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Friday, March 21, 2014

Conceptualizing Art

Copyright, Jim Lane
I Was Here, 2013, Jim Lane. The conceptual element came first, a Postmodern portrait further exploring the "painting upon a painting" concept begun below with the winter scene, this time duplicating the foreground image in the background, thus giving the title a dual meaning--I exist and I existed at the scene depicted (the little town of Furnace, in the Azores). The framed painting hangs in front of the background image. When it is removed, the painting takes on a Postmodern comic air (below).
Several years ago one of my high school students created a piece of sculpture consisting of hundreds of wadded up sheets of used typing paper which she bound together with nylon fishing line into a neat cube shape It was titled Writer's Block. Something like that may come to mind if you're a writer sitting in front of an unblinking monitor, mouse and keyboard at hand, books and magazines all over your desk, wracking your brain for something to expound upon. Of course, writer's aren't the only ones who face the blank page, plumbing the depths of their sub-conscious seeking what they might do to create the great American masterpiece.
Copyright, Jim Lane
I Was Here, 2013, Jim Lane. This is the background panel for the painting above. The concept suddenly changes with a Postmodern injection of unexpected humor in striving not to take itself too seriously. (Notice the aspect of hungry desperation as the sign lettering deteriorates.)

If only it was this easy.
Artists have been known to stare at blank paper or canvases and go through similar trauma. Of course, if you happen to be like me, an artist who writes or a writer who draws, then you know this feeling doubly well. Psychologist have even come up with a name for it, "Blank Page Syndrome." Their advice is something like that of the doctor whose patient complained that it hurt every time he crossed his eyes: "Then don't do that." What they mean is, don't put yourself in that position, staring down a blank canvas, or blank paper, or blank computer screen. You're almost certain to loose. THINK before creating. Nothing can make the creative process more difficult than the blank canvas. It begets a blank mind; and the only use I've ever found for a blank mind is in going to sleep.
One of the older techniques in avoiding the blank mind is called brainstorming. The rules are simple:
1.  Nothing is too outrageous to consider.
2.  Write everything down; don't fret the format.
3.  Seek the input of others.
4.  Don't stop the moment you think you've stumbled upon something.
5.  Stop only when your run out of paper or the pencil lead breaks.
6.  Eliminate--cross off the truly stupid ideas.
7.  Evaluate the ones that are left.
8.  Execute the one that looks most promising.
9.  Don't throw the list away, it'll save you time the next time.
My book, Art THINK (available above, right), has several ideas arrived at in just this manner. Look under the heading, "Artists' Block."

Rough Drafting
Whenever I think of creating a rough draft I'm reminded of the old joke, often attributed to a preacher, in which the clergyman reads from the Bible the story of the creation of Adam followed some time later by the creation of Eve. Then the preacher intones blandly at the end, "Even God needed a rough draft." I suppose some artists have, and maybe routinely do, but I, myself, have never created a single work of art without first working out the image in some form of rough layout. Sometimes, the rough draft is quite traditional, a full-blown, sometimes full-size, drawn image, maybe even rendered to some extent in color. In more recent years, my rough drafts have been computer generated (below). Inasmuch as I routinely employ one or more photos, such trial runs usually involve photo-editing software.

The rough draft--a photo, our house in snow.
In the development of Slopewood, 2009 (below), the framed painting came first. Yes, there was, in effect, a rough draft, in this case a photo taken one cold winter day about three years before of our house (above). Blinded by the beauty of the photo and perhaps a certain nostalgia, I failed to notice that in shooting the picture, I'd positioned the big Blue Spruce in our front yard precisely in the middle of the composition (generally speaking, a no-no in picture composition entailing a visually worrisome, artificial, too-perfect element of balance). The solution: hang the first painting in front of a second, broader, more pleasing composition, in effect, moving the offending tree left of center. It was not a perfect remedy, but somewhat better. Behind the framed painting is the empty lot. Even with a rough draft, time consuming errors can occur. In this case, applying a little brainstorming, the results turned out more interesting and satisfying than the simple, flawed, original effort could ever have been.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Slopewood, 2009, 2012, Jim Lane.
What does the painting "say?" The artist makes choices. This was what I had to choose from (the larger image), and this (the framed painting) was the imperfect choice I made. Postmodern art is often quite self-conscious. On rare occasions I've done entire paintings which have turned out to be merely rough drafts for second, more ambitious, versions in which, during the creative process, I've corrected errors, or at least what I deemed less than satisfactory elements in the original. The Castles in the Sand duo (below) is an example in which the first painting (on the left) served as a rough draft for the more satisfying large version (on the right).

Copyright, Jim Lane
Castles in the Sand (1 and 2), 2001, Jim Lane. The painting on the left served as a rough draft telling me the hand in the lower right corner holding the source photo was stealing the show from the scene as a whole. The larger format second version on the right was designed to correct that. (Notice the image repetition from background to the middle-ground easel painting to the foreground photo.)

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