Out of Control

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Pestilant Sun, 1990, collage and acrylic on canvas, 65″ x 18″

 

It’s not yet the end of January, and I’m already feeling a little behind. Yes, that’s right, we’ve barely begun the year and I’m out of control.

I write this in all seriousness, and then I think for a bit and laugh. When is a creative ever in control? Creative people scale high in the trait for openness. Everything is always negotiable until the painting is hung or the poem published, or the music played, and even then, we think: “What if we’d done this, maybe this, and…”

Now, add to that bit, the usual January goal setting. Yes, I know, I told you that I didn’t make any New Year’s resolutions and I didn’t, but for me, there are two times in each year—January and September—when I can’t help thinking, “New beginning.” And with that thought, I’m flooded with delight at all the possibilities. Soooo many possibilities, so many things I could make.

Three weeks later, I’m overwhelmed and out of control.

What to do?

You can make lists, calendar plans, take webinars on how to better manage your time, and so on, but the single best thing I do is to take a big breath and hear the word STOP in my head. Then I let my shoulders fall. It’s amazing how relieved I feel.

For creatives, out of control is who you are, embrace it, take the day as it comes knowing you’ve been here before and you did okay.

 

 

(I’m not sure why I named this painting as I did. I’m a big fan of the sun.)

Judging Improvement

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Celmissia coriacea, 2002 Digital Drawing

One of the hardest things in the making of art is judging improvement in your skills. We talk about the necessary 10,000 hours of practice that make you good at something. We think about that and decide maybe it isn’t 10,000 hours of practice that is needed, but instead, you need 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to make you a master.

I’m old. I’ve had tens of thousands of hours of practice in all manner of things, and I don’t think I’m a master of anything. There are things other than practice that make you a better artist. An intimate familiarity with the things of music are a necessary tool but that knowledge alone doesn’t make art. What is necessary is an openness to experience, and an understanding that experience in one domain has an echo in another. That somehow, curiously, everything is fractal and this is that. This is a hard thing to practice.

So how do you judge? Sometimes you know you’ve reached a point of excellence by the reactions of others in your creative domain. Sometimes you know because one day you find that you, yourself, know that this thing you made is good. And sometimes you have no clue at all. You just keep doing it because there is something more to be said and something more to be proven, or understood.

My son enables my passion for new technologys. In 2001 he gave me a Wacom Graphire II. One of Wacom’s tiny digital drawing tablets. With the use of the included pen and a software that supported the hardware, you could make a painting direct to digital.

I made the painting above with this little Wacom tablet, in a software called GIMP. (I was all about Linux in 2001, and still have one Linux only computer). The lines are wobbly, but, art-wise, this painting is no worse than many I make today.  In this case, I have no clue as to whether I’ve improved, so I’ll keep on keeping on until I do. Hmmm, how did I get that watercolour like look…

 

On Being an Art Snob

It's Written
It’s Written, c 1990s acrylic on rice paper (30 x 48″)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I studied Fine Arts at the University of Saskatchewan we made a sharp distinction between ‘fine art’ and what was often termed as ‘Sunday painting’. This university was very influence by abstract expressonism, especially the works that came out of New York in the 40s and 50s. A Prairie province, like Saskatchewan, coming late to the dominion of Canada (1905) and always tending to feel a little backward, embraced New York and it’s ideas with with a fervor we didn’t give Canadian artists.

The university had an off campus college at a northern lake (Emma Lake) and people like Stanley Boxer, Clement Greenberg and Barnet Newman (and many more) were invited to teach.  I drank it all in.

As a young sprout I wanted desperately make good art. But I had no idea about this kind of painting at all. What I wanted to do was make drawings and paintings like Rembrandt. But I learned. Iit was exciting to hear the theories of these men of (yeah, mostly men, but my painting above was influenced by Helen Frankenthaler) were exciting and nicely laced with high spiritual thought. Little by little I developed what Mr. Greenberg would have called taste.

And, though not intentionally, I began to looked down on those who could draw realistically and render. I made massive paintings using no method that you might call traditional.

Fishing with My Father

Fishing with My Father, above, was entirely built from bits of paper, glued down on a sheet of plastic, and poured over with acrylic paint washes. Then I added more bits of paper, string and whatever looked interesting, to come up with this final product. The painting is 8 feet tall by 12 feet wide.

Fast forward many years:  I still like abstract expressionist art very much, but I’ve found myself yearning to draw and paint recognizable people and things. I long to render and get lost in the minutia of the subject. And guess what I’ve found. There are so very many artists, from Urban Sketchers to Illustrators who do marvellous work, that I in my ignorant pretentiousness never looked at.

So here’s a thing I’ve learned. There are all kinds of taste in art. In fact because I’m a painter, I’m now pretty much a dinosaur because current tastes are for video art, sound art, and compilations of ideas that have nothing to do with the kind of esthetic taste I was taught to cultivate.

So, here’s some advice, younguns, listen to many teachers, stay humble and learn from everyone.  Here’s to staying open!