Paintings are such special things. Have you ever seen one that you immediately came to adore and you knew as time passed you’d find yourself thinking about it, wishing you could have found a way to make it your own? I was musing about one like that today, about a precious little pastel depicting sea lions on rugged ocean beach rocks. It was one of the last paintings mastered through our print-shop and as it went through the process I sat with it for a long while – just looking. The colours were so gentle. The animals naturally congregated for moments of rest and relaxation. The hand that applied the chalk knew so surely how to sculpt her vision as she used the velvety-quality of a well done pastel to her advantage.
"At Rest" by Ina Prosser. © All rights reserved.
Accepted into the 15th Juried Exhibition of the International Association of Pastel Art - 2010
The piece is titled At Rest and I know the artist made it as she remembered her walks along a California beach years ago. For me, this painting did something that few paintings can do. It brought forth pure emotional reaction. I was amazed as I held my breath and let my eyes dance over the many little dashed lines of colour ... so gentle, so controlled. Technically it was sound in composition and colour work, the balance was solid and atmosphere believable, but I didn’t care about that. I just wanted to feel it.
I think it may be that this painting came into my life at a moment when I needed the freshness of its concept. There is this thing called an aesthetic experience that we painters constantly strive to achieve, and viewers sometimes capture through our work. Some call it an Aesthetic Arrest. It’s tough to describe because it lives in a place that is not definable with words; it is not the same for each person; nor even the same for the same person every time. It’s a mental experience that requires complete surrender of the left side of the brain to the right. Women have a better chance to achieve it simply because of how our brains are built, but men can capture it, too. When we are working in our studios and find the ‘zone’, we are actually plowing through artwork as an aesthetic experience guides what our hands and eyes are doing. We have no sense of time. We forget how to perform simple life functions, like going to the bathroom, eating, drinking, or even talking. In my prime painting days my zone time would last from 8 to 16 hours. I had learned ways to enhance and maintain the experience by fueling-up on protein and carbs before I’d begin; having a thermos or two of coffee and lots of water at hand; no telephone lines or doorbells allowed; and a constant stream of violin and piano concertos by Mozart. I’d end a long session all sweaty with aching hands, shoulders, and very tired eyes. At the end of those days I’d shiver with a chill, then wrap in a blanket where I would fall asleep so soundly twelve alarms couldn’t stir me in the least. I had extreme aesthetic experiences in my studio and that made me an extremely prolific painter.
As business and responsibility took over my world those experiences were less and less, and so was my production. The last year of our business became so stressful that I believe I forgot how to stop and enjoy the moments a painting can give. With my own art, I only painted one day a week, pulling out six hours of production, tops. Meanwhile with business, hundreds of paintings a month used to flow through the print-shop, the recession took away 90% of that flow. I wasn’t the only artist constrained by the cash-choke-hold and chaotic economic times. Every painter I knew was suffering.
Right about the time it became obvious that our print-shop would not survive, this little painting came through and it caused me to pause and remember. It wasn’t painting or art or business that I thought about, nor my studio or easel or brushes. But a moment. A moment of fresh air and rejuvenation. Time with my dear family and nature. Simple beauty. I marveled at the delicate perfection of the human hand and mind, the sensitive nature that lightly placed periwinkles and golden yellows in ways that expressed form and life. Life ... breathing animals at peace for a moment just by the side of the big and open world of moving tidewaters, wind, rain, and fog. A rest.
The most amazing thing to me about an aesthetic experience is the truth that all of my senses participate. In the case of this little painting, I smelled salt while I was zoned with it. I felt the ocean breeze and heard the distant gulls. The power of nature could be heard as water swells gurgled against the wet sand. I was transported by feeling to another place, another time, another moment.
That is what a painting can do for a viewer. It does the same for the creator, too. There is no doubt that when a painter feels the groove of an idea, that comes through in the finished product. It is especially so with a technically sound artist ... one who knows how to design and draft so well that those qualities can take a back seat and perform beautifully while the brain plays in the land of emotion. Ina Prosser made the little sea lion piece and all her years of learning and doing came together to build an aesthetic experience for me. Beauty, in her own humble words, is a result of life experience:
“ We all respond to the ocean, sand dunes, green forests, sparkling water, fields of flowers, colors of fall, snow, warm fire, and a bountiful table, as well as all the tragedies of our lives. Some will write about it, some will make music or sculptures, and some will paint. As a result of our life experiences we will each express ourselves in our own way. That is the beauty of art.”
Appreciating art comes from that very same perspective. I cannot tell you how many times a patron came to me, seeking to hire a commission where I would imitate a painting that moved them years ago. They’ve been seeking that feeling, or subject, or idea, and cannot find anything that stimulates them like the original. Perhaps I could do that for them? The answer to that is always, “No. I can’t.” Nor could any other painter, not even the artist who created the first one that began the quest. Every painting experience is unique, so is every finished work of art.
If you, as a patron, find yourself so amazingly moved in the moment with a painting or drawing or whatever, find a way to take it home right then. It’ll end up being a part of your memory, otherwise, and regrets will come if you don’t. More than that, good artists need support these days, and I don’t mean the artists that critics claim are the great ones of our day, nor even ‘museum’ copies of previous masters that you’ve been taught to love. I mean those quiet artists that live in your community, who are trying to find a why to make enough money to pay the bills, buy more paints and supplies.
I wish I could have purchased Ina’s painting. It is a masterpiece I would surely have cherished as it allowed me to take a moment of rest when I needed it most. Instead, I am a patron stuck with a just the memory ...