Monday, January 25, 2016

Oil Painting: Mixed Nuts

Mixed Nuts, Oil Paint on canvas, 30" × 40", by Mark Granlund:

Mixed Nuts
Oil on Canvas
30" x 40"

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Art Thought: Has 100 Years of Modernism Ruined Art Schools?

I've been reading a lot of art history lately focusing on 1850 - 1985: The Era of Modernism. Having taken art history classes in college and graduate school, I was aware of the development of Modernism, but what I had forgotten was how early it began. I had some sense that Modernism was a reaction to the societal chaos that led up to the first and second world wars.  But it began much sooner with developments well underway in the 1860's - 1880's. The recent Delacroix exhibit at MIA is trying to even establish Delacroix (1798 - 1863) as the first influence on the artists who would establish Modernism.

One of the main tenants of Modernism is the throwing off of the power of the academies and establishing the individual artist's vision as the sole guiding force in creating a painting. The art academies taught a way of painting that insisted upon certain processes and subject matter when creating a painting. In particular, the Paris Academy of Fine Arts was very conservative and prioritized categories of art expecting realistic but romantic paintings. Winners of the Paris Salon (works for exhibit were chosen by the academy) were almost guaranteed to have a successful career and receive commissions from the government and wealthy individuals. Although some would find this stifling (such as those who created Modernism), the academies did teach the medium of oil painting, composition, the use of allegory and symbolism, etc. Cezanne, Manet, Whistler, Gaugin, van Gogh, etal. took painting in a different direction, but had grown up in an art environment dominated by the academies.  They were well aware of what was being taught in the academies.  Many attended the academy and knew other artists who had completed their academy training. Plus, they had attended the Salons created by the academies, and entered their paintings. At the Paris Salon of 1863, the artists that were rejected from the exhibit created a stink and Napoleon III let them have their own show in another part of the Palace of Industry to let the public decide if they like the art.  And thus, the avant-garde gained acceptance with the public and the rest, as they say, is history.

And now we come to today, a hundred and fifty years later with Modernism having been fully established for more than one hundred years. The official academies of fine art are long gone and been replaced by art departments in schools that have several departments and disciplines.  There are some private ateliers and schools called art academies, but there is not the hierarchical structure that is attached to government and private commissions. The ateliers and academies of today are simply teaching a formal technique.  If you do not do well in art school you will not lose commissions. If you excel at art school you are not guaranteed any success in your career.  Things are very different.

The structure of the academies has been replaced with the individual artist having to find their way to success by creating a compelling body of work. Compelling is the operative word here and it runs the gamut from Thomas Kincade to Karen Finley. I'm not going out on a limb stating that the difference between Kincade and Finley is greater than the difference between any of the early Modernists and the artists of the academies that they rebelled against.  There is little in our larger society from which to create a solid base of skill in making good art. Artists actually asked for this situation. Of course, the early Modernists already had a solid base for understanding painting because the academies existed and the results were all around them. But now, generations later, I fear a solid base for crafting good art is not available.  There is a craft to art.  There are media to be used and they should be used in a manner that supports the overall direction of the idea behind the art piece.  Yes, there is technique taught in art departments, but the work I have seen lately by young artists shows a lack of understanding in using their media.

Part of the problem is that artists can now use anything to create art, not just paint and canvas, or granite and marble.  There is no limit to what you can use, even taxidermied animals, computer operated light systems, and your own body. No small group of teachers at a school will know all of the available media and how best to use it.  In these cases, all a person can teach is to be a stickler on presentation and hope the student takes care.  But I'm afraid that students get teachers out of their comfort zones - ah, if only there was just one to three painting techniques to teach instead of an infinite number.

And then there is that aspect of needing to be compelling so that you can be supported by grants.  In my day job as an Arts Coordinator with the City of Saint  Paul, I have seen numerous people receive grants and only afterward contact the City to claim that they have received money to create an art piece on City property, after all, they wrote it into the grant proposal. More often than not, these artists don't have any real idea how to use their material or how to work with the space which they proposed.  But the proposal was so compelling!  Its as if artists are rewarded not for the completion of a successful piece of art, but for coming up with a compelling idea that may never actually get enacted or created in a way that will allow it to last for any significant period of time.

I have also been visiting art exhibits around the Twin Cities over the last couple of years and have been appalled at a lack of understanding of material and technique by younger artists.  I was most appalled by an exhibit for emerging artists by a local foundation.  The lack of understanding about material and process was astounding in a majority of the artists who had won the grants and had a year to develop the work - with support.  But, obviously, their ideas were very compelling when they wrote about them.

