Enjoy the past comments below for The bigger questions…
I also have a hunch, but I won’t bother you with it. However, I am racking my brains for something to (re)discover that will get my paintings to the top of a clickback! Will it be that instinct is not just a human trait, but one animals not only thrive on, but depend on? Could that be why paintings done by say elephants or apes sell like hot cakes while mine languish somewhere dark and damp (not literally)? No, I’m not knocking the paintings at the top of any clickback! But I have to say that Mr Wanka is living on an island. I could point to hundreds if not thousands of artists who earnestly try to capture both the times they live in and the dreams they live on. As for science and religion being asunder, haven’t they always been? Look what happened to the alchemists? At least scientists press on looking to improve their knowledge while religion harks back on what has been or is supposed to be and is right according to which club you support – and that is certainly not something to be proud of in any century. And I could make one salient point. Yes I will make it. I don’t think the “artist” has a mission to improve anything outside himeslf or herself, since that is where all creative energy originates. If a painting, sculpture, piece of music, poem, etc. ignites the creative energy in any one viewer, listener, reader etc. the artist has done a good job!
My view?…after struggling with similar questions for the past 20 years, I think that whatever the medium, genre, subject matter, audience, purpose or other variables… Beauty First! even in the depiction of objects considered “ugly” or “gross” e.g. Van Gogh’s old shoes, Manet’s dead fish!
In response to Faiths comment: As for science and religion being asunder, haven’t they always been? Actually Faith, in the very first nation state on our Planet (Ancient Egypt) art, science and religion were combined to serve one purpose and that was to focus upon those things that demonstrated mans move beyond the basic instincts of his animal nature. Amazing things were accomplished when those disciplines where brought to bear upon the larger questions regarding our existence, not the least of which was to discover, and use for the benefit of the entire nation, an understanding of the complex rhythms and patterns of nature . I do agree with your point about the artist doing a good job when the viewers own creative energy is ignited. However, I doubt any such thing can be done with any coordinated purpose unless the artist has an interest in adding something mutually salient to the outer world. That is where the science and the spiritual aspects of our interests combined bring about the ability to do some amazing things.
Art speaks to the soul in a non-literal way.
People who paint flowers are happy people. Someday I hope to be at peace with myself and enlightened enough to attain that bliss. For now, I am 58 and still painting my issues.
What if people who paint flowers do so to avoid painting their issues and aren’t truly happy just merely avoidant? It can be looked at either way, happy people paint flowers, avoidant people paint flowers. The trick though is to look at the flowers and find the persons issues in them :) Personally, I would rather paint/sculpt my issues than flowers. I have no interests in producing such content.
My work and subjects always mean something to me (very symbolic in my world)…however, I have found that usually it means something else (or nothing at all) to a viewer…just a pretty picture perhaps? I guess it’s true, “beauty (and possibly meaning) is in the eye (and mind) of the beholder.
Some people bake a wonderful cake now and then. Some have almost nothing to eat. Others want to change the world with their new will-stay-fresh-for-30-days Twinkies. Painting is like that, it’s personal. I have many hunches, too, but I won’t bother you with them either. I do know that in the third world, most people just want to survive.
I have always wanted to have an art show and title it “Being An Artist in Spite of a Happy Childhood.” I paint things that make me happy and sad, but having a life with few “issues” makes my art more happy than sad. I do respect those that put their deep personal emotions into their work. If we all were the same, how very dull.
I like what Kamoos wrote; all of this so personal; of the millions of artists, only a few have an effect on the world.
I think there is room enough in the world for all kinds of art expressions. But I often think about what a painting teacher said many years ago —– “Think about what you can add to the culture”. That seems to tell me that if I want to paint a flower, maybe I will let myself go and do it in a way that I may not have seen before. I try not to think too hard about how to do it — that can spoil it and make things tight. If something pops ino your head, try it immediately. Remember that things can always be painted over or wiped out (or thrown away !) This feels more to me like painting in and of our times, rather than being held to all the old rules, Though of course first we learn the rules before breaking them. As always, sometimes things work, sometimes they don’t. I think it was Jasper Johns who said, “Sometimes I see something and paint it, and sometimes I paint something and then I see it.” After all, if we don’t happen to be a really deep thinker, we probably won’t be painting deeply interpretive paintings. Give something new a whirl. It’s always a learning experience. Deeply meaningful, humorous, or light and beautiful, what does it matter?
