Pareidolia in Abstract Art

Pareidolia in Abstract Art

Pareidolia is a psychological phenomenon in which the mind responds to a stimulus, usually an image or a sound, by perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists.  Classic examples might be seeing a face in the full moon, or imagining that cloud shapes represent a dragon or dolphin.

Cloud-gazing sounds so good today!

Cloud-gazing sounds so good today!

I think that we are hard-wired by our survival instincts to identify subject matter in abstract shapes. Who hasn’t imagined a shadow in the woods to be a bear or some other predator? This subject came up in two of my recent workshops about abstract art. Viewers often ‘find’ subject matter that the artist did not intend. Once an image is identified, it is hard to ‘un-see’ it.

It Happens to Us All

Pareidolia is natural, but a sophisticated art-viewer knows that it is more acceptable to ask questions than to volunteer what their imagination has come up with. For example, a viewer might ask the artist “Am I meant to see a figure implied here?” If the artist says yes, great! You can discuss what you see, what it means etc. If the artist says no, an appropriate response is to keep your perception to yourself and discuss the artist’s intentions further. Viewers can follow up with another general question such as “What was your intention for the work?”

Interpreting art is a delicate balance between the artist’s intention and the viewer’s response. Both are important, and sharing our viewpoints can be mutually satisfying. In fact, artists love it when viewers are interested enough to ask about the work.  Share your experience: does pareidolia inspire or frustrate you?

The internet has many good articles about understanding abstract art. The Collector’s Corner of Art Mine summarizes it this way:

The most important thing to understand about abstract art is that it does NOT have to have a meaning, narrative or even a singular explanation.

The main purpose of abstraction is not to tell a story, but to encourage involvement and imagination. This art form is mostly about providing its viewers with an intangible and emotional experience – more often than not, the experience is completely different for every individual depending on their personality and state of mind.

Therefore, it is really up to the viewer to decide whether the painting in front of them has any meaning or provokes any emotion. As we mentioned, abstract art is all about freedom.

That’s a fitting subject for Independence Day!

Further Reading:

Click here to read the whole article from Art Mine. You’ll also find a list of Do’s & Don’ts for discussing abstraction. I’ll have another vocabulary post coming up soon. Watch this space! New workshop listings coming soon too! I’m always interested in your reaction to new work. Leave me a comment, and don’t forget to share with friends.

"Sediment" ©Ruth Armitage, Acrylic on Paper 15x22"

“Sediment” ©Ruth Armitage, Acrylic on Paper 15×22″

“It is not that the meaning cannot be explained. But there are certain meanings that ar lost forever the moment they are explained in words.”                -Haruki Murakami

The Seduction of Praise

The Seduction of Praise

Praise and success are a tricky thing for the artist. While everyone wants to be successful and praise is seductive, the nature of art is so subjective that there are many definitions of success. During the creative process, we run the risk of becoming perfectionistic if we allow thoughts of success to overpower the idea at hand. We all know that perfectionism is fear, and bold creations cannot thrive in an atmosphere of fear.

“We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.” – Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

I have been re-reading “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield. I find it difficult to maintain a regular studio routine during the holidays. Well, let’s be honest here. I always find it hard to maintain a regular studio routine. That’s what the book is about. I’ve been trying to balance making time for artwork with preparing for the Christmas holidays. At times like this I’m thankful to have a dedicated studio space where I can retreat, even for short periods.

Another reason that praise or success can be a fickle mistress is that it breeds pride. Pride is different than self-confidence. Hubris, or pride, is the most serious of the 7 Deadly Sins. I’m not talking about feeling the humble joy of success. Hubris is more about egoism, or undeserved self-aggrandizment. I have seen many artists hamper their own creative growth because of pride. Pride demands that we ‘save face’ and avoid failure. The creative process demands that we risk failure to grow and change.

“Success leads to the greatest failure, which is pride. Failure leads to the greatest success, which is humility and learning.” – David Brooks, The Road to Character

Artists must always monitor the evaluation of their own work. One must be unflinchingly honest – we have to maintain a healthy amount of self-esteem to even attempt self-expression. But we must avoid hubris or false pride in order to maintain humility and openess to the creative process.

Avoiding Seduction – Keeping it in perspective

Everyone loves to hear that their work touched someone. Sales tell me that someone loved my work enough to live with it. I also receive positive feedback from social media and from juried shows. But by the same token, I know that I need to remember:

  • Moma probably won’t be calling me next week
  • Most juried shows contain one or more paintings that don’t impress me
  • Most people are happy with hanging wall decor from Target or any other Big Box Store

All this is to preface the announcement that I will have work in another upcoming juried show:

“Jump” ©Ruth Armitage, Acrylic on Paper 30×22″

Ratindra Das has accepted “Jump” for the 9th Annual Signature American Watermedia Exhibition in Fallbrook, CA. I’m honored to be in great company. Artists must be a signature member of a Watercolor Society or Group to enter this show. So, the competition is tougher to get in. Standards for achieving signature membership vary.  Generally it means your work has been accepted into more than one exhibition or has passed a review board.

