Near where I live, there passes an ancient pathway called the Semiahmoo Trail. It was first used by native peoples — the Semiahmoos — then by gold seekers, and later — not much more than a hundred years ago — by the first settlers in our area. Much of it has now been overtaken by urban sprawl. Some sections have been designated a heritage trail, bike path or nature walk. In some places it calls for a strong heart — small posts mark kilometers and encourage citizens to use it to increase their heartbeat.
Over the past weeks I’ve been attempting to cover the whole route — plotted from old maps over the new. The parts through primal forest and open bog-land are rich in pioneer sentiment and timeless nature. Occasionally there are the remains of old buildings, bridge pilings, ancient culverts. But mostly the route is pavement and traffic. There are at least fifty stop signs and a half-dozen traffic lights. I pass by the buzz of shopping-center culture. Motorists self-serving regular and premium. Pasty-faced women taking a smoke-break from Bingo. Book-laden lovers, arm in arm, bursting from high-school. I’ve got the idea of recording the route as it is these days, this year.
If, as Marshall McLuhan noted, “Art is a rear vision mirror,” does one stick to the timeless, the traditional and spiritual qualities of the path, or should one record the place for what it is? What is the artistic value of an ’86 Toyota? Are the passing jogger’s fashions relevant? Flags in windows? Ethnic yard-sale treasures? What about the multicultural denizens who step from their dwellings and into the shaky peace of 2003?
This, my pathway, is all pathways. Artists have a history of paths. Artists also have choices — they can be record keepers, they can honour, depict, select, edit, emphasize, delete or monumentalize their paths. They can choose to see and they can choose not to see. I’m giving a lot of thought to what I’m collecting on my path. I’m thinking of 2103.
PS: “Yet this will go onward the same,
Though Dynasties die.
Yonder a maid and her wight,
Come whispering by.” (Thomas Hardy, 1915, In Time of the Breaking of Nations)
Esoterica: An exercise in image and album: Assemble and photocopy maps of your path. Number your images. (photos, drawings, paintings) Key your images to your maps with arrows to show the direction of view. Write up related observations.
Personal response necessary
by Lesley Humphrey
It’s my belief that the subject is paintable if it evokes a personal response. If I can write a poem about the scene, as I believe you could about yours, then it is worthy of that other language, the language of paint. Most important, rather than the shines of Toyotas or the neon signs, is to give us some sense of what you feel about this place. Personally, I won’t give concrete jungles my time, but the “in-your-face” teens hanging about in voluminous jeans, dark t-shirts and gothic jewelry… Now there’s something worthy of my brush.
Some photos not art
by oliver, Texas, USA
You are into a common dilemma in photography. Is all photography art? Advertising, pornography, newspaper, documentary, clinical, forensic, etc. are all these ART or their own disciplines with occasional crossovers? Ann Tucker, curator of the Houston Museum of Art (really a big collection and nationally recognized curator) seems to think it all art — or at the very least ignores her mission statement to collect artistic photography. On the other hand, Elton John, an avid collector whose collection has been traveling in the past few years, takes a much narrower view, eliminating, with a few exceptions, most photographs that can be classified anywhere else.
I for one agree with the artist collector, Elton John. Do I think documentary work should be collected and preserved? Yes. Is it Art? In most cases, no.
by Trevor Sale, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
I’ve spent a lot of time sketching and writing in the New York Bagel Café in Edmonton, Alberta. A small, six-table café that overflowed with personality. As time progressed, the sketches that I made became changed. Where in my sketch, the seats were covered in blue, and wearing out, were changed to red coverings. The prayer plants on each table were replaced with fresh flowers (which were changing all the time) and of course countless other ‘upgrades.’ There was never lack of things to sketch — the way the light played in the corner, the wood grain revealing a secret design, or simply the way that all of the condiments were stacked at the end of the table. About a month ago, the historic corner burnt to the ground, taking the Bagel Café with it. I’m grateful that I was able to record what I did. If there is no record of what was, sometimes the fact that things change will forever be lost.
