Grigory Gagarin. This Russian painting from 1840-1850 shows prophet Muhammad preaching
I feel I must comment in the aftermath of the tragic events in France The murders of French cartoonists by extremists who took offense to their depictions of Muslims and the Prophet Muhammad.
As a society consenting adults should be able to engage together in whatever they want as long as those decisions don’t infringe on other people’s rights. We should define for ourselves as adults what we can and cannot say or do.
It seems in the days following the tragedy people are now criticizing the cartoonists as racists and islamophobes. At first the gut reaction to choose the side of the victims but in the immediate aftermath this stance put some people in a position that has left them uncomfortable.
Free speech it seems, is not really what most people want here or abroad. That’s why colleges here regularly cave to groups of students who complain about guest speakers to their campuses. Speakers like Bill Maher, George W Bush, Bill Ayers, or Sam Harris. It is why media outlets like NPR refused to show any of the cartoons in their reporting. They were afraid they would offend some of their supporters. In much of the world free speech now means I’m offended so you can’t do, say, draw, play that musically.
Throughout history, mostly religious zealots have been decrying the end of morality and society, it seems these kinds of people have a hard time dealing with their own finiteness. They look to impose their will on as many other people as possible seeking comfort holding power over others.
Like it or not the world is a better place now than it has ever been in history of mankind. By any measure, more people live longer, eat better, are more educated and have a better quality of life than at any other time. There is no external punishment for equality, progress and a personal freedom of expression for all human beings.
We as artists can fall into painting things the same way all the time if we are not careful. Artistic scrutiny gets traded in for symbols. We do this when we start painting unconsciously but we can also do it for expedience after years of working. Instead of observing what we see and trying to honestly record that experience, we use shorthand; it’s the symbol we’ve made for water or for trees or for the sky or clouds. These symbols get repeated too often and they are used without thoughtfulness because we know they work.
opposite bank watercolor
Professional artists have deadlines and client expectations that can work against growing as an artist. It’s hard to turn down jobs to continue to do exactly what we’ve always done in favor of risking the quality of our work in the short term for becoming a better artist in the long term. As hard as it seems I think it is essential for an artist to force those changes over the course of their careers to avoid burnout and stagnation.
red roses watercolor
One of the best ways to break this habit is to switch mediums. When I am learning to control another medium the change forces a more thoughtful approach to painting. Switching to transparent watercolor, acrylics or digital painting help me take a break from oil painting and they always force me to slow down and see more carefully. The new medium makes things that have become unconscious patterns to be dissected and thought about in a more purposeful way because those oil painting symbols won’t work. Ultimately this reprogramming helps me to be more thoughtful in a way I couldn’t have without the change.
I’ve been having fun sharing pictures of artists in their studios on line and I thought I would post some of them here. Life could be hard for artist in the 19th century but those studios were beautiful especially when the artist was successful as you can see in the following images.
Mucha working on the Slav Epic
Albert Bierstadt’s Studio
Puvis de Chavannes
John Singer Sargent
I had two computers fail last weekend. My workstation, the CPU fan failed which was reasonably easy to replace although with the storms it still took a week. My laptop was a complete failure of the drive and since its a ten year old xp machine it ewas time to let it go.
I rely on my computers to give me the date and time, keep my calendar of appointments and update me with current events and weather. Most of my correspondence is through email or text. All of my advertising and marketing is digital now too. Social media and portfolio sites play a big part in my presence as an artist and of course there is still this blog. All of which I need to be able to access on something besides the two inch screen of my Smartphone.
Of the two computers the laptop was expendable so I’m glad the situation turned out how it did but the whole incident got me thinking about how much technology has changed how I work in the past ten years. While I’m no Luddite compared to people my same age, I’m sure the younger artists out there are rolling their eyes right now at me saying “please, you still work traditionally for the final image you are making.”
Even with my traditional work I have let computers into most of the process. Photo reference is shot with my digital camera and editing is all in the computer, as are compositional sketches and color keys. I no longer have to print out images to work from in the studio I have dedicated a large monitor for that. If I do print things they get printed from the computer.
This last week has left me picking up old ways of working, lots of pencil thumbnails and some small color sketches and painting from field studies. What I noticed immediately is how much the preliminaries in the traditional process matter and how much more focused I am working that way.
My traditional painting is the end result for me, but even so, digital tools really allow decision making to be put off indefinitely and I think that matters a great deal in painting. One of the reasons painting outdoors from life is so important is it forces decision making during the process whereas working in the controlled environment of the studio, especially with tech, does not.
Going forward I am going to be paying more attention to this to see if there is a way to use tech in a way that doesn’t short circuit decisions and leave everything up in the air in a fluid state of endless process and multiple outcomes.
Dennis Miller Bunker
Art can be many things depending on who you ask the question of. For me art is getting to the heart of a paintings subject and revealing something of that understanding. It is not just copying the surface quality of the theme blindly, nor is it imposing so much of my personality on the thing being painted that it reveals nothing of the subject.
Painting, at its best, in my opinion, is a discourse between the artist and their motif and it takes a couple of things to accomplish. One is the ability to translate the message and get it on the canvas in a way that is not overworked. The freshness and economy of the application is important to the statement. It says that you understand what you are communicating.
To do all that though one needs to listen and look, absorb the image and understand its essence, finding the qualities of the thing that makes that scene, in those moments, a unique event never to be repeated. It requires approaching every subject with humility and openness to what we are experiencing and seeing.
The artist must be careful during the process and make sure they are avoiding rote answers to design and composition color and brush work. It is engaging all the senses in the development of the image. Fighting the comfort of what you know you can do and pushing yourself to the limits of your abilities and experience something new is the only way of achieving this.