There was a period in my life when Alanon meetings were a weekly , sometimes daily event. So often I found myself drowning in emotional torment and I literally , often blindly, grabbed on to whatever advice was offered . But over time I had to recognize that though the advice offered may be well intentioned it may not be approptiate for me.
My backstory, my desires and my needs were often at odds to what was being offered . At one point my sponsor tried to instill in me the ability to take what worked and leave the rest behind . If only it were that easy .
Such as it is with critique groups I’m beginning to feel. This morning I had the first critique of my work since PAFA. I was determined to not be cowed by the experience at the Academy and when presented with an opportunity to join a critique group with the Los Angeles Art Association I leapt at the chance. And overall l believe it was a positive experience .
There were the observations of apparent flaws in perspective , anatomy , light and space , criticisms I had heard in Philadelphia . But I feel I have been addressing them on my own terms. I do think being self taught, not being equipped with what seems to be very familiar jargon and aesthetic expectations leaves me at a disadvantage at times. But it also allows for work that I hope does not look like the work of others . In fact what seemed to be a prevailing sentiment was that my work possessed its own vocabulary ; if I accomplish nothing else before I shed this mortal coil, that will have made me proud.
There was so much talk of intentionality ( as there was in Philadelphia – that must be quite a buzz word amongst the schooled ) and with that reference one can infer a lack of intentionally on my part. That is so peculiar as my work is so far from random. There were concerns that my perspective was just not right, that perhaps my figures were just a bit off and the concern that somehow I just wasn’t comprehending these principles. I study these principles with fervor and work to my ability ( and then some ) but the Welsh artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins who I admire so very much once warned me of the stifling trap of such disciplines . His advice early on was to make my figures (and space) convincing but not to be ensnared by academic sense of rightness for the creative spark can so easily be extinguished . With that in mind I haven’t pursued realizable space but the in- between spaces, often dizzying and overwhelming. The world of my interior; my decisions made with intention to express what I so often find vague and fleeting.
There is a confession I may need to make concerning light and space and that is my own lack of depth perception . Recently it was discovered in an eye exam that I lacked a sense of it, having failed rather miserably the depth perception test. That came as a bit of relief because I have struggled with how my work is percieved by others and been puzzled by that reception . For work that seemed to me perfectly reasonable and recognizable ( certainly not academic realism but convincing) was deemed by some as lacking . I believe now I just might be seeing things differently and will continue to work from that vantage point .
I was thankful to the leader of our group for I felt that in spite of her initial hesitation to the work ( particularly the latest painting Seizing Sanctimonium ) she truly looked at the work and gave it it’s due ( and some very helpful advice ). The group as a whole was earnest in its attempt at offering advice in order to improve and I am sure over time I will refer back to their suggestions . I’m grateful to them for that . There was only one sarcastic remark and later when I spoke privately to the fellow he confessed that yes he had meant it as an insult . So one must take that and then let it go. Again , not easy , but what can you do. I don’t want skin so thick that my heart cannot beat freely .
My buddy, my comrade , Paul Torres supported my efforts with the enthusiasm I feel for his work. I may never have a large audience ,but I do have admirers and delighted Paul is one of them. Inmany ways my work is self indulgent for its first aim is to please me, that I guess is my intention. Now I need the confidence to express it.
I must go for a run, clear the mind and be ready to start anew. Be well
9 thoughts on “Taking what is helpful,the rest? Not so easy…”
Self indulgent, because you want to please yourself? Why else would you do anything but? And to my mind, that is the most freeing place to be as an artist. I love your figures, who perhaps may seem “a bit off” to some, but it is that very “offness” that make them what they are: characters struggling for self realization in a surreal and fantastical world of your making. I love their oversized feet (trying to find their foothold?) and their unapologetic nakedness. I love your little creatures and especially the little devils and monsters. You have a unique perspective and I’m so thrilled to be along for the ride.
Thank you Carla, I’m feeling hobbled at the moment by the experience, feeling as if critique groups may bring out a latent cruelty in some . Perhaps not the most helpful experience for someone grasping for firm ground as you so eloquently described my figures .
Thank you again for so keenly looking at my work.xLg
Okay, the next time, and there should be a next time, bring one of your sketches. Perhaps like the St. Anthony drawings you posted not long ago or how about the one from this post https://boondocksbabylon.com/2016/02/19/my-insignificance-is-magnificent/greco-my-insignificance-is-magnificent-20216/#main. There’s such a different kind of life in your reactive, more spontaneous work, if you bring less finished work to a crit it may lead you into new directions to explore.
As for the term “intentionality”, it is a good word an should be considered in one’s work, but the word narrative is an equally good one, just something for you to ponder.
The “flaws” in perspective and anatomy, in my opinion, are what draw me to your work. A few years back you posted a piece, I can’t find it on your blog now, I think it was called something like The Fallen Warrior, done mostly in gray tones on a white background, which at the time I felt was a breakthrough piece for you. In this drawing, what I remember of it, the negative space had as much going on as the figure itself, I recall the anatomical distortion relating so well to the page. If you know the piece I’m talking about, I’d love you to post it again so I can see if I remember it correctly. Anyway, consider revisiting the work of Thomas Hart Benton and then review the “flaws in perspective and anatomy” within your own work, I think you’ll find they are to be embraced.
