Talking about what art means can be a slippery business. Each work of art has two lives: a public life and a private life. When an artist puts the work out for public viewing, whether online or in person, the work automatically gains the meanings that viewers receive from it.
One of the reasons I enjoy writing a blog is that it allows me to share some of the private meanings that I put into the artwork. I think viewers appreciate having the behind the scenes view into what the art means. I even noticed this in my recent workshop with Skip Lawrence. During the critique discussion of one of my paintings, he discovered that elements of the painting were inspired by specific memories, and admitted that this knowledge made him appreciate the work more.
Often one can discover clues to the artist’s intent by looking at the title of a specific work. For example, the rather dark painting at right, “Barn Interior” might make more sense when seen with its title. Perhaps the title might help you imagine soft, warm lighting with mystery, dust motes, straw, gaps in the siding and all the rest of the smells and sounds of an old barn. (I hope so!)
Fog, another painting I worked on in Santa Barbara has a very different, specific feeling. The colors are very close in intensity… all fairly muted. How does this fit the subject (Fog?)
One pitfall that viewers can often encounter when viewing abstract art is the “Rorschach Test” phenomenon. I HATE it when viewers feel obligated to find realistic images in an abstraction. I would much rather have a viewer tell me what they feel. Here are some actual comments that I received from viewers about the painting below, titled “Heat.”
“Moody & Broody”
“This is Moving to me”
“Brings to Mind the Fires we get in Southern CA”
“Reminds me of a raft trip through a burning forest”
Which of the comments do you think I was excited to hear? Which one stands out as not applicable? “Discovering” an object within the painting that does not relate to the title is not the best way to appreciate the work. If one does see subject matter in an abstract painting, best to keep it to oneself.
I don’t mean to imply that an abstract work is not successful if the viewer does not understand the artist’s intent. On the contrary, I feel that the meaning of a painting can be one thing to the artist, and something different to the viewer. Although I had a specific memory in mind that inspired the painting “Heat,” I purposely chose a more general title.
Instead of calling it “Campfire” “Forest Fire” or “Fireside” I simply chose the title “Heat” to allow viewers to bring their own experience of fire to the interpretation of the painting. It could also imply emotional heat, both positive and negative. Leaving the title fairly general allowed viewers to imagine all sorts of content of their own.
What kind of interpretations do you make from the three paintings in this post? How important are titles to you in viewing abstract artwork? I love receiving your comments!
Join me this weekend for the opening reception of the Watercolor Society of Oregon’s 50th Anniversary. I will be in attendance as the public and artists view 80 paintings, selected from artists throughout the state by Michigan artist Kathleen Conover. The show runs April 9th through May 23rd, 2016 at the Oregon Garden Resort in Silverton, Oregon.
My painting, below, was inspired by a meadow of spring wildflowers called Camassia. They are a brilliant blue, and often cluster in oak Savannah’s. This particular field is part of Bush’s Pasture Park in Salem, Oregon. Let me know what you think!
I received the best compliment for an artist this morning. A friend was visiting the farm to do a photoshoot with our new lambs, and had not seen my studio before. After we watched the frolicking of the new babies, we took a peek at my messy, messy studio and I showed her some of the work I did in the Skip Lawrence workshop in Santa Barbara.
Two of the images she viewed are related. The first, “Last Day”, was an experiment in using a more structured, balanced, sharp edged shape composition. When I finished this painting, I felt as if the entire time I worked on it, I was wearing a girdle.
I still liked the idea of the round shape, the balanced composition, and the movement of color from top to bottom, left to right. So I tried a second painting with more of my normal looseness, a more subdued palette, and similar shape elements and division of space. Here is the resulting painting:
The best compliment, one I will treasure, is that the second painting looks exactly like my work, while the first painting looks like someone else did it. It is always such a welcome compliment to hear that your work has a recognizable style. I’ve written about this before, but it is always so gratifying, so I thought I would mention it again! Here is my original post about 7 Compliments Guaranteed to Make Any Artist Swoon… one that continues to draw readers every day.
