Thursday, June 30, 2011

Art Comes From the Making

I've been doing some small collages lately, most of which I consider to be primarily "just" practice and experimentation.  It took me a long time to figure it out, but I know this much is true: art comes from the making.  My undergrad drawing instructor used to say this all the time.  At first I thought it made no sense at all.  Of course the art won't be there if someone doesn't make it!  It's like the phrase so many people are saying now, "It is what it is".  I mean, that goes without saying, doesn't it?   Taken for its literal meaning, it actually denotes nothing at all, but the connotation is that you can't change the aforementioned "it" - you just have to accept it and move on; it's a given.  There is an understood meaning associated with those words which amounts to much more than the sum of the words themselves. 

OK, so what my instructor meant by that vague and seemingly meaningless phrase is that the only way to make better art is to keep making art.  If you're uninspired, make something; if you're blocked, make something; if you feel like giving up, make something.  Maybe it won't be great, or even any good, but if you keep going, it may, eventually, lead to something good (or even great).  Eventually.  In the meantime, you are honing your skills, and learning from each mistake, as well as from those things that, surprisingly, work out better than you ever dreamed they would. You'll take risks that you probably wouldn't take if you're thinking of it as a perfectly finished piece of art, and arrive at better ways of doing things.

I may have said all this before, but I think it bears repeating, mainly to remind myself of its fundamental truth.  For most of us, there are no shortcuts; as Einstein said, "Genius is 10 percent inspiration and 90 perspiration."  Don't sit around waiting for something to happen, for a bolt of creative lightning from the sky to enlighten you with some amazing idea.  It takes profound perseverance, hard work, and practice to achieve success.  So that's my little motivational speech to myself, and to any of you out there that may need one as well.   Or, if you're tired of hearing it, you can just refer it to the Department of Redundancy Department.

OK, I feel much better now.  So, here's my latest collage:

Wheels of Dharma
 ingredients: vintage book pages, map, watercolor pencils, image transfers, inkjet print

With that in mind, just for the heck of it, I decided to have another go at this one: 

ingredients: vintage map, vintage book pages, magazine cutouts, watercolor pencils, image transfer

OK, now go make something!

I am always doing that which I can not do, in order that I may learn how to do it.  -Pablo Picasso

Monday, June 27, 2011

Moss, Hemlock, and Magnolia

We continue to experience soggier than usual weather here.  It's probably not a great summer for those who like to spend their time at the pool, but there is an up side to all this extra moisture- the plants of Shabo Mekaw are lovin' it.  For those who aren't familiar, Shabo Mekaw is our beautiful 60 acre paradise out in Lewis County, at the edge of the Appalachian plateau of Kentucky.  It is normally a more humid place than here, but I could tell that the droughts and hotter temperatures of the last few summers were taking their toll on the sensitive inhabitants of that delicate ecosystem.  Frankly, I was particularly worried about the health of the hemlocks, the big leaf magnolias, and the mosses, which seemed to be struggling.  But this year, they're beginning to come back.

I don't know the names of all the mosses that grow here,

 but I think this kind is called shining club moss.

The plant with tiny white branches is a mystery- strange, but beautiful...

I call this pillow moss, for obvious reasons. 
Close up, it looks like feathers, and does feel soft enough to lay your head on...

To walk through a hemlock glade is to feel peace... see the world through a curtain of green lace, be sheltered by an umbrella of giant magnolia leaves
(often longer than my forearm),

this is peace...

                     The Presence of Trees
                     by Michael S. Glaser

I have always felt the living presence
of trees
the forest that calls to me as deeply
as I breathe,
as though the woods were marrow of my bone
as though
I myself were tree, a breathing, reaching
arc of the larger canopy
beside a brook bubbling to foam
like the one
deep in these woods,
that calls
that whispers home

Sunday, June 26, 2011

What is Art, Really?