It’s one thing to point out social issues, but in many cases, it’s just repeating what is said elsewhere. If you can point out something new, or do it in a more effective way than has already been done, go for it. We don’t need more “tantrums on canvas”. As others have said here, it’s all about contributing to the culture.
I think we all wish we could make a strong statement in our paintings about something that touches us deeply. Injustice, stupidity, abuse….you name it….how do we translate that to our canvas. Usually these statements are filled with such emotion they translate as anger. The world is much too full of anger as it is. Here is my take on the situation. When we as artist paint from our heart we feed the world. It is our art that promotes calm and colors our fears with hope. It is our art that gives people pleasure, makes them smile, brings up a memory or maybe it just stirs their heart. Paint with your soul wide open and what will come forth will be a statement beyond any other. The world needs us more than ever ……anyone up for the challenge?
There is no wrong in wanting to change the world. I felt envy at one time for my male friends who burned their draft cards. It didn’t matter that my dad had been a military lifer. As Yusuf Islam, the former Cat Stevens, once sang, . . . Look at me, I am old, but Im happy. I have worried about my country being in two wars simultaneously. I worried at the onset of the Gulf War that we were at the beginning of the Bible-prophesied Armageddon. I worry now that were destroying our planet with oil spills, industrial pollution and nuclear waste. Ive seen policemen once referred to as pigs become a nations heroes, and in fact, I see that same nation now consumed with recognition of all its heroes. Firsthand, I once saw signs in the American South that read Colored and Whites Only and now Ive seen firsthand this same country elect her first African American President. Ive seen couples once labeled queer share their matriarchal vows in public. Im worrying less now, and my hair is perhaps turning grey at a slower pace. I realize that I may not change the world through my art, but if I can bring visual pleasure and meaning to those who honor me with a purchase or even a visit to see my art, then my mission is worthwhile. Although my goals in life are humble, and to many may appear self-serving and trite, my goals, just the same, bring tremendous joy to me because, for one, Ive seen these goals crystallize in art that brings joy to others.
I have spent most of my teaching and painting career attempting to illustrate my belief that painters and poets can make ordinary subjects and events extraordinary. Most of us walk by and around and through so much in life that is worthy yet we don’t see it as such. So learning to see is the first step. Seeing is different from looking; Seeing involves understanding, using our cognitive resources as well as our visual. I like to call it using our “art eyes”.
Robert Wanka’a lyrical paintings are as contemporary as anything else painted in this century. They already say something about “this century and our civilization.” Like some other artists my training is also in the sciences, and I can assure everyone there is no “remove” between the arts and the sciences. There is more art and craft in science than outsiders will ever know! I have yet to see a painting that addresses “bigger issues.” And indeed what’s wrong with simply appreciating the simple daisy? Disgruntled fellows are like angry old men, interesting in an abstract way, but totally irrelevant to people like my 18 year-old grandson and his crowd. The word will end, personally, and in the wider view. Painters will not solve the world’s problems, but will probably continue to try!
