Thursday, December 17, 2009

Another Quarter Ends

Another quarter ended this week at the Art Institute of Seattle and with it went many joyous young grads full of hope for the next phase of their lives. As I went from portfolio to portfolio I couldn't help but notice evidence of what was taught in my classes. I am grateful that I was effective in getting the skills across. Clearly teaching is gratifying.

For me last week brought to a close a longer then usual teaching year, sadly marked by the passing of one of our beloved photography faculty members to cancer. It is time for me to take a break... I need to reflect on all that has passed and to see the result of my labors.

Aside from my teaching I have done some good paintings and taken many wonderful photographs, I finished one new marble sculpture torso and almost another. In my younger days this would be insufficient creative work but now at 63, I am glad to have new images reveal themselves in oils, stone forms come to life no matter how few and an opportunity to use new digital technology to capture and process images of light.

This week we are packing our bags, my wife and I are leaving on a cruse to and through the Panama Canal. I am excited to be going to such a tropical and exotic place for the first time and am glad that I will have a chance to rest and renew myself over the holiday and through the New Year. The sun will be a warm relief from the dark of the Seattle winter.

We all need a break from time to time and because of our commitments, dedications and financial limitations we often put it off, thinking that someday all the parts will fall in place and we will suddenly be free to do just what we want. Time passes... we get old and things often don't go as we plan. Mortality is something that is so abstract in youth, ignored in mid-life and only because it forces itself upon us in our golden years do we confront it.

Today I feel like I am winning the bet I made with myself about travel before I get too old or too tired.
I hope this year was good for you, that you achieved some small part of your dream and that you are well and happy. Happy holidays!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Tactics of Composition in 10 Steps

The concept of image creation often takes many directions that lead the artist into individual choices. We often hear that because of this flexibility there are no rules to the process. We are told to forget all the rules of design and go with the flow of our feelings and just create. But I  wonder, how can you forget what you never knew? I think that one must learn the rules first in order to forget them. To make them intuitive to the creative process so they become subconscious to the artist. In this way we can forget the rules and still make good choices. We can trust our gut feelings knowing that they are founded in deep design principles proven over many generations of image making.

Keeping this in mind lets look at the blank canvas of the creative mind. Lets start by asking some basic questions. Where to begin? What is the content of the vision? What do you want it to communicate? How will we divide the space? These types of questions provide a direction for the artist, they set the stage for the message.  Next are the 10 steps that I find helpful.

1. Think about the zones of the image you want to create. By this I mean for-ground, middle-ground and back-ground. Will the image be lit from the back to the front or the other way around?
2. If lit from the back start with the lighter pastel colors, form the large negative distant spaces first. As you move from the distant back to the middle-ground deepen the tones as you form larger closer shapes.
3. Reserve the darkest tones for the for-ground imagery, in this way the image has a visual light orientated logic.
4. Work from general to specific and don't develop detail to quickly... stay loose as you work keep the imagery moving. Flexibility is key. Remain uncommitted to your first choices.
5.Keep in mind placement of shapes to conform to the way the composition is to be viewed. Avoid moving down the middle. Create forms that move left and right as they come closer.
6. Examine the scale relationships so they assume the proper dominance to the overall meaning within the statement.
7. Vary the hue within forms to excite the eye.
8. Keep in mind the light source and consistently be true to it's direction as you shape the content.
9. Turn form with light and shade and accent with highlight and shadow.Reserve details and complexities for last. Always work from the ambiguous to specific.
10. Turn form with light and shade and accent with highlight and shadow.

OK, now you get the idea... do all this while you forget all of it. 

Apply this to realism or abstraction it still works. If you master this you will be free to consider the overall meaning of the communication. Why are you making this image? What does the composition mean to you and your audience? Did you fulfill the content and meaning or is the message lost to vague unresolved forms that mislead the meaning? It is at this point that you are your own worst critic, judge and jury. It is now that you must decide the fate of the work. Will it see the light of day and be shared with the world or will it be banished to the reject pile. For me this is the most difficult part of the creative process.  In the end even with all this hard work and thoughtful execution it is guaranteed that there will be those that love what you do, others that misunderstand it's meaning and hopefully only a few that do not appreciate the result at all.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

A Question of Faith?

As an artist I am often faced with the dilemma of believing in what is factual knowledge and what is belief beyond proof, often called faith. Recently the comedian Bill Mahr said "Faith is the suspension of critical thinking." It didn't sound like a joke to me, instead it struck a cord of truth and I began to reexamine some beliefs I simply held in faith.

As I get older questions about death and after-life begin to loom with more relivence then in youth. I know myself to be a logical person with a good mind and I can stubbornly hold to a position of reason based on experience and factual knowledge. I am not a psychologist nor an overly religious person, but I have studied much about the connection of the mind, body and soul(spirit).

I know for example that the ego is not the soul but rather a necessary product of the self-aware little mind. It is that part of us that needs what we do not have, that drives us to achieve more and more and to strive for gains in the social game of life, it is the "separator". The ego being self driven sees what it lacks and wants it. Once it gains it's desire it resets it's goals on the next need. This is a cycle of fulfillment and emptiness that has no end. It is a necessary part of our survival because of the way we live in the physical world we find ourselves in.

On the other hand the soul is our source of connection to each other and all else, it is the "unifier" from which our desire to love flows. The soul holds the view of the big mind and is our emotional compass to knowing right from wrong. We are a duality of ego centered body and lofted soul consciousness. Now these are my thoughts of reason based on what I have learned from studied scholars and scientists. I do not profess to have come to this conclusion based solely on my own extensive research. So with this as a premise here are the questions.

If the ego is a product of our mind-body and it's fulfillment is driven by need, then how is it possible for it to be part of the soul in death? If it is not then logic follows there is no self-awareness in the afterlife, right? Which also drives the question of any afterlife at all?

So death is the end of mind-body and the release of spirit back to the source of all things. How can there be  judgment of an ego-less spirit? Shouldn't it then follow that there is no heaven or self-aware place for our ego's to cary on beyond death?

It is my supposition that there is not a white bearded deity out there somewhere sitting on a thrown of judgment that will punish us with unspeakable acts of cruelty if we have not followed religious doctrine. It is however true that our acts of good and evil are watched by ourselves and others and we reap what we sow, but it is while we are in life that it applies. We need to come to terms with how we live. Is it in the love of the big mind spirit or in the need of a small minded ego? Each of us makes these choices every day sometimes we are good and sometimes we are not. Awareness of your mindset will determine the outcome of your choice. All we can do is to try to be awake and aware of our best self so that the ramifications of our actions affect not only ourselves, but touch everyone in our personal universe - that we can inspire or disappoint or just coast in neutral. (thank you Shari for the last line)