I got my head spun around this week by a glimpse into the perspective of another kind of artist, the kind that has found a home in the world of “contemporary” art. I am using the word “contemporary” here in the sense that has come to be associated with it in the art world, namely, nonrepresentional art. Plenty of contemporary (in the original meaning of the word) are painting representational pictures, elegantly and successfully, but it seems like few of them are represented by tony NYC galleries or being acquired by museums. There’s a bias in favor of abstract. All the buzz goes to the unconventional. Something called a “concept” has become more important (perhaps) than the skillful execution. What I have been working on these past nine years is skillful execution, and I’m not even there yet. But if only I could reorient my brain in the direction of coming up with concepts, I might not need to get any better with the representational skills.
This particular angst is nothing new for me. What is new is the spin, the perspective, the insight. I was at a gathering of students celebrating the last class with a party. At Bea’s, of course. I had taken the same class last semester. It was the Explore, Express, Exploit class, triple E we call it–the class in which I tried very hard to do something different. See, e.g., prior blogs here and here. The party included a critique, not just by the class instructor (Patrick McCay), but by all present, students and professors. Tongues had been loosened by copious supply of wine, and the critiques soon dissolved into many conversations occurring simultaneously and uproariously. Being on a diet, my wine intake was limited to one glass, so I was able to observe and be entertained by the chaos. It was such good sport that, when they ran out of paintings to critique, demand was made for me to submit two of my paintings from last semester to the withering analyses. (I had the two outside in my car because they were on their way in the a.m. to the Institute for hanging in an exhibit.) So, yes, they were framed, and clearly “finished”. Nevertheless, many potential improvements were found by half the crowd and denigrated by the other half, all good fun and maybe a little educational, and the party was about to come to an end, its ostensible purpose having been fulfilled, when a visiting dignitary, the dean of something and second in command at the Institute, demanded to know what direction I was going, given that one of my paintings had ended up representational and the other did not. (That may be the longest sentence I have ever written!) I tried to dodge the question, which was not difficult since everyone else in the room was still talking all at once, but he silenced the room and insisted that I provide an answer. Ahhhgh! I confessed that I had no idea where I might be headed, that in fact my usual MO was plein air painting and working from the live figure. Both, I didn’t have to say, being totally representation. So he said, and I quote, “That’s just practice.”
I don’t really disagree–what I have been doing is a lot of practicing, but toward what? For the first time, I wondered if there is a chance for me to see over the fence into that field of unconventionality, that field seeded with new concepts. One needs a goal, and I guess the one I had set for myself was to become a portraitist. But I haven’t been working very hard toward that goal lately, and maybe that is the fault of my goal, not of me. If portraiture is not the right goal for me, then I can’t stay excited about it. It may be time for me to Explore more deliberately an Expression that is beyond representational. Exploitation, what’s that?
Meanwhile, I am still practicing. Last Tuesday’s figure session produced this one:
His forehead is too high, but I can fix that.
Friday I had a simultaneous committee meeting and the need to drop off those two paintings competing for my attention, so I took in my charcoals. In the first 20 minutes I produced a drawing that I liked so much that I could not bring myself to touch it after the break.
My start-over produced this drawing.
Her nose is too long. Damn! Too-long nose cannot be fixed without resizing the whole bottom half of the face. [I fixed a problem with the shape of her left eye–on our right–that I only noticed after posting the image to my blog.]
Today, I decided at the outset not to obsess over any details, to try to be conceptual instead of representational–just as I have decided at many outsets before this. Today, however, I have the added consideration of last Thursday’s critique. Sure, I had that Friday as well, but it was too new then. Hadn’t sunk in.
Is it, in terms of direction, an inch or two away from my usual? I kind of think so.
Aline Lotter is currently exhibiting:
at the Hatfield Gallery and the East Colony Fine Art Gallery in Manchester (both are in Langer Place, 55 S. Commercial St., Manchester, NH); at the Bartlett Inn and Bernerhof Inn in Bartlett; at the Red Jacket Inn in North Conway; at the law offices of Mesmer and Deleault at 41 Brook St in Manchester; at the Manchester office of Congresswoman Carol Shea Porter; in French Hall (the main building) of the New Hampshire Institute of Art in Manchester, NH; and at her studio by appointment (email: email@example.com).
You may also view paintings with prices and order prints at my Fine Art America page. If the painting you are interested in is not there, or if you prefer to bypass that experience, you may contact me using this feedback form.