Recently I saw a piece on a television news magazine which fascinated me, and has also brought up some interesting questions. It was about a four year-old artistic genius, whose paintings are selling for as much as $28,000.00. There are, and have been, many others. I'm not talking about older children whose work is obviously done with forethought and intention; it's the little ones who are touted as "abstract impressionist geniuses" that have me puzzled. Here is a short video about the aforementioned Aelita Andre, who began painting at the age of 11 months.

She's undoubtedly adorable, but is she really an artist? Wouldn't any toddler, presented the opportunity and access to materials, pour and splatter paint onto a canvas? It's hard to say, as most people don't allow their children to do this, and probably couldn't afford it even if they wanted to. I personally can't afford to buy that much paint for myself, and canvases cost a small fortune. Perhaps she is a genius, if only because her art has the sense of freedom and exuberance that most adults have lost.

A similar story from 2005 was that of 4 year-old prodigy Marla Olmstead, who may have been, it turned out, getting a bit too much "help" from her dad. 60 minutes investigated, and allegations flew:
"Her coach is her father, Mark, who is often present when Marla paints. He can be heard on the tape, directing her, sometimes sternly: "Pssst …. Paint the red. Paint the red. You're driving me crazy. Paint the red." "If you paint, honey, like you were … This is not the way it should be." You can read the entire story here.

There was even a movie about it, which I haven't seen, but I have put it on my Netflix queue.

These are examples of a phenomenon that has occurred many times, for who knows how long, but child prodigies aren't really my focus here. It's the nature of what we call 'ART' that interests me. Can a toddler create art? Is intentionality a prerequisite, or can monkey do it? What about an elephant?

I used to feel bad when I first heard about paintings by the elephants at our zoo, primarily because they sold their work for more than what mine sold for. But the ones in Thailand are a completely different story, and I don't feel I'm qualified to comment on whether or not the elephants are mistreated. The question is, are they making art?

Of course, there's no definitive answer, since the subject itself is rather- er- subjective. But here are a few definitions to consider.

Art is form and content. To quote Shelley Esaak of Art History, whose explanation is about as straightforward and succinct as any I've seen:
"Art is form and content" means: All art consists of these two things.
Form means:
  • The elements of art,
  • the principles of design and
  • the actual, physical materials that the artist has used.

  • Content, now, gets a little more tricky. Content is idea-based and means:
  • What the artist meant to portray,
  • what the artist actually did portray and
  • how we react, as individuals, to both the intended and actual messages.

Additionally, content includes ways in which a work was influenced--by religion, or politics, or society in general, or even the artist's use of hallucinogenic substances--at the time it was created. All of these factors, together, make up the content side of art."

Kevin Cornell, of the very cool Bareskinrug blog, has come to believe that "art is not created; rather something created becomes Art. Something becomes Art when it is cherished; when we become attached to something for its uniqueness, for its faults and for its successes. An old fire hydrant, where the paint has cracked in a way you've never seen, where you stood and waited for the bus every day for 14 years, as familiar as family, can be as beautiful and unique and personal as a Monet. Those of us who are commonly termed Artists, are merely craftsmen, like a carpenter, or a plumber, or a journalist... if we're lucky, once in a while we do our job in such a way that it becomes unique, and it becomes loved for its uniqueness. Art is as often a product of accident as intent, and on the whole is mostly serendipitous." (italics mine)


And then, there's the film "Exit Through the Gift Shop". If you aren't familiar, it's a documentary about a guy who accidentally becomes a famous artist mainly due to the fact that he likes to film- well- everything.

If you haven't seen this film, you really should. It will make you think, it will crack you up, and probably piss you off. It will definitely make you wonder, "What is art?"

What do you think?

Monday, June 20, 2011

An Assortment of Cool Stuff to Share

These are just some random things I wanted to share; I thought you might find them interesting and/or helpful, but didn't feel any of them required an entire post.  Most come from my internet wanderings, or from links people send me or post on my facebook wall. 

My son posted the link to this on my facebook profile, about National Geographical photographer, Frans Lanting, and his project which attempts to portray the history of the universe.  Here's a bit of a summary from the project's website.

