art history

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ocean-Inlet morning sunBut I broke my wrist..  I was just getting to Ocean Inlet, was in the parking lot.  As i get out of the car my foot turn over and down I go.  Of course my painting buddies say “Is it your painting are” and when I say “no” they tell me to stay and paint.  But the pain got the best of me so I
took a few pictures and did this one at home in the studio.  Not right away of course.

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These are the paintings from my Adriatic Cruise.  I was teaching watercolors aboard the Queen Elizabeth.  These were some of the places we visited and were the subject of the watercolor classes.Greek Temple in Corfu Gibraltar Dubrovnick Seville Croatia Venice Sicily

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But is it art?Coming from a science background, I’ve often considered how theoretical constructs could be applied to art. It seems, to me, that, in the case of art theory, the major and most relevant questions are: “What is art?” and “Why is art valued?”

Because of this, the blurb from the book jacket of Cynthia Freedman’s But is it art?  (Oxford University Press, 30 illustrations, 8 color plates, $16.95) immediately caught my eye.

In part, it read:

“In today’s art world many strange, even shocking, things qualify as art. In this book, Cynthia Freeland explains why innovation and controversy are valued in the arts, weaving together philosophy and art theory with many fascinating examples. She discusses blood, beauty, culture, money, museums, sex, and politics, clarifying contemporary and historical accounts of the nature, function, and interpretation of the arts. Freeland also propels us into the future by surveying cutting-edge web sites, along with the latest research on the brain’s role in perceiving art. This clear, provocative book engages with the big debates surrounding our responses to art and will prove an invaluable introduction to anyone interested in thinking about art.”

This book is an excellent introduction to art theory especially for someone, like myself, who has not spent the years of formal study necessary to establish conventional academic credentials.  Comprehensive in scope, the book covers all the major theories and provides a jumping off point for those who wish more information.  The author provides an historical framework of how philosophers and critics have approached the questions, with which I began this section.

The book examines both the business and politics of art with examples of good practice supported by extensive references.  The author also shows how ‘cultural biases’ can be intervening variables in both the framing of the initial questions and the answers.  For example, Freedman points out that the complex symbolic gardens of the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France have few parallels in the West today.

She sets the stage for discussing contemporary art by pointing out where some of the classical art theories can’t quite explain some of the art we see being created today. In the first chapter, she describs the use of blood in contemporary art but asserts that this use of blood in art in modern urban First World does have the same meaning it does in primitive rituals nor does its use promote the experience of aesthetic qualities like beauty and form.  She suggests that other explanations and new art theories are needed to deal with this approach to media.

Because I am greatly interested in the juncture of neurobiology and art, I particularly enjoyed the section on mind, brain and art.  Freedman connects the theories of Freud who saw art of expression, the pragmatist view of art developed by Nelson Goodman who wrote the Language of Art in 1968, with contemporary cognitive psychology.  She does not delve into neuroscience but does report that Semir Zeki, a professor of neuroesthetics at University College in London, writes that he believes “that artists are in some sense neurologists, studying the brain with techniques that are unique to them but studying unknowingly the brain and its organization nevertheless.”  I have followed a lot of Professor Zeki’s work, and my feeling is that he is referring to things like the way artists discovered that effect of simultaneous contrast in creating art without knowing the neuroscience that is behind the perception.

The author’s reasoned conclusion is the investigation of art theory, like scientific exploration, often leads to more questions than are answered.

Cynthia A. Freeland is the Chair of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Houston and is also the author of Portraits & Persons, The Naked and the Undead: Evil and the Appeal of Horror and was the editor of Feminist Interpretations of Aristotle.  But is it art? has been translated into 14 languages including both traditional and “simple” Chinese and Tamil and is also available as Art Theory: A Very Short Introduction. Her personal website is at http://www.uh.edu/~cfreelan/ShortC-V.html.

I’m a big believer in self-education throughout one’s life.  Between the Palm Beach libraries, the Paperback Book  Swap website and my Nook, I’m getting a pretty good art theory education./

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IMG_8736Getting back to painting more regularly has been good: good for me and good for my work. Painting is a lot like dance.  The muscles don’t forget, but to be good requires constant practice.

One of the directions I have been exploring is a mixed media approach using digitized watercolor combined with photography and digital painting.   The initial step is to complete a watercolor in the conventional manner. To create the initial image, there is nothing that can replace the dynamic and expressive way watercolor develops on paper.   Then, it is converted to a digital image.  It is quite exciting to see the details in an enlarged format in a digital image. This approach reveals a level of exquisiteness inherent in pigment in water that is otherwise invisible.