The show will run February 4 – April 15, 2018

Open Daily February 4 through April 15, 2018 | Mon – Sat 10 am – 4 pm | Sun Noon – 3 pm

The Janice Griffiths Gallery @ The Fallbrook Art Center
103 S. Main Ave, Fallbrook, CA 92028

Recent Art Workshops Recap

Recent Art Workshops Recap

Teaching art workshops is gratifying beyond belief. It is a joy to watch the students in my workshops receive a challenge with open arms and run with it in completely different ways.

img_1178

“Art Enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.” – Thomas Merton

Some of my favorite comments from the workshops were:

“Ok – MIND BLOWN!”

“Your specific suggestions, positive encouragement and creative assignments helped push me into unfamiliar territory.”

Here’s how the group in Gold Beach summarized the workshop:

“Three days of encouragement and challenges culminated in dramatic breakthroughs and conclusions for artists included in Ruth Armitage’s “Creative Spark” workshop in Gold Beach. And, there was lots of fun along the way!

Deftly weaving the elements of design into her visual presentations, Ruth then demonstrated techniques with which to develop sketches, photos, drawings, and failed paintings – through several iterations – into a finished work. She used a myriad of methods and materials, something to appeal to all participants. From gouache to Gelli pads, we explored ways in which we can resolve pauses and hiccups in our work.

The final Show and Tell proved the validity of personal discovery to find satisfaction with our results. Ruth’s gentle Socratic method elicits responses from her students to help that famous lightbulb sparkle.”

Side Benefits to Teaching Art Workshops:

One of the other reasons that I enjoy teaching art workshops is that it pushes me to be the best painter I can be. It makes me really think about different ways to express my ideas. The painting below evolved because of an idea stimulated by collage. The title “River of Dreams” stuck with me through the first two studies:

River of Dreams Study v. 1

River of Dreams Study v. 1

The original collage featured a young child camouflaged by an oriental rug, and it had images of sharks in the water below. This one was too literal for me, but I wanted to show students that they could change a literal image and make it more abstract.

River of Dreams Study v. 2

River of Dreams Study v. 2

This one was better since it is more abstract, but I wasn’t happy with the colors, and the bottom didn’t seem ‘dangerous’ enough.

Here is the final version. Often we have to go through several paintings to get to the final expression.

'River of Dreams' 22x15" Acrylic on Paper, Ruth Armitage, ©2016

‘River of Dreams’ 22×15″ Acrylic on Paper, Ruth Armitage, ©2016 SOLD

Thanks to all who participated in these fun art workshops, and to the key players at Oregon Society of Artists and Gold Beach who helped make them happen!

pdxos2016_8

If you’d like to see me demonstrate, visit me during Portland Open Studios! October 8 & 9th or 15th & 16th, 10-5. Click the following link to read my post about the tour and related events.

Finally, I hope you’ll enjoy these images of workshop participants and their paintings!  Click on the images to enlarge and scroll through. What really excites me is that all the participants in these art workshops created work that really reflects them. The work is not simply a copy of what I do, but a reflection of their own ideas and creativity. There is a range of realism to abstraction as varied as the people in the workshop.

 

Watercolor Society of Oregon 50th Anniversary

Watercolor Society of Oregon 50th Anniversary

Happy 50th Anniversary to the Watercolor Society of Oregon

This past weekend I spent three heavenly days at the Watercolor Society of Oregon’s 50th Anniversary. The exhibition and convention were held at the Oregon Garden Resort in beautiful Silverton, Oregon. Set in the rolling green hills of the mid-Willamette Valley, this gem continues to grow and change. Each time I visit, I notice new plants, artwork, water features and more.

But our main focus was on art. We listened to lectures, watched demonstrations, tried new products, made new art friends and strengthened old. We looked back at the history and the people that built our organization. Founders, board members, participants and jurors were all honored. The show was spectacular, juried by notable Michigan artist Kathleen Conover.

Kathleen Conover and Ruth Armitage

Kathleen Conover and Ruth Armitage

My Work Won an Award!

Thanks to Kathleen for the nice award! I was in the top ten at number 6!

My Award Winning Painting - "Camassia"

My Award Winning Painting – “Camassia”

Oh Boy…. Another Rejection

I presented a lecture titled “Oh Boy, Another Rejection” and received so many heartwarming comments. A couple of folks asked me to post my slides. Keep in mind, the lecture is much more than a sum of the slides, but if you attended and missed a few things in your notes, click here!

Other Weekend Events

I really enjoyed the critiques by our juror, Kathleen Conover, as well as a demonstration by Judy Morris and a lecture by Michael Schlicting. But the best times of the convention were those down times, just visiting with artist friends from all over the state. We spent a lot of time remembering those who gave tirelessly to our organization, those who have passed or can no longer attend, and where we’ve been as a group. We also spent some time planning for the future and welcoming new members and taking in the beauty around us.

Judy Morris Demo

Judy Morris Demo

Michael Schlicting - on Sports and Art

Michael Schlicting – on Sports and Art

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hope if you are close, you’ll take time to visit the Oregon Garden Resort Hotel. The paintings are on view throughout the month in the hallways of the hotel and the exhibit is free to attend. The 20 award winning paintings will travel the state for the following 6 months. I’ll keep the schedule updated on my Events page!

And if you’re a painter in Water Media, I’d encourage you to join us for our next convention, which will be held in October in Oregon City. There is more information on becoming a member at our website: WatercolorSocietyofOregon.com

Turnover – Abstract Watercolor

Turnover – Abstract Watercolor

I often begin my abstract painting process with the possible title for the painting. The painting seen here was a demonstration for a class I taught at Village Gallery of Arts as a substitute for a friend. I was thinking of the idea of tilling the fields, plowing, harrowing etc. and combining that idea with the idea of turning the land over to the next owners.

“Turnover” is my attempt to combine those ideas. For the moment the land is fallow, waiting for the next crop, the next memories to be made there.

The lesson involved using layers of line over various light shapes in the background. I’ve worked on the painting a bit more since the class. I took it to my critique group the day I started it. They suggested altering the shape that looked almost human, softening the blue diagonal between the left & right sides and a few other small touches.

I’m always interested in your comments on my work!

Abstract Painting by Ruth Armitage

“Turnover” ©Ruth Armitage, Watercolor on Paper, 30×22″ $1800

I will be showing New Work at the Fall Opening Reception at the Portland Art Museum’s Rental Sales Gallery: Friday, October 24, 5-8 p.m.

1237 S.W. 12th Ave. at Jefferson, Portland, OR    503-224-0674

View over 1,500 works for sale or rent from gallery artists and enjoy refreshments.  Creative Costumes encouraged for this event!

Special Announcement: My new 18 month, Full Color  Calendar Available!

Paintings and Quotes for each Month

 Each month features a different image from the “Down on the Farm” series, plus an inspiring quote chosen specially for that month and that painting. Calendar begins with January. 2015 and ends in June, 2016. Great gift for yourself, or your friend or family member who likes to plan ahead!

 

My new Full Color Calendar,  Paintings and Quotes for each Month

Click here to preview my new Full Color Calendar, Paintings and Quotes for 18 Months!

Support independent publishing: Buy this calendar on Lulu.

Growth – Abstract Watercolor

Growth – Abstract Watercolor

"Growth" ©Ruth Armitage, 2014 Watercolor on Paper 30x22"

“Growth” ©Ruth Armitage, 2014 Watercolor on Paper 30×22″ Sold

Before the Artist’s Reception at Riversea Gallery, I took a one week workshop with Master Artist, Katherine Chang Liu in Ventura, California. I have been studying with Katherine on and off since the 1990’s. She has seen my work evolve from still life, through figurative and now on to my more abstract paintings.

Katherine’s instructional methods have also influenced my own teaching. She encourages artists to set their own goals and pursue their own paths. Her instruction hinges heavily on examining the work that other artists are doing, and considering carefully how to set one’s own work apart from the rest. Self-evaluation and self-generated questions are also an important part of the mentoring process. It is not as important whether the work pleases her, but rather does the work please the artist?

My work during the week focused on color and gestural mark-making. I am please with this piece because I feel that it has some of the strong design I’ve been seeking (an x shaped composition) along with very expressive, organic shapes and marks. The colors are more unusual and personal. One phrase that will help me judge my color as I move forward in this series is ‘rich, but not colorful.’ I think that is a good descriptor of my feelings about the place as well.

This particular piece about the farm is related more to the process of growing crops than about the view of buildings or man-made roads, etc.  I hope you will let me know what you think… leave me a comment!

I have some other exciting news to share later in the week, and more new paintings. Stay tuned 🙂 If you are not yet subscribed to my blog, use the form on the top right edge of my blog to subscribe using Feedburner. You won’t want to miss a post! Feel free to share this image using the buttons below.

Pin It on Pinterest