One for the Books

A Row of Art Books

Summer is now one for the books. The snap of fall weather always gets me going. I love the crisp air mixed with warm sun. Somehow, the fall season gets us to shift gears from the light days of summer and into cozier clothes and heavier foods. Favorite smells and spices fill the air around town and in our kitchens. The idea of warmth comes around as the we all start to settle in for a season of gratitude and reflection.

These days during the pandemic, our holiday time is going to be a little different. Maybe that’s okay. Holidays are often hectic. This year, perhaps it needn’t be so. As I continue to be vigilant for my own health and for the sake of others, I have limited my physical interaction with others. Instead, I have an opportunity to think about how my holiday time may be personally meaningful.

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My Box of Crayons

Crayola Crayons

When I was young and it was time to shop for school supplies, I could not wait to get my box of crayons!

My first set was small and simple, just enough to be useful and fun.  Later, the expanded sets were available. As I got older, it seemed more appropriate that I could handle the big boy box of a previously un-imaginable number of crayons.  It was the exciting sixty-four set with a built-in sharpener in the box! I would arrive at school with my impressive mega-box of crayons and plant it proudly on top of my desk. 

When it became time to use them, I would explore the arsenal of choices and linger over my decision of which one to use.  There were my old friends.  Red, blue, yellow, green, brown, black, even white!  My new friends in the sixty-four cray-o-la mega-set were very exotic, like Periwinkle.  What’s a Periwinkle?

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Putting Black on Palette

Back in Black

Who has not rocked out to the rock n’ roll anthem, “Back in Black” by the group AC/DC? Perhaps you were in your car while stuck in traffic and you turned it up while it was on the radio.  You may have been in your studio, playing air guitar in front of blank canvas. 

If you were painting outdoors it is not likely that the song was running through your head.  However, it would be very possible that black was certainly not on your palette!

Black is often considered to be a forbidden color for outdoor painting.  Technically, black is not even considered a color!  Since black is the absence of color, it is defined as neutral. 

Without getting too technical, black is either the absence of color or the accumulation of all colors at once.  That is a discussion that will be saved for later regarding additive and subtractive color mixing.  For now, let us get back to the use (or non-use) of black as a pigment for painting.

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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”

A Philosophy of Simple Economics for Visual Dividends

Plein air oil painting and fine art print of Aliso Canyon from Top of the World Park in Laguna Beach, CA.
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”

Looking at “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.

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Immeasurable Details

A Sketch of Aycil Yeltan by Curtis Green

Landscape paintings are easy. A tree is a tree, so a landscape may be rendered any old way and still describe what it is.  Eh … yes and no.  Is there a quantity that often cannot be measured? A tree, it is true, does not usually have the familiar given proportions like that of the human body. Some freedom of the so called “artistic license” is understandable when looking at a tree in a painting.  So here perhaps, is a large point  to consider when it comes to looking at art.  It is a point often discussed. Is it necessary to render a thing so exact for the rendering to be considered art?

The human face, for example, requires more exacting observation in that we are built to intuitively understand the basic proportions and placement of our features.  We may look at ourselves in the mirror and lament that our forehead is too high or our ears are small or too large.  These are little moments of micro analysis, as we instantly determine how our features measure in relation to other things.  How much of this analytical critique is actually necessary in  regarding the essence or character of the face or for that matter, the landscape?

A common remark about paintings is about its detail.  Yet, many artists often remind themselves not to get hung up on the details.  The Mona Lisa by none other than DaVinci, is arguably the most famous and possibly greatest portraits of all time. It captures the sitters mystery that beguiles us to this day some six hundred years later. Yet the portrait itself may only be a contemporaneous characterization of the woman?  For that matter, consider the lonely yet moving work of Edward Hopper, famous for his painting “Nighthawks“. 

A lot of importance is placed on determining the quality of a work of art by how accurate it is in the rendering of the scene.  However, it is possible that the intrinsic impact toward the appeal of our emotion may be the real power behind a work of art. Those deemed as great art possess a quantity that often cannot be measured.

