Full Consideration as An Artist
Posted by Matthew Adam
Let’s take a quick break from finishing the “why paint” set of posts to talk about what I consider as an artist. Meaning, what I plan into my images so that it can be read, even unconsciously, by the viewer.
The reason I really post this is a thought I had waking up this morning. The thought was centered around considering a life of mediocrity in my work.
I’ve always been somewhat tormented by art, from the very beginning. I’m sure if you are an artist you know how it feels to create and have that creation fall short of your vision. Even if it is a perfect lasting image for the halls of all time, the chances are excellent it is still not fulfilling entirely. There is always another way to express one thing, there is always a slight change that could make it better, or deeper. There is always something about any artist’s work that leaves that artist with a desire to continue searching. Whether you call that failure, or drive, or simply the unavoidable nature of creating (hint: it’s all three combined).
I have established my relationship with my self and my identity outside of art, and was quite far along in building that foundation before I even felt the pressing desire to commit to art fully. In a related note, that is why I have a much easier time fleshing out my art theory in this blog than I do in actually creating works that reflect that theory faithfully and unmistakably. What I know of my self and what I see through my self is far greater at the moment than what I know about the visual arts. My ability to consciously create in the arts, my technical competence, my ability to choose visual representation, my understanding of art history and the places in time where it fits, and my knowledge of social context and how to express it (overall, my ability to wield visual art consciously and effectively) – these skills and many other art skills which I am still and always will be developing deeper and concurrently with eachother – they are all dwarfed by my ability to understand life and my self, and likely always will be. That is what I spent the years of my life doing before I turned to brush and canvas.
This is the source of the quote “man’s reach exceeds his grasp”. I can see farther than I can exist. But in my case, now, this is not a case of detachment with my self and an abyss of the unknown within myself. Now, this is a case my worldly knowledge and ability being unmatched by my knowledge of my self. I would argue that many artists spend their developmental years in classical training and then the rest of their lives searching for themselves through the work. And I would argue that I represent the possibility of the opposite. I will not spend the rest of my years searching for myself through my works, but rather building my work over those years to portray and match what I know of my self. I have all the time left to me on this earth, to spend playing with the vast puzzle that is art and seeing what comes of it. The top of the mountain for me is not the day I see my self. It is the day I see works of art that have me imbued in them fully. Better yet, I am on the top of the mountain drawing my works to me on a metaphorical rope and pulley.
Back to what I have considered. Strangely enough, whether or not the work faithfully reflects it, everything in my work is consciously considered and always laid out to make every allowance for everything that can be seen within it’s confines. If you have seen it, understand that be it 10 minutes from now or 10,000 years from now (if my artwork will be relevant and still in existence in either era), I have seen it and put it there to be seen. This is one of my great aims of my work, and something I cannot avoid in the hours I spend in isolation with my self and my paint/canvas mirrors of the self (my works). Nothing moves forward from this point on without consciousness.
This does not preclude or eliminate the emergence of questions. It does not create infallibility in any case. In fact it is a method of the opposite. It puts everything into question. Every step, no matter how minuscule or possibly ineffectual, is fully questioned. And due to the open ended nature of this method of learning and being, it purposefully creates, wields, and uses fallibility as a tool to spur progressions at a steady unhalting pace that matches the immovable object of the pace of time itself.
A few things to consider, seeing that the post is about consideration as an artist.
Yes, I have considered the possibility of this – that my work will never mirror my identity faithfully. Or that perhaps even my work will never even remotely approach fantastic artwork on the level I crave. That mediocrity is a distinct possibility. I have always felt the message I have to deliver and what I believe to be new knowledge of life may very well forever supersede any worldly endeavor in importance. And thusly, only within my self and my knowledge of who I am will I ever fulfill anything complete. I’ve also considered the possibility that the mediocrity itself could be a message. To press on regardless, in pursuit of artistry and not necessarily art. I think of Andy Warhol’s work often and a particular perspective on it when I think about my place in art. I don’t know too many people who really actually enjoy the physical visual pieces of his art. I don’t know how much I even enjoy his work within the rods and cones of my eyes. But I understand through the meaning and context of his work just how great an artist he was to history.
