Friday, May 25, 2007

Work that look, or Artistic Discipline

A piece of advice that I see all over the selling tips in the Etsy Wiki is that the product should have a coherent style. Certainly some of the most successful sellers on Etsy take that approach and there is something aesthetically pleasing about looking at a store full of products that are on the same design wavelength. My store is full of whatever I happen to be making at the moment. There are categories of things, the largest being handmade silver - and I think that's probably where my work will go more and more. But still, I love gemstones and can't help ordering strands after strand of carnelian, chalcedony, iolite, rhodonite - yum. And then there's the weird stuff I want to make combining leather and duct tape and lace and silver and crystals - maybe not all in the same piece, but in bizarre and fun ways. The Punk Victorian "line" also doesn't fit the handmade silver theme, but I have a big supply of the metal mesh that inspired it and want to make more pieces like this pearl and mesh necklace. Truth be told (as the captain of Firefly used to say), it's a little more Elizabethan than Victorian and it's not really punk at all. But if I can't be orderly and coherent in my design, at least I can try to be in naming the pieces. So, anything with metal mesh in my store is going to get the Punk Victorian label.

The same issue exists in painting. I admire tremendously those artists who exhibit the discipline to work within a set of principles or problems for years. Stephen Westfall is one. His paintings are full of energy, but within the bounds of a very strict discipline. He works with "the grid" in a very patient detailed way. In some paintings it looks like he's performing an experiment: "what happens if I take this section of the grid and just skew it like this?" Then the whole thing goes slightly wacky. Here's a really interesting interview with him where he attributes his penchant for segmentation to ADD and dyslexia. I don't know about that, but I do know that he's a terrific painter and a great educator. (He taught at my workplace for a semester. Sadly, I wasn't in his class.) Yesterday I went to an opening at the Phoenix Gallery in NYC. The artist, Young Ja Yoon, is the mother of a friend and her work also shows an amazing coherence and discipline, though it's totally different in style, content, and technique from SW's. Her paintings are serene, minimal, and organic. Most have a soft colored background, often a light sage or spring green, sometimes lightly shaded. Unlike SW's work, you can see the trace of the artist's hand in the few lines (pencil, charcoal, chalk?) and daubs of paint laid on the background. The paintings are very restrained, but also quite sensual, because you can really see the gestures used to make the marks.

My style as a painter isn't much more coherent than my style as a jewelry-maker, but I'm less worried about that since I haven't even shown anywhere much less tried to sell my paintings. I'm still exploring materials and techniques in a very basic way. A couple of things are clear to me though:
  • I'm more interested in color and texture than in line, probably because drawing still freaks me out. (See yesterday's post on art education.)
  • I'm fascinated by the way random acts with paint on canvas create meaning. Humans are very good at discerning patterns, even when they're not there. It's why random repetitive noises can start to sound like garbled language or why we see faces in wood grain or why, if you look at random flashing lights while listening to music, the lights and music will seem to synchronize.
When I'm painting I usually have a problem I'm working on: what does this new medium do to the texture of the paint? what happens if I use a roller instead of a paintbrush? how can I link this shiny drippy part of the canvas to this rough sandy part of the canvas? what do these colors do to each other? I don't know if these local problems or puzzles will necessarily lead me to a coherent style of painting. Mostly I'm just having fun and hoping that at some point the lights and music synchronize.

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