Seeing art in the ordinary
by Carol Cain, Florida, USA
I paint so that my viewer today will see art in the ordinary. My art is commonplace. It is found in my backyard, my teenager’s room, the kitchen table, the bubbles in the bath, and the creek down the road.
Life’s a beach
by Victor P Guzmann, Ocho Rios, Jamaica
Hey man, the beaches here are the real paths. They are always coming up with new stuff. Especially after a storm. Like for instance the beach here is always full of new bottles, plastic cups, lids, sun-tan things, clothes that drift in from the United States, as well as fishing lures, bobs, netting. These are all good for my art. I even got a microwave dish once that is one fine sculpture here. Everybody likes it. Once there was a floating wallet.
Fantasy for the picking
by Lida Van Bers
Life’s impressions can be a long or short depending on what we are given. We should call it the walk through life, with open or closed eyes. Sometimes it will take a life shaking experience to have them opened so we can take the path of past, present, and future. In a way, we become so involved with our needs and our “Must Have” that we lose sight of all the wonderful things around us. The present is well recorded in photo, newspaper, film etc. I think our task is that we should record the beauty we see in the ordinary things, past, present, future. Our images of colour, shape, line, composition etc. We are lucky that our fantasy is for the picking. We can go back in time, stand still, or go forward.
Give an imaginative twist
by Dianne Middleton, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
I’m sure all artists down through the ages have thought about it — “How does my art reflect this present day?” What benefit can I visually bring to my society? Certainly today artists are challenged, having technology serving so many with realistic images of scenery and of loved ones, there is less need to have artists reproduce the scene as it exactly appears. The ever-flourishing growth in technology is forcing artists to really dig deep and search for ways to communicate our art to viewers clearly, what it is we see and feel about subjects. Give your painting an imaginative twist, make it interesting and enjoyable to see, get people to say “Ah-ha!” Yes, artists should be looking way ahead as they begin their next work, as the true value of their work will be realized there. A long path suddenly appears, full of possibilities!
Celebrate the moment
by Cassandra James, Texas, USA
The Zen Buddhist teaching, “Be here now” comes to mind. It’s so painful to look back at turn-of-the-century Paris and its salon culture of writers, artists, philosophers, and wish nostalgically for the forest community of the Barbizon painters. Thousands of folks return to paint in Giverny every year, hoping to re-capture that episodic moment in time, but it’s not there anymore. There is so much sentimentality associated with that period. Pretty silly, when the gift of capturing the singular quality of light on a particular day is just darn hard work, the truest test of our craft. More nuts and bolts than wine and cheese. The truth is it’s happening in creative communities everywhere – somewhat less celebrated in this century, as it is more common (a good thing). But, if you can learn to celebrate the moment, and it takes a certain thoughtful engagement to learn to do this and many, many days of experience to do this with pigment, you’re on to something. This means celebrating who we are, where we live, and the lives of friends and creative colleagues in many different fields. It’s possible to recreate the Parisian salon culture anywhere and a certain joy in making it possible to communicate often and well with these folks.
Julie Heffernan: “Art is not genius, but an ongoing dinner table conversation.”
So, I say, have more dinner parties.
Rootless in our own lands
by J. B. Parry
This urge to just record the world around us, as we see it with pencil and paint is still very strong. I share your feelings about your Semiahmoo Trail. Even though I live on the prairies we see it on the abandoned homesteads, the ghost towns, the grain elevators and the old buildings bulldozed for new condos. We are losing our touchstones and are in danger of becoming rootless in our own lands and the only way we can anchor ourselves is with a painting.