On my first trip to Europe, while visiting the museums, I was shocked at the many artists that had chosen scenes of murder, torture and mayhem as their subject matter. These gruesome images were both pictorial and sculptural, and they were ubiquitous. One particular victim stood out among the many others, and rooms were filled with the same murderous depiction. It was hard to get my 20th Century head around these images. After reading a few painting labels, I learned that the primary victim’s name was Jesus of Nazareth, and I guess He was very important to those people back in the day. I did see a very few other pictures of Jesus doing other things like turning water into wine, healing the sick, eating dinner with friends, and feeding multitudes. And, while there were quite a number of images of His birth, the murder seemed to be the overwhelming favorite. He must have started a religion, because I saw a lot of these images in churches. In some religions, it is against the rules to depict the Prophet. In other religions, you see the Holy One sitting around smiling, or sometimes reclining. Subject matter, especially in religious art, seems quite diverse through time and among cultures. It remains rather odd, however, while comparing depictions as contrary as a crucifixion to a Buddha smiling, that both images are venerated to serve the same uplifting purpose. Ultimately, I do not think that subject matter is nearly as important as the skill and passion that goes into the art making. Subject matter blurs into metaphor and storytelling, and sometimes into opinion, and (Oops!) even to cliche. Whatever the subject, it remains vital to make an interesting composition, a flowing structure of lights and darks, and to surprise your audience with color.
Undoubtedly, our initial impulse for art making began with the urge to express something beyond ourselves, the felt experience of a seeming “other”. Whatever it is we sense “out there” – be it an inner or outer fact – it still calls to us, as though it would lead us somewhere. Whether we recognize it or not, it seems to express itself through art and comment on our lives, choices and behavior. It does not seem to need our permission. The more art removes itself from spiritual considerations, the more this factor enters quietly through the back door.
To my knowledge I don’t think Art has ever influenced politics or corporations has it? I know the Futurists and others have made valiant efforts but it seems that the targeted groups are the most resistant to change. My best wishes to those artists that are called to that task though. I do believe and have witnessed first hand that Art does influence individuals. So I take heart in the idea of painting at least some of my work with the intention of stirring hope and awareness in my fellow humans one by one.
What would be considered unique about this century that it should be the subject or inspiration to our art. Is it the message we would like to deliver to our audience to shock or jerk us to reality? I would say that images of the world around us is still true today as they were in the beginning of time the trees, flowers, shrubs, ocean,mountains and rivers are still around us of course some of the animals. Men have modified the face of the world with edifices and buildings no limit as far as the money flows to these ambitions and dreams of men to leave a memorial to be remembered by. But I wonder are they better than those of before and nature as they were before all this madness? What effects if any do they have on our planet that is being exploited for the sake of progress. I know that people today in the “first and perhaps second world countries” love their comfort and playthings of which I am also a part of sad to say. I admire great architecture and works of arts but I cower at the sight of things that shocks the senses like the use of living things for use as their canvas. Don’t we see that everyday already? Why do we immortalized them in this way?
Robert This is a question you do not ask anyone but yourself.. The other Robert This is one question you should not attempt to answer.
I would like to think we can do our art, and still make our statements without slicing a cow in half. A true artist can illustrate that idea in writing, or, better yet – show their artistic prowess, as an artist, by rendering the cow on paper, or canvas – ala Trompe l’oeil. Sensationalism is best left to the ‘Cross of Jesus upside down in a jar of urine’ – which is just as effectual – but only our consciousness has been injured to make a point. A more subtle and realistic consideration might be to look back at slides, canvases, or prints of our oldest landscapes – ones we remember where we were when we painted them. Now go back and repaint it again as true as it is today… Could likely be that the landscape will show changes rained upon it through the course of time. Portraits work too – in that you can either illustrate the physical changes, or your change of perception that time has allowed… Show the two works side by side, and we will get the picture…
Some of the most banal subject matter can say profound things. It may not be said to the intellect, however. It may be said to the heart, or the soul. The glory of God can be proclaimed with the wonder of color on color. The misery of man may be expressed in an abstract drawing. The peril of the universe may come to us in the message of a traditional Dutch still life, with the truth of dying integrated into the painting. If it’s done well, it will say something, whether by “story” or by expressed passion. That’s how I see it anyway.
“A painting doesn’t have to have a profound meaning. It doesn’t have to ‘say’ a word. We fall in love for simpler reasons.” (Harley Brown) I believe this extends to all art-forms. Sometimes, the act of creation, the result of the act, triggers a response that requires neither lofty purpose, nor weighty underpinning. It’s something new by someone who felt compelled to share it. Our response shapes its purpose. And that is enough.
