Chaos is everywhere – and artists, to fashion art and live truthfully, have no choice but to invite this unwanted guest right into the studio. (Eric Maisel)
A short essay on processes of painting, specifically on Intention vs Unintentional Painting and Harnessing Chaos on Canvas.
With one of the obvious pursuits of an artist being to “create interesting paintings” the question arises of how to actually go about doing so. It’s easy to talk about making art that resonates deeply with the viewer, whilst having a poetic visual language and communicates poignant cultural themes etc, but how do I actually go about making this happen? How do I in the studio bright and early, tired from the night before, actually get on with work and fulfil this genuine, but slightly nauseating desire?
Getting on with painting firstly is essential. Its better to make a mess then attempt to sort it out, than to not make anything at all.
I find that my process changes depending on all kinds of variables but often I work around two main ideas, that I refer to as “Intentional and unintentional painting” and “Harnessing Chaos on Canvas”.
Two of my recent paintings act as examples of these ideas. If Only They Knew How Good It Was (Figure A) and It Was Just That The Time Was Wrong (Figure B). Both of these paintings represent two very different yet ways that I work.
(Figure A) If Only They Knew How Good It Was
(Figure B) It Was Just That The Time Was Wrong
Figure A was made with a very intentional process. Working with subjects that are very close to me personally, both the person depicted and the setting they exist in. It initially began with me having the intention of process and keeping an eye out for a potnetial subject and composition in the everyday. When the opportunity arose, I took a number of photos, then made a number of sketches. Having then joined two photos of similar yet seperate occasions, I began with the painting. The manner in which it was executed was intentionally both descriptive yet vague. I am interested in the mechanics of paint and how the manner in which it is applied can be in harmony with illusion, or against it; creating a somewhat grey area between representation and abstraction. The idea of working with chaos however is still present in that certain marks were made spontaneously with a vague idea of outcome, alongside very defined and intentional brushwork. There is also familiarity for me in the choice of title, with it having come from itself from a conversation I had with the girl depicted. So all the readable information, comes from a very close and personal source of mine.
In contrast to Figure B, It Was Just That The Time Was Wrong, was a mystery even to me as the maker! It crept in through the backdoor, unexpectedly, becoming a finished work that I find a bit enigmatic. Having scraped of the remaining pigments off my palette, I thought rather than wasting them I would crudely shove it onto a support. I then threw a slash of red water based pigment across the bottom and threw it to the side of the studio, not thinking much of the rugged, awkward outcome. Two weeks later, I found it again, speckled from splashes of other studio events and collecting dust. I put it on the easel and reconsidered it, realising that if I turned it upside down the composition immediately became interesting. I rummaged through old photos I had taken a photo of two of my friends, standing together looking out a window at the Summer light. I painted them in, and the whole painting took on a new dimension.
These two processes though appearing completely separate are linked at their fundamentals and represent two ways that I go about making paintings.
Ever wonder how experienced art world professionals separate out the best art from the rest? Me too. So I asked them, “What makes good art?”
Brian Gross, Brian Gross Fine Art, San Francisco: Art that is unique in conception and well executed.
DeWitt Cheng, freelance art writer and critic, Bay Area, CA: Jorge Luis Borges wrote, “Music, states of happiness, mythology, faces molded by time, certain twilights and certain paces— all these are trying to tell us something, or have told us something we should not have missed, or are about to tell us something; that imminence of a revelation that is not produced is, perhaps, the aesthetic reality.” While art has become, in the experimental 20th and 21st centuries, impossible to define— critics learned long ago to stop being prescriptive, perhaps a little too well— Borges’s tentative manifesto makes a good starting point— as long as we don’t succumb to mystical mush. Good visual art looks stunningly right and, in retrospect, obvious, or inevitable— yet it’s also continually surprising. It is a powerful paradox. How can someone have possibly made this? How in the world could it not have been made?
Cheryl Haines, Haines Gallery, San Francisco: Clear intention, unwavering dedication, patience, perseverance, self awareness and the drive to make for yourself and no one else.
Robert Berman, Robert Berman Gallery, Los Angeles: Reality is by agreement. The reality of art is usually by some kind of agreement. The arbiters are the museums, the museum curators, the people who spend their lives and their time actually being critical of what they see and judging what they see. If you add in four or five art critics who are then able to write about it, if you get four or five major collectors who are passionate about what they collect to patronize it, and several major auction houses to auction it, then a consensus or vetting process begins to unfold. Of course there’s magic dust involved, so this is not a sure way, but it’s a safe way to go about judging what is good art.
Mat Gleason, Coagula Art Journal, Los Angeles: The moment and the memory. It has to be something that engages you, on one of a million levels, in person, and establishes a memory that remains positive. This can be an artwork that challenges you and then makes you think about it days later or one that seduces you and delivers pleasant feelings days later. There are as many ways to produce this 1-2 effect as there are artists, but so much art that grabs you is glib and you forget it or is lousy and only recalled as something you sped past or upon which you only regret wasting your day.