Frans Lanting’s LIFE: A Journey Through Time is a lyrical interpretation of life on Earth from its earliest beginnings to its present diversity. The LIFE Project aims to bridge the gap between nature and science, and is realized through the integration of photography with the performing arts and the world of life and earth sciences, in collaboration with partners and institutions around the world.  The LIFE Project includes a multimedia orchestral performance, a traveling exhibition, a large-format photographic book, and this website. Public outreach includes an ongoing series of appearances by Frans Lanting at venues across the  United States and Europe, including the TED Conference, Stanford University, the National Geographic Society, the Long Now Foundation, and many others.

Here's the TED version of the slide show, but I encourage you to watch the original full size one at the website; just click on "start the journey."


Writer/artist/filmaker Shawn Daniell has a wonderful arts blog called ArtSeen, where you can read arts news, movie reviews, interviews with local artists, and more.

I'm honored to be the featured artist right now on ArtSeen; you can read Shawn's interview with me by clicking here.  Please check out all the other great articles on ArtSeen, too.

I really wish I could see this- the Princeton University Art Museum is exhibiting the collage and assemblage work of Kurt Schwitters until June 26, so if you're close to the area you still have a few more days to see it.

From the Princeton University Art Museum website:

"Kurt Schwitters: Color and CollageSchwitters is one of the most influential artists to have emerged in the years following World War I. In response to the turmoil then afflicting German society, Schwitters developed a unique form of artistic practice, one that merged art and life, embraced disparate media, and utilized found objects and printed materials. In 1919, Schwitters christened this body of work Merz —a neologism derived from the German Kommerz (commerce)—which culminated in a series of collages, assemblages, experimental poems, prints, and sculptures, most famously, the Merzbau, a three-dimensional environment initially realized in Hannover in the 1930s." 

So cool, right?

Merz Billdross Fett, Kurt Schwitters


Finally, I love this Nick Bantock tribute on Blurb.  Artists from around the world each created a piece in the style of Nick Bantock, and they are all quite inspiring.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Not an Open Book (submission for "The Pulse of Mixed Media")

I created this mixed media altered book/ assemblage as a submission for Seth Apter's book "The Pulse of Mixed Media" to be published in Spring 2012.  While my piece wasn't selected for inclusion, the experience of making it was an invaluable one.  I had done some assemblages in the past, but had never made one from a book, so there was a good deal of trial and error involved.  I ended up taking the cover off the book and attaching it to an old game board, which was not in my original plan.  My good friend Cynnie, of Galerie 46, helped me figure out how to re-construct it so it would open like a book without tearing.  I learned so much from this project, both technically and personally, and hope to create more work like this in the near future.

Here is the text I wrote to accompany my submission:

My Innermost Self- Sharmon Davidson
“Not an Open Book”

Probably the most intensely personal work I’ve ever created, this piece also represents somewhat of a departure from my usual two dimensional format.  The “fairytale book” motif relates to the belief that our most fundamental selves are formed in childhood, and to the important part that fairytales and their illustrations have played in my development as an artist.  Because the innermost self is, by definition, hidden, I have used two locking doors to conceal images symbolizing the two sides of myself.  Behind the left door is the darker side of my nature- the fears and insecurities that hold me back as I strive to become the person I want to be, reflected by the tethered bird who tries to fly.  Like most of us, I have allowed “monsters” of my own creation to frighten me.  The right door reveals self-acceptance, hope, and the potential for positive change.  The vintage pattern pieces were used by my grandmother to make maternity clothes for my mother, adding another layer of meaning to the piece. In the end, I begin to see a pattern for stitching myself together in a new way, and have captured the “monster” inside the egg- a symbol of transformation.  Perhaps my darker nature, too, will transform as the egg breaks open.