What I see in Warhol’s work (which cannot be more evident) is the repeated images, packaged in different color variations as so much advertised product. No more glorious than cornmeal or pickle jars, waiting to be eaten, emptied, and erased. Campbell’s soup jars, of course. The production, of art. The last bastion of the entirely independent, untethered artist and hand worker, laid to it’s grave. Real life, where food, clothing, and shelter win. And art loses. For a moment look with me not at the physical works he created. Look instead at what they state. They state what was creeping through art for centuries and eluded the vision of even the greatest of artists. That the glorification of modern man and the use of tools was always leading to the death of the artist. This is quite a quandary. Because without tools, there is only man or woman and no artist. Davinci was essentially the root (with all multitude of pursuits and empirical creation within and outside of art, the invasion of tools and invention within a great artist’s scope of interest) of what Warhol was essentially the final revelation. I look at pictures from 100, 200, 300 years before Warhol and I see the undercurrent of what he would eventually state. Man painting machines, science. Futurists and others of the early 20th century glorifying their lurking killer. Amazing. But even more amazing than that – Warhol came into the picture of history with his work and spoke. But spoke not by splattering his hand with paint over and on top of what was lurking in the background. He didn’t lay a glaze of beauty on the death awaiting art. He laid himself down. Negated his own hand in his own work as a sacrifice for what was seems now so clear. That the artist, with the advent of production is essentially doomed to be a fool unto the world existing as he has been. That foolship extends back to the wheel, back to fire. Fantastic stuff.
It is Warhol’s sacrifice that absolutely intrigues me, and which brings me into focus with my own work. In resolution, it must be within my realm of consideration that my place may very well be in mediocrity of visual art. That my sacrifice (and any great and historically important work of art must require a sacrifice for the showing of truth as it stands, unaffected, rather than the peacocking of one artist’s own “vision”) lies within only my method of full consideration and my execution of the self. Not necessarily (but not necessarily not) the outward product of my hours.
As much as I adore what Warhol did in art, I have to admit there is one thing with which I vehemently disagree (which you will find repeated over and over as this blog lays out). That painting and art are dead with the advent of production and tools. My answer is to erase the focus on the product.
Full consideration as An Artist (cont.)
Posted by Matthew Adam
Once the product of art is negated, well then threat of painting and art’s death due to greater methods of production is no longer a factor. The product is the artist. Let the first fire burn to ash and form a man. Let the stone wheel spin a child. Let aCampbell’s soup can pop open and spill out a tender moment in time that burns into memory.
Not gonna happen.
Painting – dead. Art – dead. Everything – done. These are the words that have been spouted, and now it appears in art all we have left are vestiges. Gallery shows, more about free drink and being seen than a real and lasting connection with a real work (which is a connection with the soul of an artist, not the work itself). The trading of art like so much frozen concentrated orange juice. The teaching of art, with it’s assembly line approach to training without any major focus at all on what the artist’s identity actually is and the method regarding how it is formed. The most important element of art (which is the development of the artist’s identity), left to the wind. Art without artists? No wonder the death of painting is an echoing thought in the hollow minds of those who rule the art world, or at least those who state such things with certainty. But that’s all it is, an echoing thought, a reverberating monochromatic formless thought bouncing around in a reflective state of nowhere. Because the echo is still bouncing, those without minds or eyes still accept. Show me a believer! Show me someone who truly believes in this death and I will pick that mind apart.
The only death there is here is the death of reason. And of a reason. I’ve discovered a purpose. To only be an artist. BE. Not necessarily focus directly on the byproduct of that state of being, which is the art and paintings. Which is easily equated to a waste byproduct no more glorious than cream of tartar or feces. It’s better than Feces, ok. But now the allusion to and use of feces in art makes some sense, doesn’t it? But still, it is a byproduct. To focus intensely but indirectly on the product. And directly on the self, through to the work. It transforms art from being a mirror into the soul, to a lens focusing the soul. If you think about this literally, then think about what a mirror does and what a lens can do. A mirror can reflect a dead image. A flat image, without depth, without meaning, uncaptured and only showing what is already shown, less truthfully than the real thing. A lens, in all it’s meaning, can alter focus, can alter vision, can assist in capture. Do I want capture or reflection? Reflection has it’s merit, and yet it can only show what I could not see. If I learn to see, what need do I have for reflection? This is a vain and ever present obsession of the world we are in, but I will not state this makes it criminal. It makes art a tool for seeing ourselves. I no longer seek to see my self through a reflection, nor will I render art as a tool for fear of what I know that leads to. I sought to see myself within myself, the only place where the truth without reflection resides. Now, my intent is capture. To find, see, and show the truth captured faithfully. To recreate rather than relfect.
