Victoria, leafing through a catalogue, has a fond reminiscence

from an email:

“I was looking through a catalogue, ran across Cezanne Étude de Pomme water color, reminded me of the fruit watercolor exercise from your painting class!”

title: PAUL CÉZANNE Étude de Pomme.

PAUL CÉZANNE Étude de Pomme. Watercolor and pencil on paper, circa 1890. 118×169 mm; 45/8>x65/8> inches.

This drawing, likely from a sketchbook, is characteristic of Cézanne’s watercolor still lifes of fruit from around 1885 to 1895. In its strong contours, reinforced in both pencil and watercolor, and the representation of the light, shade and reflected light on the surfaces and the shadows they cast, it compares to works such as Trois poires (Rewald 298); Assiette de pêches (Rewald 547); and Oranges sur une assiette (Rewald 553). In a letter dated January 12, 2009 which accompanies this lot, Professor Theodore Reff stated his opinion that this work is by Paul Cézanne.

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Word, Image and Hyperactivity

Like any good story, a successful process log tells the viewer/reader about the progress of the artwork in a compelling way. Luckily the author of the electronic blog gets to spin the tale in words, pictures and the added bonus of hyperactivity. When I listen to a story, I am looking for more than a mere listing of events. I look for the story to transpire within some super flavor—a distinctive tone and a compelling and aesthetic peculiarity wrapped into one delicious waffle cone of wonder. I found an example of something like this in the work of Mercedez Hart, who weaves a consistent thought line throughout her blog. Whether she’s drawing a sketch, taking a photograph, painting, writing or designing/editing/selecting a website (or a blog), her color palette, organizational aesthetic, and specific point of view are consistent across media. Each piece of writing and visual expression share concern for organizational clarity, lightness of touch, care, warmth, and…well, yellow. I suspect the warmth comes from the yellow and from the empty spaces that appear everywhere, as if there were plenty of room and as if we had all the time in the world. Nothing is clunky, no one is taking up space just because the space is there. Mercedez values the open air. (and because she does, so do I!) (plus it makes me feel luxurious and rich!)

Careful thinking about the viewer/reader experience is clear in the example of her summative reflection on the mixed media painting project, which can be found in her blog for October 13, 2011

Mercedez begins her post with a still photograph of the finished painting, then goes on to carefully explain the process. Within the text she explains the project and her specific approach and experience in making her work. She includes synopses of developmental conversations with her peers, with live links to their sites. This verbal discussion is followed by a visual breakdown of the work in the form of an animated slide show comprising multiple images of the work during its execution. Each image carefully culled to present a sense of how the piece incrementally grew and transformed over time. The use of the slide show “widget” and peer links suggests that Mercedez researched her digital tool (WordpPress) in order to use the software to its greatest effect. This is a case where the choices Mercedez made in how she presents her reflections adds to a sense of holistic vision in what she is showing, and indeed gives me a sense of the kind of person she is. Because I know her (and you do too if you’re in the class), this sensibility is corroborated by her character. The things she makes reflect who she is.

Another wonderful blog is Mia Jones-Walker’s. Mia can write! Her words are well considered, flowing, funny and transportive. Her writing takes me into a delicious world of images and experiences. (Mia’s world, Mia’s world, party time, excellent). Some snippets:

Adding washes in huge decisive planes of color was much needed liberation after such stifling guidelines from representative drawing!! Whew!!

I wet my paper liberally by section, before applying ochre, red, green, blue and purple inks. Purple and green inks combined to create dark olive green for most of the foreground; blue-green bled into the darker green from the top of the page. The hand and the arm I painted a very diluted red mixed with yellow. The birdcage was ochre and green—SUPER fun to paint!! Here I let the water drip in different rivulets, then added ink with small brushes. It was sooo gorgeous to watch

I really enjoyed playing with water today! I’m slowly beginning to change my thinking about “right” and “wrong” approaches to art…

A third instance of individual voice in a process log is that of Gala Cude’s. Gala has taken the constrictive structure of the blog and reworked it so that it contains its own rhythmic reading–an innovative manipulation of image and text insertion. She is enacting a visual exploration (attributed to an artist referenced within the blog) while inside the “rules” of the blog template. Through exploring repetition and patterning to create a specific reader/visual experience she transforms the blog venue from mere reporting and documenting into a gallery of expressive capability.

