November 2009

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…trying not to read

~sketch: Fear That I Can't Shine

~sketch: Fear That I Can't Shine

I check in on the New York Times Art And Design section every week or so.  A few days ago, I saw an article on a tile project with the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art in conjunction with area schools and scout troops.  The article was announcing the ribbon cutting ceremony for the project; a trail of tiles along the waterfront of Delftware inspired designed by children. 

The simplicity and innocence of children’s art is inspiring.  The sophistication of a professional artist is remarkable to training and skills – both of which children carry on quite effortlessly without.

When my boys were little, we would set aside time to draw, paint, cut, glue, something…anything creative.  My oldest son loved to draw.  As a young child he would create images without the confines of proportion, spacial relationship or perspective.  The lines were unrefined as determined by yet developed fine motor skills.  As such, they were captivating in their intent to define an object, describe an image.

My youngest preferred painting to drawing.  Never hesitating in his approach, the colored shapes and lines created by the cheap brush were energetic and playful.

The marks of a child are reflective of their innocence.  I’d like my work to capture some of these qualities: the enthusiasm, the intent, even the awkward gestures.  But, finding a way to express those characteristics with some integrity is more difficult once there is some level of understanding in visual communication.  As adult artists we are a bit educated, or maybe jaded, by the world.  It’s a little like trying not to read the words in a sentence once you’ve learned to read.

~detail: Fear That I Can't Shine, 2002

~detail: Fear That I Can't Shine, 2002

One approach I’ve tried in an attempt to create those child-like marks is to remove myself by degrees from the work.  Not like the anti-art of the Dadaist.  More along the lines of using what I know within the confines of a process that I lack as much control.  For instance, when I work on paper drawings/sketches for clay pieces, I use familiar materials; tools which I have achieved some mastery.  But, when I apply these images onto clay, I use a sponge and a bucket of water.  Many variables remove my sense of mastery here!  It can be as challenging as a child learning to write for the first time.

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struggle: (v) to contend resolutely with a task, problem, etc.
I struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

struggle: (v) to be coping with inability to perform well or to win; contend with difficulty.
I struggle to consistently make choices that develop Christ-like character.

struggle: (n) a task or goal requiring much effort to accomplish or achieve.
I struggle with creative/artistic intent.

Of the three definitions, two are verbs.  They are actions.  They are every day, ongoing.  But, the third.  The third is a noun.  A thing.  A thing I purposefully place within my creative parameters to overcome.  Like all struggles, they are necessary for growth.

Over the years, students nearing graduation have bent my ear in a panic.  How do you make art without the support of academia?  In reality, it’s not the support they will miss in so much as the challenge.  The struggle.  The thing they griped and moaned about.  They just don’t know that yet.

Professors set up problems to be solved – generally referred to by students as, ‘this stupid assignment’.  Those problems create the boundaries from which the student is challenged.  So then, apart from school, the student must take on the role of “creating a task or goal requiring much effort to achieve”.

For years I have desired that my functional work relate more to my drawn tiles.  The processes are different and I’ve had difficulty resolving the visual disparity between the two.  Of course, I question why they would ever need to relate.  That is my swift exit from the contradiction I’ve created.

In the end, I just want to draw on my dinnerware.  That is my goal.  Then, there would need to be boundaries set up for the task.

  1. Functional pieces needed to be food safe.  So my glaze process would be different.
  2. Surface (drawings) should relate to the form.
  3. I want to create visual impact with color and contrast.  I enjoy playing with shadows to create hightened values on my tiles.
  4. The drawings on the functional work wouldn’t be as detailed as on the tiles.  Size and my desired output wouldn’t allow for much detail.
  5. I want to create layers of information without getting overly complicated.  One of the qualities I enjoy most about the tile drawings is the ability to develop layers of visual information on the ceramic surface.

I’ve struggled within those parameters.  I’ve seen some success.  But, as I approach the goal, I reset the standard so as to continue the struggle, so as to grow.

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