Life is tough enough, sometimes is just nice to make or look at something pretty.
….the possibility of meaningful social comment. The international contemporary conceptual art world is currently dedicated to the latter proposition. Slicing up a cow, uterus and all, and putting her in formaldehyde and on display in the Tate Britain, talks to people about life, death, mistreatment of animals, public cruelty, vegetarianism, food sustainability and other of the “bigger questions.” On the other hand, there will always be believers in the difficult business of painting well and delivering life-enhancing objects of beauty and personal passion. … Thank you Robert for such a wonderful explanation and comparison of two very different types of art. Very well put.
What a delicate question to tackle, Robert. I think you tickled it a little, but perhaps leaned a little too much on the role of art in creating pleasant environments to be and live in vs the far edge of shock and disgust, as certain galleries seem to promote. I don’t think that art can be divided up so neatly. The opposite is, as you thoughtfully pointed out, is not just the extremes:there is the middle way of thoughtful art that can influence awareness of the viewer. However, I think the fact that you created the dichotomy by using that contrast tends to shape the way the discussion takes place. Art that goes beyond the pretty and pleasant may not necessarily change a corporation or a government, at least not directly. But it can play a role, either individually or within a community, of giving a kind of voice to feelings, goals, ambitions, not well expressed by words, and can provide a nexus for thinking and talking about what we can be and do, and that can lead to action, of a small or large nature. There are many examples. Here are three very different ones, both in scale and in intent. I hope that they might give your readers a way of thinking about how artists, no matter what they produce for the galleries, can participate in communities of various sorts (and in their own lives) to spark that discussion and potential for action. The Hands to Hands project by Cecelia Kane http://www.handtohandproject.com/ The Art of Action (Vermont Arts Council) http://www.vermontartscouncil.org/CurrentProgramsInitiatives/TheArtofAction/tabid/98/Default.aspx Tools of the Trade: A Citizen’s View of Law Enforcement http://sitekreator.com/toolsofthetrade/main.html Thanks once again for providing the forum that you do for discussing all the facets of art with civility and respect for various points of view. PS: Photos of my contributions to The Hands to Hands project can be found on my blog here: http://snowboundstudio.blogspot.com/2010/08/hand-to-hand-project.html I think, though, that the real power of the show is in the installation of over 7 years of day-by-day small pieces contributed by the nearly 200 artists who participated. The show is now at ATHICA in Athens, GA, and in October will be at the Chaffee Art Center in Rutland, VT.
I believe art can be beautiful and meaningful all at once. There is no need to shock or hit viewers over the head with images made to provoke. I dont think this is the point of the initial letter. Much can be said with many of the same motifs used in the past. Its all in the way you say it. Artists today feel they have to be different or spectacular or shocking to get a response. This comes from not having the tools or forethought to say what it is you want to say. Maybe we should go back and examine the effects of color on the psyche or the dynamics of design. If a child isnt getting a response from its parents, it resorts to outrage or shouting or bad behavior to get attention. A wise person once told me to paint things that arent innately beautiful and paint them beautifully. Look at Courbets landscapes. Take a look at George Innes work and tell me he isnt making a profound statement about life. Maybe before we pick up our brushes we should be thinking of saying something about which we are as an artist and what we want to say in the next picture. I agree there are too many pretty picture out there. But these come from those with little to say, and thats okay. One reason for this today is we are too politically correct and cant say anymore that some art is simply crap. The execution and skill of the artist is very limited. Much of the art I see today is student grade or worse but because the public forums have exploded the world is filled with this type of work. I dont say stop painting just use more judgment in publishing it to the web. If you want to put more meaning in your work, put more meaning in your life and your work will reflect it.
Your work will be noticed by those with a like mind if you do it well, no matter the subject. You don’t have to be outrageous to get attention. And if you are, you most likely will get the kind of attention you won’t want to get. Paint from your heart, keep learning, study the masters, paint every day or every time you get the chance. Paint what moves you. Don’t paint just to use the paint before it dries. Make every painting as if it were you last, then paint it to last. Keep you student work to yourself.