Now, in fairness, I will admit that I am a much better painter now than I was in my twenties. Even better than when I was in my thirties.  I also will confess that I have had a hiatus away from oil painting for a few years and as I am getting back into it I am realizing that I don't know much about it.  I had been previously painting with oils for years before my hiatus, but somehow, it seems now like I know nothing.  I don't just mean this as a proclamation to make me look humble.  I really feel, when I am working on a canvas, that a whole new world is opening up to me that I never was aware of before.  I do wonder where my brain was at when I was in school all those years ago. Oh yeah, I was scared I wasn't... everything.

I have no solution to this problem but to encourage artists to research their materials and technique and to learn from others who are a little further down the road, cuz' lord knows, there isn't an academy or a culture drenched in art to help you. 

To encourage artists to greater art making, I submit to you the following paintings that were created before the artist celebrated their 30th birthday.  Many of these were made when they were 25 - 27 years old.
James Whistler, Symphony in White No. 1

Anthony van Dyck, Genoan hauteur from the Lomellini family

Eugene Delacroix, La Pasion Griega

Auguste Renoir, Lise Sewing
Claude Monet, The Picnic (fragment)

Camille Pissarro, Deux femmes causant au bord de la mer, Saint Thomas 

Georges Braque, The Olive tree near l'Estaque

Pablo Picasso, Les Demoiselles d'Avignon
Eduard Manet, Música en las Tullerías

Alfred Sisley, Lane near a Small Town

A Chicken Story

This is a drawing of a chicken previously seen in a video:

I drew this chicken from a photo I had taken of my neighbors chickens, a Silver-Spangled Hamberg.  My neighbor, I will call her Ms. Frogstad, has several chickens.  She has had her own chickens for quite some time.  Some of her current chickens came from another neighbor of hers.  This other neighbor had chickens, but then had a child and decided it was too much work to keep the chickens.  This other neighbor, I will call her Ms. Brooklyn, is a coworker of mine.  I had previously painted some of her chickens.  Well, I didn't paint her chickens - I made paintings of her chickens.  I had also made a video of myself painting one of her chickens.  Here is the video of me painting her chicken:

Now it just so happens that both the chicken I painted, and the chicken I drew look very similar.  But of course, all chickens of the same species look similar.  But could these have been the very same chicken two years apart?  You can tell from my hand in both videos, that I have kept my youthful tone and attitude in spite of the intervening years.  It is not easy being an artist and keeping a youthful appeal, what with the heavy drinking, recreational drug use, way too much sex and the occasional self-mutilation.  But I have managed to do well in this area, at least when it comes to my right hand.

But was this the same chicken two years later?  I was loosing sleep wondering if this were the case.  How odd that would have been.  What a sign from the heavens that would be.  Should I assume that God wanted me to continually recreate this chicken?  Was I supposed to paint objects twice, two years apart?  There is so much of my future riding on this strange coincidence.

In the end, the first chicken I painted was a Silver-laced Wyandotte.  The second one that I drew was a Silver Spangled Hamberg.  Not much mystery there.  I became depressed for two weeks.  Now, I wasn't sure about the direction my life should take.  But, thankfully, I have found my bearings once again.  I have visited the chickens since and performed healing ceremonies while they just look at me and "cluck."

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Oil Painting: Peanuts and Peanuts

Peanuts and Peanuts
Oil on Canvas
10" x 20"

Monday, January 11, 2016

Who are My Historic Influences?

The more I sit and paint in my studio the more I wonder where I fit in the great flow of art history.  I wonder where my thoughts come from, who has thought them before, who has been at this place before me and able to help me understand the next step?  I have been reading Herbert Read's book on Modern Painting. He basically covers from Cezanne to the early 1950's, approximately seventy years of painting.  I like this book because it only covers painting, not architecture or sculpture or other arts or crafts.  Being focused, the book gives a good overview of developments over those decades going from a discipline that was fairly consistent and organized for the previous hundred years to an artform that exploded into a myriad of approaches and styles.

What are the lessons from the past that have resonated with me?

First, I start with Cezanne.  There were two main organizing thoughts that came out of Cezanne (1860's - 1906), one inspired Picasso and sent him down the road of Cubism, while the other inspired Matisse and sent him down the road of color and pattern.  Prior to Cezanne, the art world was conservative and dominated by academies that taught a subscribed way to make art.  First, an artist would create a composition using classical techniques of composition based on geometric shapes and moving the eye throughout the canvas. Then they would make an under-painting in a neutral color, capturing the values of a painting.  Then the artist would build layers of glazes over the under-painting in order to capture color and create atmosphere and light.  This often would involve changing a color by glazing a complimentary color over it. The compositions of paintings prior to Cezanne were very reliant on values, darks and lights, to be successful.  Cezanne thought why do all this layering, why not create a color and then just put it on the canvas. If you need a dark shadow, why not just mix a blue and put it on the canvas with one layer of paint?  When you need a highlight on an orange, mix a sunny light orange color on your palette and paint it on the canvas in one layer.  Now this is a bit simplified, and it sounds as if Cezanne was a bit lazy, but this wasn't the case.  What Cezanne really wanted was the painting to work because the colors of the composition worked.  He did not want the painting to rely on value.  Blues have certain qualities, as do reds and yellows, and greens, etc.  Cezanne used the qualities of the colors to make his compositions and sense of space work.

