November 25, 2009
And, if you stop to think about it, that’s true: every picture does tell some kind of story. My personal preference is that it be a story that leaves me feeling better than before I ‘read’ it. You might come away from one of Jenny Saville’s stories with an urge to drop to your knees in front of the porcelain throne….not my idea of a good time.
But, take a look at the attached image of a painting that I did recently. It has all the elements of a ‘story’: setting, character, props. It is loaded with bits of evidence that tell the viewer what this character is experiencing as he walks down the street, his gaze on the bricks at his feet. Who is he? What is he thinking, feeling? Is that a look of ‘determination’ on his face? One of my painting students—before I had painted the cable-lock on the light pole—said, “He’s thinking: ‘Oh, look….a bike….and it’s un-locked!” Very observant, don’t you think?
In fact, despite how concrete and detailed all the elements of this painting are, it is still an open-ended story. It’s like a ‘Mr. Potato’ kit: you get to choose which eyes, which nose, mouth, ears, etc. to put on your potato..and what character it becomes is entirely determined by your story. All the complex elements that you bring to the moment are what will create the story a decent image tells. And, no artist in their right mind would have it otherwise. In the modernist vein of thinking, the elements are often either ‘blunt instruments’ that force the viewer into a story that is more about the artist than anything universal (M Bunyan’s ridiculous blather about Twombly’s intent notwithstanding)--or they are puzzles that defy comprehension...purposely. In the present Age of Narcissism that has overtaken the art world’s elite echelons, it is all about the artist, and they will never let you forget that. The game is to keep you reeling, off balance….never let you feel that you are on top of the game. Of course, you can move over to the ranks of the effete 'insiders', those sly dogs who actually claim to see the Emperor's Magic Clothes. But, to do that, I'm afraid, you will have to actually accept the stream of critical sewage from people like M Bunyan...or, at least, pretend you do. Gag.....wretch.
In the more traditional genres of painting, the opposite holds true. The goal of the artist is to give you the tools and the material to create your own meaningful reality. So, when a person stands in front of ‘Cut Above’—the painting seen here—they are being invited to dive into an act of co-creation, in which they are bringing their own sensibilities, formed over an entire lifetime, and find a story that speaks to them…with rich detail and eloquent embellishment. In its highest permutations, Fine Art is ever so much more than eye-candy, entertainment, or elements of design. It is an alchemical key to unlocking hitherto forbidden or ignored spaces in the viewer. A single piece of art can be a stepping-stone, one of many, in the viewer’s life process and their journey towards coming to terms with all of life’s challenges.
Perhaps, more than anything else, that is what I find so unforgivable about art that is intended to disrupt, annoy, anger, perplex, even to assault the viewer. It is unconscionable that an artist take it on themselves to make life MORE difficult, when it is—for most people, especially in these times—already verging on overwhelming.
I want anything that I create to be that ‘gift’ to the viewer that I believed it could be as a young artist and art lover. And, that is one tiny piece of my own healing process.