Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Practice, experience and style

New Hampshire Pears
coloured pencils on colourfix
copyright Katherine Tyrrell
I received an email comment from John Kinney about my post about plagiarism last week.  I suggested that it might work better as a blog post.

It reflects on the notion and value of daily practice - a point highlighted  in a number of comments on recent posts.

Here's what John thinks
As someone familiar with daily painting, although not a painter and certainly not an expert on the subject, I’d like to draw attention to a few comments already made, and share the questions these have inspired in me, and, I hope, in others...

One of the comments hit on an interesting point about practice and, on some level, related daily painting to yoga. It is interesting, here, to think about other daily rituals that are rooted in practice. Specifically, those meant to create space for deeper things to surface and be acknowledged. Of course, there is a long history of these types of rituals, and one that daily painting has stepped into. To continue the yoga analogy, I think it would be fair to say people profit from sharing the efforts of practice in both yoga and painting. In both cases, doesn’t part of the worth (I mean this in both meanings of the word) rest in the value of practice? I realize there are obvious differences between a practice that also results in a “thing” and one that solely produces a physical/emotional/psychological result, however, it seems the “presence” of practice in both is where the true value might be found. Isn't this a large part of what viewers are drawn to see and collectors drawn to acquire? Even more so than what is painted? The process even more than the product? (I would argue that a painting of a single peach might sit in a gallery somewhere for a long time before it finds a home.) And what about where the painter chooses to focus his/her experience? Isn't the painter's experience something to highlight, honor and preserve?

Thinking of the “copy” topic in these terms makes me wonder… should the culture of the PAD movement be judged according to principles that might encourage/value originality over mastery, innovation over practice? Is that most productive? Or even appropriate? (I say this mostly in reference to subject, not composition. I don't think someone can or should lay claim to a "thing" – unless of course the painter created the object - but perhaps might create a unique composition and the relationships created therein.)

Furthermore, can a "daily practice" be sustained (and shared) if still life painters feel pressure to be unique in their selection of objects? Is this the best use of all painters' time/creative energy? Isn't this a matter of interest? (Morandi comes to mind here.) Isn’t part of what has been referred to as "copying" in daily painting simply a consequence of the movement? The consequence of so many painters sharing what amounts to, in some daily painters’ practice, over 300 paintings of everyday objects a year? Imagine the likelihood of crossover when daily painters with a similar style are inspired by small everyday objects? Then add in the likelihood the artist can complete a painting a day only if it is of one or two objects (After all, it is also likely the person has another job outside the studio).

So, how can an artist make his/her daily painting distinct other than through style? (For a case in point, I think it is worth noting that the beautiful paintings of Carol Marine mentioned as an example of a daily painter with a clearly distinct voice, are painted in an "impressionist" style.) If an artist painting in a realist style feels pressured to be unique, won’t we simply start to see more complicated compositions (many daily painters would quickly fall behind here) and/or paintings of more and more obscure objects? And won’t this be giving up both the “everyday” and "every day" focus that is at the heart of many daily paintings? Doesn't the success of daily painting have much to do with familiarity? A recognition of a common experience? An interest in an every day ritual? To me, the energy could be much better spent thinking about what this community of creative minds, engaged in the same daily practice, is creating and impacting as a whole.

Finally, it seems of utmost importance to remember an online “image” is not the same as viewing a “painting” and therefore cannot be judged with swiftness or certainty. (When one forgets that they are not actually experiencing the painting when viewing an image of it online, many false assumptions might be drawn – of course, the dangerous consequences of this type of “distant viewing” reach far beyond the topic at hand.) To think otherwise, is to entirely discount the viewing experience. In actuality/life, isn’t it the more subtle qualities that give a painting a life of its own, and to which we ultimately respond? Hopefully, with a deep sense of recognition.

Anyone who has spent the day outside in the sun gardening, warm soil in hand, knows the textures... the sensations... the temperature (again to hark back to an earlier comment) are what linger in the mind and give the experience life. To forget this, is perhaps of the greatest concern, to me, here.

This concern extends not only to assumptions made by viewing an online image instead of an actual object but to the artists to whom most of us have never spoken, nor been in the presence of, and are only privy to their day-to-day studio reality from a distance. How clear is obstructed vision?

If I were a painter, what would I take from all of this? I might try to remain free in choice of subject and style, but wise in choice of composition. Beyond that... what to do when setting up your still life - however simple? Wait. Wait. Wait. Wait until you clearly see inspiration. Once it is revealed and present for you, it is yours. That moment is all you have to claim, because, soon, it will (thankfully) reveal itself in front of someone else's palette.

These are certainly interesting points and ones worth reflecting on.  Do you agree?  Or maybe you have another perspective?

For me, my initial reaction is that the concept of daily practice extends well beyond the still life to drawing people and drawing places I visit. It seems to me that those subject areas are much less prone to accusations of copying - which might be a point to ponder on.