Once the image has been digitized, I combine it with a digital photograph, usually one of the images from my “nature’s wonders” series.  I, then, break up the photo highlighting design elements of the photograph and integrate them into the watercolor image.  In this way, I create the effect of the complexity multiple layers of nature and, if all works well, reveal a level of beauty that is otherwise unobtainable.

One of the digital paintings I’ve created with this process is Hidden Orchid.  Here, I have used a spider-webbing technique on the original watercolor with colors that incorporate the light and reflections of an orchid I photographed growing on a tree.  The photograph was manipulated also digitally to isolate the blossom and stem.  The background light of the photograph was further broken up and moved to enhance design and to integrate that image with the watercolor.  The watercolor image was also modified for transparency, and several layers of different sections with varieties of transparency were integrated with the blossom to give the effect of the complexity beneath the beauty of the blossoming orchid.

I have been pleased that the work I’ve completed in this Art/Science series has been well received on Fine Art America and my CafePress Store, Donna’s Art for Everyone  As much as I’d love to be seen as the next great artist to collect and have collectors in a bidding war over my work, I truly believe in art being accessible to everyone.  So, the fact that prints and merchandise of this new direction has had recent sales encourages me to believe that people are responding to my art.  The problem is most of the local venues for group exhibits do not allow digital work, so I am looking into finding venues that do allow it.  In my view, this is “the new art” of our time, and resistance to it has to be expected.

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webpage2So it’s the New Year, and I restarting my blogging. I’ve felt a bit guilty about neglecting it but life has a bad habit of getting in the way of the best intentions.

I’ll admit that being President of Palm Beach Watercolor Society the last two has taken up a lot of my time and my energy.  However, my term is now ending and I’m turning in a new direction.

For years, I’m been urging fellow artists that they get an artist website and join the modern world with their art. Many of them have replied, “I’d rather just be in the studio.” While I can appreciate that, it’s been a bit painful to realize the opportunities for exposure and sales they are missing.

With that in mind, I’ve started a place for artists who wish to be represented in an online gallery; I call it Art Evolution Gallery. The concept is rather simple but contemporary. Artists evolve over their career, and collectors are always seeking new and evolving artists. I see Art Evolution Gallery as a point of convergence for both evolving artists and savvy art collectors. To find out more about this, drop by www.ArtEvolutionGallery.com.

As you know, I’ve long been interested in art history and theory. I just finished reading But is it Art: An Introduction to Art Theory by Cynthia Freeland and have reviewed it on Barnes and Noble. Here is a copy of that review:

Coming from a science background, I wondered how theory could be applied to art. It seems that, in the case of art theory, the major and most relevant questions are: “What is art?” and “Why is art valued?”

The author provides an historical framework of how philosophers and critics have approached these questions. Looking at the business and politics of art, good examples and references are provided throughout. She also shows how ‘cultural biases’ can be intervening variables in both the framing of the initial questions and the answers.

It is not surprising that the conclusion is the investigation of art theory, like scientific exploration, often leads to more questions than are answered. The author characterizes art theory as an explanation of the diversity of the subject,  deals well with why art is special, provides a good overview of the topic and a stepping stone for further reading on the subject.

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After picking up my sister, Catherine, in Pennsylvania, I drove over to my aunt’s 90th birthday party, but along the way, we stopped at the Brooklyn Museum and saw the Judy Chicago exhibit of “The Dinner Party.”  I had seen this during its late 70’s tour when it appeared in The Cyclorama in Boston.  The Cyclorama was a great venue for the exhibit but seeing it in its present permanent installation was magnificent.

It brought back many of the same feelings from my first viewing; however, at the time, I hadn’t realized the significance of this break-through feminist art, something that now is clear in retrospect.  However, I was deeply touched by it at the time and the Brooklyn display brought back those feelings.

The Brooklyn Museum is a little treasure.  I wish that I had more time to see it, but the party provided a deadline that we had to meet.  We did have enough time to visit the exhibition of ancient Egyptian art.  The museum is definitely on my list of places to visit again.

The party for my aunt was fantastic as was the chance to see the many members of my family.  Following that, my sister and I stayed the night with an old friend who lived nearby.  One of the things about these tours is the chance to catch up with old friends.  It’s a valuable and nurturing experience that is well worth the effort.

 

The next leg took us to Vermont.  A visit to The Vermont Store awakened the “Oh, I want to get out my paint brushes” feeling, but I limited myself to capturing the scenes with my Canon camera and its new 55mm – 250 mm lens.  It’s valuable for close-ups without intruding on the scene. For example, I made some nice shots of a fiddler at the store.

We finally reached the Northeast Kingdom and we had some quality time with my other sister, Judy.  This trip also gave me the opportunity to move some items that we were no longer using in Florida but would be handy when we took up Summer quarters in Vermont.  One of these “items” was the Saturn I’d driven up in.  When the time came to return, I dropped off the car with Judy, and Catherine and I boarded a train for the trip south at Essex Junction.
The trip through the mountains and along the Connecticut River was very beautiful, and the nine-and-a-half hour ride into New York City didn’t seem all that long.  Since the rail lines were laid out during the industrial heyday, any long ride is an interesting mix of the conventionally scenic and a view into the country’s past.

I don’t think I’ve ever arrived in New York with such ease. There was no traffic snarl and I could appreciate the view of the city’s skyline.  We stayed over in NYC and went to visit the Met in the morning.

I had been there several years ago, but it’s always worth a visit.  Simply the magnitude of the place is so impressive. However, the “natural” settings were awe inspiring.  For example, the Tiffany windows were displayed in a portico that was also designed by Tiffany with Islamic inspired columns.  As another example, the Robert Leyman exhibit is set up just as it was shown in his house.  This is truly fantastic.

The highlights tour whizzes you around the museum.  It’s a lot of walking but it does a wonderful joy of whetting your appetite for return explorations.  After the tour was over, we made a more leisurely visit to the impressionists and a selection of Renaissance masters.

We returned to our hostel via a walk through Central Park and then took the subway south.  Catherine split off at Port Authority to take a bus back of Pennsylvania and I continued on to Penn Station for my train back to Delray Beach.  Even though I  arrived well before my departure time, Amtrak made the wait pleasant.  They have a well-appointed waiting area with wi-fi that is right off the subway exit.

While we’ve all heard stories about New Yorkers, my experiences showed me another, much more pleasant side. I had people spontaneously help me with my luggage, the people in the hostel were fantastic.  I was really pleasantly surprised.   I don’t know if it was just that I’m more receptive but I was very very happy to see just how friendly and helpful New Yorkers can be.

The trip back was fun and relaxing.

There was a club car and a dining car.  In some ways, it is taking you back to another era, but in others, I had to think “why do I have to be squished into a flying sewer pipe where I can’t even more, let alone stand up.”  I’m not that tall, but in a commercial plane I barely have any leg room.

The train was very different.  I could stretch my legs all the way out; I could walk around.  It was fun watching the landscape change from the New England setting to Middle Atlantic and finally to the sub-tropical of Florida.

John was waiting for me at the Delray Beach station.  It had been uncomfortable for both of us to be apart for a week, but now we are taking time to kick back and get ready to head north again.  This time we’ll be together and we’ll be going for four months.  The trip up will be slower and we’ll stop to see the sights and I’ll have my paints ready.

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I’m going to take the opportunity of March being “Women’s History Month” and study a bit about women artists in the past.  The biggest problem with studying that topic is that there just isn’t that much readily available material.

My first group show was in 1956

Women in art seem to have been largely ignored until the 1960s and the Feminist Artists Movement.  Of course, this was a challenge, and I love a challenge.

Some of the findings were real eye-openers.

Women artists had not been unproductive in the past.  However, much of what they did was not defined as “art” by the “artistic community;”  it was “craft.”  To show how this worked, we can look at the output from and the reception of the works by very skilled and productive artist, Faith Ringgold.

An African-American woman, Ms Ringgold grew up with family members who had been held in slavery in their youth.  As an adjunct to keeping oral histories, the women of the family had created what they called “Story Quilts.”  The squares in each quilt depicted incidents in the family history.  Ms Ringgold, a painter, took these images and incorporated them into her work, retaining the form and content of the original in the new medium.

It was, to me, such an exciting concept, a sort of “unbroken chain,” connecting people and generations.

To be honest, male artisans of the Renaissance struggled under much the same ghetto-izaton.  Leonardo Da Vinci did more to create the concept of artist-genius that anyone else.  When he began his campaign, the artist was considered a menial craftsman.  By continually stressing the intellectual aspects of art and creativity, Leonardo transformed the artist’s public status into, as he put it “Lord and God”.

Eventually, the men of the era were able to break through the “snob ceiling;” unfortunately, they weren’t accompanied by their female contemporaries when the history was told.   Until the appearance of revisionist art histories in the 1960’s most information about women artist’s was buried.

This brought about a personal revelation.  I had been thinking that I had begun my quest to be an artist a short time ago, but viewing my life through the new facet of a cognitive prism, I realized that I’ve really been on this road for much of my life.  I had been convinced that the quilts, paint-by-number, macramé and all the crafts I had experimented with weren’t really “creative.”  In fact I used to go out plein air drawing when I did not even know it was considered a genre.  When in Boston, I used to go to Walden Pond to soak in the natural beauty of the place and to draw flowers.

However, with this epiphany, I could see that it had been a real outlet for my creativity.  Such an exciting unearthing!

Just recently, my nephew uncovered evidence that I had had an artistic background early in life.  He had been going through some family photos, and he found a picture of me, with my first-grade class, taking part in a group painting exercise in a storefront.  Seeing the picture triggered a wealth of memories.  It had been great fun.  They actually let me use all the paper I wanted.  Midas at his height could not have felt more privileged.

Floodgates open, I remembered that in the seventh grade I had been the team captain for the winning group of youngsters who painted the Halloween decorations for the town storefronts.  It was amusing to think that this was a foretaste for two of my careers: project manager and artist.

It hadn’t seemed worth of consideration back there, but I was the one that drew all the pictures with the members of my team painting them as I directed afterwards.  Shades of a Renaissance studio.

Now, I’m coming to understand there were a lot of road marks, potential premonitions about which I simply hadn’t taken cognizance.

As another example, when I took electives in college, where my cord studies were hard science, I took art courses.

Studying these women artists has been fascinating, both for the factual information and how it has helped me in personal growth.  I’ve put a lot of addition information about what I’ve found on my FaceBook page for anyone who might be interested.

It has been such an interesting experience.

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A friend of mine was visiting from Maryland and wanted to go to Art Palm Beach Show.  I’m so glad she asked as it was a marvelous show.  That’s one of the great benefits of visiting friends; they open eyes of possibilities.  It’s like when John lived in New York City; he hadn’t visited any of the sights until I came down from Boston.

It’s the 13th time the event has been held and it’s billed as a dynamic event in America’s premier winter destination, hosting international galleries.    It’s a wide-ranging presentation including contemporary art, photography, video, installation art, public sculpture and design.  One nice touch is part of the proceeds of the food and beverage sales go to the local art community.  It almost made a four-dollar bottle of water worth the price.  After spending that much, we made a point of savoring it as if it were a fine bottle of wine.

Since she is interested in mid-century furniture and my passion is watercolor, we did a good job of covering the entire fair.   However, what we both enjoy was “Risk,” an installation constructed from sneaker parts by Fredrick Uribi.  It was a fascinating exercise in the reuse of materials with, of course, a very strong Green message.

Later in the week, I went to the Norman Rockwell exhibit at MoAFL  with a few of my friends.  Although I had seen many of the same paintings in the Rockwell museum, in Stockbridge,  MA while on my summer sketch tour, it was great to see them in the expansive space of the museum.  The highlight for me was the room that displayed every single Saturday Evening Post Rockwell did on one wall, while the series of drawings showing the artists’ process and the final painting for ‘Southern Justice” was on the other wall.  The exhibit is a t MoAFL until 2/7/2010 so there is still time to see it.

In other weekly news, I went to the Palm Beach Society’s Paint Out at the American Orchid Society.  The cold snap had wrought a sea of change on the vegetation.  Much of it has suffered severely.  Fortunately, inside the greenhouse things were still spectacular.   I spent a lot of time in there.

In the art education department, I am again taking a figure drawing class at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale.    Also, I’m taking a 3 day workshop called Creative Watercolor given by Miles Batt and sponsored by the Delray Art League.  I’m learning a lot and cannot wait for a block of studio time to put into practice all these new skills and techniques.

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Alter at the Church of Nazareth, Israel. Photo taken 1981 on a tour of the Holy Land. /
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alter at Nazareth

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What does art have to do with spirituality.   Now, I accept the difference between religion and spirituality.   Both are an important part of my life as is art.   I wanted to examine the links.   Scholars have defined art as: “the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions.    Art is a simulation of feelings, expressions, and ideas, communicated to elicit, provoke, inspire, and create those feelings, expressions, and ideas in an observer of the visual art work.”   In short, art seeks to communicate.   Universally, you find symbolism in all art.   In some art, we may have lost the cultural “language,” but even if we don’t understand the message, we can feel it trying to speak to us.   This symbolism often seems to be spiritual in nature.   Spirituality is based on a sense of connection, a sense of connection that goes beyond the physical world and one’s self.   It can include emotional experience, including those of awe or reverence.   If you’ve been reading these blogs, you know that I’ve been long interested in the fusion of art and science.    However, I accept that the scientific method is not well suited to validating either religion or spirituality.   Some of the dichotomy is that while science endeavors to “know;” art endeavors to “express.” Of course, they are not completely things of different planes.    The things at science learns find themselves expressed as art.   This makes me wonder about the purpose of art, especially as it relates to spirituality.   In this, I take my lead from an address by Pope Pius XII to a group of Italian artists received in audience on April 8, 1952: “The function of all art lies in fact in breaking through the narrow and tortuous enclosure of the finite, in which man is immerged while living here below, and in providing a window to the infinite for his hungry soul.”   Obviously, one doesn’t have to buy into the particular flavor of religion that the Pope was representing to recognize that the phrase does carry much of what some artists seek to convey when they are dealing with a spiritual subject.   A more mundane, tripartite breakdown of artistic components could be expressed as physical, social or personal. The most easily defined category is physical.   No one can argue that even today art is an important component of most day to day items, from chairs to clothing to whole buildings to, if people like Paolo Soleri have their way, entire cities.   These categories often overlap in a given piece of art.   A warrior seeking to “stand out from the mob” might well have the image of a martial god carved upon his shield.   This would not only identify him from a distance but would be a statement of from whom he derives his strength and resolve.   Many artists have felt strongly that they have to make a statement about their culture.   This may take the form of idealizing and honoring the culture or of criticizing it by making what is generally invisible, through conditioning or neglect, visible.   Without a personal reason for doing art, I doubt much would be produced.  The incentive may be the sheer joy of producing beauty or of stimulating thought, but bags of gold and silver provide an incentive equally powerful.   Here I’d like to concentrate on the personal component where the artist is trying to some spiritual or symbolic.   The symbols in art reflect a multi-dimensional reality.   We start to see the spiritual aspects of the artist’s intention.   Looking back in the history of art, one can sense the constant presence of this spiritual intention.   Take the earliest art known, the Venus of Willendorf sculpture that was created sometime between 25,000-20,000 BCE.   At first glance, it is a crude female figure much pregnant and lacking detail.    It is likely it was either the representation of a specific fertility goddess or is a general fertility charm.   In any case, it has meaning far beyond its first appearance, being an attempt on the part of humanity to influence powers beyond its ken.   It simply amazes me that this earliest know art has this art-spirituality link.   This concept came to me recently when I visited the African Art Exhibition at the Fort Lauderdale Museum of Art.    There was a multitude of masks and other things used in their rituals.    I was struck at the many ways these people used art as an interface to communicate with their gods or as objects of devotion to ease the passage of loved ones into the next world and give them standing and status there. This seems to be consistent over time.   Art and religious were conjoined largely because generally the Church had the kind of money needed to endow artists, and the rich outside the Church were obsessed in being able to transfer their status from this world to the next. As the societies because more worldly, the short lived Metaphysical Art movement of the early 1900’s sprang from the urge to explore the imagined inner life of familiar objects when represented out of their explanatory context.   Also, Surrealism , as defined by the founder, Breton, is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought.   It tends to ruin once and for all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life. And so to the present.   One of the artists I’ve been communicating with through FaceBook told me about Vedic art which presents itself as a way to achieve a higher state of consciousness through artistic creativity, to create beyond the demands of technique and result-producing.   Some of their material meshes nicely with my present ponderings about art and creativity.   There have been times when I pined for the “good old days” as in the Renaissance where artists lived in communities and learned from one another, but I have come to the conclusion that I’m in an even better world.    We do have a vibrant artists community here in Southern Florida, but through the Internet I have both direct and indirect contact with tens of thousands of artists all over the world who can expose me to concepts like Vedic art, something that might well not have happened in the more conventional schools of the past.   This brings me back to how I came to be identified with the Remodernists.   First a brief definition from RedBubble, a group that I’ve found to be very valuable in my growth as an artist: “Briefly, Remodernists do not think that Modern Art is rubbish, we do not believe that communication via art is impossible, and we do believe that one of the legitimate goals of an artist can be the sincere expression of an authentic personal spirituality.”   This, of course, resonated with me, and it seems I’ve become a link in a chain for accepting it and passing it on.    I recently received an email through FaceBook saying that the writer hand read about my recognition that I was a Remodernist at heart and from what I had written she found the same feelings in her heart.   I think there is a great desire to find a meaning beyond the everyday, the physical, the mundane, and that desire is what brings spirituality to the fore.   Over the past few years,  I’ve been exploring some of the new thoughts of consciousness and metaphysics; factor in my new, practical interest in art and I can feel a synergy forming.   It’s not yet stable or tangible for me to grasp more than the fascinating outline,  but I do find myself being called to express the spiritual essences that I seem to sense.   So this is where I find myself on this dim and fog shrouded road,  filled with both thrill and unease. Ahead,  I sense wonder but know I have a long way to go before I find what I hope is ahead.

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