Hindsight is Nineteen-Twenty

     I was rummaging through my studio, sorting and clearing out a few things.  Stacks of old canvases and sketches, basically untouched, began to reveal a story.  The story was the progress of my work over the last decade.  Going back and looking at the old canvases was like going through a lost photo album.  I could remember the thoughts I was having, the difficulties or successes of the moment.  It was astonishing to see where my work was at ten years ago.  Of course, I had to consider and ask myself, where will it go from here?

     It is the beginning of a new decade, however, this one seems more significant since we are beginning the “Twenties”. The “Twenties”.  When we say that it seems we often think of that decade of a hundred years ago.  In many ways that decade seems to mark the beginning of the modern age as we know it now.  Many of us often nostalgically fantasize what it would have been like to live then.  “I wish I could have lived in the “Twenties””, we may say to ourselves or others.  Well, now we can!  Since we are all now able to say we were alive during the “twenties”, we may correlate what is similar and what is different about our decade compared to the one hundred years ago?

     The nineteenth century into the twentieth marked a period of dramatic change from agrarian society to an urban cosmopolitan society.  The turn of the century must have been confusing with the shift of the industrial age creating so many modern advances in commerce, politics and social norms.  The globe was just finishing World War One, machines began to fly, there was an establishment of the working middle class.  Notable artistic responses were the angst-ridden German Expressionism, American Regionalism, and the beginning of Modernism.

     The twentieth century into the twenty-first could be compared similarly.  We experienced an Electronic Revolution and the Information Age.  Our society is moving into a more global one, socially and financially.  Our artistic responses have been non-object-oriented conceptual works and experiential communal art events. 

     But how do these art responses relate to us today?  It seems apparent that the two decades, ours and the one a hundred years ago, share in one similarity in that the age was baffling and fast paced.  The speed of information and change then and the speed of information and change now could be comparable.  The change is in our frame of reference. What if the fastest thing you remember is the horse compared to the car? The pace at which information flows, our twenty-four hour society and the access to every known fact at our finger-tips creates another kind of dizzying pace that could be relative to the one felt by our great-grandparents.  The artist becoming a navigator, simple responder, or an aggregate processor puts us in alliance with our times to our culture.  The pace and confusion is reflected in our art as we should expect it would.  The axiom is, after all, art is often a reflection of our times.

As the new decade approaches, these milestones often create in us a period of reflection.  Like my activity in my studio the other day, many of us tend to weed out and separate things during the change of the new year.  The question becomes, what do we keep?  What do we let pass?  How will we shape our future?  If our times today are considered as chaotically filled with constant updates of information and announcements of events that pass by our lives as ephemera, we may begin to consider a slowing down.  I am already reading and learning of “slow movements” and “returning” to various things like, dinner-time at a dinner table and actual eye-to-eye engagement with others.   

     At the beginning of this decade, around year 2000 I ended my career as a closet landscape painter and decided to pursue oil painting in its traditional practice, honestly and earnestly.  The idea was to create a kind of answer to the dis-embodiment of object- oriented artworks.  I still believed in the artwork as an object, and I wanted to make my artistic output closer to the definition of the word painting.  My statement at the time was; after de-constructing everything, my current work is a record of my serious pursuit of putting it back together.  Well, okay.  A decade has passed since then and I feel less rebellious towards my own time.  

     One of my favorite books on art history is titled, “The Story of Modern Art”, by Norbert Lynton. The book was required reading during my art history days in college, and I still have it. Albeit the torn up and dog-eared pages are over-highlighted, it remains a good read.  Interestingly, the book covers in great essay style detail about the changes and developments in art from the Impressionist period of the eighteen-sixties into the twentieth century.   On the very last page of the book is this quote, “What Western man has lost is the kind of tempo that goes with looking and the stillness that goes with a focused attention.

