The Ambivalent Object

I’ve (we’ve ) invested quite a lot of energy ( and money) into my attending this summer critique program . Searching for direction and clarity in how and perhaps where to take my work and its development .This morning in a group critique led by the head of this program and a well regarded artist here ( and abroad ) , I had my moment of (ambivalent) clarity.

I had been wrestling with the issue of an academy , of how academies themselves  have wrestled with their own bias/preferences/ directions . Orthodoxy , though publicly decried , has a place here, and I suppose in every institution to some extent. Grand history painting and allegory may be chucked for dystopic nudes and the  lush color field but there is still an academic tradition that’s must be defended .

Today I felt at odds with that well defended force and now feel eviscerated. I’m not the first to feel this, nor will I be the last. But I’m left feeling where do the Misfit Toys go to hide? 

 Inward in my case.

Many valid points were made, the learning of basic tools such as light and space , all quite valid and attainable . Yet the prevailing ethos of “rawness”, “destruction ” and “randomness ” confounds me and sent me adrift . My clarity was that this is not the place for me; perhaps as a place to gain technical skills, which being self taught I am ( quite literally ) painfully aware of. But unless this place has room for expression outside of Guston, Richter and Carravagio with their robust forcefulness, it is a bad fit.

This quest for displays of rawness and random brutality ( with the ubiquitous drip of frenzied creativity ) has little appeal to me. The macho posturing of the Abstract Expressionists has arisen anew here . If I hear “muscular, juicy, raw, meaty” one more time I’m going to scream .

I sense on a visceral level that I just rubbed this critic the wrong way . I wasn’t an open enough vessel for him. His “positive”advice for me was to become acquainted with Bosch, Jung and Campbell. I explained that I am familiar with that Holy Trinity. 

That might not have pleased him. 

Plus my work is effete and theatrical, relying upon tricks of the stage at times . I get why such a Serious artist would dismiss it or have issue . 

My ambivalence is rooted in my being so self- taught and yet desiring more skill to better express my mystical dreamscapes . 

I know I’m not there yet, but I do know I’m developing my own vocabulary. One full of errors and missteps perhaps , but my own .

This artist suggested I discard the painting I’ve been working on and instead focus upon the Fish ( above ); THAT he declared was THE painting, in fact not the fish, just its eye.

 Silliness and the Emperor’s Finery.

I almost chuckled but instead scoffed,claiming that the weakest link of the painting is that element, that it is the most derivative  ( reminding me of a platter by Picasso) and certainly the least authentic .

I’m not ready to throw the baby out but the bath water is decidedly tepid and unpleasant at the moment . There is an artist at PAFA I sincerely admire , her work being singular and clearly her own. I’m going to reach out to her, if she is willing  and get her opinion as if this could be a good fit.

But at the moment I lament the money and time invested; also the letting go of a romantic notion.

Until next time, be well,


Author: babylonbaroque

I am a painter and printmaker working towards creating a body of work that reflects my own developing aesthetic. New work ,first link. The second link is an on-line portfolio.

11 thoughts on “The Ambivalent Object”

  1. it’s just an opinion of course, but whatever techniques you can try and keep/discard while you are there would be my only goal at such an event. to have them tell you what *image* you “ought” to be producing (ie how to express your own dreamscape) is ridiculous. i love the style you’ve created, it’s all your own.
    it hurts though, losing the romantic notion of a scholarly experience. 😦

    i am nobody, but i love the painting–you always have such an exceptional palette, and i’m a huge fan of your humor 😀

    1. It does hurt, and thank you for understanding that. And I will as you suggest take the tangible information gleaned with me for I recognize my weaknesses and wish to improve . My critic rhapsodized about the Sublime being the goal , and by her insistence upon this assertion I knew how much I had missed the mark. That certainly stung .
      So thank you for your input and please don’t deprecate yourself or your significance . I can relate to that posture but it is untrue .
      Please keep popping by, I’ve missed you.