Artists, what is the best compliment you’ve ever received? Viewers, what similarities do you see in these two works? Which do you prefer? I love getting your comments.
The New Year always gives me a feeling of great potential. I spend time going over the past year’s accomplishments and deficits and setting goals for the coming months. This weekend we woke to a blanket of white over everything. It makes the land look fresh, simplified, clean and bright.
You don’t see the weeds, the pruning that needs to be done, the fallen limbs from wind storms… Just a simple, fresh slate.
“We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.”
In looking forward with my art this year, I’m hoping that instead of changes, I can keep many things the same with my artwork. I’d like to maintain the flow of ideas and practice that I had last year and the year before. The temptations and allure of change are great. There are always new techniques, rabbit trails and experiments that seem more attractive and simpler than delving deep into one’s emotions, memories and psyche.
The challenge is to remain true to oneself, while still keeping open to fresh ideas. To hold onto the strengths and working habits that feed successful work.
* New animals on the farm. Why do they feed my creativity? I don’t know… Maybe it is their playfulness. Whatever it is, they make me happy.
*Teaching: I taught 4 workshops and almost weekly classes at Oregon Society of Artists. The creativity of my students never ceases to energize me and inspire.
*Showing my work: I exhibited in 18 different venues last year, both in-state and out.
-North Valley Art League in Redding, Rocky Mountain National in Golden, CO, Louisiana Watercolor Society, Northwest Watercolor Society in Seattle, California Watercolor Association in the Bay Area, and National Watercolor Society in the LA area. I showed in two Watercolor Society of Oregon exhibitions, the Lake Oswego Reads show, the Sitka Invitational, the Attic Gallery, Mary Lou Zeek’s Blink pop-up, the Lake Oswego Festival, The Portland Art Museum’s Rental Sales Gallery shows (x2) and Portland Open Studios. My work earned 6 awards, 3 of them in National shows. Whew!
*New work – I made over 35 new paintings
*Blogging- I published 29 new blog posts, including one of my most popular posts ever: “7 Compliments Guaranteed to Make Any Artist Swoon” This post has daily views… and has already reached 3,417 readers. During the year, my blog reached 11,144 readers who viewed my site 23,440 times and left 140 comments. I love seeing that steady growth! I’m hoping that next year, I’ll have even more repeat visitors, and more comments.
Click the titles below to check out a few of the other posts that were most popular:
I’m proud to unveil this new painting, inspired by summer winds kicking up dust & chaff in the fields during harvest. I’ll also be teaching a class for Sitka this weekend at Hoyt Arboretum – Oil & Cold Wax. I’m looking forward to sharing this yummy process.
Join me to view this work and two more of mine in person – they’re always better in person! The quality of this show always overwhelms me, with over 400 works in a variety of media from more than 140 Northwest artists. You’ll find sculpture, ceramics, paintings, metalwork, glass, fiber arts, book arts and prints to delight your senses and add culture and style to your home or office.
The Sitka Art Invitational celebrates artwork inspired by the natural world and complements the learning and art making that happens at Sitka during workshop and residency programs. The exhibit piques the interests of all types of art enthusiasts: makers, students, buyers and devotees. The show happens annually in Portland to help reach a larger audience than is possible on the coast. This event is an opportunity to connect with the Sitka community and build awareness for workshop and residency programs.
Most (but not all) of the Invitational artists have a connection to Sitka, as past Artists-in-Residence, teachers or students. Sitka shares art sales 50/50 in partnership with the artists. Because artists share in the proceeds, they bring their best work, making this exhibit an exceptional collection of high quality art pieces.
Sitka’s 2014 payments to artists:
$37,831 from the Sitka Art Invitational artist commissions
$69,657 paid to instructors in summer Workshop tuition
$23,750 in stipends for artists through special programs like the Jordan Schnitzer Printmaking Residency, the Recorder Residency, and the Ford Family Foundation Golden Spot stipends for visual artists.