I’m sorry for rambling on, I just strongly feel that your work is journey you need to be on, and that critiques are a good part of it so please don’t despair, and I thank you for sharing so much with me.
Thanks for taking the time to offer your thoughts . The critique was in my studio with quite a few of my drawings scattered about , but no, we didn’t specifically address drawings or my prints – two mediums I really love. One woman made the comment , meant not to be a compliment , that she wasn’t sure if my technique was drawing or painting . What she intended as a criticism actuality has me thinking , for I have wondered that myself.
I do have a question , what do you mean by narrative in explaining my work , as opposed to intention . I have my understanding but am eager to know what you mean.
Funny about Benton, not an artist I have admired ,but you aren’t the first to make that suggestion and I see what you are suggesting . He deserves a revisit .
So thank you for being a witness to my struggles , it means a lot .
Hey Look, I found it! https://boondocksbabylon.com/2013/01/11/from-todays-sketchbook-fallen-patroclus/ . This is such a lovely drawing, I wish I wasn’t in such financial distress or I’d offer to buy it.
I love your work! That said, here are a few observations that have helped give me the courage to continue painting despite what I or others may think of my work. I hope you find helpful: First of all: no one gets 100% of the vote — not even Jesus, Buddha or Mohammed — so no need to worry about poll numbers. Besides, as a friend taught me, there is a rag for every old mop. This means that for each and every work of art (and everything else), there will always be those who love it, as well as those who don’t, and those in between. Everything and everyone has detractors and supporters. That is a universal experience. For me, knowing that I am not alone, that I’m not a freak, is all the reassurance I need. Hopefully, recognizing that others share your experience is helpful to you, too.
Also, painting is the one and only place where I have absolute freedom to do whatever I please. I wouldn’t give that up for the world. It is the reason I paint. In fact, it has become a substantial part of my coping mechanism. It provides balance to those other areas of my life where lawmakers and my boss, teacher, wife and kids constantly tell me what to do and what not to do. That free expression is essential for my well-being. And it brings me great pleasure.
I am not saying to ignore what others have to say. I am saying that, at most, give their words intellectual weight, not emotional weight. Remember that words are incapable of altering your work in any way. It stands on its own, regardless of what anyone may say. To me, that is true power. Imagine someone standing in front of a painting and railing on for hours, hurling every possible insult at it. Will the painting be any different when they are finished? Of course not. That painting has much more power than the viewer (as is easily evidenced by the strong reaction).
Brancusi said that beauty is absolute equity, balance. If beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder, it is because truth is what makes beauty. We each find beautiful those things we recognize as true, because the truth brings us a level of comfort necessary to see beauty. But truth is simply a fact distilled to purity. And so I think that in order for an artist to present the truth (beauty), it must be their own truth, purely theirs. Imagine I were going to make a sculpture, a bust of your head and face, and after working on it for a while your sister looked and told me that I needed to change the shape of the nose, and then your friend told me to change it again, and so on and so forth. Obviously, the second I changed that nose to comply with their suggestion, it is no longer the nose that I saw — and the sculpture is no longer mine. It would have become a sculpture by me, your sister, and your friends. I believe that the sculpture could not possible succeed — too many cooks in the kitchen spoil the soup.
Your goal is to capture and present the beauty as you see it. Make it true. Make it yours. (Could Shakespeare have ever written anything greater than “To thine own self be true?”) By all means, listen to what others are saying and feel free to incorporate it into your work to whatever extent you choose to do. Just remember that it is your work. You are in complete control. You have to maintain that control because it’s your vision that you are presenting, and it has to be yours, and it has to be pure, because you care about the truth and the truth is that you have beauty to show to others. I know it’s an election year, but stop worrying about your poll numbers! 🙂 Keep painting!
My goodness that was incredibly validating , thank you . I am printing this out and tacking it to every wall in my house. May I at some point reprint your wisdom on my blog? It would be inspirational to a great many folk. Thank you again,
Thank you, Leonard. I’m glad you found it helpful. Of course you can post it (but please clean up the typo(s) – I saw at least one). In re-reading it, I see I left out this, which I had meant to include:
I paint because I love having that time each day to be absolutely free. It’s that process — the act of painting — which is the important part. The painting itself is a mere souvenir of that experience. Still, art is treasured by humanity because it is unequivocal evidence of our collective existence. Likewise, we each enjoy seeing the evidence of our own existence. If what we are sharing is a souvenir of our freedom, we are sharing only joy, and there is no better gift than that.
(At a talk this weekend, Peter Frank quoted I believe Leonardo, saying, “Works of art aren’t finished, they’re abandoned.” This must be the natural state of affairs, as clearly we never get to finish our lives either, but it means we all must paint with the energy of a madman, spreading all sorts of little beauties around the field before we’re forced to abandon them all. Above all, then, enjoy what you’re doing, because you’re doing just fine. You are really perfect at being you!
It must have been Leonardo with his reputation for unfinished projects! Gotta love him.
And yes concerning madman, that is my general state, having started studio painting about five years ago. i have so much lost time to catch up with before the bell tolls. I like the idea that our work are souvenirs of our having existence. So fragile and yet we can with these souvenirs reach across time. That is miraculous. I will be rereading your response for quite some time, and when I find the odd typo by all means yes, I will remedy it. I am all thumbs, particularly when posting from my phone, so typos are very familiar I am afraid to say. So thank you and now back to the drawing board, literally !