  2. I’m so sorry you’ve had this hiccup in your experience. If nothing else, let it galvanize you to listen to your inner artist.. And I agree, you have a style that is all your own. As for being a “Serious” artist…..I can’t imagine anyone more serious and authentic than you. The only “discarding” you need to do is to discard the opinions that seek to change you and your work. Keep up the good work and thanks for sharing the good, the bad and the ugly of your experience.

    1. Well that is where I’m going friend . I’m taking a drawing course, basic stuff , but the fellow is really helpful. Need I have travelled 3000 miles to get this info ? Probably not but I want to improve my work with “destroying ” what I have fought for . There is a lot of posturing here , it’s what academic settings are lampooned for but artists think more highly of themselves than most folks .
      Anyhow , back to the studio , I have paintings to finish !

  3. “effete and theatrical, relying upon tricks of the stage at times”. This statement stands out to me, I’ve never noticed it about your work before but I think it may be a part of what draws me to it. I don’t see too many contemporary painters exploring this approach. So perhaps in your critic’s lack of understanding, he has given you a focus by pointing out your uniqueness?

    1. Thank you, I need to assert my own voice and gather my own confidence because I doubt I will recieve it here. The critic Mr. Samuelson or much of this Academy is clearly not my audience and not responsive to my expressions . I snorted aloud because they were rhapsodizing about a disabled artist who ran over paint with her wheelchair and in their mind THAT was great painting ! It might very well be a great painting but ..,
      Anyway , thank you for your long time support. This has been an eye opening experience .

  4. Argh, I feel for you Leonard; it was lovely reading about your excitement before the course so I can imagine that crit was pretty damn awful. Art schools and the ‘art world’ can be so tyrannical, closed-minded and rigid it’s quite dispiriting at times. And it can be a very solitary and sometimes lonely path, so I can imagine the thought of working intensely with a group in the setting you are in would have felt such a wonderful thing. If your work doesn’t fit into the prevailing ethos of the school, I’m disappointed that you’re not getting at least some better feedback and support; it’s clear from looking at your work for 30 seconds that you have a very personal and distinctive approach, so to ask you to change that is asking you to be inauthentic, which is nuts. I can only add my little voice from across the Atlantic, and say that they are wrong, plain wrong, they’ve obviously lost the ability to really look. You’re a unique and gifted artist, make the work you want to make, it’s brilliant, do otherwise and you’re lost. I hope you get something worthwhile out of your time there, even if it’s just a better understing of your own talent, and your marvellous work. I’ve been watching it develop in exciting ways over the last few years so it may not need much, a nudge here and a touch there, but I hope you return with renewed vigour if with a few bruises as well.

    1. Bruised but determined !
      I’m determined to be a better painter , perhaps alone but also with the support of warm and generous friends who also happen to be artists and aesthetes I admire so very much,
      Gratitude from across the Atlantic!

  5. I wanted to add my words of support to the others you have been receiving here and at Facebook.

    I think you have come to your own conclusion that both critics and academies are the products of their own times and biases. Some critics claim to know what art has to be and do, and consider it their task to steer art along the path they have chosen. Others receive all types of art gladly, and try to distinguish degrees of excellence.

    I think you will benefit from this summer, even if it isn’t in the way you initially hoped. Figuring out what works for us is often a process of elimination. By identifying and eliminating the thoughts, emotions, and actions that are not productive, we move ever closer to our desired outcome.

    Matisse said that creativity takes courage and you have that in spades Leonard. I wish you the very best.


    1. Wow , thank you Sarah.
      I’m feeling quite emotional at the moment from the support and wisdom I have recieved from those I value most . I was trying to process what had been such a confounding experience in that journal post and I see now that my experience isn’t singular. It is in the end wonderfully clarifying , I feel committed in reaching my potential; having the warm support of my friends is deeply moving.
      Thank you ,

  6. The artist who is doing the critiquing and obviously was blind in one eye and couldn’t see out the other

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: