Originally published with thedetroiter.com
As mentioned here , I started a conversation last week with an art writer/enthusiast named Robin Grearson about my art process and about concepts of beauty generally (click here if you want to read the previous part of the conversation).
Colin: To clarify, I do not believe there is an ultimate beauty that would come across as one finite image that everyone is working towards. I do not believe that art is a progression towards a unified theory of how a painting should look. Rather, I believe that there are moments of truth in an artist’s life that can resonate with a viewer. This truth would not amount to an inherent sameness in terms of something visual that would be dull, but it would be a sameness in the sense that we all have similar emotions. The end product would always be something new to the viewer, because the artist can capatalize on the fact that no one lives the same life as anyone else so there are complicated nuances in everyone’s personal aesthetic.
This “truth” is the universal beauty. It is not a truth that explains all the mysteries of the world. It is a truth that conveys an artist’s unique experiences in the world. It is different from the entire prior art, because the artist is different from all of the prior artists.
There are a few thoughts about art that have resonated with me throughout my art career. One was a lesson from my most inspirational art teacher Jack Summers. It seems obvious, yet for so many artists, especially those that are just starting out, it is not obvious: When drawing, you have to draw what you see. Often artists draw what they know—what they think they know. Instead of drawing a house, they briefly look at the house and then focus on the piece of paper in front of them and draw a symbol that translates to them as a house. That house is a lie, and it is not interesting because it does not provide any insight into the artist. I believe that this goes to your revelation about really seeing and appreciating what was around you.
When I began really “seeing,” I began to really appreciate what I was seeing. I saw the uniqueness of a shape, a line, a color, which eventually turned into a house. From this, I embraced the idea of pouring my soul into what I was drawing. I began really “feeling.” That is, I was conscious of the emotion I wanted to convey.
So from this platform I find a lot of different types of artwork beautiful. For example, I was particularly moved by two pieces of art that I viewed in the past year. One was a video piece called Love Lettering, 2002, by the brother and sister art team Rivane and Sergio Neuenschwander. Rivane is the sister artist, and her brother Sergio is a neuroscientist. This is a beautifully quiet piece. This collaboration illustrates what is great about conceptual art. It engrosses viewers through a single-channel video where color saturated fish swim through the screen with pieces of a love letter attached to their tails. The words are taken out of context, which highlights fleeting, fragmented memories of love and lost. You get the tragic sense of someone that tries to grasp a beautiful memory, yet that person is unable to grasp it fully. The piece also has an organic, industrial soundtrack, which accompanies the piece without competing with the gentle and quiet ephemeral strength of the main imagery of the piece.
The second piece was by Topher Crowder called Yelo Kiteh. In this piece, Crowder creates a strong, stylized image of an erotic, provocative African American woman etched on orange Plexiglas. He created the woman with belt buckles, wires, telephones, and other objects. She is seductive, and she conjures references of blaxploitation films and R. Crumb illustrations. Yet the medium and execution is purely original.
Both of these artists presented something that I had not seen before in a way that made me stop in my tracks—and I think that is an important attribute of beauty. True beauty nourishes you to the core because it allows you to discover something new, which may tilt your world for the better. I think the desire to discover something new is why I cutup the painting that I mentioned in the earlier post.
The process of cutting up the painting was related to my concept of beauty. The piece in its original form was flat. The piece had no emotion. So I used it as a starting point in a performance piece, a piece where my and my sister’s actions developed the piece. She greeted the challenge of receiving an envelope of cutup pieces to create new pieces that had an emotional depth and a uniqueness that justified the process. In fact, one of our first collaborative pieces in this series was made from a painting that I purposefully destroyed. I created a painting that consisted of a pen and ink drawings of Detroit along with a watercolor painting of images layered over the pen and ink drawings. I looked at this piece as a starting point, but I was never inspired to finish the piece. It merely lay on the floor of my studio. I then cut it into 6” x 6” squares and sent them to Kelly.
So, as you can see, my concept of a universal beauty steers clear of any forced cultural norms of beauty. I believe that some concepts of beauty are related to individuals grabbing onto their preconceived ideas of beauty – the symbols Jack Summers told us to watch out for. I think this goes to your comments about an oversaturation of images in film and on TV and the ideals of a particular culture. Often the imagery forced on us through TV/film/web is just a symbol for a concept of beauty, yet it is an empty symbol because it lacks the element of truth that is crucial for a meaningful dialogue. The symbol serves its purpose, because the audience readily recognizes the symbol as “beauty,” yet after that initial recognition the symbol does not resonate with the viewer to “stop them in their tracks.”
These symbols for beauty do not work because they do not tell us anything about the author/artist. An artist’s ups and downs provide texture to everything that he or she creates. I believe that an artist needs to be conscious of the ups and downs in his life and the fact that everyone else around him or her—his audience—has experienced / is experiencing great ups and downs. So to be honest with one’s self and to have a meaningful dialogue with the viewer, an artist should reflect on his or her emotions during life’s rollercoaster.
I have certain paintings that continue to resonate with me everyday because the painting is akin to a passage in a diary. For example, I have a painting called “Fear.” I painted it in college when I was overwhelmed with emotion based on a feeling that I was becoming unraveled. I love this painting because it speaks a certain truth about my emotional state at that specific point in time in my life (I laugh now about how melodramatic I was when I was painting it).
I have to run, but I will try to add some more questions later. Does any of this make sense? Does an artist need to have a recognizable technical skill for you to appreciate the artwork?