The eye is keen. The mind is thoroughly grounded. The goal is to maintain a sense of intellectual honesty while exploring the culture of criticism and evaluating creativity in all its glory.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Aesthetically, A Resting

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 ...

Monday, May 31, 2010

And We Throw the Remote Because ....

When was the last time you watched one of those movies that just pissed you off? Not pissed because of content or storyline, just pissed because you felt you’ve been duped and wasted nearly two hours of off-time. And, what’s worse about the pissy movie is the truth that the previews didn’t look all that bad and you know it could have been lightly entertaining, or at least mildly cute. Expectations weren’t that high anyway, simply because it was just a silly romance/comedy. How hard could it be to make one of those that is palatable? Notting Hill did it. 50 First Dates did it. Two Weeks Notice pulled it off. The Princess Bride felt like a classic while doing it. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was exceptional at it. Even in Splash it was ok to watch a fella fall for a fish. But this thing I saw last night ... oh ... my .... gosh!

What in the world is up with Sarah Jessica Parker? 

I confess I had never seen her in anything before and couldn’t pick her out in a crowd of ten. I heard she was in something rather popular called Sex in the City. I think that was a television show, but I don’t watch TV so I wouldn’t know about that. They might have even made a movie or two out of it. I just don’t positively know. However it comes, I’m not one who will give time to something called Sex in the City. If sex is different in the city, I don’t want to know about it. If it’s not different in the city, what’s the point of putting it to film? I admit, here and now, I could be very wrong with this opinion. I only know I stopped watching TV by choice for a specific reason a long time ago. I will probably dig into that subject one day, but today, I’m rather inclined to talk about the movie that pissed me off. 

The thing that can make a movie work, even if the writing is ordinary, or the sets are cheesey, or the director is clumsy ... is the cast. If chemistry between people can be found then things like American Pie can have success. If chemistry falters, then colossal failure can make the best of scripts go bad. 

This movie had Hugh Grant as comedy/romantic lead. He’s a given okee-dokee for this sort of role. Easy as pie, he can pull it off. Sam Elliot played a ranch hand and State Marshall. He rode horses, shot a gun, and tossed horse-shoe-ringers like batting a bug. Wow! That’s another easy as pie. Two for two. Mary Steenburgen played the roll of Elliot’s wife and she looked just like a ranch-hand lady I know, even talked just like her (Hi, Teresa) ... pulled it off.  Easy as pie. But the female lead ... Parker.  She parked the film dead in it’s tracks.

Why so harsh, you ask? Have you seen her try to act? Have you heard her voice drone on and on ... apparently never shutting up while her hands constantly touch her hair? For the first time ever my family and I hit mute when her speaking parts came, and would only resume volume once we saw her co-star’s eyes glazing over and the camera switching to the next scene. What is strange about that is none of us felt like we missed any of the story. Add to it, I’ve seen Hugh Grant in many films and, sure, he’s a stiff English guy that always looks uncomfortable around girls, but there’s a consistent sense of likability between characters. Not in this film. Grant and Parker have all the chemistry of pint-sized mosquito and a horny-toad. It was really painful to watch and I don’t hold that against Hugh Grant. 

So, I’ve had a day to simmer with this stupid movie. That’s probably why I’m pissed because, now, it’s taken far more than the nearly two hours I spent with it last evening. I’m trying to understand why I had such a bad reaction to this actress. How could the first ten minutes of the film tempt me to throw the remote at the TV and run away screaming? And why didn’t we just turn it off once we saw what it was?

I know, for me, it’s the ying/yang thing.  You can’t see the light without the dark.  You can’t have an up without a down.  You can’t miss what is gone if you don’t see the now.  Parker is the now.

What is gone? Beautiful, classy, mannered, respectful, magic, intelligent, stimulating, mysterious, well dressed, healthy.

What is now? Painfully fake, rude, ugly, disrespectful, predictable, ordinary, boring, self-centered, frumpy, judgmental.

What is gone? Marilyn Monroe, Katherine Hepburn, Maureen O’Hara, Vivien Leigh, Natalie Wood, Raquel Welch, Joan Crawford.

What is now?  Sarah Jessica Parker, Paris Hilton, Jennifer Aniston, Angelia Jolie, Pamela Anderson, Sharon Stone, Lindsay Lohan.

Take a moment to think about that.

You know, it never really mattered how physically pretty an actress was back in the day. She always looked good – just by the clothing, hair and, most importantly, the manner in which she carried herself. The same was true for the men. I miss that ... The biggest rebels of them all (like Francis Farmer, for instance) bucked the system a bit and didn’t play the game by letting Hollywood choose their name or who they’d marry for public relations. But they always looked good (In Francis’s case, at least until they put her in an asylum and hid her away ... but that’s another story). From the point of view of the kid who sat at the theater munching popcorn, those people who acted were simply amazing and perfect humans. Today I often want to throw the remote at them. 

It shouldn’t really matter how Hollywood presents it’s players, but it does. Young people imitate what they admire and Hollywood heroes influence far more than we give them credit for. It goes deeper than that, though ... deeper than the superficial “this is how I’m going to dress and wear my hair and talk” imitation sort of thing. I’m thinking of simple behavior. 

I’m not sure when that element of our society changed, exactly, though I suspect it had something to do with curtailing descipline (I don’t count time-outs as discipline), the halting of teaching of etiquette (yes, I walked around with a book on my head and learned to eat soup without slurpping), and twisting a truly defined sense of masculine/feminine (don’t read into this one, I’ve always supported equality and women’s rights - I’m talking about simple balance here, like nature balances). 

That’s brought us to a place where, I don’t know about you but, I’ve come to detest going where little kids may be simply because it’s difficult to tolerate the screaming, running, whining, demanding little people. I watch many young mothers and it’s pretty easy to see that they don’t know how to parent, they have no control, the kids control them. The sad part is that the children are not bad, and neither are the young mothers, they just don’t know any better. There’s a generation that dropped the parenting-ball somehow and those resulting lost young ones are going to have to figure things out on their own. In the mean time, all the Hollywood hoopla pushes the condition by using toys, clothing, foods, and whatever else they can, as vessels to slap the latest-greatest movie character onto. It is their intention to drive the demanding kids to beg the young parents to buy, buy, buy. It’s working. And it’s killing our society. It’s killing it faster than Joe Camel could have ever dreamed.

In my ponderings you are going to find me talking about movies that have survived their opening season and are now only available on DVD (except for special occassions when I may go to the theater).  I’m inviting all who will listen to try this approach with me. Stop playing Hollywood’s hoopla game and spend some time at home, with your family, watching thought provoking productions. Skip the commercials and sales pitches, fast forward through previews that scream and flash and push mediocracy. Consider the players; learn who’s writing, directing, making costumes and sets. Verify movies based on truths and find yourselves talking about life and people. (It's like reading a good book together if you play it right) It doesn't matter how much money is spent on a film (Good Will Hunting), it doesn’t even matter if the star is well-known. What really matters is quality. So much of the time it’s about money, it seems, and who pulls in the most on opening week. Forget about that and let’s enjoy things that have stood the test of time, either short term or long. Let’s reward creativity of the mind, not of the marketing.  ‘Cause, dang it!  Sarah Jessica Parker is a terrible actress ...

And Sarah Jessica Parker makes me think of these things.  Damn.

** The movie is called Did You Heard About the Morgans?  I recommend you avoid this one ... **