Making art a tool for reflection is a misuse of art as a tool (which I have pointed out through Warhol etc., knowing the development of the use of tools, destroys the art and artist in the end) and as a whore for unfaithfully assisting to see within ourselves what we ourselves are only truly responsible for seeing, alone. I say unfaithfully because of the untrue nature of a reflection measured against the real thing. True capture is what I need to seek as an artist. Reflection may very well be the place of the viewer, but it is no place for me as an artist. I think the distinction between viewer and artist is both noteworthy and important. Oddly enough, and somehow not odd at all, an artist being faithful to no viewers cannot be more faithful to every viewer. Theirs is reflection, in seeing something outside of themselves. Mine is capture, in seeing something within myself to be shown.
What I see now in Warhol is the destruction of the product itself. He just could not fully imbue himself as the artist into his work whilst still making the necessary sacrifice of himself as the artist. He did that by undoing it, but could not both destroy and create. Rightly so, one foot before the other.
My aim now is to reestablish, at least for my self alone, the presence of the artist as the art. And I say for myself alone for this reason. As of right now, today, I’m not even sure there has been one reader on this blog. Not a single reader. I have yet to sell a work. I am nobody from nowhere in the art world. But I am the artist. Those failed factors will not be what decides my future in art. Shit, I didn’t have any money anyway. Most people don’t understand me when I talk about my fullest thoughts. What’s the difference? I must, absolutely must, execute who and what I am. There is no shell for me to crawl into, no canvas for me where I can hide my self. Every day, I require the foundation of a state of being, beyond art and artworks. The being cannot be dissuaded by obstacles which have no permanent bearing on choices I remain capable of making, however more difficult they become as difficulties arise to surround me.
This line of thought brought to mind the work and humor of Sigmar Polke. I do appreciate the humor behind his work, the variance of it all, and the anarchistic statement it sends back into the world of art. I’m a very firm believer on a daily basis of not taking anything too seriously. However, with art, I am a machine. I must be a machine, in order to be an artist. I must be a machine to undo the machine, same as Warhol reflected the production to reveal the product. I cannot take the risk of missing anything along the way, or not fulfilling what I see. I find it necessary to satisfy myself both today and in the forward days when I look back on today. And the only way I can be faithful to that, today, is devotion to illuminating what I know any and every way I can. Today, what I can accomplish holds less than I would prefer. That’s just a never ending part of life, as well as a crucial part of tomorrow. If all is done today, there is no tomorrow. Art and the death of painting is a perfect representation of this. If all is done, painting is dead, then where is tomorrow for art? Tomorrow is nowhere, exactly where we are now.
My humor, it may appear in my work over time. As other considerations like manual dexterity, materials and study fade with knowledge, confidence, assurance and competence taking their place, maybe. For now, I remain a machine. And the humor? Well, that exists within myself. It’s more of a “I am in hell and all I can do is laugh” sort of humor. There’s only a few choices for me when there is just way too much to be seen and done, to the point where it cripples my mind. I can step back and stop, I can quit and sink, or I can let go and laugh. I’ve done them all, the last one works pretty good if you want to be happy. But once again, these choices remain within. I can fully consider by not being capable today of injecting my humor into my work that in some ways my work is limited because it lacks a crucial part of me. I get that. It isn’t easy creating artworks that say everything all at once, and I wouldn’t lie to you and tell you that’s not what I am trying to do. I am. Everything is within the scope of what I am capableof seeing, so everything exists under the sky of my consideration. It’s gonna take some time. In the meantime, what matters more is that I am being an artist (first) who makes art. And that in every step I consider the full scope of my identity first, as an artist second. In the planning and execution of my images, ironically, the artisty lies in second place (where it belongs).