@Rick R. I can’t agree more with your sentiment concerning current art and political correctness or the fact that there is just plainly a great deal of crap art out there. Sadly however not everyone wants to be honest about what they are looking at and instead pads their words with kindness. Sorry but if the work is crap then someone owes it to you to tell you that your work is crap.
This really is painting at the sharp end !
Everyone has his or her own artistic vision. It would be a boring world if we all had the same aesthetics. So if my art is pretty, and yours is gritty, well viva la difference!
Paintings will not become obsolete due to other media like film or computers the stillness of a piece can be precisely what makes it so compelling. I have landscapes in my collection that are very precise but will speak to me forever (my criteria for owning a piece of art in the first place.) There are layers, trees in front of mountains or views to cliff edged rivers or roads that go somewhere beyond. This leads me to particular bigger questions all of the time: where is that road going (euphemistically, Where am I going? What road am I on?), where does that river go, whats in it, whats behind or underneath those trees? What makes a mountain? These are all bigger questions I find in landscapes. I appreciate the subtly of this landscape experience. I hope this reflection will stir all of those fine landscape painters with whom you converse to see that what they do is very, very important to me and to our culture.
@Suzanne, you said that when a piece speaks to you, do you only collect pieces that speak positively to you? I am interested because for me, even a piece I really detest, I would own. A friend of mine had a photo he took of another guy (think cliche hippy college boy) capturing a hot air balloon with a mason jar and lid. I detest that picture, everything about it irks me something terribly and I told my friend that BUT I also told him I would hang it in my house (it was NFS) because of the feelings it evoked. So I am often curious when people use the “feelings” criteria when collecting art and whether or not they only collect pieces that make them feel good.
Brian, I do not think it is a mystery as to why people, who wish to stay healthy, and happy, gravitate towards life enhancing activities. This, I think, is reflected by the thoughts they chose to entertain and the people, work, play, food, and yes, the art that they surround themselves with. There is scientific proof that the chemistry of your body is affected by what and how you think and it is also known that in your body that chemistry is delicately balanced so you might live with energetic health. This does not mean challenges and negative issues are avoided by people seeking balance, it dose however mean one does not actively seek out nor surround oneself with things that purposely aggravate or stir up feelings that serve to depress the spirit and cause one to rage against life. Anything that triggers feelings of anger and powerlessness has nothing to do with answering those bigger questions I was hinting at. I spoke about bringing science and spirituality back into art for a reason, and that reason was so that we might go deeper into a balanced understanding of the personal mental and physical stance that must be taken in order to enhance our life experiences. To state the obvious, it will take balanced people to solve the imbalances perceived in our world. I believe art can play a part in achieving that balance.
Film and video are the true arts of our time
@ Henry- hogwash! Film and video are quick, immediate visceral arts and are not the “true art” of our time. If all you look at is film and video, it’s because the real “arts” take knowledge and understanding and effort to appreciate. Make an effort to discover, for yourself, what art is and not take others visions for truth. Film can be misleading and the filmmaker can use techniques to make you think in ways you otherwise would not. This isn’t truth per say but a manipulation of your mind. A suspension of reality if you will to the alter idea of the filmmaker. Too many succumb to this idea of film being the new reality. But in truth, it’s our fascination with celebrity and spectacle that really intrigues us, not the truth. And it’s one persons truth not a universal truth. Quality artwork; not poster art or prints or advertising art and merchandising art, is something that speaks to everyone, it holds you, speaks to your soul and keeps you spellbound long after the popcorn is eaten and the sodas drunk. I enjoy a good movie once in while, but for real art I look to painting and traditional arts. Just my opinion Henry.
Warm Summers Eve
oil painting by Grace Schlesier, CA, USA
A publication stating there is nothing in science or art left to discover seems to me to be as foolish and short sited as the Director of the U. S. Patent Office who in the late 1890’s recommended they close the Patent Office because there was nothing left to invent.