Please come see the ‘Dust Devils’ in the show and bring a friend, or two!
I’ve been going through work for an upcoming show: Farm to Fork – Art of the Harvest. I’ve always loved this painting and will be including it in the show, which runs September 1-27 at Columbia Center for the Arts in Hood River, Oregon. Join me for the First Friday Opening Reception: September 4, 6-8 p.m.
Farm to Fork will feature seventeen artists from Oregon and Washington, presenting artwork in a variety of media that depicts all aspects of harvest: from illustrations of local farming behind the scenes to interpretations of the harvest to finely crafted implements for the dining table. Plan now to attend!
Gardening has taught me so much about painting. Here are a few kernels of advice for all you budding (get it?) artists and gardeners.
You know how it is when you come home after 10 days away and some of the little things have changed drastically? Yeah, that happened! I was in Newport for the Watercolor Society of Oregon‘s Spring Exhibition and Convention, then stayed for the workshop with Gale Webb. The image above is a painting that resulted from that class.
I’m thrilled to share that my painting “Coming Through the Rye” received an award… honored to be among one of the artists chosen from this stunning show. The 20 Award-Winning paintings will travel the state for the next six months. Check out my Events Page for more information!
I came home from my time away to an explosion of growth in the garden… Tree peonies and dogwood in bloom and WEEDS! 🙁 I also came home to try to carve out some time in the studio. With deadlines approaching and commissions on the table, that is essential. But I also need to get out in the garden while the weather is good and the weeds are small!
5 Things I’ve Learned About Art and Gardening
1) Devotion: To have a beautiful garden or art practice, you MUST devote time. My art practice thrives when I put in the time. My garden, right now, needs a bit more time. It is full of weeds, needs pruning and is getting away from me.
2) Pruning: pruning judiciously leaves more room for light, more time for art. Do you struggle with overcrowding? My garden is facing that issue right now, as is my life! Too many commitments have broken into the sacred time I usually reserve for my art. It is time for a little pruning of my schedule AND my garden!
3) Seeds or ideas: Both must be carefully managed so they don’t scatter. Keeping my ideas in a sketchbook or journal is like keeping a file for seeds. It pays to review what I’ve done in the studio (and the garden) what produced well and what I can learn from it. Which idea or plant is best suited for the resources I have available? What do I need to balance out my inventory? Making a plan and sticking to it is easier said than done, but it pays to keep my eye on the prize and focus my efforts.
4) Watering and Fertilizing: just like seeds in the garden, my art ideas need resources to grow and thrive. The ‘water’ of my art practice is viewing other art, exploring new materials and reading. I ‘fertilize’ my imagination with reading poetry, non-fiction (currently a book on butterflies), journals and fiction.
5) Being Present: When I’m in the garden, I’m happy… happy to be weeding or planting, planning or just enjoying the fresh air. When I go into the studio, my focus shifts to creating. I try not to waste time in either place, wishing I were elsewhere. I capitalize on the rainy days by spending them in the studio and enjoy the sunshine in the garden when it arrives. It takes both rain and sun to make a garden. Similarly, it takes both joy and sweat to make a painting.
Just like walking through a beautiful, mature garden, art viewers often see the end result when a finished work of art is presented. It is difficult to imagine the sweat, persistence, concentration and hard-won time that went into creating that painting, just like one does not always consider the battle with weeds, elements and failure that led to the creation of a beautiful garden. Persistence in the face of frustration is often the key in both art and gardening!
You can be sure that gardening and painting both reap lasting rewards, though. Both teach us about beauty, stamina, flexibility, appreciation and joy. Both allow us to share with the world our own unique aesthetic. Gardening and Painting both constantly surprise me with unexpected gifts – a volunteer plant, an unusual blending of color…. What similarities do you see between gardening and painting?
Leave me a comment! I love hearing from you. Let me know what’s happening in your art life or your garden. As always, I appreciate your sharing my words and work with friends and family!