Tomorrow it may be quaint
by Alan Dorrell, Loughborough, UK
Thinking that a ‘theme’ could perhaps be helpful in one’s artistic development, I decided to spend a portion of my painting time doing scenes from our local river. Loughborough is to the north of England within the borders to the adjoining counties of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. Our county’s main river is called the Soar and is a very modest affair, rising in the w.s.w of the county and trickling along for several miles until it becomes fully fledged just south of the county city of Leicester. There, since the late 18th.century, it is augmented by the Grand Union Canal. The rest of the Soar was also canalized where it was otherwise impassable and became navigable until it empties into Nottinghamshire’s Trent River, some fifty miles from where it starts. Over the years I have produced a series of views, mainly in watercolour, from my explorations of both the River Soar and the G.U.C. I have over one hundred different views and have written a commentary on what I call my dual odyssey. I go back to some sites time and again for, though small, it is reckoned to be one of the most attractive waterways in the U.K. It surprises me to see in some places, startling changes in the bank-side scenery. And not always for the best. So, even though I think of my paintings as being contemporary, they illustrate views no longer with us. Though at one site they have just restored a footbridge that was washed away over twenty-five years ago. And so I must go and up-date.
What we disparage as perhaps tasteless modernism will, possibly in the future, be considered ‘quaint.’
Recently we went to see an exhibition of the paintings of Thomas Girtin. One painting showed a ‘Butter Market’ in the centre of a town, painted almost exactly 200 years ago. Many of the buildings illustrated still exist, but the dirt roads have been metalled and, instead of horse drawn carts and carriages, forty ton artics maneuver round the traffic island on which the canopied butter market still stands.
Wander off your path
Thank you for the article about paths — I like the idea of choice and following and veering off occasionally. I like thinking about what is timeless and what is timed or dated — how we need to hold one against the other. I like your reminder to be more aware of our own paths and wanderings.
by David Wilson
I have an on-going crisis because some of my better paintings are probable ‘copyright infringements’ — but I’m not sure. Can I show (on a website) images derived ‘originally’ from magazines? If they’re not for sale? If they are for sale? Many times I’ve just allowed myself to respond, by painting, to pictures I’ve seen here and there. I sent away to the government for the laws on this area and I received a lot of convenient verbiage that left me where I began, the victim of popular assumptions, both pro and con, about this matter. I can hardly believe the ‘values’ that tend to dominate in this world, where people require and defend the “right” to be paid over and over for a photo they acquired at the click of a button. In the ‘jungle’ you’d sell your original and then walk away. But this civilization of sophistication has made greed ethical, and innocence divisive. Law has, perchance, turned me into an underground artist — romantic, but perverse. I feel like I’m living back in the U.S.S.R. (Is it okay to say that? — it sounds like a Beatles’ song…)
(RG note) Artists, including photographers, have the right to extend the monetary usefulness of anything they make — even if it has been somewhat effortlessly made with the click of a button. Also, when an artist’s work is derived from the images of others, it is necessary to change or modify (traditionally by at least 10%) in order to be somewhat protected from infringement suite. In your case I’d say that the images are inspired but not slavishly copied from extant and owned images — so you are probably okay. To be friendly you might add your source on the back of the work. Each work of art so derived can have separate challenges, however. Some collages, for example, can present problems due to the associations, which may not sit well with the originator of the work. Incidentally, it’s up to the originator to claim infringement and set the legal wheels turning.
Ironies of history
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia
The artist is the record keeper of present time and he is keeper of timeless culture. We might predict the Iraqi artists and their art works will suffer in future war, but we cannot to have any idea that civilized democracy ensures destroying of Historical Museum in Baghdad. Here, the generals and captains are the real criminals. “Glasnost” was used by Gorbachov and when he stopped using it and allowed it to grow bad people — he was gone. Art is an instrument of glasnost, different kinds of art – imaginative, writing, journalist’s art. Although a journalist’s activity is documental work, perhaps it is art too, especially expressed as a kind of glasnost. Possibly, digital camera, PC, CDRW and Internet are so important tools for contemporary artist as well brush tools. No doubts, journalist’s video cameras had saved many people lives showing the work of criminals. It’s ironic: Soviet Bolsheviks have exploded Christian temples, but German Hitlerists have keeping these at occupied Soviet territories. Dictator Saddam was keeping valuable history — a democracy came and made it possible to be destroyed.
oil painting on canvas
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