocino, CA for a 2 day workshop in monoprinting. It was a new and exhilarating experience for me and I found that I took to the medium happily. It satisfies my desires to create textures and shapes and there is a lot of discovery and unexpected results to be had. One thing I like about this type of monoprinting is that it forces you into non-representational spaces. With the tools used, it is difficult to make a picture of something – at best, you are forced into some level of abstraction. This is the area I want to be in anyway, so it’s a natural fit

We ended with color work, an example of which you see above, but we started with just black ink on white paper. I was amazed at how much complexity and depth could be achieved with one color:

This one was an attempt at a sort of abstract landscape.

Then we were allowed to add one color:

One of my instructors commented that my work looked “sooty” – huh? I think she was projecting her own inner qualms about the surrounding fires in Mendocino County (which really didn’t impact the town itself much at all). Sooty, though – sounds like something you’d hear at a high end wine tasting event – “that one has a sooty aftertaste, don’t you think?”. I hope my artwork does linger on the palate for a while…