Second, Picasso had a few periods early in his career where he was consistent in how he painted.  These are called his blue and his rose periods.  But after these periods, most people think that he began Cubism, did that for several years creating different types of Cubism and then went on to Surrealism, and Expressionism, etc.  But in actuality, after his early periods he painted a variety of styles all the time.  He was simply experimenting continually.  Art history has come along and categorized his work into different schools of thought, but his thoughts were anything but categorized.  He would wake up and paint a Cubist painting one day, and the next day he would wake up and make a Surrealist painting, etc.  Yes, there was progression in what he was doing, but the work was not slotted into styles and he simply was pushing the envelope wherever and whenever he could.  He really was quite amazing at taking a simple concept from Cezanne and then running with it to many extremes.

Why do these two ideas resonate with me? First, I have been creating watercolors for many years and have not been painting with oils.  In the last two years, I have built a studio space where I can make oil paintings again.  As I wonder who has been through my situation before me, I look to these two ideas for guidance in my next steps.  First, let the color do the work. Traditional watercolor painting, and especially the botanical genre that I was engaged in, is very value oriented.  With my oil paintings, I want the colors do the work and not rely so much on value.  Secondly, I don't want to stop experimenting and learning.  I know that galleries like to have artists with a distinctive style so they can market that work to their clients.  But I never have been in this game to produce product as much as to explore ideas and techniques.  I want to move forward in a manner that does not censor my own explorations and discoveries.  I believe that if you are doing good work, no matter the style, people will respond to it.  After all, there are a million styles and ways of painting out there that are selling.  If I am not learning something new when I am painting I am not enjoying it and it shows.  The only art that isn't going to sell, no matter what, is uninteresting art.

Food Art Brainstorm

Food Brainstorm

Food, rotting food (spoilage), the rot of society, good things turn bad, food in a cake stand so it can rot but I can see it and paint it.

the decay of functionality and health, mold, decay, fuzzy mold, slime, gelatinous, the world is slowly decaying - human activity is slowly decaying into a self-consuming end.  We see but we are paralyzed by our habits, by our expectations.  We see it rot but we don't grow more, we don't prune off the dead, we sit and hope for someone else to save us, yet it is we who created the problem - and are the answer. Rotting fruit, maggots on meat, Vanitas paintings.  Include more items, not just one rotting piece of food.
 ... <b>Painting</b>: <b>Vanitas</b> exhibit at <b>ART</b>.FAIR 21 Cologne | <b>Vanitas</b> | Pinterest
Include insects and animals.  Include human remains - stay away from zombies.
- Molecular consumers: bacteria (putrefaction), enzymes, fungi.
- Insect consumers: ants, flesh flies, green bottle flies, carrion beetles, mites
- Animal consumers: coyote, rats, crows, vultures, wolves, foxes

Seven deadly sins:  pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath and sloth.
Aquinas went so far as to prepare a list of six ways to commit gluttony, comprising:
  • Praepropere – eating too soon
  • Laute – eating too expensively
  • Nimis – eating too much
  • Ardenter – eating too eagerly
  • Studiose – eating too daintily
  • Forente – eating wildly 
Sidebar: Sloth has also been defined as a failure to do things that one should do. By this definition, evil exists when good men fail to act.

Food Imitation:
Nutter Butter Peanut Butter Sandwiches are made to look like peanuts. processed food is made to look like unprocessed food. non-digestable ingredients are put into items that make them look edible. corn syrup is corn processed to the point of being cancerous. Plastic chips in our toothpaste that cannot be digested or broken down in the natural environment. Would you eat peanuts?  Would you eat metal nuts? What if each was given to you and shared as food - from day one. Why do we believe what isn't food is food?  Packaging?  GMO soybeans being shown to cause smaller offspring and alters mother's milk. Why do we believe changed food is better food - especially when it is changed in a way that can only be done by a large food company.  Ever hear of your neighbor radiating their food? DO you have your grandmother's corn syrup recipe? We create rot from within, gladly swallowing the change agent as if it was a delicacy.  Food covered with a dusting of narcotics - sugar coated... everything. Food surfaces: glazed, powdered, basted, browned,

Fake food: rubber chickens, cheese slices that aren't even called cheese but cheese product , glued meat (transglutaminase), So it appears that either way, when it come to Imitation Crab Meat ... imitation crab meat made from pollock and red dye, maple syrup that is corn syrup with maple flavoring.

We are what we eat.