As I reflect on news that AI will be transformative, we come to understand that idiosyncrasy can be taught and the result of machines can become indistinguishable from human craft. However, before this technological advance, styles were already quickly absorbed and repurposed. Despite much replication, personal experience is individual and can not be replaced. The extra time to make/build and reflect yields a multitude of fruits (e.g. deeper thought, organization, or simply a surprise).
Above, I try to recreate the village where I currently live. The more I try, the more incorrect I become. Some aspects of the village are accurate but fundamentally I arrive at a new place. As details get added, uncertainty is replaced with a focus. Regardless of specificity, this remains but one perspective. A wonderous aspect about perspective is that eye level and insight lead to endless possibilities. There is no way to fully understand a complex place.
Just as our perspective can shift, with little effort change arrives on its own terms. For example, high speed internet came to the village. Not everyone purchase this service, but new fixtures were attached to many of the posts that carry electrical wires. In front of our house is such a post and a new fixture. Below was added a well placed stick. With the addition, I see a sculpture. I know the village has been changed. Likewise, the drawing needs a updates.
As I understand, the concept of synchronicity provides a meaningful explanation for how unconnected events can be joined to form a more significant union of meaning. This idea brings seemingly chance actions into a concert of relatable events. If small decisions have power to shape our path in remarkable ways, then it can feel as if spirits are at work. Similarly the creation of art can feel miraculous. When arranging visual elements that may not seem connected, often a transformation occurs revealing a greater story. The sum becomes bigger than the parts. When making the picture above, people, creatures of the sea and sky came together one by one. However, a vision of the whole is realized only as the page is filled.
Since I was a child, I have been fascinated with how a picture comes together. Though my knowledge was limited. I recognized that if commitment was given to an image something special could happen. The question always remained how and what to do next. In 2003, as an adult, I visited Belgium and the Netherlands and saw work by Rogier van der Weyden and Jan van Eyck and realized I would never meet the measure of their discipline. However, I also understood that I live in a different time an seek a different measure of success. While precision to paint with a single hair brush is not necessary, I continue to feel that spending time to develop a picture is important. It means that time is given to observe and be discerning enough to make decisions that transforms a whim into something more solid and imbedded with intent.
Big Pictures In the Modern World
As an art student I noticed that students, professors, and guest lecturers had a way of summing up art from a decade in a condensed way. For example art of the 1950’s might be described as formal abstraction, 1960’s pop art, 1970’s minimalism, 1980’s neo-expressionism. Although these are simplifications, one can feel the shift that occurs in a particular time. In the 1990’s I noticed the emergence of large scale photographs.
I was particularly awe struck by seeing photographs by Andreas Gursky. I remember a large photograph of a football field from above and noticed how one had a sense of the whole field but also could feel the presence of the grass on the field. Likewise, a landscape containing a river would reveal a fisherman on the bank of the river. Compared to the landscape, the the fisherman was small. However, because of the scale of the image, I could more closely identify with the figure and even imagine the fisherman being hungry. This was new and more powerful than anything I could see in a painting at that time. While it is impossible to reproduce the scale and detail on a small screen, an installation view allows for a relational sense of the photograph in a space.
From Here to There
In science, often with great work and time, one advancement leads to another. The idea of progression is engrained in much of what we do. However, its insertion into art can be problematic. Art runs parallel to technology barrowing from innovations (e.g. the development of new materials, colors, or mediums such as video and digital production). In this sense art may come to look new. However, if art is characterized by the act of making something, then the act is more repetitive than innovative. Despite the fact that a base process may remain the same, art becomes charged with meaning because it is bound to a context that includes history, environment, and cultural studies. Interest may wax and wane. Some art is lost or overshadowed and later resurfaces with renewed interest. An example would be the work of Janet Sobel whose paintings predate Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings but are strikingly similar. In this sense re-evaluation can make the past seem very much alive in the present. Art is a vehicle, vessel, or prompt to re-evaluate time and place.
I once trained for a 5k race. I did so because I never ran more than a mile. It was a worthwhile experience. I challenged myself to run greater distances and felt the accomplishment of reaching a goal. However, I stopped. I can not say when or why. Some endings can be abrupt, long, or gradual. However, as we stretch for something to achieve, ultimately the end arrives on its own terms. Circling back to the first image above, someone asked me if the central figure in the image was Jesus. I don’t think so, but he is stretching, there is a connection, and an ending.
Many of us have little time for home life. We are busy working and taking care of our basic needs. However, what we do with our extra time largely defines us. When life is busy, time spent making art or even looking at art becomes precious. If we can grasp a little time, then we may end up with something more valuable then we expected.
Recently I made a picture that I felt more specifically addressed time. Working on what I could when I could, I picked away at the drawing. I started by looking at Brâncuși’s sculptures, in particular his series Bird in space. I imagined the birds that may have inspired him. Building on this, I thought of all the things that fill the sky and what I might see if I looked long enough or if I had a little more time. I remain unconvinced that if I had more time I would use it more wisely. Fitting in what is possible with what we have seems to be more important. While I have always found ways to make art, it is harder now and the intervals are longer. Regardless, I am gaining a better understanding that there is never a better time than now.
Over the past few years, I have received calendars that hold images of artwork found in Polish church collections. One painting that I found depicts Kyiv Pechersk Lavra, a church monastery in Ukraine, as well as its founders Saints Anthony and Theodosius. I responded to the picture because of the way the figures mirror each other. Perhaps this is symbolic of the way saints closely match each other in their words and deeds. I was also curious about the background buildings and was surprised to find that the depiction was of Ukraine and not Poland. With the current war initiated by Russia, it is hard to know if sacred places such as Kyiv Pechersk Lavra will remain safe. However, the image and the idea of place provided a point of focus to pray for Ukraine.
While the image above comes from a 2020 calendar, nearly two years later the war reminds us that in a heartbeat lives are changed. Hopefully, the madness will end sooner than later and there can be renewed work toward peace and prosperity.
A switch occurs and a light goes on. It takes a fraction of a second. The fact that it works is immediate and clear. However, what does the light reveal, what is in the darkness, and where does the light’s energy come from? The fact that illumination occurred is a simple observation, while the meaning and science of light is an expansive subject.
I made a drawing akin to the act of switching on a light. Likewise, the drawing was to be simple (i.e. providing directness and a demonstrative outcome without being overly labored). While some of these goals were attained, I found that simplicity was an abstract idea about where we stop looking or investigating and where we let complexity rest. If one compared two examples (e.g. a drawing of a light on and off) one could make an assumption or judgement about which is simpler.
Simplicity requires a reference. It is the comparison that allows for an accurate judgement. However, a judgement is not always easy. Because constraint is a key indicator of simplicity, I remain unconvinced that simplicity is synonymous with minimalism. Where simplicity requires us to stop, the minimalist impulse encourages us to look in an expansive way with less. Minimalism shows us that the criterion to make a judgement about simplicity can be too simple. In other words, what is simple is not always so simple.
It may appear like simplicity is being disparaged or an impossibility. However, simplicity can bring enhancement and order where there are challenges. When engineers and computer scientists create a structure, it may require complexity. However, the goal is not complexity. Rather, the goal is to make the complex organized, manageable, and thus simpler. On a personal level simplicity is important because we need to know the limits. When an activity adversely effect another activity, eventually we need to stop one of the pursuits for the sake of simplicity. This judgement is not often easy and requires case by case reflections to reach the best balance.
With regard to a balance, looking at my drawing, I wonder if I passed the simplicity test? The answer is that the light works, but the process and results are not so simple. It is a mix, and this is what provides a small measure of character.