Robert Shimshak, Collector, Berkeley, CA: Good art is timeless. It will assume a new relevance to each generation, and to yourself as you grow. It will connect to the past and feed the future. It has a simple and rigorous beauty that commands your gaze and thoughts whenever you look at it. The best work will break your heart. As a collector, you will know it when you see it. It’s personal. You will not have to be convinced by anyone to acquire it; it will be something you simply must have. It is like a good marriage that completes a feeling inside you, something that lasts forever and grows with time.
Marsea Goldberg, New Image Art, Los Angeles: Originality, representational of the time when it was created, passion, a frame of reference, freshness, intellectual content, and is uniquely identifiable as the work of that particular artist. The art should effortlessly have as many of these characteristics as possible— or none at all. It also has to have magic; if you try too hard, the magic could fly away. The artist needs to have a vision and it’s important that the work doesn’t go into a dead end. It’s helpful if the artist has the capacity to reinvent their creativity through various skills and mediums.
Julio Cesar Morales, Adjunct Visual Arts Curator, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco: Work that makes you forget about art.
Robert Flynn Johnson, Curator Emeritus, Achenbach Foundation, San Francisco: It is truly an unanswerable question without stating something that appears pretentious… the perception of what makes art “good ” revolves around the application of that difficult word, “taste” which I observe to be in considerably short supply in society today. People are not willing to take the time and effort to develop their own personal sensibilities through study or reflection but are prone to “go with the flow” from the “tastemakers” so as not to be seen as square and out of touch… so sad…
Jack Hanley, Jack Hanley Gallery, New York: I like something where the intensity of the experience of the person making it comes through. Maybe somebody is turned on by the nature of the materials, a psychological issue or some kind of narrative. Maybe some people have greater intensities of experience than others. What makes art good on a grander scale is how extraordinary and profound the components of those experiences are. Some artists are maybe better than others at tapping into their own idiosyncrasies and conveying them to others.
Scott M. Levitt, Director, Fine Arts, Bonhams & Butterfields, Los Angeles:Quality, quality, quality. This is the mysterious and subjective key to good art. In all periods of art there are good and bad works of art. I find that defining quality in representational art is easier than in modern and abstract art. The other key word is looking. Everything looks good when you first start looking at art, as you have nothing to compare it to. As you hone your eye, you begin to distinguish between good and bad. The more you look at art, the easier it is to determine what is good and what is bad.
Also, there are two schools of thought as to what is good and bad. Some people believe that good and bad are personal distinctions and entirely in the eye of the viewer. Others believe that there is good art and crap art and no one can tell them otherwise. I think the real answer is somewhere in between, and this is based entirely on the quality of the eye of the viewer.
Each area of art requires its own set of criteria when determining good and bad, i.e. painting, sculpture, printmaking, craft, conceptual etc. Personally I hold originality to be important in this determination. For contemporary artists that can be tough. Most of what is being created today is, in my personal opinion, not very original. To me a Mark Rothko is a masterpiece, while a thousand color-field artists after him are not. I find Pop artists brilliant and Jeff Koons completely reactionary. There is originality in contemporary art, but it is tough to find.
It is also tough when the art market influences good and bad. I would like to say that monetary value determines quality, but unfortunately they are often unrelated, as many factors can influence the value of artwork other than quality. Damien Hirst is an interesting and relatively unique artist, but I don’t think his prices at auction reflect how good he is. When one of his works is worth more than a good Monet landscape, something is very amiss.
I think the best “take away” here is that if you want to know what is good and what is not, you have to get out and look for yourself and make that decision. Take a year… and make it a rule to visit museums and galleries every weekend and read art-related books and magazines as much as possible in as many art fields as possible. You will have your answer. If you don’t use this approach, you will officially have no eye or ability to make these distinctions.
If you are in this purely for your own collecting interests, then look at as much art as possible in all fields and eras as I have just said. If you are in it purely to make money, then buy a subscription to Artnet or E*Trade. It’s your call.
Justin Giarla, The Shooting Gallery, White Walls & 941 Geary, San Francisco:What makes good art is when you see a piece from across the room, you immediately fall in love with it without knowing anything about it and are in love with it forever.
Jonathon Keats, author, critic, conceptual artist, San Francisco & beyond: Art is good to the extent that it is parsimonious; no matter the complexity of a work, or its style, each element must be essential, and everything that the work requires— all that is communicated by it— must be intrinsic to it. Good art is beautiful, regardless of its appearance, just as there is beauty in a good mathematical proof.
Darryl Smith, The Luggage Store Gallery, San Francisco: Well I suppose the making or act of making art is neither good or bad really. That distinction has more to do with politics and of course economics— some generally agreed upon notion or criteria rooted in the pursuit of an absolute.
Alan Bamberger, itinerant artster, San Francisco: At its most fundamental level, good art is an effective combination of concept, vision and mastery of medium (the ability to get the point across). Good art is also uncompromisingly honest, unselfconscious, bold, ambitious, enlightening, original, challenging, and a feast for the senses. It doesn’t necessarily have to have all of these qualities, but at the very least it has to keep you coming back for more… and never ever bore.