So, in conclusion, a good process log is like a good anything: know your story, know your materials, know yourself. Have something specific and meaningful to say, craft it, put yourself into it. Voila.

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Risk Chance Hazard Possibility Danger Loss

[Belinda]:
Taking the risk of letting go of what’s in my head and what I ‘think’ I know seems to be right for me. I am learning more about the media, technique, and rules of design (and how to use them) than in the years before. What I made for art in the past was ok….but I want my art to be awesome! If I can quiet my ego and open my mind to new ideas and directions I believe I can take off and fly one day…..

[Emily]:
I like more realistic things and challenging myself to keep this abstract part of my painting was a stretch for me and it kinda put me on an emotional edge for a couple of days!

my huge risk in this painting which made me SUPER uncomfortable was putting gesso over the right mannequin’s leg and letting it be.  It was a good decision to leave it and not try and change it because it added a lot … to the piece.  Leaving it makes people just stand there and look at it.  I feel like it was a huge letting-go process for me … and I had a lot of back and forth with it.  It eventually transformed into what it was and it was loud and proud and wanting to stay there.

[Erica]:
This project was a lot like the toy, Chinese handcuffs. The more you struggle, fight and pull against the bindings, the more you’re stuck. In fact you make the situation worse, you just make the bindings tighter.  As soon as you relax and go with the flow you can immediately get yourself unbound. This painting was a constant process of letting go.

[Gala]:
because the creation process was consciously unconcerned with the “finished product,” arriving at a finished piece was more a matter of deciding when the process was done, not when the artwork was done. working on this project was never about achieving any kind of specific vision, but about practicing discovery-focused, intentional seeing and the creation of something that is visually interesting and exciting…

i feel i was actually more comfortable working on a project that expected discomfort than i have been working on assignments that stress fulfillment of certain guidelines. laying down messy expanses of color over a carefully rendered line drawing was a very exciting part of the process for me.

[Lexi]:
… “Risk” is something that definitely [is] not on my name tag. Maybe because I was afraid of it, or maybe it’s just my nature to stay safe. …I was very uncomfortable when I overlapped the four big color palette on my “precious” piece, and felt that my heart was bleeding. … and the more I put on my painting, the more excited I get. And when I finished the whole picture, suddenly I am relieved–Finally I can breathe. … Overall, this project dragged me deep in thoughts, and [I] really thought about what I can change to improve myself, and what I can do to make my works more than just “precious paintings”.

[Maria]:
This piece is driving me up a wall. i feel like i have been through five stages of grief while painting this. to say that it is a challenge is an understatement. i have never painted like this before and it is extremely difficult. i am having to restructure not only my expectations, but my own personal standards. I first felt upset and angry, and then i just said fuck it, and then i liked [it] and began to paint more freely and see it as a learning process instead of just to finish a painting.

[Mia]:
Ironically, I found that what I spent the most time drawing representatively ended up being mostly muted out [birdcage], and that which I spent the least amount of time drawing wound up taking the most time to paint in sharp detail [hand, feathers].

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The Difference Between Listening and Pretending to Listen

“The difference between listening and pretending to listen, I discovered, is enormous. One is fluid, the other is rigid.  One is alive, the other is stuffed. Eventually I found a radical way of thinking about listening. Real listening is a willingness to let the other person change you. When I’m willing to let them change me, something happens between us that’s more interesting than a pair of dueling monologues. Like so much of what I learned in the theater, this turned out to be how life works, too.”

Sketch: Emily Ledbetter

Alan Alda is quoted here in New Self New World, Recovering Our Senses in the Twenty-first Century by Philip Shepherd. While this book is not ostensibly about art, the ideas I’m reading have surprising relevance to some of my current thinking about creative process.

Listening to critical discussion is an essential skill in any creative practice. While it seems almost natural to take a defensive posture when someone talks about my work, the result of doing so is equivalent to Alda’s “dueling monologues”: I have my point of view and you have yours. We each defend our position with words and arguments, and the best argument wins. There’s nothing in this system that inherently supports the work of art: the work loses.  Instead, this method privileges a power dynamic between the arguing personalities. But through open and willing listening, where the artist can remove herself from the work in order to be open to being changed by what she hears, the work and the artist benefit. Energy flows away from winning the argument and toward closer scrutiny, engagement and discernment: the work wins.