The Noon Hour

The Noon Hour, - Evariste Carpentier
The Noon Hour, – Evariste Carpentier (Belgian, 1845-1922)

Summer can easily bring to mind some lazy days, or at least some occasion to pause in the heat of the day.

Here is a fairly obscure painting called “The Noon Hour” by Evariste  Caprentier.  Looking at the painting, one can see the clarity of color and the superb treatment of light.  Other things to see here is the subtle compositional division of the canvas.  Notice how the background is quietly composed into thirds.  This is a seemingly natural and pleasant set up for the primary subject of the shepherdess lying in the green grass.  The darker trees contrast her lighter skin while she is in the shade.  The green grass occupies the major “third” and the blueish background finishes the composition nicely as the sheep feed.  The red hem of her dress sits near the center of canvas.

Again, the mechanics of composition and the deft work in painting coupled with this pleasing pastoral setting makes for our own pause as we perhaps imagine ourselves within the space.  It seems as if the shepherdess is fine with having our company.

Incompletely Done

Still Life with Oranges - Henri Matisse
Still Life with Oranges – Henri Matisse c. 1899

So, when I was at a major museum a few years ago, looking at a travelling exhibition, I saw “Still Life with Oranges” by Henri Matisse c. 1899.   Standing next to me, also looking at the painting, was a truly delightful and elderly gentleman.  His wife was wondering around looking at other pieces.  It was just a silent moment, when he suddenly started speaking to me.

“Why on earth would anybody want to look at this?”, he asked. He went on to say that the painting was childish, anybody could accidently do it, and why is it worth anything?  He also noted and pointed out that it clearly wasn’t even finished!

I stood there, befuddled for a moment, as if someone told me to freeze because a bear was right behind me.  This is a Matisse, I thought to myself, one of the world’s most favorite artists.  How do I respond?

We chatted for a little bit before I invited him to consider looking at the painting not as a representation exactly of the objects depicted, but rather as  an arrangement of shapes and masses.  Consider, that the artist is living in a time period where he is an adventurer, discovering ways to compose fields of color in just such a way that it causes us to respond to its proportions like tones do in music.  I asked him to step back from the painting and not see the table and fruit, but see the center of the canvas and it edges all relating to each other.  The unfinished part, I asked him; how would it look if were finished?  Could he see that perhaps the incomplete parts made the complete parts emerge as whole composition of background and foreground and we lose our notion about the subject of fruit and tableware, per se?

More silence.  Uh oh, I thought.  His finger went to his lips as he shook his head.  I started to feel deflated as I awaited his response.  “No.”, he said, “I couldn’t see it.”  He paused, “But I can now!”  Relief exited my lungs, and we smiled and looked at it again.  “Thank you young man, wait until I show my wife!”  He looked around, hoping to explain his new insight of the painting to her now.  “She was around here somewhere”, he said, looking back and forth, while wandering off to find her.


Quietly, Comes the Spring

A Cloudy Afternoon in March - Curtis Green
A Cloudy Afternoon in March

On a day in early spring, it is possible to have that moment when the first hint of the seasons’ change is about to take place.  It is the period of the equinox, when the sun is at the mid-point of its apparent annual travel from  its winter dip to its summer height .  The winds bluster while the atmosphere mixes between warm and cool.   From time to time the sun will strike your skin from between the cold billowing clouds, like a warm finger tap and the scarves and jackets will give way to summer shirts.

To take a moment to observe the weather and feel the air is part of life.  In a way, this transition is symbolic, indicating the necessity of the unique forces of nature working with each other to maintain our lives.  All this keeps going on, often beyond our notice.  In depictions of large expansive landscapes, particularly oil paintings,  it is easy to find ourselves pondering some existential thoughts.   Here is a meditative scene of a cool wind swept plain.  Far in the distance is a fleeting patch of sunlight.  The clouds may be slowly and silently passing.   In any case, the richness from such pondering hopefully adds some soulful perspective to our daily interactions.

Note:  If interested, I invite you to consider the work of Jacob Van Ruisdael.  (This link takes you to the National Gallery of London website).  In my opinion, he produced some of the finest of Dutch landscape painting that exemplifies the idea of quiet magnificence.