Posted by Matthew Adam
| tags: cave-painting history of painting modern art oil painting painting is dead paul delaroche social context in art why paint painting
Well, for now I tend to paint exclusively in oil or primarily in oil with a support of other materials to help develop the facets of a piece. Types of acrylic, use of gesso in a piece, fiberglass resins, marker, house paint, paper pieces, canvas pieces, varnish, myriad textural elements and just about anything else in my studio at the time. I’ve used all of these things, but oil paint remains the primary item for my work.
For one, it is capable of mimic of just about any other paint type. Treated with mediums and assorted mixtures, oil paint is capable to being painted just about any way any acrylic, watercolor, or other artist color material can be used. Knowing that, a few notions unfold. If I can master the use of oils, then any other paint or material can follow. All I have to do is reapply what I know about working with oils that is similar to the medium I want to try, and it can be easy to relearn what I essentially already know. At the same time, it really doesn’t add to my work to switch exclusively to another medium. If you want faster drying time, certainly the use of acrylic makes sense. If you want powdery or soft effects certainly the use of pastels makes sense. I believe it behooves me as an artist to attempt to learn the use of oils to mimic these media. Added skills, an increased intimacy with the intricacies of brushwork and effects, and how to achieve those effects with the challenge of a material that is capable of them but not inherently without the mastery of the artist’s own hand.
At it’s core oil mimics the cave paintings, it is the most fluid and versatile of paint choices. his would seem to be an obtuse connection, if you could see a connection at all from the first statement. There is a vast amount of history with oils from which to draw study, and a vast amount of material support out there (makers, mediums, materials themselves), as well as a vast amount of study material in general regarding oils. when it comes to paint and creating with color, they are the main staple of the art world. I see that as elemental in a certain way. Much like cave paintings, the oldest recorded paintings and visual artistic expression simply made from what a human being saw and desired to express, working in oils has a primal element to it. They are the base and foundation of what it means to paint for the last 500 years. They share with cave paintings, a simple notion of necessity of material. As a cave painter would use whatever base natural color he could find, whether it is charcoal, vegetable matter, iron oxides, whatever was found – oil paints today represent the easiest basic natural thing found with which to paint. What was primal to the cave painter is similarly primary to the modern painter of the last half millenia. Primal and primary in my mind share a very close relationship in this connection. Maybe that is a stretch, but a stretch I can see clearly and clearly not the only valid reason to use oils.
There is also a question regarding the importance of using some parts of what I do as controls in the lab process of my method. Quite frankly I cannot exist without taking on what is seemingly too large, too vast, and too uncontrolled for me to accomplish. It is my nature to see the whole, and most likely to forever be fully unable to grasp it enough to wield and direct what I am destined to see. In the interest of actually having some success with self fulfillment someday in my life, and accomplishing some of if not man of the ridiculous heights for which I strive, I have to set some things within my sphere of control as standards. What this means in relation to oil paint is that it is a control. If you are familiar with basic laboratory and scientific standards, a control is in essence or philosophy a part of an experiment set to be unchanging. A base standard against which other things are measured. If oil can mimic whatever else I can use eventually, well then it serves me well to simply use oils for now. It’s enough to learn in a lifetime anyway, why not have something that can offer so much to stand as a base standard for my work.
When it is mastered to satisfaction, other media can definitely be incorporated. This tends to work as a case by case situation. Which means I am not implying when the day comes that I master the use of oils then I will be free to work with other material. It means when I feel I have full control of what I am trying to do with oils, in a specific work or even a passage of a work, then I am free to look at the validity of other materials as a support for enhancing that work. It keeps the learning process constant, unhalting, and unending. The way I need it to be in order to continue feeding y never ending thirst for progression.
Closed off to changing this until the change presents itself as a need, once again a notion consistent with the method I am committed to employ as my a match for my nature as an artist and as my self.
The next set of questions this poses is “why paint at all”? Obviously I’m putting the cart before the horse in explaining why I paint in oils, as opposed to explaining (or even defending as the case may be today) why to paint at all. Assuming I am not just aspiring to be a painter, but to also be a relevant and modern fine artist with the inherent desire of any artist aspiring to not only set my work to a social context, but to also innovate within that context..
Being what most call a “dead medium”, or the infamous victim of the well known declaration in June 1839 by Paul Delaroche that “from today, painting is dead!”, painting certainly has it’s hills to climb.
But that is for another post. And I will convince you, or at least lay skin onto bone in convincing myself, that painting simply cannot be dead.
- Matthew Adam