Thursday, January 18, 2018

Winter Interlude: Frozen Bubbles and Frosty Snow

 My DragonWing Arts classes have been on hiatus, and are back in gear tomorrow, so I'll be sharing some art projects again very soon.  In the meantime, I've been making the best of winter weather and cold temperatures, by attempting to freeze bubbles and photograph them, and taking walks tromping through freshly fallen snow.  So I thought I'd share a few pics! 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

An art education conundrum

For the first 9 years of my teaching career, I taught high school, including an advanced Drawing and Painting class.  I don't think I  could do that any more.  I've seen a lot of  high school artwork over recent years, and as I look at my own personal artwork, and how I approach it, what I'm realizing is that I am philosophically light years away from what high school art programs have become. 
When I completed the painting in my previous post (detail shown above), I got a compliment from another art teacher, mentioning the vibrant colors, and referring to it as 'painterly'.  This, to me, was the ultimate of compliments, and what I aspire to.  I've always loved rich color, energetic paint strokes, and a sense of movement and energy in my artwork. It is, ultimately, my reason for painting.  Sometimes I'm more successful than other times, but it's definitely my thing.  The painting below, by the way, is a painting of my son when he was a college student (he's 29 now).  It includes collage of broken glass, weird rubber toys, yarn, and cutouts from magazine pages, and was developed from a photo I took of him, since he wasn't willing to sit for a portrait.
I think I've probably previously shared most of the paintings in today's post, but anyhow, they are here to back up my point.  And actually, this topic is something I've discussed here on the blog before.  Check out this post from March 2016.  I'm probably repeating many of the same thoughts today.

So what exactly is my point?  A lot of the high school artwork I see nowadays is derived from photographs, particularly making use of phones.  (That is not necessarily a criticism, though I'd love to see more high school work from life.)  As with the 2 paintings above, I've certainly worked from photos too (I use only my own photos), but I use them as a reference point, as a basis for my personal expression.  My goal isn't an exact replication of the photograph.  When possible, I prefer to work from life, as with the still life below, at least until the flowers started to wilt.
The high school artwork I am referring to is usually impeccably rendered, meticulous in detail.  I look at it and say "Wow, I'm impressed.  I can't do that", and then I think "but I don't even want to do that!".  It impresses me to see this work, but it doesn't EXCITE me, doesn't MOVE me.  And the thought of making this meticulous artwork leaves me cold.  It isn't artwork I'd be excited to create.
I've seen high school art shows where the work shows extensive talent, sure, and a lot of impressive skill, but the pieces seem to be more graphic design than expressive artwork.  Where are the visible brush strokes, the emotive color, the energy, and the personality?  I miss these things.  They are the reason I am particularly moved by paintings by Kandinsky, or Matisse, or Kokoschka, or Chagall, or Kirchner, for example.  Again, let me refer you to this old post.  I've said it all before, and maybe better!
When I taught high school art, my students spent a lot of time working from life, whether a still life setup, or using a mirror, or having someone model.  It was the days long before cell phones, so nobody was taking a picture of the still life or  model for reference.  It meant there was much more exploration involved with figuring out how to represent and interpret what they saw, rather than depending on a version of what a camera lens sees. 
I realize a lot of my personal feelings about this were developed in my college painting classes  in the 70's.  We worked from life probably 90% of the time, and expressive interpretations were encouraged.  We drew and painted extensively, working with gesture, and contour, and "endless articulating cube studies" to develop our perception.  I do not recall ever being asked to reproduce a photograph as a painting or drawing, though I do recall assignments to re-create works from other artists, as an exercise, not as a pieces for exhibition (I chose a Gauguin, and a Hans Hofmann).  It was a valuable learning experience, discovering the layers of color, the arrangement of the composition, and how the artist interpreted form.  We also did self-portraits in the the style/technique of an old artist.  (Somewhere I still have my multilayered Rouault-style painting of myself.) It was a valuable exercise.
So anyhow, I'm thinking that I'm a bit of a throw-back.  Yet maybe that's not a bad thing.  I'm eliciting positive responses to my most colorful recent painting, so maybe I'm on the right track?  When someone gets excited by my use of color, and calls my work 'painterly', I'm thinking they aren't seeing enough color or loose brush strokes in other art, because I'm sure there should be many who could do it so much better than me.  I'd love to hear your thoughts!