But I would like to explore a more subtle and perhaps more essential notion of the power of listening. Specifically, the ability to recognize and value the work itself as a living relationship. With the first visible mark on a page I enter into an exchange with the media: I make a mark, I LISTEN, and then I respond. The creative process consists of this simple dynamic circle of action and response. I perform “real listening”, as Alda would put it, when I become willing to change in response to the work. This relationship to the work and to working process is far more gratifying than that of seeking a specific controlled outcome, which is no fun in the making and almost always yields a formulaic (boring!) result.

Apple study: Lexi Wang

Shepherd goes on to say:

You cannot find presence, freedom or creativity inside a world arrested by description, which is also to say you cannot find wholeness there—because any such world is a mere duplicate that has severed ties with the world it purports to represent. When you “pretend to listen,” whether onstage or off, you are actually paying attention to your own ideas about how to react and are using your face and body to “do” a duplicate of “listening” that is based on them; when you really listen, you abandon the foregone knowledge of how to react and, willing to “be”, you pay attention instead to “what is”.

Which leads me to another “aha”. There is a difference between merely rendering a visual description of a subject and representing the spirit of the looking. One is rote, robotic duplication, with particular attention to skillful rendering of correct relative proportion, perspective, scale, value etc., and the other is representation plus (what I call) verve. When I am willing to surrender to the work and become a participant in the conversation, rather than a master over it, I find myself involved in something bigger — and much more exciting — than mere me and my inherently limited ideas of how things might look. Effortful rendering on my own can be merely “duplication”. I am trying to achieve some quantitative, known goal. In this scenario, I “should” on myself.* Instead of being present, I privilege a removed, unrealized predefined future ideal. A more authentic practice engages a collaborative relationship between my skills and my hunch. That’s the verve. Verve emerges when I am brave enough to invite it, courteous enough to welcome it, and vivacious enough to throw a party for it.

Verve is something more than skill, and verve with no skill is not as strong as verve with skill. The duty and the mark of the artist, it seems, is to embrace and reveal this collaborative dynamic exchange between looking and sensing. When this happens, the work can become infinitely generative—the artist responding to the act of making and the viewer responding to the act of looking: both forever immersed in right now.

Cherry Sketch: Maria Misuiri

[*I have taken to heart the advice from brother Peter: Never should on yourself.]

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Taking Your Time

Gala Cude

How exciting to post some beautiful observations from Art 241 / 341 sketchbooks. The joy of a sketchbook is that it allows the artist/observer to pay attention only to the things she finds delightful — free from worry about the “rules” of page composition.

Seun-Yoon Kim

In this way the sketchbook is artist-focused vs. viewer focused. There is freedom in these recordings that comes through as fresh and authentic — we see paintbrushes or orange peels as we have not seen them before.

Maria Misiura

Time + paint + curious subject matter= magical alchemy on the page.

Mia Jones-Walker

In these images I can feel the sense of timelessness, a delight in fluidity, joy of pigment, curiosity about line and shape and light. These marvelous studies illustrate what can emerge from the relationship of attention to materials and love of looking.

Vylencia Morton

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Processing process

In the mac lab for ten minutes we tried to learn a great deal.

Here we are demonstrating three descriptions of space. We are looking at what happens to scale and color and detail as we closely study a subject. What happens to things we know as we compare how we see them up close, from a middle ground and much farther away (helllloooo Erica!)? In the second painting project we’ll compose a piece based on our findings from these direct observations. Notice that we observe like scientists: make notes of what is true. State the very obvious as well as subtleties. For example, Erica in the distance is much smaller than Vylencia in the middle ground. In fact Erica’s hips are smaller than my middle finger (foreground), even though in “real life” I know that my hand is not that giant. (Except when speaking in metaphor!) By writing down these very clear observations in words I can teach my brain to draw what I see instead of what I know, and thereby create a stronger and more authentic illusion of three-dimensional space on a two-dimensional surface. Questions to ask yourself: what happens to the range of value contrast between close up and far away? What happens to the clarity of defined edges of form? What happens to the colors? What surprises you here? For example, Erica sort of sneaks in to the picture frame. At first glance she isn’t there–but once I notice her, there’s a big joke on me, because she’s looking pretty obvious now…how did she blend in to the background like that? What’s going on? The more you LOOK, and record what you observe (TELL), the more you will see, and the easier time you will have drawing what you see for real, instead of what you imagine you see.

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