The Opposite of a Critique

Photo by Chris Barbalis

Article By Curtis Green, Photo by Chris Barbalis

     At one point during my time as an art student, we learned how to describe a work of art.  This was an excellent exercise for all of us young eager and emotional students ready to pour out our guts to anyone who would listen.  Our professor had us put our work up on the wall.  There, we were to stand before everyone else and start divulging our own descriptions of our pieces.   This was opposite of a critique.  A critique included our work on the wall for sure, but now others would talk about what they saw and thought about it.  This time the artists would speak for themselves.   Oh boy! Continue reading “The Opposite of a Critique”

Thinking of Artists as Grateful Gift Givers

Painting of A Sentiment for Fall by Curtis Green

By Curtis Green

As the holiday season approaches, I started thinking about artists as grateful gift givers. Artists can be thought of as gracious and giving or snobby and pretentious or maybe a mix of all of these.  As my thoughts were coming together, I remembered a funny routine by comedian George Carlin about his views on the game of golf.  The bit explained his unique perspective about the game.  He joked that golf was a snobby, elitist, pretentious endeavor played for the sake of chasing a tiny ball around for hours on end.  Perhaps art can be viewed with similar terms.  Continue reading “Thinking of Artists as Grateful Gift Givers”

The Art Collector vs. The Art Collector

Photo by Aaina Sharma

I read a lot of articles about the art world. I subscribe to current articles that often relate what happened at certain events or shows. They offer news from small galleries to big museums, auctions and art fairs around the world. These articles are shared and reposted over several platforms. They sometimes read like a red carpet review of “who wore what, where and when” but they also contain serious information like auction trends and percentages per genre. Topics may be about a particular artist, who has somehow busted an all time record for the sale of a single piece. This industry reading is part of what one does, when one does, what I do, make art. I wonder, is there a scenario of the Art Collector vs. the Art Collector? Continue reading “The Art Collector vs. The Art Collector”

Painting Notes from Nature

A Painting Titled Austinburg Sunset by Curtis Green

When painting and sketching in the field, I am taking notes from nature. These little sketches are meant to be fast.  Though the response is quick,  observation should take time.   Some meditations usually occur before the rapid action of painting begins. This morning I read a short passage in a book that refers to Psalm 104:24 which reads,

“O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creation.”

I can meditate on that and be reminded of a concept introduced to me as a painter several years ago. When painting nature in the field, one must take notes from her lessons directly from the source.  The study of the landscape, the situation of the landscape, the  little compositions that are happening here and there; her secrets reveal themselves and inform your future work, either in the studio or out in the open air.  So many times the point of the work is the essence of the thing, not the thing itself. Continue reading “Painting Notes from Nature”

Madrona Marsh Painting in the Less is More Show for Laguna Plein Air Painters Association

A View at Medrona Marsh
A View at Madrona Marsh – Curtis Green

Sometime in late summer I had my easel in the car and stopped my errands to venture into the Madrona Marsh in Torrance, CA.   The light was good and the landscape is spare and weedy.  An old California oak tree stands as a testament to time, the smells of dry grasses comes up and fills the air.  I stood in the shade of a small tree, painting this scene and at one point two birds landed on a branch right behind me. Continue reading “Madrona Marsh Painting in the Less is More Show for Laguna Plein Air Painters Association”

A Philosophy of Simple Economics for Visual Dividends

Aliso Canyon - Curtis Green

Often, the simplicity of a painting will cause us to pause our critical thinking and allow us to just take in the image for its own sake.   I liken it to A Philosophy of Simple Economics. This happens when a beautiful balance is struck “just so” between shape, proportion, light and shade and other components of a picture.  Our visual senses somehow evaluate these things on an inate level and we may then respond favorably for reasons we can’t explain. Continue reading “A Philosophy of Simple Economics for Visual Dividends”

“The Breakfast”, by William Paxton

The Breakfast, c. 1911
William McGregor Paxton (1869-1941)

With encouragement, I write these posts to invite appreciation of the visual arts. Each painting has a reason into how it came to be. Likewise, we as viewers can have many reasons for how we respond to it. Thus it begins, each time we go to a museum, to look at paintings, take them in and enjoy them for a while. This type of looking is not based so much on whether we prefer certain styles or colors, but a deeper kind of looking that guides our responses and shapes them into our own ideas or considerations. Continue reading ““The Breakfast”, by William Paxton”