(click on photos for closer view)

 front, both covers closed

right front cover

left front cover (with spine)

 left side open

left side,back

inside left cover

right front cover

  right cover open

inside front left

inside right

inside back

The words on the back left page come from one of my favorite songs by Paula Cole:

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Real Abstract

If you've been a reader for a while, you've probably noted my fascination with photographing the abstract patterns that result from the interplay of water and light.  If these were painted, would they be masterpieces of abstract art?  Or should I just leave them as photos?  Something to think about.  While some have been altered using Photoshop, others are straight out of camera, or have only been "auto- leveled."   (For those of you not familiar with PS, "auto levels" is just a standard adjustment meant to correct color and contrast to "normal".)  The variations in pattern, color, and form never cease to surprise and amaze me.

This one has had nothing done to it except auto levels, I swear.  Freaky, huh?  If I saw this without knowing what it was, I don't think I would ever guess it was water.

Again, just auto levels...

When I look at these, I know beyond any doubt that I can never create anything so beautiful.  Who do I think I'm kidding, calling myself an artist?  On the other hand, maybe I should paint them; it would be a challenge, and probably lots of fun.  But there they are, already.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Re- Revised (Major Fail?)

Well, it just kept bugging me.  And I said to myself, leave well enough alone, or you'll screw it up completely.  I tried, I swear I did, but that's just not how I'm made.  In the end, I knew I would never be satisfied until I at least made an attempt to fix it.  This is what I'm talking about: one of the pieces in my "The Traveler's Tale" series.  You can see others here, here, and here.

Here's the first version.  Well, to be completely honest, it would technically be the second; this was originally an old monotype that I decided to recycle.  At this point, it still felt unfinished to me, so I made a few changes:

I warmed up the white in the figure, because I thought she needed to look a little less frozen (or dead?).  The blue wave at the bottom was so dark that, visually, there was nothing to hold the eye from sliding off the page, or to bring it back up to the figure.  Lightening it seemed to anchor the composition somewhat.  I added the starfishes to the sky.  I then pronounced it "finished", and put it away.

This is the part where I started wasting a huge amount of time and effort, because I felt it wasn't finished.  This is kind of embarrassing, but maybe you can learn something from it; I know I did.

The first thing I did was to cut a little off both sides, to bring the focus in closer to the figure.  What bothered me most about it, though, was that it had a "velvet Elvis-y" kind of feel, and overall was far too contrasty.  I thought it might help to lighten the value of the water surrounding the figure, so I added some green paper which appeared to be pretty translucent- until the glue dried.  It turned disgustingly pastel-ish and opaque.  It's hard to tell from the photo just how horrible it was, but trust me- yuk!

Next, I tried a blue paper, but it was even worse (you can see a bit of it above on the right side).  Apparently I neglected to take a photo of this stage, probably due to being distracted by intense frustration.

Next step: rip and scrape off as much of the paper as possible.  At a complete loss for any idea to keep this disaster from snowballing, I could come up with nothing other than to cover it with more of the blue ocean map.  Once I had done that, it became clear that it was too light, and therefore not helping the contrast problem at all.  Darkening it seemed the only solution, so I added layers of acrylic ink until I thought the value was dark enough (you can see this below).  Problematically, the map didn't absorb the ink well, instead building up a gloppy surface somewhat like a floor that's been waxed too many times without being stripped.

At some point I also realized I had forgotten the bird.  All the pieces in this series must have a bird- it's symbolically important for the narrative.  I actually did two birds.  The first was a total fail; the second was okay, except for the color I chose for the lighter value.  Oh well- that hardly mattered now, with the whole thing such a mess.  What to do?

When in doubt, chop off another piece, of course.  Truthfully, I don't recommend this- I was desperate.  After that... well, cover up that gloppy blue somehow.  Also, I really wasn't fond of the way the water was cut up into pieces.  I was digging around in my flat file for a piece of silk tissue, and having no luck finding it, when I came upon some ogura lace paper.  Why not?, I thought, and proceeded to glue it on over the map.  I then used a purple map to cut new pieces for the bird, and glued it over the green. 

Interesting.  I think it's an improvement, and at least I don't hate it.  So this is where it rests- unless I take a notion to screw it up some more...

Note to self: Try to leave well enough alone.