The other issue relates to the translation of the concept of daily practice into a business model and what happens when the two get mixed up. Sue Favinger Smith considered this aspect in When Art Becomes a Business Model - A Response to Katherine Tyrrell

My own thoughts are turning to the notion of the atelier and what past practices have had to say about the importance of practice and the place of learning relative to processes of production and sale.

Constructive comments are welcomed on John's comment

I'd also be grateful for recommendations and links to any relevant sites relating to the concept of the atelier.

Note:   The image was done one evening in 2006 sat at my friend Nicole Caulfield's dining table in New Hampshire.  We both drew the same pears using the same media and support - and both produced completely different drawings for reasons other than that we were looking at the pears from slightly different angles.   See MAKING A MARK: New Hampshire Pears



Deborah Elmquist said...

After reading all three posts that were written so eloquently, I want to add only this. What is the original purpose for PAD? As a still life painter, I tried to paint a small piece every day. It became quite clear to me very quickly that this practice took up so much time that my more important pieces took a back seat. More importantly, it took up "think time." When I'm not painting, I am still doing serious work but in my head. So if the answer to my question is to make painting a daily practice like yoga, why not use the time to paint more serious larger pieces.

Kimberly Kelly Santini said...

Deborah, I chose to become a daily painter 5 years ago from a desire to experiment and learn via smaller self-directed pieces in lieu of playing (and possibly destroying) my larger (primarily commissioned) pieces. Working on a smaller scale has allowed me the freedom to try a variety of ideas without the worries of compromising a larger (assumedly in your words "more serious" - I would like to take issue with that statement but will stick to the topic at hand!) piece. The discipline of the daily practice - not to mention the business tasks that came along with blogging, archiving, marketing, selling, shipping, etc - has taught me more in 5 years than I'd learned in a previous lifetime. But originally my intent was a simple one - to get better at the easel by allowing myself a daily window of time to practice on the things I wanted to learn. So in my book, PAD has been wildly successful on a artistic front, a theoretical front, and as a business model.

Mary Sheehan Winn said...

The copying thing is something I've struggled with because I've admired the PAD artists from the beginning and have taken workshops with many artists whose work I love. Naturally, I'm going to come away from that with some of their technique but I hope that my paintings don't look like copies of their work.

PAD mostly came about when Duane Keiser put his blog out there to tout the value of painting daily as a sure way to improve one's skills.
His use of common, and previously unconsidered subjects, say a burnt match, opened our eyes to the possibilities and created the desire in other artists, by the numbers, to follow in his footsteps by painting as discipline and posting their work for sale online.
I am among them.
In the 5 years I've been painting for my blog I've been able to put my paintings out there in a way that wasn't possible before the internet expanded our physical boundaries and allowed us to be seen by a much wider audience.
I've enjoyed the camaraderie of artists and fans of art from all over the world and have attracted collectors and sold my work.
But the most relevant part of it all is the marked improvement in my painting skills. The blog created a 'mission' so to speak, to be a better painter by practicing, much as one would practice the piano.
One of the best compliments I can get is when someone mentions how much my work has improved.
I've met many friends out in the Blogosphere and network with artists all over the world most of whom experience the same cycles of angst and doubt about their abilities and the ups and downs of the creative process.
We're cheerleaders for one another.

John Kinney makes many good points and asks many relevant questions.
I include a quote.
Quote: "Thinking of the “copy” topic in these terms makes me wonder… should the culture of the PAD movement be judged according to principles that might encourage/value originality over mastery, innovation over practice?
Is that most productive? Or even appropriate? (I say this mostly in reference to subject, not composition. I don't think someone can or should lay claim to a "thing" – unless of course the painter created the object - but perhaps might create a unique composition and the relationships created therein.)"
End Quote.

Good point.
There are only so many finite subjects to paint and it's all been done before.
Who's to say what another artist loves to paint or if they paint what sells?
Above all, don't copy the work of other artists and sign your name to it and if you credit your influences, you are more likely to be treated gently by your peers.

Anonymous said...

Katherine, John has highlighted two aspects of craft that are so important for many artists - ritual, which develops artistic skill, and conceptual, where the creative voice begins to emerge. I will put a link to this post on my follow-up post on Ancient Artist because this helps to flesh out this discussion. Thanks so much.

Deborah Elmquist said...

Kimberly, I totally see and understand your point of view and I whole heartily agree with the many aspects of a daily practice, plus all the other hats one must wear to make a living with art. Maybe the only difference that you took issue with is that I have been painting for more than 35 years and although I always want to grow and try new ideas, I found the small format too confining to work on what I needed. My big struggle (need) is focused more toward strong design which the small format and the one subject (object) did not address. As they say, different strokes for different folks. Also, I agree with blogging on a regular basis, it's hard work in of itself.

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