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.


“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…